Climate, Caution, and Precaution

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

One of the arguments frequently applied to the climate debate is that the “Precautionary Principle” requires that we take action to reduce CO2. However, this is a misunderstanding of the Precautionary Principle, which means something very different from the kind of caution that makes us carry an umbrella when rain threatens. Some people are taking the Precautionary Principle way too far …

Figure 1. Umbrella Exhibiting an Excess of Precaution

The nature of the Precautionary Principle is widely misunderstood. Let me start with the birth of the Precautionary Principle (I’ll call it PP for short), which comes from the United Nations Rio de Janeiro Declaration on the Environment (1992). Here’s their original formulation:

“In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capability. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

This is an excellent statement of the PP, as it distinguishes it from such things as carrying umbrellas, denying bank loans, approving the Kyoto Protocol, invading Afghanistan, or using seat belts.

The three key parts of the PP (emphasis mine) are:

1)  A threat of serious or irreversible damage.

2)  A lack of full scientific certainty (in other words, the existence of partial but not conclusive scientific evidence).

3)  The availability of cost-effective measures that we know will prevent the problem.

Here are some examples of how these key parts of the PP work out in practice.

We have full scientific certainty that seat belts save lives, and that using an umbrella keeps us dry. Thus, using them is not an example of the PP, it is simply acting reasonably on principles about which we are scientifically certain.

There are no scientific principles or evidence that we can apply to the question of invading Afghanistan, so we cannot apply the PP there either.

Bank loans are neither serious nor irreversible, nor is there partial scientific understanding of them, so they don’t qualify for the PP.

The Kyoto Protocol is so far from being cost-effective as to be laughable. The PP can be thought of as a kind of insurance policy. No one would pay $200,000 for an insurance policy if the payoff in case of an accident were only $20, yet this is the kind of ratio of cost to payoff that the Kyoto Protocol involves. Even its proponents say that if the states involved met their targets, it would only reduce the temperature by a tenth of a degree in fifty years … not a good risk/reward ratio.

Finally, consider CO2. The claim is that in fifty years, we’ll be sorry if we don’t stop producing CO2 now. However, we don’t know whether CO2 will cause any damage at all in fifty years, much less whether it will cause serious or irreversible damage. We have very little evidence that CO2 will cause “dangerous” warming other than fanciful forecasts from untested, unverified, unvalidated climate models which have not been subjected to software quality assurance of any kind. We have no evidence that a warmer world is a worse world, it might be a better world. The proposed remedies are estimated to cost on the order of a trillion dollars a year … hardly cost effective under any analysis. Nor do we have any certainty whether the proposed remedies will prevent the projected problem. So cutting CO2 fails to qualify for the PP under all three of the criteria.

On the other side of the equation, a good example of when we should definitely use the PP involves local extinction. We have fairly good scientific understanding that removing a top predator from a local ecosystem badly screws things up. Kill the mountain lions, and the deer go wild, then the plants are overgrazed, then the ground erodes, insect populations are unbalanced, and so on down the line.

Now, if we are looking at a novel ecosystem that has not been scientifically studied, we do not have full scientific certainty that removing the top predator will actually cause serious or irreversible damage to the ecosystem. However, if there is a cost-effective method to avoid removing the top predator, the PP says that we should do so. It fulfils the three requirements of the PP — there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage, we have partial scientific certainty, and a cost-effective solution exists, so we should act.

Because I hold these views about the inapplicability of the precautionary principle to CO2, I am often accused of not wanting to do anything about a possible threat. People say I’m ignoring something which could cause problems in the future. This is not the case. I do not advocate inaction. I advocate the use of “no-regrets” actions in response to this kind of possible danger.

The rule of the no-regrets approach is very simple — do things that will provide real, immediate, low-cost, tangible benefits whether or not the threat is real. That way you won’t regret your actions.

Here are some examples of no-regrets responses to the predicted threats of CO2. In Peru, the slums up on the hillside above Lima are very dry, which is a problem that is supposed to get worse if the world warms. In response to the problem, people are installing “fog nets“. These nets capture water from the fog, providing fresh water to the villagers.

In India’s Ladakh region, they have the same problem, lack of water. So they have started building “artificial glaciers“.These are low-cost shallow ponds where they divert the water during the winter. The water freezes, and is slowly released as the “glacier” melts over the course of the following growing season.

These are the best type of response to a possible threat from CO2. They are inexpensive, they solve a real problem today rather than a half century from now, and they are aimed at the poor of the world.

These responses also reveal what I call the “dirty secret” of the “we’re all gonna die in fifty years from CO2″ crowd. The dirty secret of their forecasts of massive impending doom is that all of the threatened catastrophes they warn us about are here already.

All the different types of climate-related destruction that people are so worried will happen in fifty years are happening today. Droughts? We got ‘em. Floods? There’s plenty. Rising sea levels? Check. Insect borne diseases? Which ones would you like? Tornados and extreme storms? We get them all the time. People dying of starvation? How many do you want? All the Biblical Plagues of Egypt? Would you like flies with that?

Forget about what will happen in fifty years. Every possible climate catastrophe is happening now, and has been for centuries.

So if you are truly interested in those problems, do something about them today. Contribute to organizations developing salt resistant crops. Put money into teaching traditional drought resisting measures in Africa. Support the use of micro-hydroelectric plants for village energy. The possibilities are endless.

That way, whether or not the doomsayers are right about what will happen in fifty years, both then and now people will be better prepared and more able to confront the problems caused by the unpleasant vagaries of climate. Fighting to reduce CO2 is hugely expensive, has been totally unsuccessful to date, will be very damaging to the lives of the poorest people, and has no certainty of bringing the promised results. This is a very bad combination.

Me, I don’t think CO2 will cause those doomsday scenarios. But that’s just me, I’ve been wrong before. If you do care about CO2 and think it is teh eeeevil, you should be out promoting your favorite no-regrets option. Because whether or not CO2 is a danger as people claim, if you do that you can be sure that you are not just pouring money down a bottomless hole with very poor odds of success. That’s the real Precautionary Principle.

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188 thoughts on “Climate, Caution, and Precaution

  1. Not even close to reading this. In fact I just wanted to say that the +4 Umbrella of Caution can only be wielded by those who are lawful neutral…

  2. These responses also reveal what I call the “dirty secret” of the “we’re all gonna die in fifty years from CO2″ crowd. The dirty secret of their forecasts of massive impending doom is that all of the threatened catastrophes they warn us about are here already.

    I eagerly await the response to this. I’ve found that the adaptability of the human race is actually quite astonishing. I live in the are of Ohio between Dayton and Cincinnati. One of the more prominent events here, which I though of immediately following the North Dakota floods of last year, is the flood of Dayton in the early 1900s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Dayton_Flood

    Read about it and the response to it, and the capability of man to overcome nature becomes apparent. I especially like the “false” glacier ideas and fog nets outlined above. These three events show that the local population will adapt to the local conditions to survive.

  3. For some people, society pouring money down a bottomless hole is a desirable outcome. I’m talking about Al Gore, the Carbon Exchange, Goldman Sachs and others who are at the bottom of the hole scooping up that money.

  4. Bjorn Lomborg is is a proponent of this way of thinking. Even if you do buy into the idea of AGW, it’s a common sense way of dealing with the issue, and perhaps actually accomplishing some good along the way. It’s a free market, freedom enabling mindset. Which is exactly why the powers that be will never go along with it.

    Anthony, a Happy New Year to you and yours, and many thanks for your great work! Thanks also to the many learned commenters here, I learn much from scrolling through the back and forth in this section.

  5. Many thanks, Willis. An excellent and creative article that extends our ability to look at the situation rationally. Hopefully some of those in the alarmist camp will eventually allow themselves to be exposed to these kinds of ideas.

  6. Precautionary principle= don’t act without determining consequences.
    Idiot principle= act without determining consequences.
    Which principle are people following?

  7. Another great post Willis! Happy New Year sir and may logic and reason prevail more this year than the last.

    I know it’s OT for this post but I would be curious to hear your thoughts on CO2 IR wavelength absorption saturation as a limiting factor. It seems to pop up on occasion and the one serious article I’ve read on it used GISS as the reference for its calculated sensitivity.

    Also, a crazy idea to start the New Year: Subsurface (but still near surface of the 1-6 foot variety) temperatures are essentially naturally smoothed averages for the surface temperature. I’d be curious if a measurement of this type could be used… for example, as a QC check for surface station instrument measurements.

  8. Well said. If humans followed the precautionary principle the way it is interpreted by AGwarmers we should never lle in our bed: over 90% of people die in a bed.

    As for the ingenuity of humans to get water where needed, have a look at the ancient Qanats of Persia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qanat

  9. Dave F (22:56:25) :

    Not even close to reading this. In fact I just wanted to say that the +4 Umbrella of Caution can only be wielded by those who are lawful neutral…
    =================
    Dave, most people will not understand this line, but it is a travesty that I do … :)

    Anywho… great piece Willis, and echoes my feelings about the misuse of the precautionary pinciple in AGW debates. Lomborg is spot on, and we have an opposition party leader in Australia that could get a lot of mileage selling this way of thinking.

    Money would be more wisely spent on the PP to avoid possible large extinction should Apophis decide to pay earth a close visit in 26 years… at least that would be an appropriate measure to combat the known possible threat.
    =======================
    John Trigge:

    Beat me to it… do you wish to write the Abbott or shall I? :) Maybe we should chip in and send him a copy of Lomborg’s book.

  10. The Precautionary principle requires one essential ingredient: a solution that has at least a fair chance of working to solve the possible problem. The solution in this issue is to reduce CO2 emission by at least 50% now, not in 10, 20, 50 years time. They couldn’t even agree to a 1% reduction in 50 years at the Copenhagen summit. So, what’s the point of talking about the Precautionary principle if they are not prepared to believe their own nonsense and act accordingly? It’s all one big con.

    Ok, let’s think about this for one tick. Let’s assume the man-made global warming alarmist crap is actually true. The only way to avert it is to reduce CO2 emmission now, not by introducing a new tax that only makes the rich get richer and the rest of us poorer, but to start building nuclear, solar and other forms of power generation systems. At the same time there must be a complete ban on building any more coal fired power stations. Now tell that to countries like India and China. They will tell you where to go quick smart. SO, either we are all doomed or the AGW is a hoax and we’ll be OK. Take your pick.

  11. Happy New Year!

    Yes: Bjorn Lomborg is simple, makes sense, doesn’t make Goldman Sachs
    rich trading carbon credits…. Help people, today.

    (I think I have just been banned, hopelessly, from Tamino’s Open Mind site for asking too many silly questions….

    (In my mind, the PP is much worse with Big Banks: We need to break ‘em up,
    stomp on ‘em, re-introduce Glass-Stegall….)

    The mindset you introduce, however, is valuable in either case: truth, simple right.

    Did I say: Happy New Year. It’s the only one we have.

  12. I think the umbrella is an excellent example of the PP, especially in some parts of town. Notice how the knuckles are protected from abrasion in case you should accidentally brush them against something. And it may rain.

    I’m afraid of sharks, so I never swim in the Mississippi river. PP and low cost.

    And I don’t recall anyone other than the Soviets invading Afghanistan. We just sent some advisers in riding horses to help something called the Northern Alliance chase the thugs out. And bombed a little bit. :-)

  13. Bulldust and John Trigge
    Yes, write to the Abbott. He needs all the help he can get. I have spent all Christmas on it.

  14. There is a big difference between “pure” and “applied” science. Pure science often deals with controlled experimental exnvironment whereas applied science deals with all the uncertainties and vagaries of the real world. Applied science has been dealing with the precautionary principle since the dawn of history. Engineers and applied scientist use mundane term called ” factor of safety” and as a joke “factor of ignorance”. The factor of safety could be unrealistically high especially if the impacts on human health is unknown. Toxicology tests are made on animals and projected to humans and divided by the factor of safety. For example the allowable level of impurities in drinking water could be equivalent to a person drinking a truckload every day. However, the factor of safety has a specific numerical value that is adjusted as more information is available. If the particular chemical is later found to less toxic, the factor of safety is reduced. If its is found more toxic then a complete ban may be imposed. The PP just like any UN coined terminology is high sounding, highly political, very irrational and vague to a point of being meaningless. To put PP into practice, the proponent has to result to accepted political propaganda or demagoguery techniques such as those use in the CRU and the IPCC. That is bully out opposing views, silence criticism, create an atmosphere of panic, and transform the cause to political belief. Cost effectiveness together with the rational discourse are eliminated.

  15. Thanks for another thought provoking article, Willis.

    There are many example of how mankind has had massive negative effects on the environment by taking precautionary measures to cure one problem, only to find that the remedy has caused a worse problem in another direction.

    This is due to a fundamental lack of understanding about how the total system operates and until we the wisdom to fully understand the complexity, no action must be taken.

    I get very concerned when I hear about the true CAGW believers who are think that engineering the climate will become the only way to ‘save the Earth’.

    Megalomania is a very dangerous psychosis.

  16. Very sensible, and well argued article Willis.

    The ‘no regrets’ definition reminds me of the early sixties, when as a young engineering surveyor volunteer, I found myself in central Africa, working on highway schemes, infrastructure, mapping, hydroelectric projects, you name it. Was it worth it? Well to me it was, the experience was rewarding, and maybe there are a few folk, who can now trade more easily, who have electricity and better communications and health, just maybe. But on balance, I suspect that most of the wealth created by me and others now lies in a Swiss Bank.

  17. Quote: “These responses also reveal what I call the “dirty secret” of the “we’re all gonna die in fifty years from CO2″ crowd. The dirty secret of their forecasts of massive impending doom is that all of the threatened catastrophes they warn us about are here already.”

    Not quite. The oceans haven’t yet risen by 20 ft, as predicted by the Reverend Al Gore. :-)

  18. The warming doom wasn’t true in the 30’s, and it certainly isn’t true now.
    The cooling trend wasn’t irreversible in the 1890’s and 1950’s, and it probably won’t be this time either.
    One of these trends, we will get one that goes a step beyond. Wouldn’t it be great if we had already been adapting, practicing precaution, instead of singing The Sky is Falling Kumbayas?

  19. Here’s another perspective on the PP. I have no qualifications on this topic, so fill in your own likelihoods of each of the following statements being true.
    1. The “globe” is warming p=?
    2. The warming is caused by human activity p=?
    3. Humans now or will soon have the capability of reversing the warming p=?
    4. The cost of reversing it will be less than those of not doing so p=?

    Note that the values of p for 1 and 2 are irrelevant, even though probably over 90% of the discussions focus on them. The only things that matter are the p values for 3 and 4. Not being a climatologist, my opinion is irrelevant, but I suspect that no one can produce a defensible estimate of p for 3 at this time. If we don’t know whether we can reverse the warming, the p for 4 is also irrelevant. If we do know that it is reversible, then it does comes into play. However that p value might still indicate that coping with the warming is a better approach (much to some people’s chagrin).

    Note that the above is not really complete. We should also factor in the possibility that intervening might cause more damage than the coping alternative.

    Where can I get a good price on a fog net? Does it come with a 10-year warranty?

  20. “The rule of the no-regrets approach is very simple — do things that will provide real, immediate, low-cost, tangible benefits whether or not the threat is real. That way you won’t regret your actions.”

    Indeed! I mean, we were going to have to maintain and raise living standards ANYWAY, and who knows…

    Maybe some other catastrophic event will take place, in which case we’d be caught with our pants down in “retooling” civilization.

    Maybe, despite any real problem that might materialize, our current sources of energy are the only cost-effective way that would save as many human lives as possible.

    Maybe any real problem would turn out to not be C02, but rather something else!

    But these points and many others that I’ve argued with various greens over the years are wasted time and wasted breath. They want themselves and others to be afraid, to “atone”, and they want that massive ego-trip of self-righteousness that comes from being “the good shepherd”.

    Oh well. Human nature will over-run there plans. They may think that in promoting all this greenery that they are changing human nature, but when all is said and done…

    …nothing has changed about human nature! They’re damming something that cannot be dammed up! They are not in controll of anything!

    About a year before Climategate was “household” word, I predicted that something big was going to happen (in terms of AGW issue) in 2009, and probably late in the year as the growing economic hardships set in. That was my prediction for 2009 in the year 2008. My prediction for 2010 is that the whole plan will be all but forgotten. Human nature can do some amazing turn-arounds in such a short time.

    Oh, and… Happy new year, all !!!

  21. @NickB

    “I know it’s OT for this post but I would be curious to hear your thoughts on CO2 IR wavelength absorption saturation as a limiting factor. It seems to pop up on occasion and the one serious article I’ve read on it used GISS as the reference for its calculated sensitivity”

    Can you give a reference to this article ? This is something I have puzzled over as well but I can’t find any relevant information.

  22. I absolutely agree that Willis’s approach is the right one. I wouldn’t even mind paying (yet) more for my energy bills if the money raised was genuinely going to pay for upgrading flood defences on the one hand (which we need irrespective of any ‘risk’ of Greenland melting) or providing affordable, reliable energy for the third world on the other.

    And if that energy is produced by modern, efficient coal fired power stations using indigenous coal, then so far as I’m concerned, that’s great!

    But what is now on offer is the destruction of the Western economies chasing a chimera. And incidentally transferring unbelievable amounts of money and power to Pachauri, to Maurice Strong, to the Carbon Exchanges, to Goldman Sachs, to the Goracle and to all the other crooked scumbags who are busily pumping up the AGW scam. And not forgetting the vote hungry scientifically illiterates like Obama, Brown, Milipede and Rudd (the Genius of the Antipodes).

    These are the people we have to beat, not a few deluded Greenies. Some pepper spray will deal with them.

    I’m not in favour of Capital Punishment. But I think I could put a brave face on seeing heads on pikestaffs around the keep of the Tower of London for some of the big money crooks whose activities are sucking hope out of the third world, terrifying our children and destroying what’s left of our economies.

  23. In full agreement that CO2 is not the stuff which “will cause those doomsday scenarios”, but the precautionary principle (PP) needs to be applied on a global level with regard to the oceans.
    Back in 1982 the “UN Convention on the Law of the Sea” stipulated in Article 197:
    “States have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.”
    This obligation is international law since 1994, and the document has constitutional quality. If the States and we all would prevent manmade changes in the marine environment, serious anthropogenic changes in the global weather pattern would be much less likely to be happening. The Convention provides a whole section on Marine Scientific Research (Part XIII). Why did our forefathers seem to have understood the global natural commons much better as we? For example:
    ____Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519): “Water is the driver of nature”.
    ____ Johann-Wolfgang v. Goethe, (1749-1832)
    “ Everything comes from water. Everything is maintained through water. Ocean, give us your eternal power”,
    while more recently
    ___a letter to NATURE in 1992 (Vol.360, p.292) suggested to say:
    “Climate is the continuation of the oceans by other means”.
    ___Instead, IPCC says: “that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver“, (The conclusions reflect the scientific consensus represented by, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and U.S. Global Change Research Program, wrote 18 US scientific societies to the Seanate on 21 October 2009). Details: http://www.whatisclimate.com

    If climate would be regarded as driven by the oceans, understanding, protecting and preserving of the oceans and seas could get a chance to commence in serious, and subsequently protect the status of the atmosphere in the best possible way as well.
    Happy 2010!

