How Wicked Is This Problem?

by Tom Fuller,

Let’s start with proper attribution of Wikipedia’s definition: ““Wicked problem” is a phrase originally used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.”

The first example cited is global climate change. Sigh. Others include AIDS, international drug trafficking and urban decay.

How wicked is the problem of global climate change?

In 1973, again according to Wikipedia, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber listed 10 characteristics of ‘wicked problems’:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem (defining wicked problems is a problem).
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

Personally, I think the field of study of ‘wicked problems’ needs a bit of work, based on the above. Is international drug trafficking, one of their examples, unique? Is it not similar to human trafficking, cigarette smuggling, small arms smuggling? I don’t think wicked problems need to be unique.

Similarly, planners have been wrong repeatedly on wicked issues in the past, and many of them suffered no consequences, or were ‘rehabilitated’ to positions of power following their mistakes.

And wicked problems are not alone in being subsets of other problems–ask any 4-year-old endlessly repeating ‘why?’ All problems have causes, and many times the causes are actually solutions to previous problems.

The first item on their list involves the difficulty of definition. But I don’t think that’s a correct definition of the definition problem. I think the real difficulty is getting various actors to agree on one of competing definitions.

Okay, so a blogger somewhere on the internet doesn’t like what a contributor to Wikipedia wrote about ‘wicked problems.’ Where is this going?

I would approach ‘wicked problems’ in the following manner:

  • Do we understand the problem enough to define it to all parties’ satisfaction?
  • Can we scope the problem adequately in terms of its consequences and the resources needed to address it?
  • Do we know what a solution or solutions might look like?
  • Do we know a time frame for best results of any solution we implement?
  • Are solutions to elements of the problem available?
  • Will solving one part of the problem significantly change the scope of the remainder?
  • Is there time dependency of both parts of the problem and parts of the solutions?

Wicked problems may be tough, but I think we humans have the tendency (and the incentives) to make them seem tougher than in fact they are. So let’s see how wicked the problem of global climate change really is.

Have we properly defined the problem? Not without rewording. The problem according to the activist community appears to be, “global climate change  caused by human emissions of CO2.” Which is clearer, but I think wrong.

I think a better definition would be, “the future and unwelcome extension of warming that has persisted for over a century, caused by human activities that include emissions of various greenhouse gases.”

There may be better definitions. But if we cannot agree on the definition, then by definition we will not agree on its scope or possible solutions.

Have we defined its scope? No. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has offered a variety of scenarios with different paths to the future, but has not ranked them in order of probability. Economists trying to measure the possible damage caused by global warming cannot even agree on terms of reference, let alone the right number of zeros in the answer. The IPCC is incredibly relaxed about its wide range for atmospheric sensitivity to a doubling of the concentrations of CO2. As of today, their position translates to ‘it either will be a big problem or not much of one.’ That’s the difference between a sensitivity of 1.5 and 4.5.

The wild-eyed fantasies of 20-foot sea level rises and 10 degree temperature rises are a direct result of this laxity–without tight boundaries, things go bump in the night.

Do we know what a solution or solutions might look like? Surprisingly, yes–but we are not even discussing the most obvious and complete solution. We could solve climate change as a problem by constructing an adequate number of nuclear power facilities to provide electricity as our primary source of energy. We then would convert to electric vehicles and use electricity for other work currently performed by fossil fuels.

People may say they don’t like nuclear power and are concerned about waste or terrorism–and that’s perfectly legitimate. I’m more concerned about the quality of construction, and possible leaks, myself. But nobody can say with a straight face that the cure would be worse than the disease the activists imagine.

Do we know a time frame for optimum achievement of a solution? Surprisingly, demographics does give us an answer–some time before 2075, when human population peaks at 9 billion souls.

Are solutions to elements of the problem available? Again, yes. Energy efficiency, such as more combined heat and power, waste-to-energy plants, higher mileage automobiles and hybrids, a higher commitment to public transportation, a smart grid and HVDC transfer of electricity, etc., etc. Continued work on renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectric, solar and geothermal. (I think wind has surrendered its pride of place at this point.) Research and deployment of pumped hydro storage and compressed air energy storage.

Will solving one part of the problem change the scope of the remaining portions dramatically? Yes. A commitment to build as much nuclear power as needed will without doubt change the level of urgency surrounding all remaining elements of global climate change.

Is there time dependency? Yes. We need to have inexpensive and readily available energy for those people getting ready to be born and those people climbing the development (and energy) ladders. We need to do something now, regardless of the accuracy or correctness of our definition of climate change.

Too simplistic? Maybe. But that’s not an argument against the solution. It’s an argument that some are so invested in the idea of climate change being insoluble that they do not wish to acknowledge that solutions are possible.

And I would add this: A truly wicked problem would demand a Plan B. One exists for climate change–geoengineering. Those who would prohibit examination of our alternatives in this area are obviously indifferent to any solution, and have other reasons for participating in this debate.

And also this: For the many who disagree with the reality of the definition above, replacing it with a similarly worded expression of the energy needs of this planet going forward would leave us pretty much in the same situation.

In fact, I would slyly acknowledge skeptic concerns by saying–It is feasible to imagine draconian solutions to global climate change that do not adequately address our energy concerns. However, if we solve our energy concerns responsibly and ethically, we will without doubt solve the issue of global climate change.

Not so wicked.

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George E. Smith
October 18, 2010 4:21 pm

Well then what do you do about a problem that is NOT wicked at all; in fact it isn’t a problem at all; but there are busibodies who for their own reasons keep on insisting it IS a problem.
Then you get into the definitiion of what “is” is.
Climate change isn’t a problem; it hasn’t been evidently for the 4.5 billion years that the earth has survivied it; and it isn’t likely to stop any time soon, and there isn’t liklely to be anything that hukmans can do about it anyway.
So what if you predict that 50 years from now, a big asteroid is going to strike earth; you think. So you figure out that with some application of energy; you can move it to a different orbit so it misses.
If you wait for it to get closer; so you are more sure, it will take a hell of a lot more energy to move it far enough to miss.
And if you try to move it sooner while further away; you will use more energy to get to it; and you are less certain that it is going to hit anyway.
So what if your interference moves it from a near miss to a direct dead center hit. So who are you going to trust with the decision ot make any adjustment to the orbit of that missile; so long as you aren’t all that sure it really will hit.
I don’t know anybody I would trust to make that decision; including me.

Eric Dailey
October 18, 2010 4:21 pm

Fuller, you are a publishers dream.

October 18, 2010 4:23 pm

Ho,Ho!, LOL!, they define it quite well, any wicked behavior comes from them!

October 18, 2010 4:31 pm

I am, unfortunately, old enough to remember that the world’s oil resources were going to run out in 1976 according to predictions by The Club of Rome. So far as I am aware – and I am sure I will be corrected – the world has never run out of any resource, we inventive humans simply find different answers to the looming problem.
We may well have run out of whale oil, but we found alternatives. We may have run out of candle wax, but we found alternatives and so on. I am sure there are many answers yet to be found to the energy issue and am not convinced that a return to the stone age is either necessary or inevitable.

