Uncertainty is not your friend (?)

by Judith Curry

It is very clear that uncertainty is no one’s friend. We have seen that greater uncertainty about the evolution of the climate should give us even greater cause for concern. We have seen that all other things being equal, greater uncertainty means that things could be worse than we thought. We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated, and that the allowance we must make for sea level rise will also be greater than anticipated. All of those results arise from simple mathematics, and we do not even have to resort to any economic modelling to understand how greater uncertainty translates into greater risk. – Stefan Lewandowsky

Stefan Lewandowsky has a series of three posts at the blog Shaping Tomorrow’s World:

Read the complete articles to get the details of his arguments.  Here I present his main points.

The main point from Uncertainty is not your friend:

In a nutshell, the logic of this position can be condensed to “there is so much uncertainty that I am certain there isn’t a problem.” How logical is this position? Can we conclude from the existence of uncertainty that there certainly is no problem?

This conclusion appears inadvisable for a number of reasons that will be examined in this series of three posts. To foreshadow briefly, there are three reasons why uncertainty should not be taken as a reason for inaction on climate change:

Uncertainty should make us worry more than certainty, because uncertainty means that things can be worse than our best guess. Today’s post expands on this point below, by showing that in the case of climate change, uncertainty is asymmetrical and things are more likely to be worse, rather than better, than expected.

Main point from the Inescapable implication of uncertainty:

The first conclusion about the climate system therefore has to be that the greater the uncertainty, the greater the potential for catastrophe.

Greater uncertainty means things can be worse than you think. And greater uncertainty means you’ll pay more for the damages arising from climate change than if there were less uncertainty. In fact, you may end up paying much more than anticipated.

Main point from Climate uncertainty and emission cuts (well this one defies a simple summary):

First, we need to realize that to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, our current emissions have to tend towards zero. Just cutting 5% or 10% as suggested by political leaders (at best) will achieve nothing.

It is clear that all lines tend towards zero sooner or later, and it is clear that the more we want to limit the budget, the steeper and the sooner the required emission cuts. 

So not only does greater uncertainty put the worst-case scenario into a very bad spot, it also increases the likelihood of that worst-case scenario being true.

So no, uncertainty is no one’s friend, whether we talk about damages from climate change or the costs of mitigation. There is no escaping those simple mathematical facts.

There is only one way to escape that uncertainty: Mitigation. Now.

JC comment:  my head is spinning.
.

Ben Pile’s critique

Ben Pile has written a lengthy critique, entitled:  Turning Uncertainty into Certainty:  Reinventing the Precautionary Principle.  Some excerpts:

As previous posts have pointed out, the issue is not whose friend the precaution principle is — indeed, the point was made that the precautionary principle might apply to the precautionary principle. Thus, precaution may leave us in a dizzy spin of infinite regress. The issue for ‘denialists’ is instead that the application of the precautionary principle passes weak theoretical risk off as certainty; it turns possibility into story lines, about which ‘something must be done’.

We have seen that greater uncertainty about the evolution of the climate should give us even greater cause for concern.

In other words, ‘the less we know, the more we should worry’. This has a curious implication. Whereas Oreskes had claimed that science had always been certain — that an unequivocal consensus had always existed — Lewandowsky must now claim that the consensus had not advanced its understanding of the climate: that we don’t know more than we did. And indeed, this reflects an ideological presupposition of environmentalism: that progress is itself a problem. For if certainty was actually achievable — if the parameters of climate change were actually understood — then ‘tackling climate change’ would become a straightforward technical problem. Instead, policies intended to tackle it are founded on the idea that the possible impacts of climate change are uncertain, precisely in order to head off any possibility of a solution that is not mitigation. In other words, if you know what kind of problem you are facing, then you deprive those who have made the undefined problem central to their perspective and their arguments about the urgency of their cause.  The urgency of the problem is owed only to the fact that we don’t know what kind of problem it is.

We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated…

This is an extraordinary claim indeed, which requires some unpacking. This part of the sentence puts the degree of uncertainty into a necessary (i.e. it cannot be otherwise) relationship with what we have anticipated, and the outcome of events. The condition of uncertainty itself multiplies the anticipated result, to yield an impact of greater magnitude. This is an absurd claim, because the condition of uncertainty has no bearing on things. If you’re unsure about what the result of a throw of a dice will be, but you anticipate that it will not be the number you want it to be (the odds are just 1 in 6 that it is, so it’s a good bet that it isn’t), your uncertainty does not reach out to the dice to prevent it turning the face with your number on it upwards.

But that is the implication of the term ‘necessarily’ in the sentence. So let’s mediate it, to see if it makes any more sense: ‘greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily may possibly be greater than anticipated’. 

All of those results arise from simple mathematics, and we do not even have to resort to any economic modelling to understand how greater uncertainty translates into greater risk.

Uncertainty has no relation to actual risk. The degree of risk is the same, no matter what the degree of certainty is. To say otherwise, is to say that the world is moved by nothing other than the confidence we have in our thoughts, and that I could will a dice to produce a 6 on each throw, merely by being sufficiently confident in the outcome: a Disney version of reality. Even the best sense we can make of his claim — that uncertainty implies the underestimation of risks — is a nonsense, because we know that it is possible to over-estimate risk, even in the face of uncertainty. And we have precedents: the Y2K bug; BSE; flu pandemics of recent years; acid rain; ozone depletion; and the entire torrent of turgid crap produced by Malthusians such as Paul Ehrlich over the last half century. 