  24. Lady in Red (00:31:31)

    (I think I have just been banned, hopelessly, from Tamino’s Open Mind site for asking too many silly questions….

    Dear Lady, it is a badge of honor. I only lasted about three questions myself. That’s how you can tell the real scientists who believe in what they are saying and who are devotees of the scientific method, they censor opposing views … it’s the infallible mark of the truly inquisitive open mind.

    Tamino is Grant Foster, and he’s a piece of work. Look him up in the CRU emails, he’s in there up to his ears. He circulated reviewers comments on a paper in contravention of scientific practice. He worked with others to pick reviewers for another paper, reviewers who would not look hard at the results but would pass it without critical review … or as Phil Jones characterised them, “All of them know the sorts of things to say – about our comment and the awful original, without any prompting.” He was involved in trying to pressure an editor about another paper.

    “Open Mind”? I love the hubris of these guys, it’s too precious, “Open Mind” …

    w.

  25. I would argue that the AGW hysteria is a great example of why the precautionary principle is bunk. I invite people to peruse the Proactionary Principle, which, unlike the Precautionary Principle, requires that people evaluate the cost vs benefit of all opportunity costs of choosing any course of action (including CO2 regulation). Using the proactionary principle, it becomes clear that carbon trading or taxing are both immoral and invalid options.

  26. “The rule of the no-regrets approach is very simple — do things that will provide real, immediate, low-cost, tangible benefits whether or not the threat is real. That way you won’t regret your actions.”

    This is the way to go. Even if AGW is valid we cannot possibly reduce man-made CO2 to any significant level that would make any measurable difference to the planet. Instead of pouring vast sums trying to reduce plant food we should go for the cost effective, no-regrets approach which have benefits today and in the future. As Willis Eschenbach “The possibilities are endless.”

  27. After writing to our local MP about Climategate, the biased response of the mainstream media, and the threat to democracy of the whole AGW issue, I got a letter from him in which he did appear to recognise the need for the state of affairs at CRU to be investigated, but he also put forward the absolute necessity to pursue the precautionary principle with regard to CO2 emissions. I have just now forwarded him the link to Willis Eschenbach’s article. I really hope he reads it.

  28. I just have never understood what all the panic is about. Life on this rock is carbon based and thrives at higher levels of CO2 and warmth. Cold and low CO2=Death. So what if we lose some beach front property? Think of all the new construction (and jobs ) that would engender further inland, and in places where we currently can’t build or farm because of the crappy weather. Natural warmth means less energy needed to stay warm thru artificial means. And on and on. I just don’t see a downside to more CO2 and warmth.

    Maybe the new year will bring some sanity to our politicians. Nah.

  29. Brilliant article Willis! I love it, common sense science and practicality! – I shall be forwarding some sections and the url to many people!

    Thanks

  30. You state the Precautionary principle as follows:
    1)A threat of serious or irreversible damage.
    2)A lack of full scientific certainty (in other words, the existence of partial but not conclusive scientific evidence).
    3)The availability of cost-effective measures that we know will prevent the problem.

    Although analogies are dangerous and can lead to specific conclusions which would not apply in the situation to which the analogy is being applies, they can also provide a measure of insight.

    Let us take it that global warming is a genuine danger and that some of the wilder scenarios are in fact correct. There appears to neither empirical nor sound theoretical support for these points, but lets us leave that to one side.

    Let us now imagine a patient going to his doctor with a cough.

    The doctor reasons as follows:

    1) Lung cancer sufferers often have coughs
    2) Lung cancer is a devastating disease and if not tackled early will almost inevitably prove untreatable and fatal.

    Treatment for lung cancer will be a mixture of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Administering these is known to be extremely unpleasant, painful, debilitating and risky. There will unquestionably be a diminution in the quality of life of the patient as a result of the treatment alone.

    Furthermore, given that around 40,000 cases of lung cancer are detected annually in the UK, if we assume that there is one GP visit per person per annum, and that 50% of people visiting their doctor will have some respiratory problem, then the number of cases detected will be something in the region of 40,000 / (50%*60,000,000) or 1 in 1,300.

    However, on the basis of the Precautionary Principle as applied by the MMGW activists, the doctor should immediately apply all of these treatments with the utmost vigour, reasoning that even if this patient does not have cancer, the price paid will be well worth it, even if the consequence is that the treatment actually kills or renders the patient severely damaged. That such a perversion of the application of rational use of statistics and treatment that it is not credible that such a doctor would survive any kind of peer review of his practices.

    But the big differences are that

    1)Lung cancer is indeed a virulent and life-threatening disease
    2)No doctor would begin violent and harmful treatment one the basis of a diagnosis based on a single piece of evidence which could indicate many other completely harmless conditions
    3)In general, doctors are not paid to inflict the most devastating treatments on the basis of the weakest evidence, or evidence where the quality of the sources was highly compromised, or where they have exchanged emails with other doctors suggesting that they will suppress or modify the actual results of tests or fail to use 75% of data obtained.

    There may be a case for the use of a ‘Precautionary Principle’, however, there is no evidence or reason to suppose that MMGW is such as case.

  31. Whilst this makes a great deal of sense, I was curious about how your argument would read from a “greenie” perspective. After all, I was told by a greenie that the point of limiting CO2, regardless of whether climatology is right, is that it would force limits to consumption, which would in turn force a limit or reduction of “greed”. She was quite candid about this. My impression is that she was quite sincere, as she’d moved countries twice looking for a green job to do with limiting CO2.

    So I pop over to The Ecologist web site today and notice an article with this quotation:

    ‘On the one hand FOE is concerned about human rights and environmental protection. On the other hand, you have PR projects funded by industries that destroy the environment and commit human rights abuses,’ says head of economics Ed Matthews.

    That quotation seems to be one of the typical green views, basically that corporations are evil psychopaths. I think to many people, environmentalism is inherently “OK” because it resonates with their dislike of corporations. Here the Precautionary Principle is mostly about simply limiting the power of corporations. I’d say the PP becomes framed as,

    “It is cost-effective for the consumer to pay 15% more for products, if a giant corporation is forced to prevent Bhopal style disasters that kill thousands of innocents and ruin ecosystems, and we won’t postpone legislation just because the corporations can hire so-called experts to muddy the data about the real damage.”

    Along these lines, it is also more cost effective for the consumer, to classify CO2 as a “pollutant” as this simply speeds up the process of placing every corporation under tighter legislative controls, rather than having to painstakingly explore the case for every single chemical in turn, and wait decades for the legal fights to be resolved. Let’s just whack on a big tax and then use the money to clean up. Again, from the point of view of the consumer, this is more “cost-effective”.

    (Of course, when carbon trading is linked back to Enron, that public support begins to crack at the foundations.)

    Then there is the “deep ecology” view. As far as I understand this (not that I’ve made a study of it), deep ecology is a perspective from “outside”, gazing at the planet as a “blue marble” in space. When viewed from this perspective, there is just “the whole” and it can even seem spiritual; The One, The Way, Unity, God, etc. From this perspective, humanity is just one species, one part of the intricate and homeostatic whole, and the whole is more important than any part. Consider, what does this do to our “cost-benefit” analysis in the Precautionary Principle?

    “The cost to multiple species, so serious a cost that they are threatened with extinction, is far greater than the cost to one species—to limit their own numbers—and this limit should be imposed even if there is insuffiecient data to determine when and how these multiple extinctions might occur.”

    This can be applied at multiple scales. Consider the cost of eating tuna fish, where overfishing damages multiple ocean species, when you could just eat carrots. Or consider the cost of having three children, when the whole planet is heading into a virtually certain cataclysm when one day, things just run out. It really doesn’t matter when or how. It doesn’t matter if we manage to invent new technology that gives us another boost, just like the green revolution gave us a boost in the 60s. All that led to was increasing numbers, as we keep having kids, rather than stopping and being satisfied with our place in the ecosystem.

    I guess that there are other currents of thought in environmentalism, but I wonder that these two, corporate-psychopathology, and humanity-as-cancer, are the two that seem to keep appearing. I wonder that in each of those perspectives, the PP becomes a rather different calculation. We can all agree on the PP, we just come to different answers.

    Personally I believe there are answers to each of those versions of the PP (basically it is about what they each ignore). But my point is that, people’s worldview will interpret the PP and alter the calculation.

    Like the greenie campaigner said to me, CO2 doens’t particularly matter, it is about what it can facilitate for the cause. So we need to tackle the underlying worldview, the “cause” of the cause.

    As one strategy fails, greenines will simply regroup and reframe with new strategies. The Ecologist today has an article about “blackwashing” (doom scenarios), and how they are not working. They realise that the public is turning against them. They admit that their data about “extinctions” is partly made up, anyhow. But they restate their determination to continue, and that they will need new strategies, even if this makes them appear more moderate.

    I think we need to engage them and demonstrate why the Precautinary Principle doesn’t work, not via our worldview’s interpretation (which I entirely agree with), but through their worldview’s interpretations.

    We need to show why mankind is not a cancer from the perspective of Gaia, and why corporations are not all bad from a perspective of sensitive caring.

    But if we can’t, then the greens largely have a point.

  32. By George, I think you’ve got it.

    Here is an e-mail (non-CRU) which I sent to John Ray some while ago (you may not agree with it all):

    ——
    After forty years of listening to greenie scare stories, (even believing some of them at one time) I think I am starting to see a pattern emerging. It seems to start as:

    Plan A: The Scam

    We have identified an ecological disaster and HUMANS ARE TO BLAME. But if you pay us lots of money and do exactly what we say, we may be able to fix it in time.

    For some inexplicable reason, this does not convince everyone, so we need:

    Plan B: The Precautionary Principle

    Well, even if we’re wrong, you still ought to pay us lots of money and do exactly what we say.

    For some inexplicable reason, this also does not convince everyone, so we need:

    Plan C: The Tipping Point

    OK. So nothing is happening and there isn’t any evidence, but there will be soon if you don’t PAY US THE MONEY!

    This method seems to be a limp-wristed version of that used by Ronnie and Reggie Kray in the East End of London many years ago, and was known then as extortion, or, “demanding money with menaces.” (but now it is called “environmentalism.” I suppose at least we have a longer word.) Although the Kray’s methods seem to have been:

    a. less verbose

    b. arguably more cost-effective, and

    c. they had the cojones to do their own dirty work.

    The greenie extortionists, having failed at plan C, exhort the legal authorities to silence the dissenters. And if that doesn’t work they incite young, idealistic and naive people into acquiring a criminal record on their behalf. Maybe we should just say “BOO” to the greenies for a change. Being polite only lets them get away with it.

    Yours,

  33. “We have full scientific certainty that seat belts save lives, and that using an umbrella keeps us dry. Thus, using them is not an example of the PP, it is simply acting reasonably on principles about which we are scientifically certain.”

    Not disagreeing with the bulk of this article, but the above statement is incorrect, and should probably be removed. There is no scientific certainty that using an umbrella will keep you any drier than not using one ( ex. it might not rain), nor is there certainty that a seat-belt will save your life (ex. you might not get into an accident). PP certainly does apply to your decision to buckle up or bring an umbrella with you.

  34. Mention of the simple things brings to mind a clip on TV a while back which told the tale of a chap in some part of Africa who built water pumps using old bicycle parts.He managed to back the pumping into a game so all the small kids could take turns pumping,brilliant and affordable low tech. Can’t rmember where i saw it but it would be wonderful to see this guy get some backing.
    PS Lady in Red,I know a place where you would be welcome ;)

  35. I always tell my alarmist friends that the best way to reduce/end CO2 production is to make other ways of deriving the energy required for civilization without CO2 production cheaper (without taxes/subsidies).

    And it won’t cost trillions. It will only cost billions. Which is a LOT. But billions we can afford. Trillions? Not so much.

  36. “The three key parts of the PP (emphasis mine) are:
    1) A threat of serious or irreversible damage.
    2) A lack of full scientific certainty (in other words, the existence of partial but not conclusive scientific evidence).
    3) The availability of cost-effective measures that we know will prevent the problem.”

    Let’s apply this to the firm of Hansen, Mann, Schmidt & Jones and why they need to keep the myth of AGW alive.

    1) Their life style would take a serious hit.
    2) They may not get another position with equal or greater funding.
    3) Hide the decline.

    It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

  37. Contribute to organizations developing salt resistant crops. Put money into teaching traditional drought resisting measures in Africa. Support the use of micro-hydroelectric plants for village energy. The possibilities are endless.

    I agree with a STRONG rider NOT to accept GM as a solution,
    the truth is there were and are many drounght cold low light whatever crops, Monsanto in particular have gained control of small and isolated sources and destroyed them.
    they use some they now control as sources to enhance, at massive cost to the farmer, and also to the environment.
    the insane high chem and fertilizer useages these so called saviour crops? rely on are our worst nightmares come true.
    To me PP is do not harm and enhance what is natural -to defend , rescue.
    work with nature not against it, so much easier.
    A Happy New Year to all from a surprisingly cool Aus

  38. There is no precautionary principle to match commonsense, humility, and a little bit of fact-finding. Especially when big sums of money are involved.

    Willis, thanks, I’m fed up to my back teeth with this panacea being presented as safe and beneficial, when it’s actually dangerous and harmful, if one does even an elementary check.

    Someone recently quoted another principle that scuppers PP but I forget what. Anyone know?

  39. PP is a Political Policy, not a scientific one based on “real” issues. It is an “excuse” to do whatever the great minds at the global and national leadership levels want to do about anything that strikes their fancy. It is a waste of mental energy and personal and national wealth to ascribe reasonableness or precaution –or spend a penny– in any case that uses “the existence of partial but not conclusive scientific evidence”. My hangup is the term “scientific”. It used to mean something. It no longer does. Climategate has so abused the word that it now means nothing whatsoever; its a joke. For something to have anything approaching the old fashioned definition of scientific basis it must first have qualified minds in the field(s) being addressed. Today, we see socialologists, gynacologists, etc., etc., pontificating about anything but their field of study and some stupid politician or media type calling them scientists (as if they were qualified to speak on any subject that crossed their little minds). This issue is about power, political power, pure and simple. How do you sway 6+ billion people to do something YOU want them to do, get a “scientist” (any PhD will do) to tell them the simply have to. Sick!

    PS: “conclusive scientific evidence”? Sorry, it died of overheating and exposure to too much CO2 and AGW.

  40. I never understood the application of the PP. Acting without all the facts (in the case of not waiting for scientific certainty) can be more damaging than doing nothing at all. I have continually argued against it, especially since some of the AGW’ers’ “geoengineering solutions” seem more likely to kill than global warming itself. And a warmer climate would not hurt us. An Ice Age or a prolonged period of cooling, on the other hand, would kill quite a few of us.

    Just my two cents.

  41. “Support the use of micro-hydroelectric plants for village energy.”

    What of the poor snail darters!?

  42. See, here is the thing, Willis Eschenbach. You are talking common sense in an irrational world. Remember, the goal of these people is not to make life better for the poor or to fix the world’s climate problems. The goal of these people is to make money and to become powerful. Solving a problem dries up the source of income. That is because if the problem is solved, you can’t display the face of a poor child or of a poor polar bear or of a poor something on the ads used to generate money.

    Which of these two do you think gets more money:
    -“Poor Pedro lives in the slums of Peru. Please send us money to so we can help Pedro’s slum adapt to global warming.”
    -“Poor Pedro lives in the slums of Peru. Thanks to your help, we have installed fog nets to make sure Pedro’s family has clean water. Please keep sending us money.”

    You see, no problem = no funding. If the problem is solved, people will think “Why should I send money? The problem is fixed.” Very few will think, “This group did what they promised and did a good job too. I will send them more money to help others.”

    These people are really scam artists. They exploit the poor’s despondent looks for their own financial gain. They show pictures of cute or popular animals like they are going to be extinct tomorrow. They play on emotion to pilfer your money. It is not, nor has it ever been, about fixing the problem.

    Mr. Eschenbach, you make a lot of sense. I learned a long time ago, humans are emotional creatures and not logical creatures. I have seen it many times, with a deep-seated emotion, not even God himself could change someone’s opinion. Most people aren’t that extreme, but far too many people will hold onto an emotion until they have no choice but to acknowledge otherwise. The key is to reach the people who would listen to reason even if it goes against their opinion.

  43. Draconian measures to limit CO2 actually violate the Precautionary Principle rather than fulfill it. Comparable to Willis’ ecosystem analogy, crippling the fossil fuel economy is like removing the “top predator” in a food web. The effects will cascade all over the place and degrade the system. Precautionary efforts would seek to increase the alternatives before instead of cutting off the primary controller in the system.

  44. The PP is a restatement of the Pascal Wager, which is a binary bet on god’s existence. The flaw in the Pascal Wager is that there is more than one god worshipped. So even if i buy the argument, i do not know if to follow allah, the hindu gods, christ, zeus, etc.

    The PP issue is that we have at least 3 outcomes, which are an Ice Age, Interglacial, or Global Warming. Actions to reduce CO2 levels would make an ice age worse.

  45. The precautionary principle as it has been included in the Lisbon treaty is nothing more but an insurance policy for the continuation of the destructive policies and tax scams, even when the science says otherwise.

    In the real world it’s called bad policies, very bad policies and we must hold our politicians accountable for those policies.

    If we don’t, we will pay a very high price.

    Thanks for the article Willis and Anthony thanks for posting it.

  46. For those who don´t know (thanks to the “New Age”, post-modern, education):
    -Carbon dioxide it is no black, it is a transparent gas.
    -Carbon dioxide is the gas we exhale (aproximately 900 grams per day)
    -Carbon dioxide (the gas we exhale) is what the plants breath.
    -Carbon dioxide it is the element out of which plants make carbohydrates (sugars, cellulose) with water using the light energy from the sun.
    -If we remove Carbon dioxide there won´t exist your underwear or your pant or skirts, so you would walk totally nude, before going extint, because, my dear babies, sons and daughter of the supreme moron, “Al Baby”,
    -We, humans, are made of carbon, water and nitrogen, and if one of the elements of this mix lacks, you lack baby!

  47. Willis, you wouldn’t mind doing another article on the other problems in the Rio and related texts, would yout? I’ve tried to read and understand the consequenses of UNFCCC’s Text of the Conventiont for a while now, and it just keeps getting worse.. Thank you for this one!

    @ Dave F (22:56:25)
    Let’s just hope it isn’t cursed and carry one away like Mary Poppins ;)

  48. There are a number of problems with the Precautionary Principle, or the “better safe than sorry” approach to control and regulation. As explained by the author above, PP works well when risk/reward can be measured. But we can see what happens when activists apply PP to the things they do not like: technological or medical advancement, people’s behaviour, etc. Since the PP excludes the requirement of “full scientific certainty” (whatever the heck that is – let’s call it objectivity), rules can be imposed by politicos who listen to those activists with the loudest, most emotional arguments. In other words, it all becomes subjective at best, superstitious at worst.