Paul Deacon, Christchurch, New Zealand
October 18, 2010 4:43 pm

Tom – it seems every post you make starts with the unstated, and unsupported, assumption that there is a problem. I don’t buy that.
And I do not buy the “precautionary principle” argument(s) for the same reason.
In any case, why should I be concerned about the agenda of activists whose beliefs I do not share?
All the best.

October 18, 2010 4:44 pm

Tom, you keep insisting that “climate change” is a problem. Who says? The only “problem” I see is the innumerable politicians and chicken little’s who want to give us a solution to something. In reality, it’s nothing more than an opportunity to pursue whatever bs agenda they have rattling around in their heads. But they need to convince the great unwashed that there is a problem, and guess what? Only the Environmental Illuminati (them ) can save us from it. Bull.

October 18, 2010 4:52 pm

I like your recommended approach, Tom. Although, given the lead time to ramp up a large number of new nukes, I think I like Robert Bryce’s “N2N” solution better.
Switch from coal to natural gas as quickly as practical, while building latest technology nukes for the longer term. Ramp up development of generation 4 nuclear power technology (and beyond).

John Lish
October 18, 2010 4:58 pm

Scarcity is an issue with nuclear fuels as well as is the problem of making nuclear power demand-responsive. Not impossible to solve but these are legitimate technological issues which does make your proposed solution somewhat simplistic.

jack morrow
October 18, 2010 5:08 pm

The real wicked problem I see is the corrupt scientists only out for themselves and the also corrupt politicians(present and past) gouging and stealing from the American people and the world. Anybody with any sense can see how to overcome our present energy problems while working on new types and improved uses of what we have. You mentioned nuclear-that’s one of many we let our greenies and corrupt politicians prevent us from using while pushing those stupid windmills that no one can live with near where they live. Sorry for the rant.

a jones
October 18, 2010 5:15 pm

Mr. Fuller
A wicked problem is one that cannot even be defined and yet is essentially unique. Really! Surely it is unique or not. And if you cannot even define it how can you know?
This is not science, it is not logic, it is not even informed speculation: but merely the kind of verbiage that charlatans and mountebanks use to confuse and impress the hapless victims of their fraudulent practices.
It is not even proper metaphysics: which at least depends on developing an argument from a premise, however outlandish: in the hope that although you cannot test the premise you might be able to test the conclusion. And learn something.
Only the very credulous are taken in by this kind of verbal acrobatics. Unfortunately that includes some quite intellectual people either because they they really are very stupid or because they intend to use it to manipulate other people with it to their own advantage.
Kindest Regards

Phil's Dad
October 18, 2010 5:17 pm

To have a wicked problem you first need a problem.
You are assuming much that is by no means clear.
I take issue in particular with your implication that a fear of “the cure being worse than the disease” is unique to sceptics. Surely any rational follower of the CACD* school of thought has a duty to be concerned with this too.
CACD – Catastrophic Anthropic Climate Disruption – substitute your own preferred acronym

October 18, 2010 5:37 pm

Most of Mr Fuller’s problems are imaginary. Out of these “Is international drug trafficking, one of their examples, unique? Is it not similar to human trafficking, cigarette smuggling, small arms smuggling? ” I’d rate only human trafficking as a real problem. The rest are caused by stupidity and an insane desire to control people and what they do to themselves.
Many other “wicked problems” are due to a lack of moral courage to do what is necessary or lack of recognition of the way reality works.
As in many cases though we can learn from Mr Heinlein. See “Solution Unsatisfactory”.

October 18, 2010 5:45 pm

Regarding “the future and unwelcome extension of warming that has persisted for over a century, caused by human activities that include emissions of various greenhouse gases,” how is it unwelcome when even the IPCC admits that mortality from cold is much higher than mortality from heat? The increased death toll from heat-related stress is offset by the higher number of lives extended by reduced cold. Since “20-foot sea level rises and 10 degree temperature rises” are “wild-eyed fantasies,” why would the extension of warming be unwelcome?
The world has been much warmer before, as shown by the artifacts uncovered by the melting snow—the Neolithic hunter in the Alps, Roman shoe nails in the Swiss Alps, the pre Viking finds in Jotunheimen, the ice mummies in the Andes—plus fossil wood that shows treelines hundreds of meters higher than present treelines. Man has obviously survived higher temperatures back when there was no air-conditioning to help the elderly survive heat stress. Why then would a warmer world be considered a problem in the first place?
In a warmer world, the tropics with their greater biodiversity will expand, the temperate regions and the taiga will move farther north/south, and the tundra will contract. More land will be available for agriculture with longer growing periods.
CO2 has been much higher without any runaway warming.
It’s only a problem in the minds of activist community that wants something to agitate about in order to get attention and gain influence. To create a market, first you create a desire (or fear) that is answered by your product. They can’t do that with H2O, which is the most potent “greenhouse” gas, because there’s no way they can control it or talk about limits. But CO2 can be demonized as “carbon”—that makes selling their message easier.
Your “wicked problem” isn’t wicked. It isn’t even a problem.

October 18, 2010 5:50 pm

“Wicked Problem” is a problem for The Wiki.
In a past episode, I tried to convince The Wiki to use my “quantum onion” as a variant of the problem that their “Wicked Problem” describes:
A regular onion is peeled by layers. With each layer, the onion gets smaller, sometimes breaking into separate pieces, but always getting smaller.
A “Quantum Onion” is one that describes the situation often found in real science and engineering where a problem can be described simply, but when looked at in more detail, it expands in complexity. Peeling off another layer, it may expand in size or split into separable problems that may be larger after the unveiling. Eventually, peeling off the layers results in a “normal onion” behavior, where each layer is peeled away reduces the size of the problem described at that level.
The Wiki rejected my proposed nomenclature. Cretins!

Leon Brozyna
October 18, 2010 5:50 pm

While I read the whole piece, you actually lost me at “social planning”. Reminds me of city planners who seem intent on creating socially sterile environments. Or Soviet-era planners with all their attendant problems (such as their victims never meeting quotas in five-year plans).
In my mind, a wicked problem is a problem that won’t conform to some activist planner’s vivid imagination.
AIDS? Just another disease that will one day join the pantheon of diseases that once haunted mankind.
International drug trafficking? Had a similar problem in the 20’s and early 30’s — its cause was called prohibition. That problem was solved; of course we still have alcoholics.
Urban decay? Been with us since the first cities and it’s never going away.
Climate change? Oh wait, it’s now climate disruption. How can it be a problem when they (whoever “they” are) can’t even agree on a name for it. Global warming … climate change … climate chaos … climate catastrophe … and on and on and on … Didn’t the Aztecs have their own unique solution to climate whatever?