The precautionary principle — risk analysis without numbers, and without a sense of proportion — gives greater weight to speculation than to knowledge. That is the nature of the politics of fear: you can’t rule something out, so in order to survive, you have to assume that anything you can speculate about is actually the case, and act accordingly. In the wake of criticism of the precautionary principle, environmentalists and those invested in the environmental agenda attempted to distance themselves from it, to emphasise certainty instead: the unequivocal consensus that ‘climate change is happening’. But the precautionary principle did not go away. It took on a new form, and lurked in the background. Rather than saying that the risks of climate change were beyond estimation, environmentalists invented a horizon of uncertainty: the limit of 2 degrees, beyond which lay ‘dangerous climate change’. But this limit was intangible. It wasn’t detected by science; it was invented to meet the needs of policy-makers. It mediated some of the excesses of the precautionary principle by reasoning that we know more about what will happen before 2 degrees of warming than what will happen following it.

But hiding the precautionary principle from environmentalism’s critics concealed it also from the environmentalists. They too forgot the ground on which their perspectives were formed. And now we see in Lewandowsky’s silly posts that the ugly creature wants to crawl back out of the hole it has been buried in. Lewandowsky’s posts will, by themselves, likely achieve no great influence, but what this shows is the irrepressible, irrational and incoherent nature of environmentalism. Environmentalists will continue to be divided by the precautionary principle as it continues to embarrass them and their claim to be grounded in science and reason. The precautionary principle will be reformulated and hidden again, and then reinvented,ad nauseum, long after environmentalism’s demise.

JC note:  the comments on Pile’s thread are worth reading.

JC comment:  We have had several previous posts on this topic at Climate Etc.

So. . .  who do you think makes the stronger arguments:  Lewandowski or Pile?  And how does each stand up to the previous discussions we’ve had on this topic at Climate Etc.?

419 responses to “Uncertainty is not your friend (?)

  1. I wonder how this bizarre meme that uncertainty means we must consider the risk all the greater got started.
    I have yet to see one explanation that justifes the claim. It is repeated frequently, but never is a proof offered. It seems to exist as an axiomatic truth. It would be interesting to see a serious person offer a justification to support this claim.

    • No matter how it is said nor how many times it may be repeated it still is simply turning the precautionary principle on its head. “The precautionary principle says we should not accept the risks of certain economic disruption in attempt to control the world’s climate on the basis of assumptions that have no supporting evidence and merely because they’ve been described using computer games.” ~Richard Courtney

      • I agree, Wagathon. Uncertainty is not the enemy of those who have admitted powerlessness over Reality.

        E.g., Will the New Madrid fault open up and consume this part of Missouri before I finish typing? I don’t know. I am totally powerless over that possibility.

        I am powerless over the stormy waves of life, but try not to be elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. That’s life!

        Today I have been trying to find a way to help world leaders back away from policies that led society to the brink of disaster, without seeking to punish them for continuing to follow policies that were put in place decades earlier by world leaders who believed they were saving society from destruction by “nuclear fire.”

        A tentative solution, in progress, is posted here: http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/#comment-109

      • Until we understand the oceans better we simply don’t know anything of the future of the climate. They may model the atmosphere as much as they want, without the oceans it is meaningless and if they include the oceans the models will be so complicated that they will be useless anyhow. (Sten Kaijser, 20 March 2010)

      • Yes, the heat content of oceans far exceeds that of the atmosphere. The source of that heat has been obscured since 1945.

        Energy (E) stored as mass (m) in the core of the Sun generates the stream of heat, light, particles and fields (electric, magnetic, gravity) that engulfs Earth, controls its climate and sustains life.

        Energy (E) stored as mass (m) in the core of uranium atoms vaporized Hiroshima on 6 Aug 1945.

        Energy (E) stored as mass (m) in the core of plutonium atoms destroyed Nagasaki on 9 Aug 1945.

        Frightened world leaders “saved the world” from destruction by establishing the United Nations on 24 Oct 1945.

        Information on energy in the core of the Sun was obscured [1,2] in 1946 and continues to be misrepresented today.

        [1] Fred Hoyle, “The chemical composition of the stars,” Monthly Notices Royal Astronomical Society 106, 255-59 (1946)

        [2] Fred Hoyle, “The synthesis of the elements from hydrogen,” Monthly Notices Royal Astronomical Society 106, 343-83 (1946)

        See: http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/#comment-105

        With kind regards,
        Oliver K. Manuel
        http://www.omatumr.com

    • David Wojick

      Simple. Hunter, there is a basic confusion between two different kinds of uncertainty. Lewandowsky and the CAGW community basically take uncertainty to refer to a probability distribution describing the potential future impact of CO2 increases. The uncertainty thus refers to the shape and location of this distribution. Skeptics take uncertainty to mean the question as to whether there even is any such distribution.

      The decision math is very different in these two cases. Lewandowsky’s math claims are only correct for the first case.