  49. Adding to the “Precautionary Principle” post above we should also think about the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”

    See the following here from the WSJ relating to biofuels:

    “…some earlier studies didn’t account for one hard-to-measure factor: the decision by farmers world-wide to convert forest and grasslands to grow feedstock for the new biofuels.

    Draining and clearing peatlands in Malaysia and Indonesia to grow palm oil emits so much CO2 that palm biodiesel from those fields would have to be burned for more than 420 years to counteract it.”

    And in another example
    here

    “Britain is mulling tougher labeling standards to make it more difficult for imported food to carry an “organic” label. The idea is to make it less appealing to air-freight in fruits and veggies from Africa, with their aircraft emissions, in order to save the developing world from the ravages of global warming somewhere down the road. But one group may come out the loser much sooner: poor farmers in the developing world.

    These kinds of issues will simply multiply as the world fumbles about with an experiment never before carried out: adjusting Earth’s thermostat.

    Do the alarmists think that the world will have any will or resources left to fight other real environmental problems when so much effort is suddenly switched to drastically reducing CO2?

  50. Instead I would suggest to apply the Precautionary Principle to those individuals or institutions which pretend knowingly or unknowingly, purportedly or unpurportedly, innocently or maliciously, to diminish the amount of CO2, because it is a proven fact what the lack of carbon dioxide would cause to life on earth, and so directly and gravely affecting human life, human activities,etc. implicitly representing a serious violation of the human rights.

  51. As someone pointed out, the PP is essentially Pascals Wager, which in itself is only consistent if the deity involved is the vengeful type. It is a wager bound to a set of knowable outcomes. For those who may be wondering: consider the possibility that the deity involved, if they exist, couldn’t care less what you believe.

    Personally I think the PP is a crock for the simple reason is that it prevents people doing anymore work on a subject as they can bound it all as ‘within a precautionary principle’. The mistake here is confusing the PP with the Law of Diminishing Returns i.e. you have investigated enough to have a basic but consolidated idea of what is going on so any further investigations into minutae will not give you more valuable insight. The whole CO2 issue is exactly this. People continually parrot on about the basic physics of Co2 radiative properties and so on, and believe that if we know this we can extrapolate to the atmosphere (this is what the original models did). Well the problem is that the atmosphere is a very very complicated system and elements within that system may not have the same effect as they do on their own. The physics becomes more complicated. There can be coupling processes for instance. It’s like saying you understand high temperature superconductivity because you have an understanding of electron conduction processes in crystals. Well to a point yes but then you have to explain why the same conduction process in the material suddenly does something extraordinary on reaching a certain temperature.
    The only way to know is to measure and test theories out. The PP prevents people sticking to that path as it assumes that all outcomes are knowable, hence you don’t keep trying to find out in parallel. Richard Lindzen was on Channel 4 interview and he said something very insightful: What do you do if you commit all this money to reducing CO2 (on the basis of a PP), change the world economy beyond repair and find out you were wrong?
    Its not the same thing as Pascals Wager. The price of believing is every bit as damaging as not. The only option is to keep trying to improve the knowledge of CO2 radiative processes in a lab or a larger scale simulator, something that all the major climate scientists don’t seem to be doing. Funny that.

  52. The precautionary principle is a particularly virulent aspect of post-modernist science. This was developed by a couple of left-wing philosophers in the 1960s and 1970s and stemmed from the hang-ups that humanities faculties have with science, which appears to them to deal in absolutes. In a nutshell, the normal definition of scientific logic is replaced by a sociological definition of logic, in that one does not test a hypothesis but considers what the effect of a particular scientific speculation has on society. The hypothesis doesn’t need to be rigorous. testable or right, it just has to be raised so that society can respons to it. The precautionary principle is the response in post modern science to an untested hypothesis.

  53. Would you like flies with that?

    Nice sense of humor.

    As far as the concept of insurance goes, you pay a predetermined rate to mitigate a quantifiable risk. Climate risk is not measurable, and the Precautionary Principle is not even a WAG.

  54. The biggest problem mankind has with AGWers is that they control the agenda and refuse to answer questions in real time which might embarrass them.

    Perhaps the thing to do is this:

    1. Draw up a list of 50 – 100 projects which WILL benefit the poor WITHIN 3 YEARS.
    2. Ask the politicians why they aren’t being funded.
    3. PROPOSE that they are funded and grants to green lobbyists axed to pay for it.
    4. THREATEN them if they try and keep funding their buddies who do nothing.

    Ah.

    The word THREATEN.

    That makes me in the pay of big oil doesn’t it? Or an Al Qa’ida terrorist? Or a person who doesn’t espouse democracy?

    Don’t think so.

    It says I no longer accept what politicos say, what they do or what they claim they will do.

    I wonder how many more feel the same way?

  55. For the people asking about saturation of the absorption band of CO2 – my notes:

    keyword is climate sensitivity of CO2.
    probably overestimated by IPCC:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/07/15/9373/

    CO2, Soot, Modeling and Climate Sensitivity
    Warming Caused by Soot, Not CO2
    “The absorption frequencies of CO2 are already saturated, meaning
    that the atmosphere already captures close to 100% of the radiation
    at those frequencies.”

    And from
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/07/15/9373/ :
    As Dr. Roy Spencer, meteorologist and former NASA scientist,
    puts it: “They program climate models so that they are
    sensitive enough to produce the warming in the last 50 years
    with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. They then
    point to this as ‘proof’ that the CO2 caused the warming,
    but this is simply reasoning in a circle.”

    in http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/07/15/9373/
    a beautiful graph by Anthony Watts that shows how close we are
    to saturation
    “we are indeed pretty close to saturation of the response”
    Dr. Heinz Hug has said this in the 80ies already.

    I found an argument by pro AGW people that says “but in the cold stratosphere the absorption spectrum changes”. As far as i could
    find out, yes it does: its less smeared out and more sharp
    peaks. Well if its LESS smeared out than that should result in even
    LESS absorption in the stratosphere – my thinking.

  56. Lindsay H

    Rather than read Gavins ramblings on co2 have a look at Slocums vey elegant 1955 demolition of Callendars 1938 co2 theory.

    http://www.pensee-unique.eu/001_mwr-083-10-0225.pdf

    Slocum realised that Callendar had cherry picked co2 measurements in order to demonstrate his theory. Keeling in turn accepted Callendars figures of 300ppm -the rest as they say is history, even though the evidence to the contrary lies in Callendars own archives which are a revealing read.

    Tonyb

  57. I have always thought that the precautionary principle can easily be rebutted by wheeling out the law of unintended consequences.

  58. Urban heat island effect is real and measurable. Let’s paint all the parking lots white and plant some trees in parking lots and cities.

  59. The information in these comments is simply astounding, thought-provoking, and a credit to all contributors. However, for many people, form often trumps substance so grammatical and spelling errors often dissuade others from getting the full weight of your comments. May I kindly suggest that after typing your entry, right click in the comment area, “Select All”, hit “Ctrl C” (for copy) and paste (Ctrl V) it in a word processor in which you apply the grammar and spell checker. After correcting, copy it back to your comment space; if you mess up, you still have a copy of it in your word processor. I’m often incapable of finding my own errors, so this procedure has been very beneficial personally, and if applied to your comments, will make them error free and more persuasive.

  60. Religions use the precautionary principle very well (better give 15% of your income to the church in case there is a hell!). Notice though there is no way out if you want to cover all your bets — you can’t give a little to every religion and be covered by all of them. You also can’t ‘just’ be a good person, you have to embrace one and reject the others (in fact, you don’t even have to be a good person in the end).

    I think that is where your ideas meet resistance. Being an environmentally ‘good person’ isn’t enough. Helping people already in need isn’t enough. You have to sign on, and you have to view all other acts of goodness as competitors.

  61. Terra Preta satisfies this precautionary principle.

    Terra preta, means black earth in Portugese, and refers to the dark black soil in about 10 % of Amazonia, which is now known to have been man made. It is extremely fertile soil, whereas the surrounding natural yellow clay soil is very poor. Scientists have now discovered the reason for terra pretas’ fertility: charcoal. It turns out that the pre-Columbian Amerindians discovered that putting charcoal in the soil traps nutrients and water, and that vast quantities of microorganisms thrive in terra preta. These microorganisms form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, and carry the charcoal trapped nutrients and moisture to the plant roots.

    Once established, (two to three years for optimal microorganism growth) terra preta does not require any further fertilizer, and water usage drops about 15%. Crops can be grown without rotation (forty years in some places), and lands that are otherwise too arid to grow crops, can be used to grow them. Often terra preta yields are double that of conventional farming.

    And if CO2 sequestration is your thing, charcoaling plant and animal matter eliminates about 30 % of the carbon in them from retuning to the atmosphere for hundreds, even thousands of years. Some of the terra preta soils are several thousand years old. Plus the gas and oil which is produced in the charcoaling process, can be used for fuel, and the fuel source is sustainable.

  62. Great article and comments, but to me the use of the precautionary principle is yet another dishonest twist by AGW proponents who realise that their central argument is weakening- in precisely the same way as they now prefer to use the term “climate change” rather than Global Warming.

    If their science and models are correct, the precautionary principle does not apply: we are headed for disaster and it is imperative that we immediately stop and reverse human produced CO2 emissions.

    However, if they are saying that this is merely a matter of precaution, this implies that their science and models are not correct (they cannot have it both ways). If they are not correct, then please point me to the science that requires precaution, unless we should take precaution against every possible eventuality in the world, which i guess would mean we would hide under our beds, hugging our money that we have withdrawn from banks and the market, and never, ever fall in love or make friends because it might break our heart or they might betray us.

    Yes, human produced CO2 (and farting cows) just might cause GW (along with multiple other possibilities). The problem is that the science is just not there. The amazing and paranoid machinations of the Climategate “scientists” only reinforce this conclusion (if you doubt me, see http://assassinationscience.com/climategate/).

    It is New Year, 2010. Alcohol can produce cirrhosis of the liver, but I drink a toast to you all. Perhaps the miserable AGW zealots are applying the precautionary principle to alcohol this New Year. If they did, they would probably have a better scientific foundation. As a moderate drinker I probably have a far higher chance of dying from cirrhosis of the liver than the world has of warming from human produced CO2.

    Cheers everyone. Here’s to 2010: Scientific method. Falsification. Replication. And did i forget something? Oh yes, accountability….

  63. In general the precautionary principle and its variants are the most dangerous of ideas. Dangerous in the sense that right thinking individuals seem completely unable to defend against its onslaught.

    Take the example of the War against Iraq. Mr Eschenbach did not talk about the Afghanistan war presumably because it does not come under the realm of science. The case for the Iraq war was not admittedly made on ‘scientific grounds’ but it can still serve as an useful example. The case was made on reasoning, not outright appeal to emotion. Various strands of ‘intelligence’ were woven together. Colin Powell showed ‘physical evidence’ for the existence of WMDs at the UN presentation. Iraq did nothing to provoke aggression. But yet ‘the coalition of willing’ invaded to strike preemptively. We all know what happened next about the WMDs.

    To be able to hold back, to not do anything until the precise moment is a valuable thing – in politics and in real life. To not do anything keeps choices alive, keeps the options open, affords valuable time to see if the predictions appear to be shaping up. Preparedness is one thing, decisive action is another.

    In general, all the harm that humans do to one another come couched in the precautionary principle.

    Look at climate science:
    A great science evolves in the past 20 years
    The science makes predictions of dramatic change in long range events
    These events have transpired in the exact same period the science has evolved.
    With all its advances, the science has confirmed findings that were present at the initial stages of its evolution.
    The conclusions of this science are that action needs to be taken and it has to be done *now*, no later.
    The consequences of inaction are catastrophic.
    The proposed actions that need to be taken are irreversible.
    All the codified facts of this science consist in models and retrospective data. The retrospective data is not direct measured quantities but reconstructions.
    No prospective data can be had because the periods of observation exceed the average productive lifespan of human beings.
    No experimentation is possible.
    In the face of these limitations, the science has arrived at a level of unprecedented certainty.

    And now we are being told that we should undertake global legislative action under a quasi-governmental authority based on the precationary principle applied to the conclusions of such a ‘science. Anyone game?

  64. I find the “lack of clean water” problem in third world countries interesting. My family lives in St. Thomas. Everyone there has a cistern. A cistern is usually a 10’ square concrete holding tank for rain water that is caught off a roof top. I find that I have to explain what a cistern is because most people outside of the islands don’t know what a cistern is. You must have a cistern because there are no lakes, or streams or glaciers on the island.

    I am surprised that not more people have cisterns in the states. If you are worried about local pollution you can be in complete control of your own water supply. Of course in the north there is the problem of freezing.

    Now, you say, but concrete tanks are expensive! My family originally comes from St. Bart’s. Some of the old time Frenchie’s still live there (quite nicely, I might add) in two room stone houses. Their only water supply are two 18 inch in diameter, 24 inch tall, clay pots collecting rain water from the roof. I must point out that it does not rain much in St. Bart’s either.

    How hard is that to implement?

    What keeps people going back to dirty rivers? Tradition? Politics? They don’t know what a cistern is? Lack of roofs? It seems most poor people at least have a galvanized tin roof. In St. Thomas most roofs are painted plywood.

  65. In the case of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), PP only applies to the effects of those changes to our environment.

    The consensus for ACC is solid. To say it isn’t is just ignoring the wealth of evidence in support of ACC. To those who say ACC isn’t real, I can only suggest either educating yourself better, or trust the experts – over 95% agree that ACC is real. To ignore the issue altogether is just being irresponsible.

    The degree and timing of the effects of ACC are still under study. How we address these effects is where the PP is applied.

    Regardless of dooms-day scenarios of rising ocean levels, there are measurable effects that can be extrapolated to near-term problems for humanity. For example, the melting of glaciers that are the primary sources of water for many people is not in dispute. We can only surmise what will happen when those people run out of drinking water. What would you do if you ran out of drinking water?

    PP is so much of a concern, the military is taking action to plan for the effects of ACC.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9580815

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/science/earth/09climate.html

    So, don’t confuse the reality of ACC with its possible effects. The former is not in dispute, but the latter is not fully understood.

  66. But…reintroducing wolves in a grazed forest is asking for trouble. It will create an unbalanced system if sheep and cattle are still present (easier to catch so deer and elk herds keep growing). Wolves and cougars were removed in order to graze domestic herds. Deer and elk were killed at-will when fresh meat was needed so over population by deer and elk were controlled (IE hunting taking the place of the wolves and cougars in the chain). So balance was maintained. However, re-introducing wolves and limiting cougar kill throws the system out of whack again as long as domestic stock are present. So either the domestic stock and their protectors are removed or the protectors should be allowed to harvest at will. And that means at-will kill of both predator and deer/elk.

  67. The PP is not even Pascal’s Wager. In Pascal’s Wager, there’s an upside either way. The PP just says that you have to buy insurance, which is an expense. And often you hear one of the two arguments in favor of carbon caps:

    1) “What’s wrong with clean air”?
    2) This will reduce oil imports, so will be an economic benefit.

    The first on is just vapid, and the second one is false, especially in the coal-rich US.

    We’re not so fortunate as to this being a Pascal’s Wager “win-win” situation.

  68. If someone tries to argue using the precautionary principle, the best response is to beat them with their own stick.

    The “catastrophe” scenario they envision is a rise in sea level that pushes back the shoreline. Because they are using the precautionary principle, arguments about this scenario’s low probability are disallowed. Still, you should make this argument so as to set the hook. When they cite the precautionary principle as trumping the low probability argument, you are ready to spring the trap.

    Their disaster scenario pales when compared to an ice age. Losing half of FL is nothing compared to glaciers knocking Toronto, Chicago and New York flat.

    Surely they will respond with some claim about how that is unlikely. Then you can frustrate them with their own principle. Unlikeliness is an argument they just ruled out. We need more CO2 to help prevent an ice age. And, based on geological history, one is coming sooner or later unless we can stop it.

    QED

  69. Last paragraph, typo on the word – the?

    “…think it is teh eeeevil…”

    Or perhaps just remove “teh” completely as unnecessary?

  70. I agree with Willis’ article, which gives as good a description of the precautionary principle that I have read. One problem we are dealing with is the enormous chasm that exists between what PP actually is and the public perception of it. Willis’ article is similar to those written by Monckton and Lomborg and we definately need more of this sort of thing in the public forum. The public need to understand that what is being proposed is not only not precautionary principle, but its very opposite.

    I believe though, that policy makers and rent seekers know very well this point but pursue these policies for different reasons. The need to control, tax and subvert democracy have been discussed often enough so I won’t go over them again. However, is should be clearly seen that any appeals to reason made to these vested interests will fall on deaf ears.

  71. Willis & Anthony,

    Thanks for bringing in the New Year with this great post.

    In past few weeks on WUWT I have noticed more articles, like this one of yours, that are really touching on the philosophical (world view) differences between the AGW advocates and the mostly skeptical climate thinkers. I think it would be interesting to pursue an idea such as: it is the philosophy of Plato ( and all his historical & current derivatives ) that is most consistently aligned to the base of an AGW advocate world view. On the other hand, the skeptical position seems to be much more consistently aligned to the Aristotelian world view.

    Philosophy is a fundamental science in the Aristotelian world view, at least it was at the time of Aristotle. So, a post on this may not be totally OT on a science blog like WUWT.

    I’d love to see a post on this.

    John

  72. AGW is only one possible threat to human existence and life on this planet.

    The money and other resources to deal with all dangers known and potential are limited.

    There is only so much human effort that can be expended to deal with any and all of them.

    To my mind a proper precautionary principle would rank threats and place efforts where the greatest likely hood of improvement or minimization of loss could be expected.

    What have we accomplished if we fixate on CO2 if some equal or greater but ignored threat whacks us on the head in the mean time?

  73. Great post, Willis. Thanks.

    Typo alert:
    “they solve a real program today…”
    should be:
    “they solve a real problem today…”

  74. The precautionary prinicple (PP) lies within the realm of decision analysis. In the real world, some actions must be taken under uncertain risks. The PP is simply a vague, non-mathematical statement of this reality, specialized to decisions about environmental hazards.

    It would be well if the United Nations could make a rational decision on an action to take in light of the putative hazard of carbon dioxide emissions. Which action should it take from among the inumerable possibilities?

    Economists tend to favor use of expected utility theory. Under this theory, that action is taken which is of greatest expected utility.

    In order for expected utility theory to be implemented, a model must be available that forecasts the probabilities of the various possible outcomes, given the current state of the system under study. In this respect, the IPCC process has thus far failed us, for while the IPCC models make “projections,” they make no forecasts. Thus, though political leaders are under the impression that they can and should take action, a rational basis for taking action does not exist.

    That political leaders are under the impression that a rational basis for taking action does exist seems to result from confusion of a forecast with a projection. The IPCC should have made it clear to political leaders that a “projection” is different from a forecast, that forecasts are what political leaders need to take action and that a forecasting model does not exist. Rather than highlight this shortcoming for political leaders, the IPCC’s 2007 report obfuscates it.