Roy Clark
October 18, 2010 6:28 pm

Climate change and energy supply are not ‘wicked’ problems. They are well bounded by the laws of physics. The only ‘wicked’ problem is the global warming fraud perpetrated by the IPCC. There is no climate change constraint on greenhouse gas emissions.
The IPCC has cleverly defined climate change in terms of an increase ‘equilibrium surface temperature’ that has no existence outside of the greenhouse land of its fraudulent computer models. There are two real surface temperatures that we need to understand. The first is the surface temperature either of the ground under our feeet, or of the surface of the ocean. The second is the meterological surface air temperature (MSAT). This is the temperature of the air in an enclosure placed 1.5 to 2 m above the ground. (Plenty of pictures of those enclosures on WUWT).
The ground or ocean temperature can be calculated from basic heat transfer theory. This has to be done using short term flux (half hour) averages dynamically coupled into the surface using real heat capacities and thermal conductivities. The peak summer solar flux is about 1000 W.m-2 and the night time cooling flux can reach -100 W.m-2. The total increase in downward ‘clear sky’ LWIR flux for an increase of 100 pppm in atmospheric CO2 is 1.7 W.m-2. When this is added to the flux terms BEFORE the surface temperature is calculated, the change in temperature from the additional CO2 flux is so small it cannot be measured. There is no CO2 induced surface heating. Over the oceans, the LWIR flux is coupled into the surface evaporation, but the temperature change is still too small to measure.
However, there is no convenient long term record of the real surface temperature, so the ‘hockey stick’ uses the MSAT instead. The long term changes in the MSAT are caused by changes in the air temperature of the prevailing weather systems. These are usually related to changes in ocean surface temperatures. The underlying ‘global warming’ in the ‘hockey stick’ was caused by increases in ocean surface temerpatures during the warming part of the 60 year ocean cycles (AMO, PDO) with urban heat island effects added. There has also been a lot of ‘adjustments’ to make the surface temerpature increases look warmer than they really are. The oceans are now in their cooling phases.
Once the real surface temperature and MSAT trends are understood, then the whole problem of carbon dioxide induced global warming goes away. We are left with another ‘wicked’ problem: the environmental Ponzi scheme that was created by the IPCC. Take a long hard look at the fraudulent pseudoscience hidden behind those ‘radiative forcing constants’. That can be dealt with by the legal system.
Then all we have to do is work on the energy supply problem. This is a tractable systems engineering problem, if we keep the environmental snake oil salespeople under control. Yes, there are lots of real scientific environmental issues, and plenty of different opinions, but we do not need to add another IPCC fraud to the mix.
(To start from)
J. D’Aleo and D. Easterbrook, ‘Multidecadal Oscillations’
R. Clark, ‘Surface Temperature’
J. D’Aleo and A. Watts, ‘Surface Temperature Deception’

October 18, 2010 6:28 pm

The problem gets harder when you can’t really nail down the stakeholders in one conversation. You work hard to get the folks in the room to agree on definitions and plans, but then a bunch more people think they also need to be part of the process. It’s difficult enough to get all the scientists of different kinds from different nations on the same page. But to the dismay of the tops-down crew, that is only the starting point. Then the industrialists require a completely different kind of discussion, starting from their frame of reference, and the scientists aren’t necessarily the right people to have that talk. And in this case there are some savvy and active taxpayers who insist on being part, too.

Ben d.
October 18, 2010 6:35 pm

I will have to disagree like most here on the entire complex of wicked problems. Its not that there are issues that may be too complex as said that might fit some of the criteria, but there are more variables in the criteria that are based on decision making which goes to personal values + optimism level.
Lets look at the 10 rules:
1.There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem (defining wicked problems is a problem).
This means the science is thrown out in defining the problem in the first place. If science can not categorize something, then WE CAN!
2.Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
This one just made me laugh. Same issue as #1, if you can stop time, then its not a wicked problem! The problem is forever and ever and ever and ever…I think they might have meant this a little differently, or maybe I misunderstood the stopping rule requirement, but it was my understanding that for the system to be measureable in any degree of relevance, any system would have to be stopped so to speak to take measurements…but then again, after I read some of the other requirements, this kind of goes along with the idea of the solutions being impossible to define….
3.Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
Solutions are not quantifiable in any sense mathematically or scientifically…lets continue on. I think I went over this enough in #2.
4.There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
Same as #3, these problems can not be tested, because if they could be, it would be classified as science as in #1, and two, the systems are constantly in motion with no reference point possible to measure or test the solution to the problem so to speak.
5.Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
First quantifiable requirement of “wicked problems”.
6.Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
Obviously, because every solution is simply better or worse, its up to the user to define the values, so there is infinite possible solutions. This is just basically repeating #2,3 and to an extent #4.
7.Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
What does essentially unique mean? I thought every problem was “essentially” unique, but maybe we changed the rules…
8.Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
I guess this could be considered quantifiable. Mark that two total. I guess they are meaning that every wicked problem is a string of wicked problems that progress into infinity forever and ever….shrug.
9.The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
So you can view the problem through different colored lens’. If the problem is viewed differently as is stated, it obviously means that the choice of explanation (that determines the solution) is also determined by explanations in numerous ways. This means that the determination of the solution is basically an opinion of the planner. I think the point of this is seen in #10 as I explain….
10.The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
Couldn’t agree more, but what does this mean when everyone views the problem differently, then by inference we can all assume the results are also based on how we view the world, so we can all define the world as either better or worse depending on whether we view the glass as half empty or half full. Full circle, we return to how in the conclusion of citing wrongness, the problem in itself gives full leeway for the planners to be wrong by circular logic and problematic formation in the first place. So in essence, number 10 is impossible…unless the person is moral and brings attention to the fact that “hey I was wrong, come punish me.”
In conclusion, wicked problems have three requirements:
1. If the problem can be enumerated with science/math laws, its not a wicked problem.
2. Solutions to these problems are based on the person’s feelings who are studying the problem. Any differences in what people feel can account for different answers to the same solution in the problem. The person is responsible for adverse effects of what they feel happened.
3. Every wicked problem is a one shot operation. The problem changes everytime someone throws a monkey into the works.
In essence, its a string of balogne. And in essence, global warming is not a wicked problem, because by definition we can take a snapshot of the climate system (say now) and measure it. Of course, our measurements can be taken into the “feeling” category, but if you can stop time and measure the system like I said, its no longer a wicked problem. I am not sure who put global warming as an example, but it seems like something I would do as a joke to point out how climate scientists like to measure things by feelings….and that they know the correct climate our planet is supposed to be at…..The problem is also not unique to any time since we can all come up with solutions, and determine a system for what makes a better or worse solution.
But I digress…maybe someone else can tell me I am wrong on the global warming call….