      Here is a parallel example. We can ask what the damage would be if an asteroid of a certain size, mass and velocity hit the earth in a certain place? An entire science could be built around this question, generating a range of possibilities and a probability distribution across this range. But if it is extremely unlikely that this event will occur, then all that science is no basis whatever for serious action to minimize the hypothetical damage.

      It is the probability within the hypothesis versus the probability of the hypothesis.

      • But then you are assuming the integrity of the data. All of the land based data is corrupted by the urban heat island effect. We do, however, have accurate satellite and radiosonde temperature change data for the top layer of the ocean and lower troposphere (see below). We know the truth.

        Why are the Oceans Cooling?

      • David Wojick

        I don’t see how I am assuming anything about climate data. I am describing a confusion that is widespread in the debate. I am doing social science, not climate science. It sounds like you are taking a position in the debate, while I am describing the debate from outside.

      • GIGO–in what word does a probability distribution have any relevance to reality when dealing with corrupted and manipulated data?

      • David Wojick

        Wag, the relevance to reality is that a lot of people believe it.

      • “Skeptics take uncertainty to mean the question as to whether there even is any such distribution.”

        No they don’t. Most skeptics accept that raising CO2 causes warming.

        Don’t they?

      • David Wojick

        I have no good data on the distribution of skeptical belief, because the pollsters do not ask sensible questions. You are referring to the lukewarmer wing and I suspect they are a minority. I think AGW has been falsified, as do many others. To the right of me are all those who think it is a hoax. So no, most skeptics do not believe that increasing CO2 will cause warming.

      • I’m not sure. Some people who claim to be skeptics are actually dumb enough to believe rising CO2 is not a warming influence if that’s what they have been told by other dummies, nutters, or liars.

      • David Wojick

        Which am I Maxok, a dummy, nutter or liar? You on the other hand are clearly a fool, because you cannot grasp that intelligent people can disagree with you.

      • Wojick, I forgot to include people with personality disorders. That would be my best guess for you.

        Of course intelligent people can disagree with me. Intelligent people can also be bad people. IMO, you are a bad person.

      • Dave Springer

        Anonymous coward. Pfffffffffffffffffft……… I fart in your general direction.

      • Max_OK, you have a wonderful turn of phrase in comments like “it makes no sense to appeal to lack of authority.” If only you could learn to be polite to people who disagree with you, you really would be OK.

      • David Wojick

        Maxok, you are a poster child for the irrational fear and outrage that drives CAGW. Disagreeing with you does not make people bad.

      • ferd berple

        The uncertainty being referred to is one-sided. Climate science is saying they are uncertain to how much damage an asteroid will do, but they are very certain it will hit.

        Because the damage may be very large, in fact it could wipe out civilization, then the precautionary principle says that we should make an asteroid strike the priority in our lives (and give large amounts of funding to those scientists that promise to prevent an asteroid strike).

        Of course this same logic applies to all problems that could have catastrophic results, Which means that you should never get in the bath, because most home deaths occur in the bath, and you should never get in a car, because most deaths outside the home occur in a car. That is the logic of uncertainty.

      • David, there is a lot of work done on an astroid striking earth and the impacts are large. Probabiliyt of one of the 50,000 medium to large astroids passing through our orbit hitting us are surprisingly high. Go to B612 webpage. They have an enlightening video clip of them all wizzing by. For just $500,000,000 we could develop a defense but that is not politically correct enough. ;; http://b612foundation.org/

        Instead of a civilization destroying 1km astroid imact we can fight about 2degree C over the next 100 years

    • Peter Lang

      These three paragraphs from http://www.tnr.com/blog/critics/75757/why-the-decision-tackle-climate-change-isn%E2%80%99t-simple-al-gore-says?page=0,0 make a lot of sense to me:

      In the face of massive uncertainty, hedging your bets and keeping your options open is almost always the right strategy. Money and technology are our raw materials for options. A healthy society is constantly scanning the horizon for threats and developing contingency plans to meet them, but the loss of economic and technological development that would be required to eliminate all theorized climate change risk (or all risk from genetic technologies or, for that matter, all risk from killer asteroids) would cripple our ability to deal with virtually every other foreseeable and unforeseeable risk, not to mention our ability to lead productive and interesting lives in the meantime.
      So what should we do about the real danger of global warming? In my view, we should be funding investments in technology that would provide us with response options in the event that we are currently radically underestimating the impacts of global warming. In the event that we discover at some point decades in the future that warming is far worse than currently anticipated, which would you rather have at that point: the marginal reduction in emissions that would have resulted up to that point from any realistic global mitigation program, or having available the product of a decades-long technology project to develop tools to ameliorate the problem as we then understand it?
      The best course of action with regard to this specific problem is rationally debatable, but at the level of strategy, we can be confident that humanity will face many difficulties in the upcoming century, as it has in every century. We just don’t know which ones they will be. This implies that the correct grand strategy for meeting them is to maximize total technical capabilities in the context of a market-oriented economy that can integrate highly unstructured information, and, most important, to maintain a democratic political culture that can face facts and respond to threats as they develop.