    A month ago, I wrote to the Chair of the IPCC, R.K. Pauchari, with the recommendation that this shortcoming be highlighted to political leaders in advance of the Copenhagen Conference. He did not respond.

    That a forecasting model does not exist when there is a requirement for one to exist and that action is being taken on the basis of confusion of projections with forecasts demonstrates the dysfunctionality of: a) the IPCC, b) the leadership of the world program in climatological research and c) the process by which the world program in climatological research is formulated. It seems to me that we are well past the time at which reform in all of these areas was needed.

  75. 1. An asteroid hit is A threat of serious or irreversible damage.

    2) A hit is scientifically certain, only the timing has A lack of full scientific certainty (in other words, the existence of partial but not conclusive scientific evidence).

    3) Interception/deflection is, possibly, an available cost-effective measure that we know will prevent the problem. The Russians seem to be volunteering their services, though perhaps for a potential space weapon advantage.

    So the PP fits this threat far better than it does AGW

  76. Put simply, the absence of economic growth in poorer countries will result in more human misery and early death than the presence of anthropomorphic warmth.

  77. Physicist Serge Galam -a pioneer in sociophysics- view on the PP is very critical: applied outside of specifically defined boundaries, the PP can lead to true totalitarism. Imagine, using PP, someone is arrested because he COULD act in someway contrary to the State’s interest…

  78. Yes, but working on localized no-regrets actions doesn’t have much opportunity to fund a world-wide totalitarian government that will line corrupt bureaucrats pockets. Therefore, such an approach is uninteresting to almost everybody.

  79. I agree w/ Pamela Gray–I live in an area where cougars, wolves, and grizzlies have been introduced all around and it has created a big problem. Better to strive for a balance than some artifical ecosystem imposed by bureaucrats.

  80. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a small beautiful pond, in a glade, by the forest. In this pond lived 10 happy, frolicking frogs and many fat, tasty flies.

    One particular cold morning, one vocal frog noticed a mist rising from the surface of the pond. He immediately cried “Wake up! Wake up! You sleepy frogs. The pond is beginning to boil!” he shouted in alarm.

    All the other frogs rubbed their eyes in amazement, for indeed, there was steam rising from the pond.

    Quickly they held a meeting and came to a consensus. Yes! The pond was indeed beginning to boil. The steam was plain to see. One old frog tried to object, but was shouted down by the rest! Emergency plans for pond evacuation were quickly implemented, and the frogs left the pond.

    Nine of the frogs were gobbled up by snakes and birds. The last frog managed to escape the ravenous predators, but was caught in the opening, by the noon sun… which dried him to a pretzel and he… CROAKED.

    And so the flies, lived happily… ever after.

    The End. by GK

  81. Stefan (04:26:45) :

    Good post, well thought through.

    There is no single response, in any direction, to the ever growing ‘world view’, that will set a marker point that all can, or will, agree with.

    Taking a couple the prime concerns for all of us, no matter what our persuasion on AGW/ACC.

    Species extinction.

    There is nothing new here (it has always been the case) EXCEPT some sort of human belief that we have an option to control what comes or stays and what goes.

    Why is it acceptable (Indeed is it acceptable?) to support virus destruction whilst camaigning for the rights of .

    Availability of core resources.

    Or, from another persepective, do we use or hibernate those things we find usful?

    We know how useful coal is. We know how useful Oil is.

    The chances of the entire population of the world deciding to skip the benefits of those two resources (among many) is small.

    So be it. If they offer a source of energy that allows humanity to move to another level of existence, fine. If they don’t and humanity fails to find a way forward, so what? That’s evolution. The planet survives, species develop (or don’t develop) and ‘the ecology’ moves to the next level.]

    The only real threat to ‘man’ and ‘man’s’ ‘progress’ is, currently, self belief and in the long term, correct identification of what helps ‘mankind’ progress and what holds ‘mankind’ back.

    ‘Mankind’s’ forward predictions have, in the main, been poor. There is no reason, so far as I can ascertain, to assume that the last few years has improved mankind’s predictive capability.

    On which basis the only real threat to anything substantial and existential is to humanity – which really does not matter to much in a long view of the survivability of ‘the planet’ within the cosmos.
    .

  82. Stefan (04:26:45) : wrote:
    >>>Then there is the “deep ecology” view. As far as I understand this (not that I’ve made a study of it), deep ecology is a perspective from “outside”, gazing at the planet as a “blue marble” in space. When viewed from this perspective, there is just “the whole” and it can even seem spiritual; The One, The Way, Unity, God, etc. From this perspective, humanity is just one species, one part of the intricate and homeostatic whole, and the whole is more important than any part. Consider, what does this do to our “cost-benefit” analysis in the Precautionary Principle?
    “The cost to multiple species, so serious a cost that they are threatened with extinction, is far greater than the cost to one species—to limit their own numbers—and this limit should be imposed even if there is insuffiecient data to determine when and how these multiple extinctions might occur.”
    This can be applied at multiple scales. Consider the cost of eating tuna fish, where overfishing damages multiple ocean species, when you could just eat carrots. Or consider the cost of having three children, when the whole planet is heading into a virtually certain cataclysm when one day, things just run out. It really doesn’t matter when or how. It doesn’t matter if we manage to invent new technology that gives us another boost, just like the green revolution gave us a boost in the 60s. All that led to was increasing numbers, as we keep having kids, rather than stopping and being satisfied with our place in the ecosystem. >>>

    Well, if what they say is true, about multiple catastrophes happening because of Global Warming and excess population, then that takes care of the excess population right there doesn’t it? I’m not being mean, don’t get all emotional on me, I’m just pointing out the flaw in the logic. Do they actually have a computer model that shows a reduction in CO2 would cause a reduction in births? Ha, ha. I think an increase in condoms would be more cost effective. : )

  83. Communism, socialism, fascism, tyranny, and other forms of authoritarianism are a KNOWN hazard to human health and happiness. The track record is 100% failure, catastrophic failure, and mass tragedy.

    Therefore the most precautionary and rational action would be to reject authoritarianism in all its various guises. Starting with the UN and working down.

  84. r (11:00:29) :

    “Well, if what they say is true, about multiple catastrophes happening because of Global Warming and excess population, then that takes care of the excess population right there doesn’t it? I’m not being mean, don’t get all emotional on me, I’m just pointing out the flaw in the logic. Do they actually have a computer model that shows a reduction in CO2 would cause a reduction in births? Ha, ha. I think an increase in condoms would be more cost effective. : )”
    ————-
    I get the impression that AGW is simply a convenient propaganda/religion they are spewing which is quite contrary to their base belief that the world is actually on the verge of another glacial epoch so the occasional catastrophe, compared to the wide distribution of people, is insufficient to reduce the earth’s population to the level supportable by an ice-encrusted Earth. But if they can turn off power plants so people freeze to death, increase taxes and government control so people can’t afford nutritious food and necessary medicines resulting in many deaths, and control CO2 and all aspects of agriculture so people starve to death, those policies preserve resources and mothballs infrastructure that become available to them when the ice really hits the fan. They simply don’t want anybody but their elite group around with which to compete, for they aren’t survivors when competition gets intense, nor are they nice people in general. No, they are criminals for their policies include mass genocide. (Those two terms would normally be redundant, but on the scale they’re taking it, I think not.)

    I can’t see where all this AGW baloney benefits anybody but them.

    The same pressure is being applied to health care here in the US, and I can tell you, as a licensed health insurance agent, what they’re proposing is going to make health care more expensive and less beneficial–there are far better ways of solving the problems but they aren’t interested because it goes against their philosophy and would actually resolve the problems. Why would they do that? It’s simple–they want control of all aspects of our lives so when push comes to shove, everybody but them gets pushed off. That’s the only conclusion I can logically derive.

    But I think they’ve underestimated the average Joe.

  85. Ben (08:59:37) : edit

    Last paragraph, typo on the word – the?

    “…think it is teh eeeevil…”

    Or perhaps just remove “teh” completely as unnecessary?

    “Teh” is a satirical spelling of “the”, so common that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

    Dev (09:47:57) : edit

    Great post, Willis. Thanks.

    Typo alert:
    “they solve a real program today…”
    should be:
    “they solve a real problem today…”

    Fixed, thanks.

    New Years Day, my best wishes to all for the new decade.

    w.

  86. Since the “Precautionary Principle” is in play here, the views of Cass Sunstein (Obama’s Regulatory Czar) may be worth considering:

    Sunstein, Cass R. “Throwing precaution to the wind: Why the ‘safe’ choice can be dangerous.” boston.com – The Boston Globe, July 13, 2008. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/07/13/throwing_precaution_to_the_wind.

    Main point: “Yet the precautionary principle, for all its rhetorical appeal, is deeply incoherent. It is of course true that we should take precautions against some speculative dangers. But there are always risks on both sides of a decision; inaction can bring danger, but so can action. Precautions, in other words, themselves create risks – and hence the principle bans what it simultaneously requires.”

    “In the context of climate change, precautions are certainly a good idea. But what kinds of precautions? A high tax on carbon emissions would impose real risks – including increased hardship for people who can least afford it and very possibly increases in unemployment and hence poverty. A sensible climate change policy balances the costs and benefits of emissions reductions. If the policy includes costly (and hence risk-creating) precautions, it is because those precautions are justified by their benefits.

    “The nations of the world should take precautions, certainly. But they should not adopt the precautionary principle.”

    Sunstein, Cass R. Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    “This is a book about the complex relationship between fear, danger, and the law. Cass Sunstein looks afresh at the precautionary principle, and at the idea that regulators should take steps to protect against potential harms, even if causal chains are uncertain and even if we do not know that harms are likely to come to fruition. However Professor Sunstein argues that in its strongest forms the precautionary principle is both incoherent and potentially paralysing, as risks exist on all sides of social situations, and he demonstrates that in practice such a principle can only operate because different cultures focus on different risks, and that there is no ‘general’ precautionary principle as such. This is a very important insight for the contemporary world, and Laws of Fear represents a major statement from one of the most influential political and legal theorists writing today.”

    Notes:
    Adopted Broadly (Pg 17)
    “In February 2000, the Precautionary Principle was explicitly adopted in a communication by the European Commission, together with implementing guidelines. The Precautionary Principal even appears in the draft Constitution for the European Union….”
    Pg 35, #1: Availability Heuristic:
    “making some risks seem especially likely to come to fruition whether or not they actually are;”
    Pg 35, #2: Probability Neglect:
    “…leading people to focus on the worst case, even if it is highly improbable:”
    Pg 35, #3: Loss Aversion:
    “… making people dislike losses from the status quo;”
    Pg 35, #4: Benevolence of Nature:
    “a belief in the benevolence of nature, making man-made decisions and processes seem especially suspect;”
    Pg 35, #5: System Neglect:
    “… understood as a inability to see that risks are part of systems, and that interventions into those systems can create risks of their own.”

    On-Line:
    Sunstein, Cass R. Beyond The Precautionary Principle. Working Paper #38. Public Law and Legal Theory. University of Chicago, January 2003.

    http://www.law.uchicago.edu/academics/publiclaw/resources/38.crs.precautionary.pl-lt.pdf.

  87. Brilliant article, Willis. Your mathematical/ statistical analytical skills are matched by your logical/ philosophical ones.

  88. Wade (06:36:18) : “Remember, the goal of these people is not to make life better for the poor or to fix the world’s climate problems. The goal of these people is to make money and to become powerful.”

    The “limit CO2 emissions” scam always reminds me of movies and TV shows about firefighters. We see a large building on fire with impressive amounts of water being flung in its general direction, but with no discernable effect on the fire. Obviously the goal is not to put out the fire; the goal is to shoot spectacular footage for the show, and the more the better.

    The analogy isn’t limited to CAGW, of course; many political “solutions” also qualify, e.g. “War on Poverty”, “Energy Independence”, “Cash for Clunkers”, “Economic Stimulus”, etc.

  89. Skeptical Skeptic (08:54:32) :

    Thanks for your thoughts, but unless you haven’t noticed there is a significant amount of solid science that raises substantial doubt about the AGW hypothesis. Since you did not cite the “conclusive” science, I will skip that nicety on the contra side of the argument and point out that there is NO evidence that is CONCLUSIVE regarding AGW.

    Science, especially of a complex phenomena such as climate, depends more on falsification than on “proof.” Your argument about 95% this and that (incorrect itself, BTW) is unscientific in any case. Trying to convince anyone of the AGW hypithesis on the basis of arguments that are inherently unscientific only points out how many people “believe” AGW based on ideology and not on analysis.

    If you want to comment here, you will need to bring the best science forward. Explicitly. This site is about examining data, analysis, phenomenological principles, not about opinions as to what is proven or not.

    I’d love to have you present the 5-10 studies that are incontrovertable evidence of AGW — but one restriction: no reference to computer models allowed. Real data, real physics, real chemistry only please.

  90. “GP (10:31:28) :
    [...]
    We know how useful coal is. We know how useful Oil is.

    The chances of the entire population of the world deciding to skip the benefits of those two resources (among many) is small.

    So be it. If they offer a source of energy that allows humanity to move to another level of existence, fine. If they don’t and humanity fails to find a way forward, so what? That’s evolution. The planet survives, species develop (or don’t develop) and ‘the ecology’ moves to the next level.]”

    A logical error. Wind and Solar are nonviable in the marketplace because they cost around twice as much as energy from fossil fuels and are not available round the clock. We spend about 2% of GDP for energy needs. So if fossil fuels become unavailable, we would have to spend 4% for energy and make do with the inconvenience of fluctuating availabilty. Which can be alleviated by more or less expensive storage solutions – pretty low tech like pumped-storage hydro.

    It’s not like we would all die without fussil fuels. It’s just very expensive.

  91. Just for the fun of it, compare the Laws of Fear (#1 – #5) to journals and newspaper articles associated with “Global Warming” and “Climate Change”.

    Sounds like a plan to me; a game plan, that is. I do not blame Cass Sunstein, however. Anyone’s work can be misused.

  92. Ross: Your link included an inadvertent concluding “).” Here’s the corrected link:

    http://assassinationscience.com/climategate/

    r:
    I am surprised that not more people have cisterns in the states. If you are worried about local pollution you can be in complete control of your own water supply.

    Believe it or not, it’s technically illegal. The state or municipality owns your rainwater. (There have been articles about this.)

    In Pascal’s Wager, there’s an upside either way.

    Unless God doesn’t want you to “believe” (as a notion) in Him.

  93. Anthony and Willis, a soothing, reasonable, and internet-viral-ready blog. Great intro to 2010. In thinking about PPs, however, you sent me into a few hours of research — and on New Years day, too. I found 14 meteorite (comet, asteroid) or meteorite field impacts after the 13,000 BP proposed major event (Clovis “extinction”). Most were not so major, but they could seriously effect local or regional populations. My proposal for a PP is to transfer a large amount of “global warming” grand funds into search for extratrestrial objects with Earth’s name on them. There must be quite a few aiming right at us.

  94. Believe it or not, it’s technically illegal. The state or municipality owns your rainwater.

    If that is true, then what all Frenches think of Statesiders is true: Statesiders are crazy!

    That reminds me of the laws that say you are not allowed to hang your clothe out to dry!

    Do you have a link?

  95. I have not yet received a response as to what type of world the greens want. “Do it for the children” and all that. We must always plan for the worst, but hope for the best. When I say plan for the worst, is it possible to prepare for every possible contingency? Not likely, but to prepare for only one ( i.e. CAGW) is very dangerous. It is not being precautionary. Mankind’s future might be likened to a freight train. Very useful if headed in the right direction, but if you discover you are on the wrong track, it is very difficult to slow down and reverse course and get back on the right track. Let’s face it, it would not take much to push civilization off the rails. I like to use Montreal’s three days of freezing rain in the late 80’s as an example. Many were without power for 3 months. If we only prepare for warming and the cooling continues, we have backed the wrong horse. Also, with warming we would not have the food shortages we would get with cooling. If we apply the PP, it should be across the board, not just one contingency.

  96. r (11:00:29) :
    Well, if what they say is true, about multiple catastrophes happening because of Global Warming and excess population, then that takes care of the excess population right there doesn’t it? I’m not being mean, don’t get all emotional on me, I’m just pointing out the flaw in the logic. Do they actually have a computer model that shows a reduction in CO2 would cause a reduction in births? Ha, ha. I think an increase in condoms would be more cost effective. : )

    The other evening a friend was saying that man is the worst for wrecking the planet. I asked what’s different to say, giraffes eating leaves off trees? My friend replied that nature keeps those in balance. So I asked, what will happen when humans go past the limit, won’t we also simply be put back into check by nature? — It was one of those moments where there is no reply, the conversation just ends abruptly.

    So just as you say… if there is a problem, nature will solve it for herself.

    Another angle on it is, if man is just another species, no more privileged than any other, then why do all the other species get to compete, but we’re not allowed to? Isn’t our dominance simply a temporary and transitory evolutionary experiment by nature herself? To be shrugged off and forgotten when nature becomes bored with us? Is not our belief that we’re to “put nature back into balance” a tremendous arrogance on our part, presuming that we have the intellectual capacity to understand and put a planetary ecosystem into balance, when our technological peak is somewhere around the level of the mobile phone?

    I loved that episode of Futurama, the one where the environmentalists feed their pet lion tofu (it looks sickly), where Leela at the end notes, something like, “wouldn’t it be better if we just let nature do its own thing, as that can’t possibly be any worse than all the things we did to save it?”

  97. David Ball (14:42:47) :
    I have not yet received a response as to what type of world the greens want.

    Theories of social development extend Piaget’s stages of child development through into adulthood, basically indicating that our development doesn’t stop at age 21, but continues into further stages through life. What we call Modernity, has a corresponding psychological stage (which is why minds in previous epochs didn’t invent Modernity, as their minds hadn’t developed that far yet.)

    An interesting observation is that not everyone born today necessarily awakens to every stage available. Most people become Modern, and some develop further (evolution, even culturally, continues), but a notable percentage are still psychologically and socially pre-Modern.

    The mind, the culture, the material means, and the society are all linked, so pre-Modern people prefer pre-Modern ways of life. Sure they can function in the Modern world, but they don’t resonate with it.

    What I think is interesting about AGW, isn’t the science describing the problem, but rather the things that people culturally propose as “solutions”. This is how Lomborg can differer so much with many environmentalists, even through he accepts AGW in principle. His response is Modern at the minimum, whereas a number of environmentalists seem to be coming from a rather different place.

    For example, this article praises the virtues of rural church life where the community make their own entertainment, in the context of reducing consumption for the sake of reducing emissions. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the author wrote the piece on a computer, let’s just take him at his word for his expression of what he genuinely prefers and resonates with; it looks to me rather like a pre-Modern way of life.

    http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/Tom_Hodgkinson/357974/shakespeare_had_no_blackberry_lets_have_a_technological_sabbath.html

    Now I don’t resonate with pre-Modern ways of life, so when I look at AGW, my sense of solutions is quite different. Were the problem “alien invaders”, I wonder that pre-Moderns wouldn’t find some reason to again advocate the virtues of pre-Modern life an a solution.