James Sexton
October 18, 2010 6:43 pm

Tom, you amaze me! You can consistently be both correct and wrong all at the same time!
“The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).”
This is correct, because people have been able to escape the consequences of their actions in the past, doesn’t mean it is acceptable.
Your advocacy of nuclear power is absolutely correct. And you correctly tied increased demand with increase populations. I don’t believe you’re correct about the necessary time frame and some of your other solutions are not very realistic. To that, for another time.
Obviously, most here don’t regard CO2 as a problem and no one yet has put forth a convincing argument that a bit of warming will be detrimental. History tells us its typically a good thing.
Here’s the real problem, and while not unique to the U.S., it isn’t a global problem either. You aptly pointed out that some people object to nuclear power. They are in a vast minority, but vocal enough to have stopped investors from building much. Since you invoked Wikipedia, from wiki “On February 16, 2010, President Barack Obama announced loan guarantees for two new reactors at Georgia Power’s Vogtle NPP.” I’m not sure, but I think the last one to come on-line was Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, by Spring City in 1996 operated by the TVA. (That would be 3 in about 30 years!)
Now to the problem, from the TVA’s website, “……. Construction began in 1973, and Unit 1 began full commercial operation in 1996.
Currently, it will take about 20 years from planning to operating, with the caveat of smooth sailing with the red tape, law suits, etc…..
Because of the incessant blocking of other energy plants(coal and even hydro has fallen out of favor in some places) and the lack of building nuclear, we don’t have until 2075! In my state, Kansas, it is predicted with the current growth rate and if capacity isn’t increased, demand will exceed stable capacity in 8 years. All the windmills and solar panels in the world aren’t going to help this. We have a coal plant that is ready to begin construction. Ex-Gov. Sebelius, had continually blocked the building of it, finally we shared our misery to the rest of the country as she is now Secretary of Health and Human Services. The state finally removed all of their roadblocks only to have the new EPA edict regarding CO2 come in to force. The point is, Kansas isn’t unique. We’ve dawdled so damned long with idiotic Utopian toys that we’ve now backed ourselves into a corner. We have to build coal plants where available because it doesn’t take that long to build. Now, that’s a wicked problem.
We have to, but we’re barred by our own people.
The solution? Well, come November, we’ll make a very small first step, but it can’t be the only part of the solution, two years from now another step, but that can’t be it either, because we’ve have conservative legislatures and executives simultaneously, and they allowed this idiocy to thrive. (I blame them more than I do the lunatics, but that’s for another time, also.) We have to relegate the alarmists into irrelevancy and obscurity. And we have to do it quickly and with resolve. We can no longer afford to allow these people to obstruct our progression. We’ve suffered these fools long enough, indeed far too long.

October 18, 2010 6:52 pm

I don’t know, I think I’ve been in new England too long. “Wicked” here is a colloquialism that generally means “extreme” but usually in a good way, in fact “wicked good” garners 192,000 Google inflated hits, and “wicked problem” gets 27,100.
There’s even
And a McDonalds commercial with a guessing game before one guy will give his friend the coffee – “Blizzard of…” “…’78”, best broadway musical evah…” “…Wicked”.
“Wicked weather” is my kind of weather.

October 18, 2010 7:01 pm

Interesting post.
Here’s some food for thought.
You mentioned that urban blight was an example of a wicked problem. I found that the “Broken Windows” theory interesting, if hard to prove and quantify. That is, to combat urban decay and crime, fix quality of life issues like unsafe and unsavory subways; pick up the litter; and fix the broken windows in the neighborhood. These kinds of remedies, plus on the ground police efforts, allege to have drastically reduced crime and led to a degree of urban renewal.
Could the same kind of approach work in climate science and climate science informing energy decisions? Let’s see….we could straighten out the temperature recording and siting (fix broken windows); MSM could start if not telling the truth about climate science, at least report on the skeptical and lukewarm side (clean up the unsafe and unsavory climate science information highway); and about the crazy squeegie man (this won’t make sense unless you read the Wicki link), Pachuri and the IPCC could be made accountable for their lameness instead of being let loose to scare people and demand money.
So how are we doing? We claim the windows aren’t broken instead of even discussing fixing them. MSM keeps up a never ending river of foolishness on one hand and on the other complete radio silence on reporting our side. The crazy squeegie men are advising / running the UN and advising top gvt (Holdren? Presidential advisor? Really)?
My point is by this analogy, that there may be a fix; but it might just be virtue and honesty directed at just the right places. Right now, that isn’t happening, and the fact that it isn’t says a lot about our cultural and political standards.

October 18, 2010 7:10 pm

Katherine says: October 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm
“Why then would a warmer world be considered a problem in the first place?”
Hi Katherine. A moderately warmer world is not a problem. At +3C that may no longer be the case for many nations. I recommend Mark Lynas “Six Degrees” as an excellent, well researched and accessible book describing potential consequences of rises of 1C, 2C, 3C… Don’t be put off by the “alarmist” title and feel free to ignore chapters beyond 4C.

October 18, 2010 7:20 pm

You keep on saying there is a problem and it seems like you’re not engaging with those here who say there simply is no problem. Manmade climate changes, virtually nada, zilch. Real problem being the total rapid corruption of Science at the highest levels, probably hastened by the invention of the IPCC by Maurice Strong as a weapon of mass distraction.
Here are the main science issues (IMHO) again:
* The inflation of warming due to a whole basketful of factors like UHI, corrupting the data and insufficiently or improperly accounted-for.
This can account for about half the apparently excessive temperature rise of the last century.
* The artificial depression of past temperature records due to the very nature of the calibration of proxies, that cannot help but mine for hockey sticks.
This makes even the natural temperature rise look unnatural.
*The artificial depression of past CO2 levels due to a whole basketful of factors including the reasons for CO2′s partial escape from ice cores before measurement.
This makes it look as if we’re to blame for the recent CO2 rise.
* The city-dwellers’ failure to comprehend the vast mass of the oceans, compared with the tiny mass of the atmosphere, and the oceans’ capacity, following Henry’s Law, to outgas CO2 far in excess of all our emissions, at the tiniest global temperature increase.
This hides the natural cause of the recent CO2 rise.
* Reluctance to look at what is staring everyone in the face: the Sun and astrophysics: because the measured solar effects, still very inadequately understood, are not large enough to cause the measured temperature changes, and because the true correlation is hidden by the first factor, UHI etc.
Denying the Sun hides the natural cause of the land warming our thermometers, and the oceans warming to emit CO2.
* The unstated, unrecognized abandonment of Scientific Method, and adoption of models rather than data, again for a whole basketful of reasons.
This is added to all the aforesaid distortions to provide alarming distortions for the future.
* The unstated purpose of the IPCC in coordinating all the above, while keeping them in apparently different boxes of expertise.”Everyone can’t all be wrong” so if experts see problems in their area they still defer to other areas.
Divide And Rule.
This is why IMHO we still need a skeptics’ wiki, to state these simple issues in simple ways (but with expert backups) for simple people to understand, any time, all the time.

October 18, 2010 7:35 pm

“However, if we solve our energy concerns responsibly and ethically, we will without doubt solve the issue of global climate change”
I gather the “we” covers China and India?
Do you believe that China is interested in responsible and ethical energy concerns?
You keep banging the drum on energy concerns and climate whatever it is today.
China is on the march,time will tell what that means,but I suspect that in 20-50 years climate whatever it is today will be the least of the western worlds problem.
In recent years, China has been undergoing a process of industrialization and is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. With real gross domestic product growing at a rate of 8-10% a year, China’s need for energy is projected to increase by 150 percent by 2020. to sustain its growth China requires increasing amounts of oil. Its oil consumption grows by 7.5% per year, seven times faster than the U.S.’
“A key driver in China’s relations with terrorist-sponsoring governments is its dependence on foreign oil to fuel its economic development. This dependency is expected to increase over the coming decade.”
Will China have the USA in a grip dependent on China for oil?The USA is desperately trying to be the nice guy,we all know what happens to nice guys.
Of course oil is only one factor,China is investing in all minerals all over the world.
Yes something wicked this way comes and it isn’t climate whatever it is today.