      Since that article was published, World Economic Forum published “Global Risks 2012” http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-risks-2012-seventh-edition . It shows the many risks we face and ranks them. Climate change is not amongs the top risks. That gives a larger picture and begs the question: why doesn’t Lewandowski and those of similar persuasion look at climate change in proper balance with all other tisks, instead of in isolation?

      • David Wojick

        This quote is vague to the point of incoherence. We are called on to make “investments in technology that would provide us with response options in the event that we are currently radically underestimating the impacts of global warming.”

        What are these technologies and options, and how much do they cost? They sound very expensive. How many options are there? Are we going to match these contingent investments with technologies for extreme cooling? If you bet on everything you are bound to lose.

      • Note how that statement conveniently sweeps uncertainty about the feasibility of the technology under the rug.

      • Michael Hart

        “In the event that we discover at some point decades in the future that warming is far worse than currently anticipated….”

        I thought that currently gets discovered about twice a week… :)

    • This drivel by Lewandowsky relies on the fact that the average person has not much more than a high school education. Probably most people have 3 years or less of math in high school. And many have little science training.

      I am not sure how these numbers were collected but it is telling in how much the average Joe knows. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/edu_ave_yea_of_sch_of_adu-education-average-years-schooling-adults

  2. “Uncertainty should make us worry more than certainty, because uncertainty means that things can be worse than our best guess.”

    Is fretting a new undergraduate course? I have a friend that tested positive on the PSA. He took action because he didn’t want to worry about prostrate cancer in the future. He was 69 years old. The consequent of the actions are, impotence, multiple hernias, one missing testicle, $70K over his insurance deductible and an extremely unhappy significant other. At least prostrate cancer is not a worry.

    • Considering that prostate cancer is often fatal, especially when detected late, that may not have been a bad trade off….. Death vs. impotence, hernias, a testicle, some $ and unhappiness of someone else who’s life wasn’t potentially compromised by cancer.

      (My uncle died of prostate cancer, my father is a prostate cancer survivor, I get tested often…)

      • “Prostate cancer tends to develop in men over the age of fifty and although it is one of the most prevalent types of cancer in men, many never have symptoms, undergo no therapy, and eventually die of other causes.” From Wikipedia.

        There is a recent study that the prostate screening test leads to medical procedures that have a greater risk that no detection, doing nothing. Waiting to see, is not a bad option with prostate cancer. With a family history of prostate cancer, you would be more aware and should be more concerned, but http://fullymyelinated.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/the-end-of-the-psa-as-we-know-it/

      • Capt.

        A lot of that is based on what age you are when it is found. A slow developing cancer of the prostate in a man in his late 60′s to early 70′s is probably not worth treating. Finding it in your early 50′s is a different story.

    • On the contrary. I’m sure he’s still prostrate with worry about his prostate.

    • You don’t treat prostrate cancer based on PSA results. Those tests inform you as to the practicallity of undergoing a biopsye.

      Couple of years ago my PSA number increased, but was still below the level they usually recommend a biopsye. However a brother tested positive with even a lower number (but one that did show a big jump over a one year period. In my case I opted for the biopsye and elected surgury when it came back positive. For the most part I have had few complications and knowing they got it early enough to be in the 90% certainty range of it not spreading outside the prostate were well worth the risk.

      That said, Lewandowsky missed is calling. He should be selling used cars. Or snake oil.

    • The talk of prostate cancer is consistent with my belief that the deniers/skeptics here are older males. Unfortunately, beyond a point , age doesn’t make people smarter, just the opposite. Age does seem to make people less flexible, more resistant to change.

      • blueice2hotsea

        Global Warming is causing a deficiency of gullibility.

      • The good thing about being old in this context is that you’ve lived to see a few scientific consensuses turn out to be rubbish.

      • ferd berple

        If you look at history, virtually every scientific consensus has turned out to be rubbish. Eventually the consensus gets replaced by a more refined consensus, which is later found to also be rubbish.

        We live in an infinite universe. Our understanding of reality is at best an approximation, and will always be just an approximation.

        Every time our instruments improve and allow us to look deeper into the structure of matter, we discover a new reality that overturns the old beliefs, and we refine the grain of the approximation.

        This process will continue for as long as humans continue to build better mousetraps. We can name infinity, but this doesn’t mean we understand it.

      • There is sometimes a “Feynman tipping point” in a scientifically literate person’s life when that person realizes that scientific expert consensus is sometimes just marginally better than the average urban myth and is maintained by the same processes. Richard Feynman reached that point when he doubled-checked the consensus of the experts on beta decay. I had a similar experience when I discovered that nutritionists were saying that mushrooms were generally low in nutrients and that this could be debunked by looking up in a conventional table of nutritional values.

    • Prostate specific membrane antigen isn’t Prostate specific. It is present on the surface of the majority of solid tumors and is also expressed on the vascular surface of the endothelial cells that supply the tumor.
      After age 70 if I had an elevated PSMA I would ignore it, IMO quality of life beats quantity following surgery, chemo and radiotherapy.
      In you 50′s, have the full treatment, but at 69, on reflection, no.

  3. Ben Pile gives a laundry list of sky-is-falling warnings that didn’t turn out to be true, but he COMPLETELY misses the point. So the Y2K bug didn’t bring modern society to its knees. Well think of the incredible human and financial resources that went into addressing the problem beforehand. Likewise, the most dire predictions about acid rain didn’t materialize because action, in the form of the Clean Air Act, was taken. Likewise, fears of ozone depletion were addressed by international adoption of the Montreal Protocol.