    I argued for a long while with a dear friend about AGW, and she gradually accepted, point by point, that AGW wasn’t happening, and in the end she said, “but don’t you think everything just needs to slow down??”

    Modern life makes great demands of people—we leave our families and villages (the car) and perhaps never return, we are exposed to millions of strangers, we are expected to show loyalty to employers who will dismiss us cold-heartedly, we are made aware of the possibility of nuclear war, biological warfare, etc. We are expected to act as free individuals, taking personal responsibility for everything.

    I’m not saying all environmentalists are pre-Modern, just that some of the solutions proposed seem to make sense only in the context of a pre-Modern mind and culture. Even the aesthetics of the architecture of “sustainable” buildings, has this wobbly curvy soft, cottage feel, covered in earth and grass, surrounded by open space. These completely ignore the city, which suggests a preference for simply returning to pre-industrial rural life.

    Sorry if this is another long post, but it is not something I find easy to summarise.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kegan

    http://www.spiraldynamics.net/

  98. Isnt the Precautionary Principle akin to insurance? When we take insurance we weigh the odds of a bad thing happening, like our house burning down, which will cost a great deal if it were to happen, and then pay a small recurring premium to the insurance company.

    Then if our house does burn down the insurance company pays us so that we get a new house.

    In the case of AGW however the agent is telling us the house WILL burn down unless we pay him. His yarn doesnt even seem plausible. But he wants a huge premium far greater than the cost of the house. Then he tell us the house will burn down anyway because we havent given him enough and if God forbid it does, he wont give us the money to build a new house and we wont have the money either as we would have given it all to him.

    Now does that make sense?

  99. “Stefan (15:28:53) :
    [..]
    The other evening a friend was saying that man is the worst for wrecking the planet. I asked what’s different to say, giraffes eating leaves off trees? My friend replied that nature keeps those in balance. So I asked, what will happen when humans go past the limit, won’t we also simply be put back into check by nature? — It was one of those moments where there is no reply, the conversation just ends abruptly.”

    You have sabotaged his/her game. As in transactional analysis. A person in a conversation likes to talk about certain things in a certain way because it gives him/her satisfaction. This is very obvious with fearmongers. It makes them feel important.

    This book is a must read: (Disclosure: no i don’t get paid for this)

    Berne, Eric (1964). Games People Play – The Basic Hand Book of Transactional Analysis. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-41003-3

    What game do i play? Uh, maybe being a smartass? You decide… :-)

    So often it’s not so much about the logic behind the arguments. You can also see this in the behaviour of trolls. Trolling can go on and on and on and the troll changes his position all the time. It’s his game.

  100. Miller,

    Yes. That’s 95% of the experts:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/01/19/eco.globalwarmingsurvey/index.html

    And check this out:

    http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2009/12/sorry-skeptics.html

    I won’t present myself as an expert who can prove to you or anyone on this site, or any site that ACC is real.

    And I’m willing to bet you aren’t an expert either. It’s up to you to educate yourself on the facts. Either understand the science, or leave it to the experts who may know just a bit more about this stuff than you or me.

    However, you’re free to believe in whatever you want, and express your opinion. But stating an opinion about something does not necessarily make it true. You need facts. A lot more facts than I’ve seen from any denier.

    It’s easy to deny something, but that’s not good enough. If you disagree with the consensus, you need to offer a viable alternative hypothesis to explain all the observations that have been made that support the other side. This is a sticking point for the deniers. Deniers’ alternate hypotheses break apart when independent data does not support their positions. Then they rant about a massive cover-up of their position.

    What about all the independent data that cross-correlates with other data to support the facts about ACC? Here’s a list to get you started:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/What-happened-to-the-evidence-for-man-made-global-warming.html

    If you need some nice urls to start your path to education, I can surely offer them to you, or anyone. But, it’s not my place to explain the facts to you.

    You can start your search for the truth here:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/629/629/7074601.stm

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1206_041206_global_warming.html

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11462-climate-change-a-guide-for-the-perplexed.html

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html

    http://climate.nasa.gov/

    http://coaps.fsu.edu/climate_center/climatechange.shtml

    http://www.ucsusa.org/ssi/climate-change/scientific-consensus-on.html

    http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=12457&tid=282&cid=13366

    http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2009/1204climate_statement.shtml

    http://www.nationalacademies.org/includes/G8+5energy-climate09.pdf

    http://royalsociety.org/Climate-Science-Statement/

    http://www.logicalscience.com/consensus/consensusD1.htm

    Or if you prefer videos, you can try these:

    http://sites.google.com/site/dallastrees/potholer54-climate-change

    http://sites.google.com/site/dallastrees/greenman3610-climate-denial-crock-videos

    Here’s a good one to help you tell BS from facts:

    Regardless what you think, ACC is real. The experts have spoken. You can argue and shout, but that won’t change the facts. Review the urls I’ve posted to know the truth.

  101. r (13:20:24) :

    “Believe it or not, it’s technically illegal. The state or municipality owns your rainwater.”

    If that is true, then what all Frenches think of Statesiders is true: Statesiders are crazy!

    That reminds me of the laws that say you are not allowed to hang your clothe out to dry!

    Do you have a link?

    Here’s a link to 38,000 links I found when I googled who owns rainwater:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=who+owns+rainwater&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

  102. “Skeptical Skeptic (18:05:09) :
    [...]
    Regardless what you think, ACC is real.”

    With ACC, do you mean a warming?

  103. Dear Skeptical Skeptic,

    I don’t doubt there are more studies supporting global warming. That’s where the grant money is. Those studies are also unwittingly based on the “adjusted” data. If the adjusted data is wrong, all conclusions based on the adjusted data is wrong.

  104. OK, I looked at some of those websites about who owns rain water. That is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard! If God drops the water on me, its mine. Try and take it. See how far you get.

  105. As the author of a book titled, The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment (PP) which includes a chapter on applying the PP to global warming (early version of the chapter can be downloaded for free here), I was intrigued by Willis’s blog –- hi Willis, I enjoy your posts very much –- and have some quibbles. But my quibbles have no bearing on Willis’ conclusions which, IMHO, are solid (and very close to my recommendations, see, e.g., here, pp. 23-25).

    My quibbles: First, the PP predates the 1992 Rio Declaration. Second, there is a precautionary principle that is explicitly included in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but it is often ignored by environmentalists because it implicitly endorses cost-benefit analysis. Specifically, Article 3.3 of the UNFCCC states:

    The parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimise the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures, taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost.” [Emphasis added.]

    The version of the PP that most environmentalists prefer is the so-called Wingspread Declaration:

    When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not established scientifically.

    Note the absence of any language regarding costs, or any precaution that reducing one risk my increase another.

    In my view, the only way to rationally operationalize the PP so that it actually reduces overall risks (rather than merely paying lip service to reducing risks) is to use risk-risk analysis, as discussed in the paper, From Precautionary Principle to Risk-Risk Analysis, Nature Biotechnology 20 (November 2002): 1075 -– of course, all within the broader framework of cost-benefit analysis (see book chapter draft here). And my attempt to do this leads to almost exactly the same conclusion as Willis (among other conclusions). However, I’m the first to admit, that those who most love the PP, probably also hate my approach to it, while those who hate the PP, don’t care much for it either. This is precisely the position I found myself twenty years ago when I was for adaptation but the mitigationists hated it, and those who were skeptical of the man-made contribution to GW (as I was and still am) had no use for it either.

    C’est la vie.

  106. Sorry, this is off track a bit (ok- a lot), but I can’t find a relevant thread and I am sure many of you will be interested if you haven’t seen Michael Mann’s extraordinary letter in the WSJ, which includes this passage:

    “Society relies upon the integrity of the scientific literature to inform sound policy. It is thus a serious offense to compromise the peer-review system in such a way as to allow anyone—including proponents of climate change science—to promote unsubstantiated claims and distortions.”

    Having read most of his contributions to the climategate e-mails (in the reference I posted earlier that was kindly corrected for me by Roger) I am, er, gobsmacked. The guy is in desperate need of some serious quality legal advice.

    You can read the full letter here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703478704574612400823765102.html

  107. WRT water property rights: “Gray water” can now (since July) be used by people in Colorado who don’t receive any city or municipal water supply, to increase soil moisture in gardens or to supply a home’s water needs.

    http://www.water.state.co.us/pubs/pdf/RainWaterBills.pdf

    For the rest of us, the old law is in effect. It’s often called the “first in time, first in right” priority system, and it says that the first person to allocate and use water is the “senior water right holder” within a particular stream system. Therefore, someone upstream who takes water from his roof is likened to a thief stealing from downstream water right holders.

    Challenges to this are coming from hundreds of people who feel that they have a right to the water from their own roofs (I would be one of those), and from two conflicting studies. The first says that most of the run-off never reaches the city storm drains anyway because it’s just absorbed into the soil. The other study says precisely the opposite: that too much of Colorado’s run-off reaches the storm sewers, resulting in sewage back-ups and inundation of the water purification systems with herbicides, fertilizers and other materials flushed out of the soil by sudden downpours. In the first case, rain harvesters would “do no harm”, and in the second instance, they might actually do a lot of good by helping flood control.

    Go figure.

  108. The so-called “precautionary principle” has been misused and abused over the years; so Willis, your post is a breath of sanity on the subject. I used to represent clients with whom I would remonstrate about this subject all of the time (obviously, in a different context from the subject of climate). All social and political policy these days is getting away from the proper analysis of risk, in favor of the promotion of a specific type of ideology. The ideology of the technocrat, the bureaucrat: life is too complex to be run by the average person, the democrat, the representative government. So it becomes an exercise in the use of power to achieve the goals or ends of the “experts” as prescribed by the “experts.” A prescription for disaster if I’ve ever heard one. You and Bjorn Lomborg generally have the right idea. For myself, I am a “do nothing except further study the effects and the question” and I will stay that way because none of this stuff happened overnight, nor is it resolved overnight. I can, however, live with “no regrets” solutions as long as they are truly “no regrets.”

  109. Skeptical Skeptic:

    “You can start your search for the truth here:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/629/629/7074601.stm

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1206_041206_global_warming.html

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11462-climate-change-a-guide-for-the-perplexed.html

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html

    http://climate.nasa.gov/

    http://coaps.fsu.edu/climate_center/climatechange.shtml

    http://www.ucsusa.org/ssi/climate-change/scientific-consensus-on.html

    http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=12457&tid=282&cid=13366

    http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2009/1204climate_statement.shtml

    http://www.nationalacademies.org/includes/G8+5energy-climate09.pdf

    http://royalsociety.org/Climate-Science-Statement/

    http://www.logicalscience.com/consensus/consensusD1.htm

    —…—…—

    You consider these “unbiased and honest” sources of the “truth”?

    BBC? New Scientist, National Geo, AAAS, WHOI, Royal Society, NASA? THEY are the ones pushing this exaggerated fear of 1/2 of one degree of warming. THEY are the ones propagandizing and exaggerating! Ignoring the benefits of AGW and (deliberately) lying about the (false) threats. Deliberating losing data, corrupting data, propagandizing their “extrapolations and unfounded (but well-funded) fears to get more money.

    And each of those has been shown to be wrong. All have been receiving money, power, influence, political standing, international (political) applause and grants and tax money and corporate moeny to propagandize the AGW meme. Specifically, all have also been shown to be dead wrong when the actual data is

    It takes only 1 man or woman to show that a false consensus is, well, still just a false consensus. It takes 52 to hide behind the politicians scheming to take 1.6 trillion from workers and put it in the hands of the corrupt UN governments.

    So what does it show when 33,000 professionals say you are dead wrong in your faith in this (s)creed, and the politicians (who are making money from your mis-placed faith in false data and exaggerated extrapolations are proved wrong?

  110. Skeptical Skeptic.

    Even if we stipulate that the earth is warming and it’s caused by human activity, that doesn’t get us very far. See my posting of 02:07:32 above.

  111. >>>The first says that most of the run-off never reaches the city storm drains anyway because it’s just absorbed into the soil. The other study says precisely the opposite: that too much of Colorado’s run-off reaches the storm sewers, resulting in sewage back-ups and inundation of the water purification systems with herbicides, fertilizers and other materials flushed out of the soil by sudden downpours<<<

    Now that I think about it a little more… The water goes from my roof into my tank. From my tank it gets used and goes into the drain, which goes to the septic system. From the septic system it goes… into to the ground!

    Voila, (see I really am French!) It goes to the same place after all!

  112. Dear Skeptical Skeptic,

    When you are a little older you will realize that “experts” aren’t all they are cracked up to be. I realized this when I had to deal with “expert” lawyers, and “expert” accountants and “expert” financial planners when dealing with my mother’s estate. These are supposed to be professionals and the advice they gave me, and expected me to pay for was often wrong and would have cost me sums of money many times larger than their fees. They did not care. It was not their money. Ultimately, I had to research and learn for myself the truth. I had to seek information in many and varied places to be sure. Nevertheless, in the end, the truth ultimately asserts itself. Always, be skeptical.

    Bon chance.

  113. “Skeptical Skeptic” – is that like a double negative? Real AGW skeptics of the so-called science come here because we don’t think a person’s affiliation or credentials or where he or she publishes – or even the consensus of thousands of such individuals – confers truth to certain claims. The only way to make a dent here is to engage in the analysis of the science, issue by issue.

    aber (02:31:35) :

    ….. but the precautionary principle (PP) needs to be applied on a global level with regard to the oceans.

    I’m in full agreement with you here. The Precautionary Principle is a dangerous thing in many cases, as shown by Willis – excellent analysis – but in the oceans it would supplant another politically and socially charged approach to the exploitation of nature: the principle of “maximum sustained yield” – which argued that if humanity did not maximize its exploitation of resources at the peak level of sustainability, then fish or other resources would be ‘dangerously’ wasted. The problem with ocean resources – especially the renewables such as fish – is that they’re hard to see and hard to quantify, so the mythical point of MSY was always surpassed, with disastrous consequences for fish stocks. But nobody has figured out how to reconcile the MSY with the precautionary principle…

  114. RE: Truth seeker

    I’m pretty sure the link is http:/brneurosci.org/co2.html – I really want to throw this mobile in the toilet… Who makes a “smart phone” that can’t copy and paste. Worse comes to worse google CO2 ir absorption saturation and it’s the first link. It’s more of an overview article and doesn’t go in depth, and I ran across a pro-AGW article (4th down in the search results maybe) that indicated that even if the CO2 wavelengths were completely absorbed, more CO2 would still make more warming(?)

  115. So tell me Skeptical Skeptic , how do you see mankind in the near future? What kind of world would you like to see?

  116. Indur M. Goklany (19:41:58) : ..there is a precautionary principle that is explicitly included in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but it is often ignored by environmentalists because it implicitly endorses cost-benefit analysis…

    “Environmentalists”, so called, because they pretend they have the sole right to be concerned about our environment and be the sole caretakers of it, often with little or no education in science, no idea about cost-benefit analysis, and very little about economics, whole heartedly endorse things like cap n trade, carbon tax and CO2 sequestering. Many would rejoice in human catastrophe as a fitting moral punishment for their evil ways. They have a belief system that will in no way be affected by logic or facts.

    Commercial insurance companies surely work out risks using probabilities and customers could work out the worth of the insurance using cost benefit analysis. By that analysis, the economic measures proposed above seem to have huge cost for little or no benefit.

  117. The mainstream media is actively conniving to destroy our freedoms, among them the freedom of speech and expression. They actively collude with extremists of all colours to twist the truth and suppress criticism.

    Here I would like to note a significant event – the shooting of a Somali extremist who tried to attack the Danish cartoonist.

    My only regret is the man was not delivered to paradise.

  118. Re: Richard (Jan 1, 2010 at 22:26:53) : …”no idea about cost-benefit analysis”

    Even if they (“Environmentalists”) did comprehend cost-benefit analysis, the question remains:

    Whose benefits, and whose costs?

  119. It is correct as someone said above that the ‘precautionary principle’ is in fact Pascal’s wager. The logic is exactly the same.

    It rests on the true proposition that the expected value of an outcome is its probability times its cost or return. So for example, the expected value of an event which will pay off 10.00, if it has a 50% chance of happening, is worth 5.00. That is what a rational person to whom the distribution of expected values is not important should pay for it. He should pay the same for an event which pays 20.00 and which has a 25% chance of happening.

    Pascal now used this fact to consider the implications of belief in God, and in particular the Christian religion. The consequence of rejecting this, should it be correct, is eternal damnation. This is a very very large payoff. The probability, he argued, might be very small, even vanishingly small. The expected value will nevertheless be huge. The argument is essentially that there is no probability so low that the expected value will be low enough for a rational person to take the chance of disbelief.

    To see that the argument is fallacious, notice that it assumes that there are two alternatives, belief or disbelief. The same logical situation characterizes the use of the ‘precautionary principle’ in climate discussions: the assumption is always that we face a choice between ‘action’ and inaction. It is assumed that action is well defined, its carbon emission limitation.

    The argument however, as used, provides no way of discriminating between multiple alternatives, which is the real situation. In religion, we face a choice between being eternally dammed for not accepting Christianity, but also face the same thing for not accepting Islam. Most religions (though not all) forecast some form of eternal doom if one does not accept them. So the issue is not whether to belief in God, it is rather which God to believe in, and here you notice that not all Gods are the same, but that the principle appears to suggest that the payoff from believing in several different incompatible Gods is identical. Which really does not help the seeker after salvation one bit.

    We see the same thing in climate. There are a variety of things we might do which have a bearing on climate and its evolution, including adapt, ignore, wait and see….and so on. The ‘precautionary principle’ does not tell us which of these are correct, and can be used to justify any of them. If the chances that adaptation measures taken early will save human civilization, then surely we should take them, however small the chance, and however much they cost, because the payoff is so huge. Consider the question of firing huge amounts of sulphur into the stratsophere. If there is only a very tiny chance that will save civilization on earth, we surely ought to do it? Perhaps standing on our heads every morning will save civilization? Maybe if we all wore black turtleneck sweaters and bowed in prayer to Cupertino every morning? Why should we not all pray in unison ten times a day, if it has any potential, however small, to avert the wrath of God and having Him burn up the planet?

    We can think of large numbers of alternatives, posit a very low but positive probability that doing them will in some way save the planet, and then conclude that they are all justified. Let us say we argue, as some have done, that to launch a nuclear first strike at a nation bent on acquiring and perhaps using nukes has any chance at all of preventing nuclear Armageddon, surely we should do it? You can all think of truly idiotic military and social proposals which can be justified by the same line of argument.

    The admission of the precautionary principle as a valid way of assessing social policy thus leaves us exactly where we were before we started out. We have huge numbers of competing proposals, resources mean we cannot do them all, they all have different costs and paybacks, and the PP gives us now way of choosing between them, just as Pascal’s Wager gave us no way of deciding which religion to adopt.