JRR Canada
October 18, 2010 8:04 pm

Yeah right if you believe in wicked problems, hold your breathe till your delusion solves itself. Only a modern liberal or social scientist can spout drivel like this.

Paul Deacon, Christchurch, New Zealand
October 18, 2010 8:18 pm

Tom – I forgot to add that the UK government beat you to it:
A GBP30 billion tidal power project (the Severn barrage) has been canned on grounds of economic viability, and 8 locations have been identified for nuclear power stations.
All the best.

October 18, 2010 8:53 pm

Sorry but your definition sucks just as much as Wikipedia’s. It is almost like they invented a term for the purpose of having something to argue about. Further, your list of wicked problems isn’t all that good a list. Here’s a definition of a wicked problem that is as close as you are ever going to get.
Wicked Problem – Like pornography, I don’t know precisely how to define it, but I know it when I see it.
As for your list:
International Drug Trafficking – legalize drugs. POOF! no more international drug trafficking as there would be no profit in it.
Cigarette Smuggling – drop the taxation rate to 20% instead of 90% of the price. POOF! no more cigarette smuggling as there would be no profit in it.
Human Trafficking – OK, that’s a problem. Actually it is a symptom. Eliminate the totalitarian despotic regimes that profit from it and POOF! most of it goes away.
Small Arms Smuggling – You’re kidding right? That’s in the same league as international drug smuggling? Refer to definition above… I know it when I see it, and this ain’t it.
Global Climate Change – since it is completely natural for the climate to change, it isn’t a wicked problem. It is at best a challenge. And please stop extrapolating where we will be in X years and Y billion people and concluding that the increment is some kind of disaster because we don’t know how we will get “there” from “here”. The answer is the same as how we got “here” from “before”. Rain isn’t falling where we need it to? That’s not a problem, that’s a challenge, and it is solved the same way we solve the challenge of oil not flowing out of the ground in the places where we use it. Tankers, pipelines and storage resevoirs work on oil but not water? Too wet to grow wheat on the North American prairie anymore? Have you heard of rice? Too cold? Do you know what a greenhouse is? These are challenges, not problems. For animals they are problems. For us they are just challenges.
HFU (Hereditary Fear of the Unknown) – a biological need borne of evolution during a primitive time when tribes clung together during good times and bad due to fear of the unknown, owing their allegiance to the best hunter and fighter, but frequently manipulated by charlatans claiming special knowledge which fortold disaster without supporting evidence. Best summarized as “Ugh, spirits angry. Sacrifice virgins to appease spirits”. Now that’s a wicked problem.
MCF (Manipulative Charlatan Factor) – a recognition that a subset of the modern population has a natural ability to take advantage of HFU by claiming special knowledge which fortells disaster without supporting evidence. Best summarized as “Ugh, climate warming, sacrifice economy to appease Gaia”. Now those people are not a wicked problem. But they are a problem, and they are wicked.

a jones
October 18, 2010 9:41 pm

Mr. Fuller
And just how do you propose to deal with energy? Perhaps repeal the laws of thermodynamics by Act of Congress, I hope I got that right not being American.
Certainly quite a lot of politicians believe they can do that as well as control climate with a wave of the hand and whatever else. Maybe we should test their claims by asking them to walk on water.
Of course possibly you yourself have some wondrous perpetual motion machine about your person. If so do tell.
If not we will have to soldier on with a non existent energy crisis for the next few generations: I suspect our children and grandchildren will take it all in their stride.
Kindest Regards

anna v
October 18, 2010 9:59 pm

However, if we solve our energy concerns responsibly and ethically, we will without doubt solve the issue of global climate change.
You are assuming of course that the climate is changing drastically due to CO2 exhausts.
I would state it differently: The nuclear choice is a responsible and ethical solution to the energy concerns which would solve a lot of pollution issues and will satisfy the part of the population that believes that the gradual increase of the plant fertilizer CO2 is a bad thing. ( the word affect comes to mind for some reason).
I am all for studying in depth some geoengineering solutions, the ones that are innocuous, meaning they can be stopped at the drop of a penny.
The ships salting the clouds is one. Stop them and the albedo goes back to normal.
The mirrors in space are the best, because they can be turned and stop shadowing. They would be a great advantage when the next ice age starts when we will need to think up ways of increasing insolation instead of decreasing it.
And do not forget that the only true prophecy is that the next ice age will come.
This is an interesting series of videos, for those not old enough to have observed the weather through the seventies:

anna v
October 18, 2010 10:58 pm

By the prickling of my thumbs
something wicked this way comes

October 18, 2010 11:44 pm

thomaswfuller writes these posts out of sheer vainglorious puffery. He likes to promote pointless free-for-alls, makes him feel important
You will notice a few posts above (October 18, 2010 at 9:14 pm) he quotes Lindzen at a warming of 0.8C and then claims “a bit more–maybe two degrees C” for himself
That’s not a “bit” more. It’s a 150% increase without justification – now puff away thomas, oh do, please

Paul Deacon, Christchurch, New Zealand
October 19, 2010 1:22 am

thomaswfuller says:
October 18, 2010 at 9:14 pm
I personally think it’ll be a bit more–maybe two degrees C. And it probably won’t hit the U.S. that hard. But it’ll be tougher elsewhere.
Tom – please state which countries will be “hit hard”. Even if we accept (for the sake of argument) that there will be a 2 degrees C average temperature rise, who would suffer? England or New Zealand, countries where I have lived, and which would benefit from a longer and warmer crop growing season, more available cropland, more vineyards. lower heating bills etc.? Russia and Canada, who would continue to extend their wheat growing season and arable lands (as they have been doing since c.1850)? The rest of the world who will see increased rainfall and hence higher crop yields (not to mention higher yields from higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2, a true greenhouse gas since it is used in greenhouses)?
Do you think civilisations were better off or not in the Mediaeval warm period, the Roman warm period and the Minoan warm period?
I suggest your alarmism has no rational basis and is all pie in the sky. I don’t know where it comes from. Furthermore, you are not even attempting to engage with those on this blog who do not share your views, although we at least do our best to engage with you and remain civil. I do not recall a single argument from you as to why a moderate amount of warming would be bad.
All the best.

old construction worker
October 19, 2010 1:32 am

Henry Kissinger declared in the 1970’s, ‘If you control the oil you control the country; if you control food, you control the population.
How that ‘s a “Wicked Problem”.