    What a silly line of reasoning.

    • Clark -

      Two of your three examples a very poor. Sure a lot of time and effort went into the Y2K bug but many countries hardly bothered at all and the problems were just as minimal as in the countries that were tearing their hair out

      In Europe at least, the acid rain scare had pretty much fizzled out by the time cola stack scrubbers were introduced. There were more trees in Europe at the end of the 80′s (before the introduction of the new technology) than there were at the beginning. The phenomenon was vastly overblown and trust in scientist in Germany for instance took a real battering.

      I think Pile’s list – and reasoning – is pretty sound.

      • James Evans

        As a sceptic, I find it incredibly annoying that the Y2K thing keeps being brought up as an example of a scare that was overblown. The problem was real. That is trivially true.

        If some people got away with not checking out their code, then that’s good news. If a river has crocodiles in it and several people swim across it without harm, then that is good news. It doesn’t mean there weren’t any crocodiles.

      • No. The problem was theoretically real. In fact, it wasn’t real. The uncertainty was real, but the people getting all worked up over Y2K were making the EXACT same mistake that people worried about infrastructure hacking make: they think everything out there runs on PC platforms running under MS Windows. They didn’t understand embedded systems, and the fact that most of them don’t even have a real time clock.

      • James Evans

        I have no idea what you’re talking about. The most basic problem was legacy systems using a 2 digit year. It was rife, and could have caused a lot of problems. Incredibly simple, so there are no cool points to be gained here from sounding knowledgeable.

      • James Evans,

        Yes, it was real. But it could still be considered overblown, since there were people predicting the collapse of civilization in various degrees and durations. There were probably fewer crocodiles in the river than was generally feared. But it’s hard to judge, since there’s no way to measure the degree of alarm objectively.

      • James Evans

        Dagfinn,

        I find no objection to your comments.:) Was the alarm overbown? When the clock finally ticked over to 2000, I had left my programming job in the UK, and had moved to the US. I don’t remember hearing a single thing about the issue when I lived over there. Admittedly, I was no longer involved in the issue. Perhaps the media was hysterical – I don’t pay much attention.

      • Anteros, if there were countries that hardly bothered with the Y2K bug, then these were also countries who were minimally exposed to risk. A huge solar flare could wreak havoc with our technologies but would be hardly noticed by the average Botswanan. Moreover, the bigger issue than deforestation with the acid rain scare has always been the effect on freshwater ecologies. The fact that there were more trees at the end of the 80′s than the beginning is a meaningless statistic and probably has a great deal more to do with changes in land use than the effects (or non-effects) of pollution.

    • The ‘laundry list’ is not a list of ‘warnings that didn’t turn out to be true’, but a list of things about which, as risks were vastly overstated. Of course there was good cause to investigate the Y2K bug, but terrifying people about the possibility of automated thermonuclear war, for instance, after some computer malfunction on January 1 2000 was plainly absurd. Yet absurd over-statement of risks characterises a huge volume of domestic and international policy-making… In fact, it defines contemporary politics. This preoccupation with sky-falling scenarios is what I was trying to explain, as historical precedents in which risks were overstated, contra Lewandowski’s claim that uncertainty necessarily means the risks are worse than anticipated. History proves him wrong.

      • Sorry, but your example of “automated thermonuclear war” is a straw man fallacy, and you know better. There were many much more plausible and still very unpleasant consequences that we faced. I for one am glad that we took it seriously (whether despite or because of the uncertainties) and proactively addressed the situation.

        Does history prove Lewandowski wrong? Well, Churchill was dismissed as an alarmist for a long time in the run up to WWII. History is replete with instances where the risks have been worse than widely anticipated.

      • I’m sorry that you didn’t like the example I chose. But I fear that if I had listed each and every speculation that emerged during the Y2K bug for fear that omitting something might offend somebody then the point I was trying to make would have been lost in the thousands of words. Of course there were more plausible claims; I have already agreed as much, and that it was worth investigating. But it wasn’t the plausible claims that captured the media/public/politician’s imaginations to drive a response — and *that* is the point I was making. The example I chose suited it.

      • the hype y2k was fgar bigger than the problem.. (any paralells guys? ;-) )

        The problem was real, as I spent 18 months years fixing issues with our customers at OUR cost.. OR just bringing forward new systems when suppliers said well it ‘should’ work, no guarantees..

        ie other countires finacial systems, well the UK is the biggest in EU, LOTS of work required (same with Germany, etc – bugaria stock market, no problem? no market to fix)

        AND a lot of consultancies/suppliers made a fortune, bigging up the risk, for system that had no issues, just in case, etc

        Were nukes going to go into meltdown, NO. mainly because those guys programming the nuke powerstations thought ahead decades and did not have a y2k problem (though everything was checked) we just hired a lot of those guys to fix legacy code in bank systems, whose programmers had not thought ahead. end of the world. no. bank run, possible.. though.

        Plane falling out of the sky. NO – hype.. only the sligtest risk at tick, over, and if there had been an issue, well just not fly over midnight..