    This is because the PP is not a logical method of arguing, but a rhetorical device to attempt to compel an emotional assent to one particular alternative. Its problem is, it proves too much. It justifies just about any harebrained scheme one likes to think of. There is no substitute for getting down to business, calculating the real probabilities costs and benefits of proposed policies, and until you have a reasonably decent idea why you are doing things, being very careful indeed, they may just make the situation worse. The fact that they have been justified by the PP means that there was little other real justification, so the chances of this last are high.

  120. Indur M. Goklany (19:41:58)

    As the author of a book titled, The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment (PP) which includes a chapter on applying the PP to global warming (early version of the chapter can be downloaded for free here), I was intrigued by Willis’s blog –- hi Willis, I enjoy your posts very much –- and have some quibbles. But my quibbles have no bearing on Willis’ conclusions which, IMHO, are solid (and very close to my recommendations, see, e.g., here, pp. 23-25).

    … snip of other good stuff …

    Indur, thank you for your comments. For those who do not recognize the name, Dr. Goklany is one of the more reasonable scientific authors on a host of subjects. I have not read his book on the Precautionary Principle (available here), but the work of his that I have read I would describe as middle-of-the-road, well-balanced and reasonable. I have disagreed with some of his analyses, but they are always thought-provoking.

    Best regards,

    w.

  121. vigilantfish (20:47:33) : edit

    aber (02:31:35) :

    ….. but the precautionary principle (PP) needs to be applied on a global level with regard to the oceans.

    I’m in full agreement with you here. The Precautionary Principle is a dangerous thing in many cases, as shown by Willis – excellent analysis – but in the oceans it would supplant another politically and socially charged approach to the exploitation of nature: the principle of “maximum sustained yield” – which argued that if humanity did not maximize its exploitation of resources at the peak level of sustainability, then fish or other resources would be ‘dangerously’ wasted. The problem with ocean resources – especially the renewables such as fish – is that they’re hard to see and hard to quantify, so the mythical point of MSY was always surpassed, with disastrous consequences for fish stocks. But nobody has figured out how to reconcile the MSY with the precautionary principle…

    I know this is not the subject of the thread, but please allow me a small digression to discuss this. As someone who spent a good chunk of his life as a commercial fisherman (US West Coast and the Bering Sea, doing salmon trolling and gill netting, albacore bait fishing, lampara netting off of Monterrey’s Cannery Row, and herring gill netting and seining), I would say you are partially correct.

    Sustainable yield is the issue, and for some fish species this is not too hard to achieve. For example, there is a long-standing and still vibrant fishery for roe herring in both San Franciso Bay and Togiak, Alaska. I have fished both, and I can assure you that they are both very closely watched and professionally managed. The same is true of the salmon gill-net fishery based out of Bristol Bay in Alaska. In the early part of the season when the salmon weren’t around in numbers, we would not be allowed to fish at all. When they show up, Fish and Game biologists count how many salmon are going up the river (the escapement). When a certain number of fish had gone up the rivers, we would be allowed six hours to fish … and that might be it for a week or two. Only after the escapement reached the total number the biologists figured was enough to keep the run healthy (plus some) were we set free to fish, and even then only Monday through Friday. The runs there are strong to this day.

    Other species are much more problematic for a variety of reasons. The main one is that the migratory fish like tuna don’t know about national boundaries, or they may be found outside of the boundaries in the open ocean. This makes it very difficult to manage them, as there will be a number of countries involved … and we all know how well countries manage shared resources.

    Other fish may be slow growing, so they are inherently vulnerable. Others may be hard to count, so we are operating blind. And salmon and other anadromous fish, because they live in the ocean but can only spawn in the rivers, are very vulnerable to the degradation of their inshore habitat.

    Finally, the ocean is not like the land, in that the oceanic predator/prey numbers tend to cycle wildly. A wolf has half a dozen pups, a deer has one or two fauns. This means that the total numbers of either one can’t increase much in a few years. In the ocean, both predators and prey often lay hundreds of thousands of eggs. If conditions are favorable for one or the other, the next few years will see a huge shift in the population of that species. This large population variation makes it very hard to determine the effect that human fishing is having on the fish stock.

    So while you are generally correct that some species are overfished, it is not because fish biologists are not aware of the problem or are not working at doing the right thing. It is often because of the inherent difficulty of managing fish stocks for a host of reasons. We’re getting better at it … but there is still a long way to go.

    One problem that would not be too hard to solve is that we generally have a size limit on catching fish, where fishermen (and fisherwomen, the entry of women into the fleet was a huge and beneficial change that occurred in my youth) have to throw back the small fish. This is backwards, as there are generally lots of immature fish, while there are many fewer of the larger sexually mature fish. So we’re taking the wrong fish out of the sea, we’re killing the fish who will spawn the next generation.

    There is some motion on this front, such as the “slot limit” on the Kenai River in Alaska where I was a sport fishing guide in 2005. The slot limit prevents fishermen from taking fish which are big, but not trophy sized. You can keep fish smaller or larger than the “slot”, but not those big but not trophy fish. So we’re getting there. Slowly.

    But I digress … we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

  122. Skeptical Skeptic (08:54:32) :
    In the case of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), PP only applies to the effects of those changes to our environment.

    The consensus for ACC is solid. To say it isn’t is just ignoring the wealth of evidence in support of ACC.

    Skeptical Skeptic, I trust science because it is self-correcting. You must also accept that science is self-correcting, if you trust science. (If you say science is not self-correcting, then science will be full of error. If you say science always gets it right without correction, then science is omnipotent and religious.) So then, science is self-correcting.

    To bring this from the abstract to the real world, we need to make this empirical. What empirical evidence do you have for the variables and factors which affect the speed at which a science can and will self-correct?

    Let’s say my guesstimate, for any field chosen at random, is that a consensus takes 80 years to be corrected, if indeed it needs correcting.

    Can you disprove this guestimate empirically?

  123. As I said, I’m not the expert, and apparently neither are you, based on many of the posts I’ve seen here. Arm-chair McExperts may believe what they want, but they don’t necessarily follow the data to the facts.

    The only way the denialists’ claims can work is to assume anything that does not agree with their beliefs must be part of some conspiracy.

    Facts don’t matter. Science doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is a pre-conceived comfort level of what denialists want to believe is reality.

    The denialists pattern is the same – rant and deny the facts, but present nothing in return. No alternate theory. No explanation why the data says what it says, other than claiming it’s part of a conspiracy. Any data that contradicts the denialists’ position must be faked. Such a convenient position to take.

    I can see why denialists run to these blogs instead of publishing real scientific papers. They can’t prove their claims. So appealing to the ignorant masses is their only outlet. No debates are wanted. When threatened with real data, denialists resort to name-calling.

    If climate science is so wrong about ACC, then by extension, denialists claim that ALL science is wrong. A bit of a leap, even for ignorant denialists. Denialists claims imply that all scientists and their data must be suspect, because they work within a closed network of conspirators, always looking for a way to game the system. If that’s how it works, it’s worked pretty well for you all up to this point. After all, even denialists enjoy the fruits of scientific progress. Or is it by sheer random chance that all the technological advances were made in spite of all the faked data?

    There are parallels here. The so-called ufologists also believe there’s a conspiracy to hide crashed alien ships. I guess that puts denialists in the same league as wing-nut conspiracy theorists.

    If ignorance is bliss, denialists must be ecstatic.

    Based on the educated responses to my posts, I can see I’ve stepped into the inter-sanctum of the denialists place of worship.

    It’s time for your prayers. Go ahead and bow at the altar of ignorance.

    I’ll leave the inner sanctum to the worshipers of ignorance.

  124. Skeptical Skeptic (06:53:20) :

    Nice diatribe!

    “Arm-chair McExperts may believe what they want, but they don’t necessarily follow the data to the facts.”

    Huh? If anything, you should most assuredly follow the facts to the data, if by data in this sentence you mean a conclusion of some sort. If not, then I do not know what you are trying to say.

    “If climate science is so wrong about ACC, then by extension, denialists claim that ALL science is wrong.”

    If that is what you choose to believe, McSkeptic, then so be it. Fact is, there are plenty of pieces missing from the AGW case. Maybe they flew away in UFOs? I think gravity will still hold when the world finds out that natural variation has been masking the so-called climate signal for years now. But, maybe in the vein of this post, I should bolt a pair of shoes to the floor? You know, just in case?

  125. Dear Skeptical Skeptic,

    A quote from Albert Einstein:

    No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

    That is how science is.

    So, something big and obvious like the medieval warm period, simply blows the whole CO2 global warming thing away.

  126. Furthermore,
    SS,

    You said

    The denialists pattern is the same – rant and deny the facts, but present nothing in return. No alternate theory. No explanation why the data says what it says,

    I think the problem is that your global warming gods won’t show their raw data… oops they lost it!

    Show me the data and how you measured it and I will show you the truth.

  127. Skeptical Skeptic is assuming that Co2 must drive the climate because there is no other theory in place to explain. This does not make Co2 driven climate correct by default. He also uses the” no peer-review” argument even though it has clearly been shown to be corrupt. You say you are no expert, and I would have to agree. Posting links to sites that “prove” global warming is as “arm chair” as it gets. I have lived off grid, have you? I have spent more time out doors (especially in winter in Canada) than anyone I have ever met. Come winter camping with me and we will see how much you miss the comforts you currently take for granted. This is the reason for my previous questions posed to you. Have you thought your line of thinking through to it’s conclusion? What kind of world do you want? Gilligan’s Island? Flintstones? I love spending time out doors, but it sure makes me appreciate being able to come back inside and warm up now and then. I appreciate that my life expectancy is ~65 years rather than 35. You are probably a young lad (I am 46) and I pride myself on my eco-friendliness ( mainly because I abhor wastefulness) and try to make my world as sustainable as possible. I am saddened by the wastefulness of our society and that is where money should be focused and spent. Not to reduce a wonderful life giving gas known as Co2. Tell me why greenhouses keep there PPM level at 1000? And tell me what kind of world it is that you want?

  128. “Skeptical Skeptic (06:53:20) :

    If climate science is so wrong about ACC, then by extension, denialists claim that ALL science is wrong.”

    You should really learn about logic. I mean, not social sciences logic. Boolean logic for a start would do.

  129. “Skeptical Skeptic (06:53:20) :

    If climate science is so wrong about ACC, then by extension, denialists claim that ALL science is wrong.”

    Oh sorry! I misunderstood you! The sentence only wants to SOUND like logic because it is simply what you want to sell, in other words, dialectic materialsm, diamat, Hegelian dialectic. Now that’s not so bad. Surely suffices to get a green following. Or convince some journos to reprint and believe it. I see your point now.

  130. Skeptical Skeptic (18:05:09):

    Thanks for the input. However, your most recent post (Skeptical Skeptic (06:53:20) :) suggests you are more a troll than a person interested in engaging in sensible discussion of the science surrounding AGW.

    If you’ve spent any time reading this blog and have any degree of thoughtfulness, you could not rant as you have. Most folks here are serious and all the articles Anthony uses to start discussions are serious (even if some are humorous). Are the articles right or are they wrong? Is the case for/ against AGW strong or weak? That’s what we’re here to discuss.

    For me, this site offers a reasonable and reasoned approach to challenging AGW orthodoxy (if I may call it that). I have not found a site that provides a similar approach to reviewing the case in support of AGW. I would like to find one — which is why I asked you the initial question I did. Your “you have to educate yourself” riposte has a taunting tone that belies your apparent effort to answer my question constructively.

    As RACookPE1978 (20:05:38) : points out, many of the sites you offer (although my comment here may not be true of all , I will see for myself) are hardly authoritative or unbiased — even those that claim they come from a scientific perspective (e.g., National Geographic, New Scientist).

    I am not an expert in climate science. I am a reasonably well-educated (PhD in a quantitative social science) and feel competent to evaluate scientific work along with the views of others more knowledgeable than me who in turn evaluate and opine on scientific work. I ignore rants as well as those whose opinons on climate science seem more informed by their views of appropriate government policy than by the science itself.

    For me, you fall into the latter category. I will consider your input, but could do without the rant.

  131. Re: Skeptical Skeptic (January 2, 2010 06:53:20):

    “The only way the denialists’ claims can work is to assume anything that does not agree with their beliefs must be part of some conspiracy.”
    No, the ClimateGate evidence suggests self-interested group-think about the fundamental data and its interpretation.

    “The denialists pattern is the same – rant and deny the facts, but present nothing in return. No alternate theory.”
    1) Natural climate variation (PDO, AMO, etc.) to account for response lags
    2) Cosmic Ray effects on albedo (Svensmark). Better Phanerozoic correlation than CO2 (Shaviv)
    3) IRIS effect (Lindzen)
    4) Land use changes including UHI
    6) Wrong sign on IPCC feedback parameters (Spencer, Lindzen)
    5) More
    6) All of the above

    “If climate science is so wrong about ACC, then by extension, denialists claim that ALL science is wrong.”
    Bad logic. Compare consistent use of “denialists” to argumentum ad hominem (Attack on the Person), a classical fallacy. Compare “then by extension” to yet another classical fallacy, Affirming the Consequent.

  132. Skeptical Skeptic (06:53:20) :
    If climate science is so wrong about ACC, then by extension, denialists claim that ALL science is wrong.

    No, that’s wrong.

  133. There are occasions – reading Skeptical Skeptic’s posts being one of them – when I really question evolutionary theory. Case in point, it’s my understanding that researchers have been unable to find any measurable increase in IQ in recorded history.
    Belief in AGW or as SS calls it ACC (trying to “reframe” the terms does not change the fact that what he’s talking about is AGW) has become an equivalent to religious faith.

    It’s absolutely insane to think that someone who “believes” in science does not accept the very base of the scientific method that us “denialists” seem to believe in – namely falsification. It could (and probably should) be argued that Science is built on Skepticism and that any Hypothesis that cannot be falsified is, at its core, unscientific

    It’s a shame that for so many, this is no longer a scientific debate – it is essentially a religious or political debate of the kind that people engage in drunk at 3 am… full of sound and fury yet in the end signifying, and accomplishing nothing

    In the end SS will tire and leave, content in his faith that he has “done his part” to enlighten us mouth-breathing, knuckle dragging “denialists” and we will get back to our business… challenging, questioning and verifying the extraordinary claims of CAGW, and looking for the extraordinary solid evidence (anybody seen it yet?) that should be required to back it up.

  134. The only way the denialists’ claims can work is to assume anything that does not agree with their beliefs must be part of some conspiracy.
    Really? The ONLY way? In addition to your use of the Ad Hominem term “denialists” you are making the logical fallacy known as a straw man argument with your “conspiracy” claim.
    It is you who seems to need to believe certain things about Climate Realists, because you feel they threaten your own cherished Belief system, which is why you lash out. Indeed, for those who worship at the altar of Warmism, inconvenient facts don’t matter and science is something to be used and abused. It is “Hockey Stick Science”, after all.

  135. “The only way the denialists’ claims can work.”

    Now I’m confused. Is “denialist” the same as “denier” or does it denote some differences in ideology? Can the original poster clarify this distinction please?

  136. Dear SS,

    And don’t think for one minute that I don’t care about the earth. I am an environmentalist. Not only do I recycle, I compost. Not only do I compost, I grow things. Not only do I grow things, I FIX things. Not only do I fix things, I don’t buy stupid things to begin with.

    Furthermore, I don’t drive an SUV, I give money to the Salvation Army because they adhere to the second tenet of conservation– reuse, and I don’t use compact florescent light bulbs because there is enough mercury in just one to poison 6000 gallons of water.

    But, I have seen no real evidence that CO2 causes warming of the earth. Furthermore, climategate has shown that we have been lied to, as well.

    Indeed, the earth is a very special and beautiful place. We need to take care of it. Nevertheless, unwise actions, even with good intentions can cause harm too.

  137. NickB. (10:18:20) says:

    There are occasions – reading Skeptical Skeptic’s posts being one of them – when I really question evolutionary theory. Case in point, it’s my understanding that researchers have been unable to find any measurable increase in IQ in recorded history.

    I’m struggling to understand what relevance this has to SS’s (I should stop using that shorthand because of its unsavory associations) unfortunate stance.

    However, I am of the understanding that the Flynn Effect is one such well documented increase, at least in measured IQ over the last 50 years, or so. Of course, arguments are ongoing as to whether it is real or an artifact of the measurement procedure, or what.

  138. Richard wrote
    >>>>However, I am of the understanding that the Flynn Effect is one such well documented increase, at least in measured IQ over the last 50 years, or so. Of course, arguments are ongoing as to whether it is real or an artifact of the measurement procedure, or what.<<<<

    Of couse it is an effect of measurement proceedure, they have to hide the decline.

    I couldn't resist! ROTFL

  139. With respect to ACC, or at least Local ACC (LACC), it would seem that Kilimanjaro is an excellent example, although, perhaps that should be LAWC.

  140. An FYI for everyone. I have yet to have this question answered in any way shape or form from any adherent to the diaphanous theory. As for our view lacking scientific credibility, I suggest that everyone (especially Skeptical Skeptic) click on Lucy Skywalkers home page. That should give anyone who thinks we don’t have a scientific leg to stand on a sufficient mouthful to chew on. Are you secure enough in your beliefs to check this, Sketical Skeptic ? http://www.greenworldtrust.org.uk/Science/Curious.htm

  141. Willis,

    Thanks for your excellent analysis of the precautionary principle, which is indeed rife with problems, and for your insightful response to my posting above. I really like learning from experienced fishermen about what is going on from their own experience. You are right about the wrong fish being thrown back, and the need for more mature fish. I have been speaking to fisheries scientists in recent years and fully appreciate their earnest and good work to conserve fish stocks. What I was writing about, concerning MSY, is a philosophy of scientific management that emerged just at the end of the Second World War, which was heavily promoted by Wilbert Chapman and Milner Schaeffer and others, in which U.S. international political and security goals were enmeshed with the science of ‘conservation’ – for example, leading Chapman to promote open international access to nearshore fisheries and keeping the EEZ at 3 miles, which had deleterious effects on over-fished anchovies in S. America, for example. Part of the agenda was so that the U.S. could continue to pursue tuna in international waters, but the Cold War was a major consideration. Other political considerations elsewhere (eg Canada) were making fishing the welfare activity of poor regions, leading to a complete lack of receptivity to scientific indications that fisheries needed to be shut down or minimized to avoid collapse. Also, in IMHO, Pacific salmon were more easily monitored and managed (until recently) than most North Atlantic fish stocks. The take home message is the same as yours – science becomes dangerous or useless when it is corrupted by politics.

  142. Mr. Eschenbach, thank you for shedding some much needed light on this post-modernist … uh … concept. But, alas, your post seems to have sent Skeptical Skeptic into somewhat of a tizzy. I could be wrong (it has been known to happen!), but it seems to me that this poor soul is in the throes of a desperate search for “Climate Justice” – which appears to be yet another of the tenets of the “Church of Settled Science”.

    Then again, it could just be that, not unlike Michael Mann, he is completely oblivious to the fact that he is damning himself with his very (unscientific) own words.

    http://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/agw-alarmists-slow-learners-damning-selves-with-own-words/

  143. Spork (23:20:50) :

    in a nutshell: The precautionary principle is Pascal’s wager repackaged

    ———————-

    In a word, no.