October 19, 2010 1:46 am

Tom, you say at 9:14 pm
“I personally think it’ll be a bit more–maybe two degrees C. And it probably won’t hit the U.S. that hard. But it’ll be tougher elsewhere. Anyways, my point is (and always has been) that since we have to deal with energy anyhow, let’s do it.”
Thank you for that clarification. I now understand all your posts here whereas before I did not. May I respectfully point out that you have conflated two subjects: man is warming the planet by emmission of CO2 & man is facing an energy crisis. You then adopt Lindzen’s position that the former is not a significant problem but want to do something about the latter. But why? There is no energy crisis other than energy poverty. That is being addressed in countries such as China by building capacity as fast as possible whereas in the ‘West’ that poverty is being self-inflicted.

John Marshall
October 19, 2010 2:45 am

Not so wicked. Consider this:-
The natural annual atmospheric concentration of CO2, in, say, the NH, is far more than the annual input by humans using fossil fuels. Human burning of fossil fuels produce 3% of the total annual CO2 atmospheric budget and the natural variation between winter and summer is more than this. The hemispheres are different due to difference between sea and land areas and there is very little mixing between hemispheres due to prevailing wind directions so each will be different but anthropogenic input in each hemisphere is still below the annual variation. So how can out little bit affect climate when the annual variation does not cause tipping points etc?

October 19, 2010 2:55 am

Looks to me like a “wicked problem” is the problem of optimizing a control strategy in a dynamical system; IOW, an NP-complete optimization problem.
From the wikipedia definition:
“Design problems are typically wicked because they are often ill defined”
So i’m solving wicked problems all the time. And some millions of developers elsewhere as well. What’s the big deal?

October 19, 2010 5:39 am

Wicked problem? Heh, simple solution. We ceased worshipping the sun and will come to regret it. Love Gaia, but obey Ol’ Sol.

Mike Haseler
October 19, 2010 6:12 am

and many times the causes are actually solutions to previous problems.
It is interesting to know that the whole concept of “sustainability” came directly out of the failed world bank interventions to help third world countries by economic grants. To summarise: the economic action was not having the required economic benefit because it led to consequential degradation of society and the environment whose impact was to reduce the economic benefit.
Unintended consequences: don’t invest in the economy without thinking through how it will effect the society and environment.
Then along came some greens who thought: “hey we could use this to batter through green policies. So, this became the mantra of the greens: “economics must be tamed to be sustainable, and that means economic development must not impact the environment. Which slowly slowly slowly became: we mustn’t do anything economic that harms the environment.
But what the greens don’t want to admit is that sustainability cuts both ways. You can do too much for the environment if you don’t look at the wider impacts on the economy and society just as the original concept came from too much economic investment without thinking through its impacts.
So, now we have a situation where we are having “environmental” policy which is being done irrespective of the social and economic consequences. A classic example is CO2 tax and “green economies” and (windmills which destroy local jobs and wreck local tourist jobs) which are being forced through even though they are having profound social and economic impacts which are undermining the willingness and financial economy needed to support those green policies.
Quite literally, many modern environmental policies are unsustainable … because they so adversely impact our society and economy that we will have neither the willingness or finances to implement them.

October 19, 2010 6:14 am

Eliminating anthropogenic carbon emissions globally would require the investment of ~$150 trillion more than the “business as usual” scenario, which would command an annual return of ~$15 trillion to the investors.
That might not be a “wicked” problem, but it would certainly be problematic.

October 19, 2010 6:19 am

I think this is more a Wicked-pedia problem than a Wicked problem.

Paul Coppin
October 19, 2010 6:46 am

Finest Straw Man I ‘ve seen raised in some time. Tom, you must be paid by the word.

October 19, 2010 7:26 am

If our space programs had advanced as they should have, getting rid of any toxic waste would be fairly simple. Jettison it into the sun. The sun won’t take any notice at all, and the waste will be be no threat to anyone.
This, of course, assumes we had, or will have, developed extremely reliable launch and re-entry platforms which could fly as often as passenger airliners do today. Or, the invention of space elevators, or…

October 19, 2010 7:33 am

Ric Werme says:
October 18, 2010 at 6:52 pm
I don’t know, I think I’ve been in new England too long. “Wicked” here is a colloquialism that generally means “extreme” but usually in a good way, in fact “wicked good” garners 192,000 Google inflated hits, and “wicked problem” gets 27,100.
I was stationed in Maine for a number of years and the above is what I think of when the word “wicked” is used. The other word that I had a time with was the use of the word “stove” as in “I stove in my cah late night.”
Mr. Fuller you have invented two wicked problems. AWG and running out of energy from oil/coal/natgas. Thousands of years of natgas resides in methane hydrates just off shore. I donot object to nuclear but using running out of oil/coal/AWG is not a valid reason.

October 19, 2010 9:27 am

Mr Fuller, you are unlikely, it seems, to find very much agreement here with your point of view. I find none of the criticisms of your “rationale” unjustified. Is your objective, as with some others who post here, merely to stir the pot?

October 19, 2010 9:28 am

Mr. Fuller,
I for one appreciate your articles; they are thought provoking without hyperbole. I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, but I think they are generally well written and bring up good points. I hate labeling of groups and you seem to avoid labels as well.
This may be because I came to look at the skeptical views because of my interest in energy conservation instead of coming for pure scientific enlightenment. I stayed interested because the science is not settled, and acting on incorrect information will be disasterous.
I have no issue with a mix of alternative energy systems, but I can’t see stopping or minimizing the use of coal, petroleum and natural gas. I favor true life cost anaylsis of systems WITHOUT government subsidies. I think that wind and solar have a role to play, but only a minimal role. Nuclear in one form or another is and has been shown to be viable.
Please keep writing; I enjoy your articles, even if it is only to cross check your information
Djozar, Mechanical Engineer PE in Texas

Ben D.
October 19, 2010 10:42 am

I think I will echo Djozar, your articles although I disagree with *most of them, (I do agree with the Cuch. vs. Mann argument you make) maybe for a different reason…and sometimes I agree with what you say like in adopting hydroelectric + nuclear. Personally, I believe (I know we do not like to use that word much here) but lets face it, its sometimes a way to proceed….I believe that we can effect or affect the environment in positive ways as well as negative and that not all human endeavors or achievements in technology should be thought of as bad.
That being said, just because I disagree with you does not mean I do not enjoy your posts. Its a different perspective and just as I would like to hear from the alarmist side as well, it gives us something to talk about.
I hope I keep it civil in my disagreements, because I know we all tend to get angry sometimes…and myself included. Don’t think that just because I disagree with you does not mean you do not have something to say. I would say the same thing to an alarmist or full flung believer if they kept the argument like you did civil and such. Not sure if this helps at all, but just kind of throwing that out there…..
That being said, I disagree with being able to predict the temperature increase to the ability you do…2.0 degrees although not alarmist in my mind (its possible and likely) its still a prediction that can not be substantiated. I think for me I predict over the next 60 years which I think is the better reference point for our climate then our traditional 100 years we like to use (we like base 10 numbers..) that we will probably have an increase of between .5 – 2.5 degrees if nothing else changes in the next 60 years such as solar cycles and the lot.
I make no claim to the effects of CO2… Or even land usage changes or other changes we make since there has been no effort thus far to seperate these possible changes from natural variation. Basically, keep doing what you do, because as you can see we may never completely agree…and the thick skin you already have will only become thicker…