        Lots of countries, just junked old systems and just brought in, new systems (which would have been necessary anyway) contractors rates went through the roof, immoveable deadline. all that work and new system went ahead at once contributed to the dot.com bubble bursting. ie Jan 1st 2001, all thise new sstem rushed trhough , meant everything had been done for the next few years.

        the parallel is obvious, agw is real, may contribute a rise in temp, maybe some impacts.. but is anybody really buyingthe alarmist hype of tipping points, 6 degrees, ,etc

        a scare hyped up by the media and the overly emototive plusd quite a few greens that would quite have liked end of the world as we know it, to pursue a different vision of the world.

    • David Bailey

      Coincidentally, my partner and I visited Czechoslovakia shortly after their “Velvet Revolution”. Since we like the countryside, we were concerned at the prospect of walking through dead and dying forests.

      In reality, the forests there were superb, and we only saw one stand of trees that might possibly have been damaged by acid rain! I think it was a lesson in media hysteria.

    • John Quiggin explores The Y2K scare: Causes, Costs and Cures. His findings are remarkably applicable to the climate change debate. About ~$500 billion spent worldwide on Y2K, including $12 billion in Australia.

      . .although some relatively minor problems were prevented, and some collateral benefits were realised, most money spent specifically on Y2K compliance exercises was wasted. . . .evidence available early in 1999, should have been sufficient to justify the adoption of a less costly strategy of ‘fix on failure’. . . .
      Information asymmetry and organisational structure
      It is more Individuals and groups who argued for a ‘fix on failure’ approach stood to benefit only modestly if this approach avoided unnecessary costs, but faced the risk of blame in the event of significant system failures attributable (accurately or otherwise) to Y2K related problems. Conversely, it was evident in advance that there was little risk of loss to individuals who advocated comprehensive remediation. . . .
      The asymmetry of incentives was amplified by the possibility of litigation, particularly in the United States . . . litigation against organisations that had failed to undertake comprehensive Y2K remediation, and experienced any form of system breakdown in early 2000, was virtually guaranteed of success. By contrast, the risk of blame being allocated to organisations that overspent on Y2K remediation was perceived to be minimal.. . .
      Moral panic
      The panic over Y2K shared some, but not all, of the characteristics of the ‘moral panics’ first analysed by Cohen (1972). Cohen (1972:9) defines a moral panic as ‘a condition, episode, person or group of persons [who] become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.’
      The precautionary principle
      Although there is no generally agreed definition (VanderZwaag (1999) identifies fourteen different definitions) the central idea is that where there is doubt about the reality or severity of an environmental threat, the burden of proof should be on those arguing against a risk mitigating response. A range of issues in relation to the precautionary principle are discussed by Quiggin (2004). . . .
      Most importantly, application of the precautionary principle should not be used to justify a comprehensive attempt to reduce risk to zero. In cases where the reality of the risk is in doubt, it is important to consider the severity of the possible outcomes.
      From the perspective of public administration, the two most compelling observations relate to conformity and collective amnesia. The response to Y2K shows how relatively subtle characteristics of a policy problem may produce a conformist response in which no policy actors have any incentive to oppose, or even to critically assess, the dominant view. Moreover, in a situation where a policy has been adopted and implemented with unanimous support, or at least without any opposition, there is likely to be little interest in critical evaluation when it appears that the costs of the policy have outweighed the benefits.

      Cohen, S 1972, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, MacGibbon and Kee, London.
      Quiggin, J 2004 ‘The precautionary principle and the theory of choice under uncertainty, Working Paper 10/R04, Risk and Sustainable Management Group. University of Queensland United States Embassy to Australia

      • Peter Lang

        Why doesn’t John Quiggin apply this thinking to CAGW. He is one of the main alarmists and scaremongers. He also worked with Ross Garnaut on Australia’s CO2 tax and ETS justification. The basis for their damage estimates appears to be near non existant.

      • Rob Starkey

        Is it possible that the govrnment wanted revenue

      • Peter Lang
        Thanks for the context. John Quiggin appears to come to the opposite conclusion when dealing with climate. See:
        Uncertainty and Climate Change Policy 2008

        The paper consists of a summary of the main sources of uncertainty about climate change, and a discussion of the major implications for economic analysis and the formulation of climate policy. Uncertainty typically implies that the optimal policy is more risk-averse than otherwise, and therefore enhances the case for action to mitigate climate change. . . .

        One of his key assumptions appears to be:

        Second, risk aversion implies that the value of a marginal increase in income is greater, the lower the level of income. Since mitigation will yield the greatest benefit in cases where the economic loss associated with climate change is largest, and therefore when income is lowest, the certainty equivalent of the benefits of mitigation exceeds the expected value.
        I don’t think he accounts for the benefits of CO2 to plant growth or the much higher priority that the poor have on growing food and surviving.

        See also: The precautionary principle in environmental policy and the theory of
        choice under uncertainty, 2005

        He seems to rely on:

        The incompleteness hypothesis states that estimates derived from formal models of choice under uncertainty will generally be over-optimistic and that the errors will be greater, the less well-understood is the problem in question.

        He further relies on (is misled by?) the Stern report:

        These points is illustrated by the economic analysis undertaken in the Stern Review (Stern 2007), which reported estimates of expected damages ranging from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of global income under a policy of ‘business as usual’.