    In Pascal’s wager, belief in God is costless.
    Beliving in catastrophic global warming is far from costless.

  144. Skeptical Skeptic (18:05:09) says:

    “Regardless what you think, ACC is real.”

    See? Skeptical Skeptic’s mind is made up and shut tight. And because he believes in something, he demands that everyone else must believe in the same thing. Skeptical Skeptic wouldn’t know what a true scientific skeptic was if one bit him on the ankle.

    Furthermore, SS makes the same n00b mistake that the entire alarmist contingent always makes when he says:

    “You need facts. A lot more facts than I’ve seen from any denier… It’s easy to deny something, but that’s not good enough. If you disagree with the consensus, you need to offer a viable alternative hypothesis…”

    Our alarmist boy is wrong because he has the scientific method exactly backward; it is he who needs empirical facts. Alarmists are the ones who have come up with their new, fact-free hypothesis. As climatologist Roy Spencer says: ‘No one has falsified the theory that the observed temperature changes are a consequence of natural variability.’ Our pretend skeptic probably doesn’t even understand what Dr Spencer means.

    First, it is not the responsibility of a true scientific skeptic to prove anything. The alarmist crowd always turns the scientific method upside down like that, because they are incapable of providing any solid empirical evidence that a rise in CO2 causes a subsequent rise in temperature.

    The scientific method places the burden on those purveying their CO2=CAGW hypothesis to show that it explains reality better than the long-accepted theory of natural climate variability. Skeptics questioning that hypothesis have nothing to prove — so the alarmist contingent hides behind sophistry, as they try to make skeptics prove a negative.

    There is no skeptical hypothesis that claims CO2 does not cause global warming. Skeptics merely say: prove that it does — and do it in a way that is open and testable, using methods that are transparent and reproducible.

    The CO2=CAGW hypothesis fails because it has no verifiable empirical evidence to back it up. None. Further, it is unable to make accurate predictions. Thus, the argumentum ad ignorantium that Skeptical Skeptic falls back on is simply an underhanded attempt to force true skeptics prove a negative. Sorry about that, SS. Scientific skeptics have nothing to prove. Their job is to ask questions. Sadly, the alarmist crowd is unable to provide any empirical answers to validate their claims.

    Next, it is the ethical obligation of those putting forth a new hypothesis like CO2=CAGW to do their best to falsify their own hypothesis. Show us where they have done that.

    They not only fail to even question their own ginned-up AGW conjecture; but they withhold the data and methodologies from others that is necessary to falsify AGW. Thus, the purveyors of the AGW scam do not fit the definition of honest scientists — or of scientists at all. They are bought and paid for propagandists masquerading as honest scientists, and the truth is not in them.

    Falsification is not only the duty of outside skeptics. Skeptical scientists are the only honest kind of scientists, so even those fabricating their own new hypothesis have a duty to try their best to falsify it — and to fully cooperate with requests from others for their data and methods. The fact that they stonewall those requests makes it clear that they are well aware that if they provide that information, their CO2=AGW hypothesis will be promptly falsified; it can not withstand the scrutiny of scientific skepticism.

    Finally, ‘Skeptical Skeptic’s’ appeal to authority is in reality an appeal for everyone else to buy into the AGW scam. But it is too late for that. The leaked eastanglia emails show beyond any doubt the total corruption of those same ‘authorities’, who schemed to destroy anyone who did not follow the AGW Party line; and who conspired to hide money overseas in order to avoid taxes, and who admit that they simply invented large swathes of data in order to maintain their fabricated AGW scare.

    The day that Michael Mann and the CRU conspirators open all of their data and methodologies [both raw and adjusted] to the scrutiny of other scientists is the day they stop being dishonest scammers and start following the scientific method.

    But they will not open their books. Because as we have all seen, there is no possible way they can justify their alarming conclusions. So they stonewall.

    Dishonest rent-seeking government scientists are “Skeptical Skeptic’s” corrupt HE-ROes. That should tell us all we need to know about his moral compass.

  145. To be fair to Skeptical Skeptic, there are many voices from the world of science, including several scientific institutions, not to mention the IPCC, who say AGW/ACC is real, is happening, and is incontrovertible. Meanwhile, this is just one blog, and there are just a few individual scientists who vocally disagree with AGW. — At some point, a person has to choose where to place their loyalty. Does one listen to the voice of scientists, especially those who advocate world peace, nuclear disarmament, food aid for poor countries, levelling of the global economic playing field, and climate justice? These are all powerful forces for good, it would seem.

    But let us not forget, even if one chooses to follow the greater good, it is still an individual choice. An individual has to make up their own mind. Do you trust the village witch doctor? Do you trust the tribal king? Do you trust the nation’s president? Do you trust the United Nations?

    Recently in the UK, we had a choice. The government said that Saddam had WMDs—they said that they had the intelligence data—and it was necessary to invade to prevent disaster. There was no way for individual citizens to verify this “intelligence”. There was little choice but to trust the government, to trust the “expert” intelligence, if you will. Perhaps the comparison is ludicrous, as I’m comparing nefarious secret services with scientific bodies, but functionally we have a similar issue—they are experts qualified to gather and interpret the data.

    I remember when I lived for a while in South Africa as a teenager. Practically all educated whites thought that Apartheid was “necessary”. The world disagreed, but whites just said that the world was, how shall we say, “not in the field”—they said that the world didn’t “understand” South Africa.

    Thousands of AGW scientists, in a world of billions, is just one relatively small, but significant, cultural movement. Perhaps we don’t understand “the field”, or perhaps the scientists, being in the field, lack the objectivity, just like South African whites lacked the objectivity to question Apartheid. As a teenager, I just knew to keep my mouth shut—you just don’t question a mass cultural ethos.

    Questioning the word of thousands of scientists, requires psychologically a certain ability to tolerate ambiguity and complexity. It requires the capacity to become involved in contradictions, not just between ideas, but between systems of thought. Experts have to be, you see, the “right kind” of experts.

    Questioning experts requires the ability to hold in mind multiple lines of thought, parallel lines of reasoning, if only because you might be listening to 100 experts which say A, and 10 which say B, and 3 which say C.

    Data all to often is made to fit one theory or another. But reality is not that neat. Often the same data fits multiple theories equally well. Anybody can claim their data fits one theory, but who is comfortable claiming the data fits multiple theories? AGW conformists claim there are no viable alternative theories, which is a bit like claiming there is only one possible picture in a Rorschach ink blot, or only one possible interpretation of the results from a medical trial.

    Climate is like a huge Rorschach pattern. Multiple interpretations are possible. CO2 driver is possible. But it is not the only possible interpretation.

    When AGW conformists claim that I am dismissing science, but my view is that most of the data of climatology will continue to be valid. There is simply a 5% that can be revised or changed, and another 5% to 10% that will be discovered in decades to come. That little bit of extra data will tip the balance away from one interpretation (CO2 as driver) to another set of possible interpretations. It is not either-or. It is plus-and.

    When architects design buildings, they keep in mind all the hard constraints, which are fixed and immutable, like the size of the site, and the building codes, and the number of rooms required, and their function. But they also keep in mind all the possibilities. They keep multiple possible solutions in mind, and develop them in parallel. It is not uncommon that major design firms completely change the design late in the day, redesign the whole form so it’s an entirely unrecognisable building, even though they are actually keeping most of what they know to be true in play. They simply change the solution from one pattern, that fits the data, to another solution pattern which also fits the data, albeit a bit better.

    Forget “real climate”. Forget “sceptical climate”. Those open to ambiguity, multiplicity, and contradiction, can perhaps think more about “parallel climate”, as it were.

    There are voices on this blog, like Skeptical Skeptic, who seem to feel that to challenge one pattern, ACC, is to challenge the whole of science! There is only one possible solution to the data! Many other voices on this blog speak of alternative theories, including reasons why those alternatives might in turn be suspect. This is a similar thinking pattern to how good architects design buildings—they find solutions to problems and then try to find problems with the solutions, and continue to do this with multiple possible solutions in parallel.

  146. My no regrets precautions? Ignore and throw out of power anyone persisting to spout AGW as a known net disease and etiology and its alleged cure as now proposed. Let them get on the next Comet.

    Do the same with “Climate Science” or any resembling it.

  147. Skeptical Skeptic (06:53:20), thank you for your posting. Unfortunately, you don’t seem to have examined the evidence.

    As I said, I’m not the expert, and apparently neither are you, based on many of the posts I’ve seen here. Arm-chair McExperts may believe what they want, but they don’t necessarily follow the data to the facts.

    The only way the denialists’ claims can work is to assume anything that does not agree with their beliefs must be part of some conspiracy.

    Trying to equate people who don’t believe the consensus with conspiracy theorists just shows that you don’t understand how science works. The theory of stable continents had an overwhelming consensus until Wegman came along. The theory that ulcers were caused by stress had an overwhelming consensus until a couple of Australians came along. Newton’s theory had an overwhelming consensus until Einstein came along.

    Does this mean there was some kind of conspiracy in each case to uphold the consensus? Don’t be daft. It just means that, as has happened over and over throughout scientific history, that the consensus was wrong. That’s no surprise, because that’s how science works. Read a good history of science and you will find lots of overthrown consensuses (consensi?), all without any conspiracy.

    Facts don’t matter. Science doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is a pre-conceived comfort level of what denialists want to believe is reality.

    Ummm, this is why I said you have the sides reversed … read the CRU emails to see who is twisting the facts and gaming the system to achieve a pre-conceived comfort level …

    The denialists pattern is the same – rant and deny the facts, but present nothing in return. No alternate theory. No explanation why the data says what it says, other than claiming it’s part of a conspiracy. Any data that contradicts the denialists’ position must be faked. Such a convenient position to take.

    In general I find very few people saying that there is a conspiracy to fake the data. I do find a lot of people saying that there are a lot of people out there who each individually shading the data to “hide the decline” … for just one example see the repeated adjustments made by GISS to the historical temperature “data”, which all make the warming greater … probably just a coincidence. See the repeated use of paleoclimate folks of “gray” data which is not available, and of careful selection of proxies, to get the desired result. Take note of which side of the discussion is hiding their data and refusing to reveal their codes. I won’t name names, but their initials are Mann, and Thompson, and Wahl, and Amman …

    And “no alternate theory”? BWA-HA-HA-HA, It is to laugh.

    Let’s start with the theory called “natural variations”. Before we invoke scientific theories to explain an anomalous result, we have to show that the result is in fact anomalous. In other words, we have to show that something unusual, something outside the normal range of natural variations, has occurred. But that hasn’t happened in climate science. We have no evidence of anything unusual.

    The globe has been warmer in the last couple thousand years, and warmer in the last ten thousand years, and warmer in the last hundred and fifty thousand years, than it is today. The globe been generally warming since 1650. The trend 1980 to the present is no steeper than e.g. the trend from 1910 to 1940. What is unusual about the present climate?

    As far as I know, no one has ever shown that the current warming is in any way anomalous, or is outside the range of past warming, or outside the monte carlo simulations of warming using historical autocorrelations. So who is ignoring the data here?

    These natural variations include things like cosmic rays. Then there are natural variations caused by plankton causing clouds … do you find those in the climate models? These and many other natural phenomena are totally ignored by the “consensus” … who did you say was ignoring data again?

    Then we have people who have proposed an entirely different paradigm for explaining the climate, like Adrian Bejan here, and my own work here, and Lindzen and Choi here, and Christy and Norris here, and Lindzen here, and Ou here, and a host of others. Like the inconvenient data involving cosmic rays, these inconvenient hypotheses have been ignored by the side that you claim doesn’t ignore things …

    Here’s a few protips for you to keep in mind to bring up your score. Claiming that there are no alternative hypotheses based solely on your own lack of knowledge and paucity of research is generally a bad idea. Claiming that a conspiracy is necessary for there to be a consensus just gets you laughed at. And making outrageous claims without citations is just plain foolish.

    And finally, saying “I’m not the expert” and then making a host of unpleasantly phrased fanciful flat assertions doesn’t gain you bonus points …

    w.

  148. Richard Sharpe (11:30:57) :
    NickB. (10:18:20) says:

    There are occasions – reading Skeptical Skeptic’s posts being one of them – when I really question evolutionary theory. Case in point, it’s my understanding that researchers have been unable to find any measurable increase in IQ in recorded history.

    I’m struggling to understand what relevance this has to SS’s (I should stop using that shorthand because of its unsavory associations) unfortunate stance.

    However, I am of the understanding that the Flynn Effect is one such well documented increase, at least in measured IQ over the last 50 years, or so. Of course, arguments are ongoing as to whether it is real or an artifact of the measurement procedure, or what.
    ___________________________________

    My apologies for that post – it was hastily written and did not convey the point I was trying to make. Let me see if a second try works out a little better…

    There is, IMO, a logical continuation/extension of Evolutionary Theory that implies that we are more intelligent than our forebears. While I could have sworn that I ran across something somewhere that indicated that IQ has not been demonstrated to be measurably different as far back as they were able to measure but the veracity of that argument was not what I was trying to argue.

    Lets take the Flynn Effect as a base for this discussion and then add in another continuation/extension of Evolutionary Theory (I’m sure I’m about to butcher it since I’m not much of a fan) which is the triumph of reason and science over mysticism and faith – i.e. Dawkins.

    So add them together – Dawkins and the Flynn Effect – and we should be trending towards increased intelligence and rationality.

    Now compare that to reality. I won’t presume to speak for your experience and world view but from what I have seen more often than naught, I’m really not sure how far we are removed from monkeys at the zoo flinging poop at each other… which is really what trolling is all about after all amirite? I am also unconvinced that we’re really as smart as we think we are when you see things like the Antikythera Mechanism or contemplate the impact of the burning of the Library at Alexandria (I’d call it a safe bet there was at least one thing we lost there that we have yet to relearn or rediscover).

    Furthermore, the intelligence of our ancestors was applied in a much different manner than ours (think Les Stroud vs. Stephen Hawking…. how long do you think Hawking would last if you dropped him in the middle of the African Savannah? :P I’m so going to hell for that aren’t I?). I think it could be argued that the only way we’re able to be so “evolved” is that we have the knowledge and tools our ancestors to build on, and we are able to focus on more and more exclusively cerebral pursuits as time passes.

    I’ve always been a big believer that pure intelligence (i.e. book smarts) isn’t the be-all/end-all. Without emotional intelligence and wisdom (street smarts), we are not very evolved at all I think.

    As it pertains to Skeptical Skeptic (was working off a mobile earlier and I tend to be lazy, WWII ref was not intentional) the point I was really trying to make was that it’s a sad day when “believers” in science act just the same as believers in a religion. Science is supposed to be strictly reason, but here we have the unassailable “consensus” – which is nothing more than orthodoxy – and “deniers” – which is the same as calling someone a heretic or non-believer – and “Computer Models” – is it just me or does it remind anyone else of the Oracles.

    In an odd way of thinking, I think Skeptical Skeptic and the type of thinking he represents go a long way towards counterpointing Dawkins. If Science is nothing more than a religion without a deity, well, it’s not much of an evolutionary leap is it?

    Just my 2 cents… hope that makes a little more sense than before. Cheers!

  149. @NickB

    In developmental/structuralist psychology, we are indeed advancing and evolving. The culture of 2010 is more advanced, more rational, more sophisticated, than the culture of 1500.

    However, each time a child is born, that child has to retrace humanity’s development all the way up to the present day. Small children believe in Santa, which is basically a tribal stage where people believe in the magic of the witch doctor. Back in tribal times, that would be the highest stage available, so a child’s development would end at tribal, and they’d all believe the rantings of the witch doctor.

    But in modern society, as children grow up, they pass through those earlier and older stages and go towards a rational, modern mind.

    But development is complex, subtle, and nobody really knows how or why it happens. Plus we don’t completely leave behind earlier stages, so a person might be an engineer in their day job, but join some weird cult in their spare time. (They’re employing rational structures at work, but re-activating the older deeper magical structures in their cult).

    A person is like a single walking evolutionary history. This is kinda like how the whole planet today has portions of humanity from all epochs. The tribesmen of the Kalahari who still live as man did 20,000 years ago. The core of Africa that seems to be struggling with tribal conflicts, warlordism, and establishing stable nation states. The Middle East which is trying to unite under one religion, after a couple of failed attempts at Modernity. China which is trying to make the transition from a single authoritarian order, to a free market economy. And Europe, which struggles with the joys and pitfalls of egalitarian culture (feminism, environmentalism, etc.)

    All the old layers are still there. The difference between two people isn’t so much that one is rational and the other isn’t. Rather, one might be rational more of the time than the other (they spend more time in the upper stages).

    The existence of multiple stages concurrently means that what might appear as one stage on the surface, might actually be an expression of an older stage. For example, one might still have mythology-structures active in their mind a large percentage of the time, but be living in a culture where we’re all supposed to be rational and where religion has been discredited. Consequently the mythological structures in a person’s mind might find something else to key into, such as environmentalism. The mythical mind then starts to cite “science” as it it were a mythical authority, just in the same way that in previous centuries they could have cited the mythical authority of god or the witch doctor.

    One of the pitfalls of egalitarian stage in the West (it doesn’t exist much in the rest of the world—the Chinese leadership isn’t about to start spouting PostModern ideas—is that it goes to great lengths to be inclusive and non-judgemental, and so it attacks imperialism in any form. It attacks the notion that one culture, the West, could in any way be “better” than the culture of a tribe in Africa (even if that tribe does believe that sleeping with virgins cures you of AIDS)—consequently, and this is a really subtle twist… tribal thinking finds space to exist in post-modern culture in the West.

    It means that the image of tribal “natural lifestyle” gains appeal. It means that that pre-Modern ways of life seem attractive to some groups in the West, even when Moderns point out, hey, that would be a nightmare!

    This is one of the huge dangers about movements to reduce technology, dismantling capitalism, returning to natural lifestyles. It isn’t just that we’d be losing technology, it is that we’d be losing mental structures and culture. If you want to go back to agrarian technology, you’ll also be going back to agrarian mental structures. You know, slavery, sexism, witchunts, and other brutalities.

    If you don’t have a modern world technologically, children’s minds won’t develop up to modern structures. They’ll simply stop at agrarian. All the things that the greens champion, such as “justice”, are built on top of a modern rational technologically advanced society. Remove those and you remove egalitarianism too. We’d be retuned to agrarian brutalities, perhaps for thousands of years.

  150. NickB/ Stefan,

    Nice explanations for the more fundamental reasons why climate science has a particular vulnerability to being undermined by “older structures.” It’s a “deep struggle” between AGW believers and skeptics, not simply a matter of logic, experiment, data, analysis (i.e., science). Inevitably, in an egalitarian democratic system, the political process becomes involved.

    While way OT here, I’ve always thought that the failure of our educational system to explain the fundamentals of the capitalist system in grammar and high school has allowed a fertile ground for people to have strange beliefs about how economic activity “works” and what makes sense and what doesn’t.