Paul Deacon, Christchurch, New Zealand
October 19, 2010 11:03 am

thomaswfuller says:
October 19, 2010 at 8:58 am
I think the Northern and temperate latitudes will either benefit or escape most negative effects of climate change, certainly at first, but maybe even later. I think the major effects will be concentrated in the tropics. As that band of latitudes is home to many of the poorest countries, I believe they will actually suffer.
However, we cannot predict where global warming will actually fall–the abysmal model performance at regional specification makes that very clear.
Thanks, Tom, for your efforts at blogging. I appreciate the time, energy, and civility that you devote to this blog. Please excuse me, but what I find in your posts again and again are unsupported (and self-defeating) arguments such as this one. “We don’t know the effects of global warming, but we believe it is happening and that its effects will be bad” seems to be what you are saying.
I have lived in several different countries in the tropics and sub-tropics. I have visited several others. I do not believe that a modest increase in temperatures would do these places and their peoples harm. If you are referring to purported weather/climate changes such as increased drought, increased rainfall, increased extreme events etc., I suggest these are unsupported by observation or evidence.
The answer to the problem of the poor people living in the tropics and sub-tropics is to make them rich. For this they need cheap energy, not expensive energy. What right do you or anyone have to deny them cheap energy, thereby keeping them in poverty?
All the best.

Michael Larkin
October 19, 2010 11:08 am

IMO, there is a problem, though I’m unconcerned whether it’s “wicked” or otherwise.
That problem concerns the evolution of human societies. To get to the stage we are in the West, we have had to rely on exploitation of energy resources. This has given us lots of free time – time to think, to reflect on what it is to be human and what worthwhile human values are.
I’d say there are two primary and conflicting tendencies. The first is towards optimism, and the second, pessimism. Few but the mentally disturbed lean completely one way or the other; and paradoxically, the one acts as the attractor for the other.
People are optimistic because there exist things that are, or at least seem to be, threatening. Hence they look for evidence that in the long run, things have gradually improved; and no reason to posit that all of a sudden they are going to degenerate irretrievably.
People are pessimistic because there exist things that are, or at least seem to be, better or more desirable. And so they look for evidence that we are in fact currently in an undesirable state, and push for attainment of the desirable one.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and undue complacency on the one hand, or excessive anxiety on the other, may lead people to attach desirability or undesirability to an inappropriate object.
Are there things out there that we really ought to be striving for, or to be avoiding? With the benefit of hindsight, we can review history and see that this has always been the case in the past. But history also tells us that we didn’t very often identify those things and deal with them effectively. Much more usually, whatever we directed our fears or hopes at were red herrings. In practice, when real stuff happened, we dealt with it as the adaptable organic entities we happen to be.
If we should have learnt one thing by now, I believe it is that it’s most probable that whatever is most engaging our hopes or fears is, in the big scheme of things, at best marginal. This does not apply quite as much to those in less well-developed nations, because their primary hopes and fears are for continued day-to-day survival. And in this, they can latch onto already proven means of getting beyond that state. They know that the way forward is through exploiting energy resources, just as we have done in the West.
There’s no way one can prevent them doing as we did. And if they do as we did, at some stage, their own societies will acquire the leisure time to start having hopes and fears about things beyond basic subsistence needs. But by then, those already in that state will have moved on. Somewhere in all of this is the continuing evolutionary impulse. It might stay in the currently developed world, or emanate from some interaction between it and the undeveloped world.
Some doubtless regard the “Desiderata” as a hackneyed and sentimental source, but one part of it has always struck me as convincing:
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
I guess this proclaims me as an optimist at heart, but I’m not attaching my hopes to any specific object. We’re sure to have bad times in the future, but I’d stake my last penny that for the most part those will be in unsuspected areas, and that we’ll deal with them as and when they arise, whatever the mock fears that prior to them seemed most taxing.
Mankind will have made a quantum leap when it finally learns to live in the present, dealing with the things of today without too much worry about those of yesterday or tomorrow; when “hope” and “fear” become less tyrannical house gods, and applied only in appropriate circumstances.
I’m sorry if I’m waxing philosophical. It just so happens that the whole Global Warming fandango tends to engage that side of my nature. I sense it means something quite significant, but not in terms of its intrinsic subject matter: if not Global Warming, it would doubtless be something else at this stage of human evolution, with the same underlying dynamic. I sometimes wonder if it will eventually prove to be a signal of (if not an entirely sufficient cause for) a significant shift in human affairs. Perhaps even something as important as the Reformation, Renaissance, or Enlightenment.

October 19, 2010 11:20 am

thomaswfuller says:
October 19, 2010 at 8:58 am
“I do not now and never have believed that global warming is a planet buster. But what will be at most an inconvenience for the U.S., Canada and New Zealand will be a very difficult load for equatorial countries.”
If you believe in (slight) AGW, you should read Hansen’s playbook: Warming will, according to him, be most pronounced in the regions that are cold now – i.e. especially in the arctic; where, how convenient, GISS doesn’t have a thermometer. That’s also why Gore directed all the attention to the alleged plight of the polar bear.
This also makes at least some sense thermodynamically, given the SB law.
So equatorial countries should really be able to shrug it off.

October 19, 2010 11:28 am

thomaswfuller says:
October 19, 2010 at 8:58 am
“If that energy is provided by coal, it will have conventional environmental consequences that will be both harmful to health and the environment. It will contribute more CO2 to our atmosphere, but the conventional pollution will be bad enough that we will end up spending billions, maybe trillions, to clean it up and take care of the victims. That’s what happened in the developed world–why would we think it will be different in other parts of the world?”
First of all, it will cost a lot, and this cost is for flue gas desulphurization, and that eats up a part of the profits of a power plant, so that will be paid for by the power plant as it operates, and it will make the electricity produced slightly more expensive. Not prohibitively expensive, as “Carbon Capture and Sequestration” would. (it is called so even though they mean CO2)
Second, why would the industrialization be cleaner than the industrialization we went through in the past? Simply because this flue gas filtering technology has already been developed, and its installation is encouraged through World Bank credits or other development aid.
Why do we like to encourage that? Because we build it, and it keeps our companies in business.

P Walker
October 19, 2010 11:40 am

What do you mean by “conventional pollution”?

October 19, 2010 12:03 pm

Jeff Alberts says:
October 19, 2010 at 7:26 am
“Or, the invention of space elevators, or…….”
That is the only interesting stuff I found here today. Space Elevator.
Why dont the U.S. set as a goal that they build a space elevator before 2020 ?
That would be something for NASA, instead of just being a teaching organisation for muslims.

October 19, 2010 12:25 pm

Tom says the article mentioned AIDS was one of the “wicked problems.”
Guys, if you think the science is bad in CAGW, read up on Dr Robert Gallo and his “discovery” of what is now called the AIDS virus back in the 1980s. A sadder piece of science – and a sadder out-of-court, let’s-split-the-money-and-make-sure-no-one-ever-finds-out-what-we-really-did conclusion was never seen before or since.
For honest appraisals of how good the science was look up Kerry Mullis (Nobel prize for PCR, the DNA multiplier) and Peter Duesberg (here is a good start), who was the world’s foremost expert on retroviruses until he was to skeptical, as in “denier.” If you folks think AGW had a lot of money thrown at researchers, AIDS is WAY ahead (probably twenty-fold) – and the science is magnitudes worse.
Bottom line: the HIV “virus” (formerly the retrovirus HTLV-III) was not and is not the cause of AIDS.
Science has just too many of these political policy-making issues since Big Science started with the Manhattan Project.