        To see where the Stern report misdirected Quiggin, see Carter et al.
        The Stern Review: A Dual Critique The scientists observe:

        a failure to acknowledge the scope and scale of the knowledge gaps and uncertainties in climate science
        • credulous acceptance of hypothetical, model-based explanations of the causality of climate phenomena
        • massive overestimation of climate impacts through an implausible population scenario and one-sided treatment of the impacts literature,
        including reliance on agenda-driven advocacy documents
        • lack of due diligence in evaluating many pivotal research studies despite the scandalous lack of disclosure of data and methods in these studies
        • lack of concern for the defects and inadequacies of the peer review
        process as a guarantor of quality or truth.

        The Economists observe:

        the Review:
        • systematically overstates projected costs of climate change, partly
        though by no means wholly as a result of its failure to acknowledge the
        scope for long-term adaptation to possible global warming
        • underestimates the likely cost—including to the world’s poor—of the
        drastic global mitigation programme that it calls for
        • proposes worldwide adoption of a specially low rate of interest for discounting the costs and benefits of mitigation, on the basis of inadequate analysis and without regard for the problems and risks that would result.

      • Peter Lang

        David L. Hagen,

        Thank you for digging out those quotes. John Quiggin is a far left economist. He is highly regarded by the Left in Australia and buy our current government. He is very influential.

      • David L. Hagen,

        Further to our discussion about John Quiggin, his role in Ross Garnaut study that underpinned the Australian CO2 tax and ETS legislation, and his far Left (socialist & progressive) politics, you may be interested in my comments here and how he has responded. Responses included deleting my comments he did not want to address, replacing them with his pejorative comments, and avoidance of the main issue. Avoidance and diversion is the speciality. I am becoming more convinced that my questions about the ultimate compliance cost of the ETS is an issue worth pursuing. I hope you will find the comments starting here informative (in many ways):
        http://johnquiggin.com/2012/06/10/weekend-reflections-189/comment-page-1/#comment-174680

    • Clark,

      It is you missing the point. All the efforts taken to mitigate against Y2K turned out to be a waste of time, as the described threat never happened. The Y2K disaster was not averted because of all those resources poured into the supposed problem. The problem was never real in the first place.

      The same is true with acid rain. It was a non-existent problem, based on poor science. The ozone hole problem is starting to look like a similar issue. The Montreal Protocol hasn’t appeared to have done much to resolve the problem, as the hole is still with us. However we don’t hear much about these days, as to date it has been extremely difficult to identify any adverse impacts from it. I will say that dispite this, I am of the opinion that the Protocol may actually prove to be a good decision. Not because of ozone depletion but as a result of mitigating the impact of AGHG’s, in the form of CFC’s. I suspect the fingerprints from CFC’s will be found on climate change and not those of poor, innocent CO2. A gas which can rightfully claim it has been framed.

    • ferd berple

      Actually acid-rain didn’t turn out to be a problem because the cause is not humans. Have you ever wondered why nothing grows under evergreens? They are the source of acid rain. It helps keep down the competition, making more room in the forest for evergreens.

      • And Ed Krug, who ran the U.S. government’s National Acid Precipitation Action Program had his career destroyed because his research found that air pollution didn’t have the bad effects claimed by the environmental lobbies. Talk about an inconvenient truth.

  4. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Climate Etc.’s own Jim2 has expressed the skeptical position regarding climate-change mitigation more concisely than either Lewandowski or Pile:

    “Debauch until we fry”

    That’s pretty much all of climate-change skepticism, summed-up in four simple words. Many kudos to you, Jim2.   :)

    • Rob Starkey

      Only in a idiots mind do all those who are skeptical of the IPCC’s conclusions think or believe the same way.

    • Well, “A physicist”, if continuing to live in a non-de-industrialized society is debauchery, and if mild warming approaching the benign climates enjoyed by the Romans and Minoans is frying, bring it on!

      Idiot.

    • Better advice than what we get out of the EPA.

    • Apparently “fan” understands neither “mitigate” nor “adapt”, nor the position of most climate realists (PS ALL scientists by definition must be skeptics.) e.g. see the NIPCC
      A better summary would be:
      “Steward until we fly”.

      cf Gen 1:27-31,
      (I wonder if he understands Steward, Debauch or resurrect>

    • ferd berple

      Past climate has never “fried” even with CO2 levels that are impossible to obtain even if all projected fossil fuel reserves were burned up today.

      CO2 has been slowly dropping as it gets locked up in limestone. The result has been rather harsh ice ages with brief periods of warming. I’m skeptical that the past couple of million years has on average been something we want to return to.

      Instead, we very much want to change the climate to prevent any return of the ice ages. Anyone that thinks the earth can support the present population during an ice age using “sustainable” energy supplies has quite frankly not thought things through.

      Keep i mind the status quo is not an option. The climate will change all on its own and the ice ages will return for tens of thousands of years. Is that the future you want for your descendants, if you today have the opportunity to prevent it?

  5. Rob Starkey

    “There is only one way to escape that uncertainty: Mitigation. Now.” Really quite a funny conclusion.