    As a result, completely unfounded (un-scientific) beliefs about economic activity become an element in the consequences of AGW ideology through the failure to understand that economic and technological development (which are driven most quickly and efficiently through a capitalist system — assuming the polity can prevent fraud and monopoly (except insofar as new technology is concerned; i.e., patents) leads to:
    (1) the greatest amount of economic justice,
    (2) the natural restriction of birthrates to replacement rate,
    (3) the use of our biosphere in a “sustainble” manner.

    Many AGW believers strike me, more fundamentally than being believers in AGW, as being (more or less) Misanthropic Socialist Luddites because they do not understand — despite the evidence being quite obvious — that capitalism and science do produce more human “good” than socialism/ mysticism (which is not to say we should not be altruistic and idealistic).

    Without this more fundamental belief that humankind is “bad,” especially because of its capitalism and technlology, there would be less reason to want to easily believe the AGW hypothesis. But, even if one were to believe the AGW hypothesis, the natural conclusion would be to build nuclear plants as fast as possible (not develop uneconomic windmill, etc. technology).

    The interesting “rub” is that this “natural impulse” (for want of a better description) to having a Misanthropic Socialist Luddite sensibility is independent of other aspects of an individual’s native intelligence and capabilities. Smart people, some functional (e.g., James Hansen) and some not so (Ted Kaczynski), can be Misanthropic Socialist Luddites.

    But, what counts is not these few extraordinary individuals, but the millions of people who vote (i.e., determine what our political system will mandate in regards to AGW). Better early education in economics (which can be fun and not impossibly complex — e.g., Junior Achievement + understanding the concepts of price/ profit/ return on investment) may or not prevent the Kaczynskis of the world (or even the Hansens), but I believe it would modify the world views of millions of others who otherwise are too easily taken in by the “worthwhile” implications they see in AGW.

    After all, the issue with AGW is partly one of science, but also partly one of what people believe are the socio-economic implications.

  151. Part of becoming a rational human involves not only acknowledging your bias, but more important acknowledging your humanity.

    Your bias is about your stake, your money, your reputation, etc.

    Your humanity is about

    1 Your needs as a human. Humans have needs for things beyond food, like love, social acceptance, and pleasure. Without these things we fail to thrive.

    2 Your biological remnants of evolution. The way our brains evolved left us with things like optical illusions, a tendency for errors in math estimations and a limit on how many steps of logic we can follow and the biggie, group think.

    3 Your instincts. Instincts are largely subconscious. However, you can know an instinct by the feeling of well being that you feel when they are expressed. For example feeling hungry and then eating at the sight or smell of food, staring at a fire, moving our bodies to music or a more unacknowledged example is digging in dirt, especially in spring time.
    Of course, just because an instinct results in a feeling of well being, it does not always result in actual well being. Although it must have in pre-historic times or it would not be here today. Learning can also affect instinct thus resulting in arguments over what is instinct and what is not.

    I don’t think we can completely eliminate the above constraints on rational thought nor should we. Although an environment where there is enough food, social acceptance, some outlets for instinct and a bit of education does help. ( Is this the minimum for modern society?)

    Nevertheless, merely acknowledging the existence of bias and the different aspects of our humanity allows for a glimpse of the truth.

    Perhaps the way to begin any argument is with two questions: What is your bias? And, Do you acknowledge your humanity?

  152. Do you acknowledge your humanity? Well that was grandiose! My apologies. It was a stupid post. It sounds like a pledge. Of course, humanity has had all kinds of previous definitions so it doesn’t work on that level either. Nor would it be a good thing to admit your bias to a mob. Bad post. I’ll shut up now.

  153. @JP Miller

    Very much agree. Educators in the West, since the 60s, seem keen to instil PostModern values in the young, without first checking to see whether the young have learnt Modern values. The personal aspect of Modern values are things such as, free will, rationality, and the pursuit of excellence. It is about using your brain to win and better yourself and the world. It is about mutual respect, the social contract, the open minded pursuit of truth, the fair competition of ideas. When most of the people in society have these values, then in the economy, this can manifest as the free market.

    But try to teach PostModern values before kids are grounded in Modern values, and you lose both, because PostModern requires Modern as a minimum. Yes, Modernity has its horrors, like nuclear bombs and oil spills, and people may wish to turn against Modernity, to distance themselves from it, but PreModernity’s horrors were even greater (mass slavery, tribal genocide, human sacrifice), as you say, so our basis, our dignified foundations, need to at the bare minimum be built on Modernity. And that means establishing a curriculum that teaches kids in early teens about the nobility and function of Modernity, how it works economically, as you say, and how it works in the individual, as personal qualities. Then later you can turn them into good little environmentalists, and they’ll be better environmentalists for it, for they can use all that reason and open minded pursuit of knowledge to fix problems.

  154. @r

    It made sense in the context of your post!

    The way I read what you’re saying is that, as a human being I have a point of view. My point of view is constructed by many things, such as my biology, my instincts, my culture, my intelligence, the information I happen to have read, and so on. It all amounts to a point of view of an individual.

    To be Modern, however, I need to acknowledge that I have a point of view. In art, this was expressed aesthetically when painters began constructing the picture using the new technique of one-point perspective. The painter was conscious that the scene was a representation of the details as they would be seen from precisely one particular point of view. This implied that other points of view were also possible.

    The dignity of modernity and reason is in part the conscious recognition that whatever I see, it is my point of view, and especially, that other people see things from their point of view. And the Modern dignified answer to this conundrum is that we afford each other equal rights and respect. It is the mental structure which is the basis for democracy. (Consider how can a slave owner continue to have slaves if he stops to really take the point of view of the slave…)

    What is so troubling about some voices in environmentalism, is their apparent unwillingness to accept and respect other’s opinions. So as you say, that should be the starting point, the place to begin the argument:

    are you willing to consider the possibility that a person who disagrees with AGW theory could be right?

  155. NickB. (20:52:18) :

    RE: Truth seeker

    I’m pretty sure the link is http:/brneurosci.org/co2.html

    You left out a slash. Try: http://brneurosci.org/co2.html

    Vincent (10:39:23) :

    “The only way the denialists’ claims can work.”

    Now I’m confused. Is “denialist” the same as “denier” or does it denote some differences in ideology? Can the original poster clarify this distinction please?

    I think its denotation is the same as “denier” (someone who irrationally “denies” what is plain to any rational observer), but without its nasty connotation (the Holocaust).

  156. Skeptical Skeptic:

    If climate science is so wrong about ACC, then by extension, denialists claim that ALL science is wrong.

    There are certain devotees of “scientism” who believe that science can, in principle, answer any question about the natural, or material, world, and/or that science, and only science, can speak authoritatively about knowledge.

    To a science fiend, it is outrageous irrationality, or subjectivism, or mere hand-waving, to claim or imply that some subject matter can’t be made to yield to the scientific method. It is an a priori “given” to them that “science,” given sufficient resources, cannot be long baffled by any situation involving interacting natural forces.

    But there are certain fields where science hasn’t been able to provide much insight or get much traction. These include, most obviously, the soft sciences of psychology, politics, sociology, and economics. In two particular cases I can think of offhand, science has failed spectacularly (i.e., labored, but brought forth a mouse): behavioral psychology and artificial intelligence. These two fields were those infested by know-it-all / reductionist / focus-on-the-tangible “science fiends.”

    The behaviorists dismissed all objections to their strict materialism as “subjectivism”–a ghost in the machine. Everything boiled down to stimulusand response. The American journals of psychology in many decades in the first half of the 20th century were dominated by behaviorists who were determined to kept “junk” psychology from contaminating their field, just like the Team and its allies. The heads of psychology departments were similarly intolerant, and getting a PhD in the field pretty much required adherence to the settled doctrine. Ditto climatology in the recent past.

    The AI-ers similarly dismissed “consciousness” as another ghostly intangible. Everything boiled down to a series of yes/no decisions, or computations. In artificial intelligence, no expert in the field was a disbeliever. The critics were outsiders; the experts were all, in various degrees, believers. People went into the field because they were believers. Ditto climatology in the recent past. This is where the consensus comes from.

    Those two “bridges too far” should have given reductionist climatologists pause, and so should chaos theory and complexity. Here is how one commenter on Christopher Booker’s recent article on the Met put it:

    Bohemond:
    “It’s called basic physics Booker.”

    Utter tosh. The atmosphere is not a kitchen-table experiment and it isn’t GSCE physics. It is an insanely complex metastable-to-chaotic dynamic nonlinear system of uncounted variables which we aren’t close to understanding yet, much less model (even if the necessary maths exist)- and anyone who claims to understand it all is lying, no matter how many postnominal abbreviations he sports.

    Despite these considerations, climatologists are convinced, like the behaviorists and AI fanatics before them, that they have the problem surrounded, and therefore they can dismiss appeals to “natural variation” as an invocation of a ghostly nonentity, lacking substance. It follows (to them) that anyone who won’t accept the reasonings of the scientific consensus is a flat-earther:

    Mann (from the recent Chemical & Engineering News story:
    “Global-warming antagonists, carrying the banner of natural climate variability, … add that the current warming isn’t being caused by anthropogenic CO2 but is instead simply a continuation of Earth’s recovery from the Little Ice Age.


    That is a bit misleading, Mann says. “Suggesting that Earth recovers from climate changes implies that the climate system works in a completely different way than we know it does based on physics,” he observes. “The climate doesn’t rebound. It isn’t like a spring that someone pulls and lets go. The primary changes are due to the response to forcings.


    This is the arrogant, scientistic, “we-have-the-problem-surrounded” metaphor. (It doesn’t give enough weight to the idea that the earth might attempt to self-regulate its temperature with clouds, for instance.) It tries to evade the “skeptical” burden-of-proof, null-hypothesis objection by implying that all the important factors in the planet’s temperature have been accounted for in a problem-surrounded “heat budget” that leaves no room for “natural variation,” which is relegated to ghost-in-the-machine status.

    Here’s the counter of “Invariant” (on this site, recently) in defense of the “spring”:

    Let us assume that we do not know the origin of the little ice age. How long would it take to establish equilibrium again in the heat balance for our planet? 1 day? 1 week? 1 year? 300 years? Remember the thermal mass for the ocean is huge! According to the heat balance the temperature will increase even if the input from the sun (K) is constant as long as the temperature T is below the equilibrium temperature. Trenberth [and Mann, and the consensus] seems to assume that the heat budget for our planet is balanced or almost balanced; what is the empirical basis for his assumption?

    Besices such problem-surrounded scientism, the consensus is also based on groupthink; on faddism; on behind-the-scenes political machinations; on worries about funding; on the alarmist/activist bias inculcated by climatology departments; and on consensus participants being “selected for” by the predilections of those potential students who found that bias attractive. (I.e., climatology offered them a new and growing field in which they could rise rapidly, and which gave than an unprecedented opportunity to make a mark on the world.)

    Therefore, climatology’s consensus is, fortunately, not representative of consensuses in mainline science, and one needn’t be an anti-scientific nut to be a climate contrarian.

  157. Stefan,
    Yes I wanted to say that as a human being I have a point of view, but also more.

    I was really thinking about what and how I teach my children and how this is different from what they learn in school.

    It seems that in 12 years of Honors classes, my children have been taught nothing about how to have a proper intellectual argument. You know, how to recognize twisted logic or how to spot and answer a pre-supposition in a statement, and how to respond to it.

    An example is: Have you stopped beating your wife yet? There are two pre-suppositions, one that you beat your wife, and two, that you still do.

    If you take the bait and respond to either one of the presuppositions, you do not address the other and you are left feeling beaten-up but are not sure why.

    These kinds of difficult statements and even simpler stuff, like name calling, and threats, are rife in the public forum. Most people do not know how to dodge them. I’ll admit I am still learning too.

    But these are the kinds of things that every voter should know. Every voter should know how to spot the flaws in arguments, how to look for bias, to look for the flaws in their own nature, and how actions should match the words… so that they cannot be fooled.

    My children asked me, “Why do I have to learn algebra. I’ll never use it.” The answer is, so that you cannot be fooled by someone who does.

    Another problem that I see is, even though schools teach the scientific method, they don’t practice it. In science class, students are given a lab with expected out comes. The students are graded on how closely they match the expected outcome. What is the message that they are really receiving?

    Don’t even get me started on economic theory!

    So, my post was really about: What are we teaching our children, and what should we be teaching them so that they can resist the onslaught of advertising, cults and even “experts.”

    [REPLY - Gosh, yes. Recently I told a class (of 7th graders) that it was not my job to teach them what to think, it was my job to teach them how to think. ~ Evan]

  158. See, Willis, what you’ve got us into? Discussing the foundations of what’s required to “think effectively,” whether a scientist or not… Really! Such a waste of time when we could be name-calling the idiots at CRU or NASA. Let’s get this blog back to the fun knuckle-dragging SS accused us of.

    Interesting that since this thread has become a more broadly philosophical discussion relevant to the AGW debate that SS hasn’t had much to say to advance the thinking here — whether or not in support of AGW.

    /sarc off

    Hey, but this has been fun! Thanks for sharing, folks. Now, how about that weather, ain’t it cold out?

  159. P. S. One effective answer to “Have you stopped beating your wife?” is:

    WHEN did your get the idea that I beat my wife?

    By answering the question with “when” instead of any other interrogative, you haven’t admitted to anything and you force the offender to begin a discussion with you about a specific incident that he may have in mind. Most likely, he doesn’t actually have a specific incident in mind and is left floundering. If he does, the topic is now open for discussion and it is limited to a specific incident instead of a generality.

  160. Stefan,
    The paradigm/framework you’ve outlined makes a lot of sense both for personal and societal development… especially some of the more schizophrenic-seeming tendencies we grown-ups tend to exhibit due to, as you put it, “the existence of multiple stages concurrently” – As well as our own mini-evolutions from childhood to adulthood.

    It’s an absolutely fascinating insight into an area of study that I am admittedly unfamiliar with. A big thanks good sir!

    JP/R/Roger,
    Thanks as well for the great posts. My apologies for derailing!

  161. r, January 3, 2009 (14:15:50) :

    “I was really thinking about what and how I teach my children and how this is different from what they learn in school.

    “It seems that in 12 years of Honors classes, my children have been taught nothing about how to have a proper intellectual argument. You know, how to recognize twisted logic or how to spot and answer a pre-supposition in a statement, and how to respond to it.”

    You are right. Try one or more of these for the kids.

    Downes, Stephen. “The Logical Fallacies, Stephen’s Guide to : Welcome.” http://onegoodmove.org/fallacy/welcome.htm.

    —. “The Logical Fallacies: Table of Contents.” http://onegoodmove.org/fallacy/toc.htm.

    Holt, Tim. “Logical Fallacies.” Logical Fallacies. http://www.logicalfallacies.info/index.html.

    Miriam Joseph. The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and Function of Language. Philadelphia, PA: Paul Dry Books, 2002.

    “The Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies.” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/taxonomy.html.

  162. Re: r, January 3, 2009 (14:15:50) :

    “I was really thinking about what and how I teach my children and how this is different from what they learn in school.
    “It seems that in 12 years of Honors classes, my children have been taught nothing about how to have a proper intellectual argument. You know, how to recognize twisted logic or how to spot and answer a pre-supposition in a statement, and how to respond to it.”

    You are right. Try one or more of these for the kids or for your own amusement and confirmation of your post.

    Downes, Stephen. “The Logical Fallacies, Stephen’s Guide to : Welcome.” http://onegoodmove.org/fallacy/welcome.htm.

    —. “The Logical Fallacies: Table of Contents.” http://onegoodmove.org/fallacy/toc.htm.

    Holt, Tim. “Logical Fallacies.” Logical Fallacies. http://www.logicalfallacies.info/index.html.

    Miriam Joseph. The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and Function of Language. Philadelphia, PA: Paul Dry Books, 2002.

    “The Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies.” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/taxonomy.html.

    (Sorry if this is a repeat. The first try simply disappeared.)

    REPLY: [ When a posting "simply disappears" without even an "awaiting moderation" that means it was put in the SPAM queue (which is serviced, but more slowly...) often from 'too many links'. We fish them out, but it's a bit slower. -mod ]

  163. r:
    my children have been taught nothing about how to have a proper intellectual argument. You know, how to recognize twisted logic …

    Pooh:
    You are right. Try one or more of these [lists of logical fallacies]n for the kids or for your own amusement and confirmation of your post.

    There are also various books and threads on “critical thinking” that may also help (google for the term). I think that teaching this material is more important than most other subjects commonly taught.

    But I have two concerns about these lists of fallacies. First, I don’t think that logical fallacies make up the majority of the off-track thinking and arguing one sees online and elsewhere. It’s more often “bad faith,” woolly-mindedness, escalatory responses, deliberate obtuseness, tunnel vision, perverse unreasonableness, and various kinds of “debater’s tricks” that are not “logical” fallacies. What’s needed is a catalog of such flaws and tricks.

    Second, some people can employ spotting-a-fallacy as a mere weapon and become over-accusatory about the supposed logical fallacies they think they spot, or employ them in an unreasonable “gotcha” fashion.

    For instance, the term for the “appeal to authority” fallacy was originally (I suspect) employed in order to make a contrast to “appeal to reason,” and was limited to cases where traditionalists cited Aristotle on the number of a woman’s teeth, or the Bible on the age of the earth, as a means of playing a trump card and shutting down debate.

    This classic fallacy has been stretched to the point that it can indict an opponent who merely cites the number of “authorities” in a field who agree with him. That’s not an appeal to a mere ipse dixit dogma that lacks any other foundation, and it’s not necessarily an attempt to shut down debate (although it can be), so it’s not quite the same thing as the original “fallacy.” (It of course can be attacked on other grounds, such as that the consensus might be wrong, uninformed, “manufactured,” not correctly counted, etc.)

    There are two or three other fallacy-accusations that I think are over-played, but I can’t call them to mind at the moment, and I don’t want to belabor this point, so I’ll end. (This could turn into quite a tangent.)

  164. Roger Knights (23:43:35) : edit


    For instance, the term for the “appeal to authority” fallacy was originally (I suspect) employed in order to make a contrast to “appeal to reason,” and was limited to cases where traditionalists cited Aristotle on the number of a woman’s teeth, or the Bible on the age of the earth, as a means of playing a trump card and shutting down debate.

    This classic fallacy has been stretched to the point that it can indict an opponent who merely cites the number of “authorities” in a field who agree with him. That’s not an appeal to a mere ipse dixit dogma that lacks any other foundation, and it’s not necessarily an attempt to shut down debate (although it can be), so it’s not quite the same thing as the original “fallacy.” (It of course can be attacked on other grounds, such as that the consensus might be wrong, uninformed, “manufactured,” not correctly counted, etc.)

    A valid point. I make a clear distinction between on the one hand someone who tries to buttress his argument with “the IPCC says” or “the American Association for the Advancement of Science says” or “the consensus of scientists on this question is”, and on the other hand someone who refers to “the statement by Professor Smith on page 7 of his 1994 study of left-handed rabbits”. One is a meaningless appeal to authority, and the other is a reference to a particular scientific claim and its supporting evidence.

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