Craig Loehle
October 19, 2010 1:33 pm

I disagree with the premises here, Tom. I think climate change is hung up on 2 very real wicked problems:
1) People’s perceptions of risk are wildly different and inconsistent. Many people believe they are being poisoned by their food, on no evidence, but believe riding their bike is safe, when it isn’t. Some people are terribly risk averse and will not even let their children play outside. Thus trying to discuss cost/benefit ratios and risks 100 years from now with such people leads only to the “precautionary” part and missing the lost opportunities.
2) Human logical abilities are poor. This makes talking and reasoning about climate change difficult. The IPCC says that they believe climate change since 1980 is mostly due to humans, but then keeps talking about the warming since 1900 or 1850, which is before the rise in greenhouse gases. This is reverse time causation, which is impossible. Likewise, if you warm the atmosphere (like the warming after the little ice age), Antarctic ice will melt for hundreds (thousands) of years from that one-time warming, and says nothing about “accelerating” or continuing temperature rise unless you can measure it accurately enough to compare rates of melt over time, which no one can.

October 19, 2010 2:51 pm

I would join others who ask you to continue posting here – partly because you bring breadth to the debate at WUWT. However, I would ask you to keep the following points in mind when you discuss energy security:
Nuclear resources are finite.
Energy storage involves physical processes and is a net energy consumer. Storage increases the overall demand for primary energy by 20%-25% of the energy passing through a large-scale storage device.
CHP might achieve an optimal 80% thermal efficiency for constand heat and power outputs at optimal operating conditions. Practical CHP schemes rarely achieve this because of the vagaries of their heat and power demands. Real CHP schemes deliver more modest improvements efficiency at the expense of significant additional capital investment.
A CHP scheme could be specially arranged to operate at steady optimal conditons. But this “feather bed” would come at the expense of other power stations carrying out all the dirty work of responding to the vagaries of energy consumption. As such, the overall benefit of the CHP scheme (all things considered) is less than the apparent efficiency.
Modern coal fired power stations are not the same beasts as the ones you grew up with. Modern coal fired stations are only said to be “dirty” because of CO2 emissions (and that’s just the rhetoric of the activist).
Don’t take for granted what you have today. Coal can be stored in large quantities close to the power station, and can therefore make a positive contribution to short-term energy security. If the USA and EU are discouraged from building new coal fired power stations, they will be leaving themselves exposed to a nasty surprise if there is a disruption to gas supply.
Reducing CO2 emissions does not equate to improved energy utilisation. Quite the contrary.
Inventing a climate problem is not a productive way to address issues of energy security.
I would say that CO2 sensitivity (to doubling pCO2) is likely to be somewhere between zero (Miskolczi) and sub-1 degC (no amplification passive response).
The fairies at the bottom of my garden are probably a better example of a wicked problem. I’m not too sure why … and others may feel differently about it.

October 19, 2010 2:58 pm

For clarity – when I said a “storage is a net energy consumer” I mean in the sense of less useful energy out when compared to input. Not in the sense of conservation of energy.

October 19, 2010 3:24 pm

Oddly enough, Mr. Fuller’s solution is valid, even if the problem of global warming doesn’t exist — because, just like All problems have causes, and many times the causes are actually solutions to previous problems., some solutions resolve many problems, and not always the intended target. His suggestions would have us headed in the right direction whether we’re solving the global warming problem or the energy-for-the-masses problem.

Gary Pearse
October 19, 2010 3:28 pm

I checked, they don’t give a def. for “wiki problem” that arises with editorial tyranny. It is similar to the topic term in that there really is no satisfactory solution.

October 19, 2010 5:43 pm

Start with the definition of “wicked” per Noah Webster 1828

WICKED, a. [The primary sense is to wind and turn, or to depart, to fall away.]
1. Evil in principle or practice; deviating from the divine law; addicted to vice; sinful; immoral. This is a word of comprehensive signification, extending to every thing that is contrary to the moral law, and both to persons and actions. We say, a wicked man, a wicked deed, wicked ways, wicked lives, a wicked heart, wicked designs, wicked works.
No man was ever wicked without secret discontent.
2. A word of slight blame; as the wicked urchin.
3. Cursed; baneful; pernicious; as wicked words, words pernicious in their efforts.
[This last signification may throw some light on the word witch.]
The wicked, in Scripture, persons who live in sin; transgressors of the divine law; all who are unreconciled to God, unsanctified or impenitent.

To begin with, the problem is caused and compounded by those who invert the meaning of words!
Crimes against unalienable rights qualify as “wicked”. e.g., Genocide, and slavery.
Stalin and Mao claiming communism as a “holy” cause is in itself wicked by inverting the definition of “holy”. See Isaiah 5:20 (NIV)

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.

Lacking the wisdom of Solomon does not transmute a “very difficult” problem into a morally “wicked” problem.

October 20, 2010 10:42 am

John Lish says:
October 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm
Scarcity is an issue with nuclear fuels as well as is the problem of making nuclear power demand-responsive. Not impossible to solve but these are legitimate technological issues which does make your proposed solution somewhat simplistic.

John Lish,
I appreciated your comment, me being an old nuclear guy : ) Two things.
Nuclear fuel (assume you mean uranium isotopes for light water reactors) availability and price are subject to the laws of supply and demand. The suitable uranium isotopes are not rare and not overly plentiful. As demand goes up marginal ores will be mined, as demand falls the marginal ores will not be mined. There is not a major resource availability issue unless environmentalists are just anti-mining. Then they will have created a problem with getting the uranium ore out of the ground. We must be vigilant with the anti-mining ideological environmentalists. As always.
Regarding your ‘power demand-responsive’ statement, if you are referring to the idea that nuclear plants are usually used as base loads on grids and other sources follow the daily peak demand above the base load, that is normally true. Nuclear plants can follow load demand, within certain rates of load demand change, and can be used that way but they are large units (typically) compared to other sources and are not normally used that way. Plus you can bring a gas unit or oil unit or coal unit online relatively much more quickly; nuclear plants are normally slower to bring online from a cold shutdown condition.

Crusty the Clown
October 20, 2010 11:11 am

It’s hard to argue with all the apparent benefits of nuclear power, but I’d feel just a wee bit better if they weren’t so blatant about privatizing the gains and socializing the risks. How about we scrap the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act and allow the insurers to set fair premiums (via the Invisible Hand of the Free Market, naturally) for constructing and operating nuclear facilities? At least that way we’d have the insurers riding herd on the engineers. Anybody besides me remember the Rasmussen report, Reactor Safety Study (Wash 1400)? What a waste of paper. (Note: this comment is US-centric. Apologies.)

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