    That might make sense if one knew that the mitigation plans would substantially reduce or eliminate the feared uncertainty. Unfortunately that is not the case. In fact no one knows what, if any impact the proposed mitigation plans will have on the feared future conditions.

    Many of those who fear more CO2 hope that by their (nation, state, city, etc.) implementing certain mitigation actions that the others in the world will readily agree with their conclusions and take actions to also stop emitting CO2. The facts do not support their conclusions. The facts suggest that CO2 levels will continue to rise for decades. The only reasonable course of action is to prepare for future conditions by the construction of good long term infrastructure. Nations that do so will adapt to conditions just fine, and those that do not will suffer. Just brutal facts in the real world.

    • I agree. In fact, Lewandowsky has missed the point that James Lovelock saw before he gave up on alarmism: For the extreme disaster scenarios, the game changes since there is no way to avoid the catastrophe and we simply must mobilize whatever resources we have available to try to survive it. It’s only in the middle ground, where there is high risk of catastrophe, but still a chance to avert it, that mitigation makes any kind of sense.

    • John Carpenter

      I would argue ‘mitigation now’ would leave us very uncertain about how humans would fare in such a situation. By Lewandowsky’s thinking, it will be worse than what we probably think. So ‘mitigation now’ policies probably aren’t a good idea.

    • Alex Heyworth

      It is hard to take seriously anyone who suggests that the only possible response to a perceived problem is the one thing that everyone, including them, knows is impossible.

  6. The wilder the claim, the poorer the grasp on basic statistics. This arises from simple mathematics.

  7. David Bailey

    We can’t be certain of anything – the effects of trace amounts of innumerable chemicals that we encounter in the environment, of the possible effects of extra CO2 in the atmosphere (despite so much expensive research), of the effects of the radio waves that fill our houses…….

    Clearly the answer is to return to stone age conditions, where, because of our much larger numbers, we can be certain most of us will die.

    • Way to employ the false dichotomy. Failure of logical thinking 101.

      • A good example of a failure of logical thinking is provided above by Lewandowsky. The less we know about something, the more imperative it is we act, because the more likely it is that what we don’t know will be worse than we can possibly imagine.

        If we accept that line of reasoning we can at least take comfort in the large number of new jobs that will be created manning suicide hot lines.

  8. According to Lewandowsky, the greater the uncertainty, greater is the “potential for catastrophe”.

    I wonder if one takes this argument to the limit. There is uncertainty about the number of supermassive rogue black holes in the universe (this is a Einstein’s prediction which, as very recent news promised, could be for the first time evaluated). As his premise is, the greater the uncertainty, the greater the “potential for catastrophe” is. Therefore humanity should prepare more than ever to save itself from this potential doom.

    He neglects that the only way to remove uncertainty is prove that something exists, as it is impossible to prove that something does not. The human mind is free to find uncertainty in rogue supermassive black holes, alien civilizations, or mayan predictions. And no one has ever considered countermeasures to these highly speculative facts.

    In the other hand, the uncertainty about CAGW is far less than what I just have described. This is the reason why many people is convinced that reduce carbon emissions is required. Other people think that there is too much uncertainty about it, therefore research in clean energies (for this and all the other benefits) is rather adequate than just drastic reduction of carbon emissions.

    Isn’t this straightforward?

  9. I’m wondering if anyone (everyone? :) ) else came to a grinding halt at this sentence -

    We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated,

    I had to get up and walk around because it seemed to me that if I wasn’t reading the reasoning of a madman then I was probably mad myself.

    Maybe necessarily means something different to Mr Lewandowski than it does to every other human I’ve ever interacted with?

    Nope. He’s clearly bonkers.

    • Agreed, I wonder if there is something to the mercury problem? Mad as hatters they are :)

    • Maybe, only maybe, (for the love to his argument) when he affirms broad uncertainty, he means only the catastrophic side, while there is certainty about the mild (in the lukewarmer sense) side. He might mean that the outcome is necessarily bad, there is certainty that it is somehow bad and there is no limit about how bad it can be. Since even in the less dramatic scenario one would profit from mitigation, it is very welcome.

      (The extract is so bad that I convinced myself to play the devil’s advocate here).

    • I actually barely got to that sentence because the author’s “logic” was such a complete abomination it was very near painful to read. If you’re interested, you should find my too lengthy post on the subject somewhere below.

    • No, he’s just using a technical term. Which means he’s not really saying what everyone thinks he’s saying. When he says “expected damages,” he means “the expectation value” of the damages. Because there is no such thing as “negative damage,” greater uncertainty can only increase the total amount of potential damage, and, consequently, the expectation value of the damages. That’s what he means when he says the result is dictated by simple math.

      For the same reason, it’s a meaningless observation, as many posters have already pointed out in a variety of ways.

    • I think you nailed it with this:

      He’s clearly bonkers.

    • IF you assume that the probability distribution of damage from AGW is bounded below by zero (imagine a uniform distribution for clarity) THEN an increase in the spread of the distribution will cause its mean to rise. I think that is what Lewandowski is referring to. He is using “uncertainty” to mean “variance in the posterior probability distribution.”

      But that’s not the correct mathematical model for the dispute between skeptics and believers. A better model would be more like this: There is a skeptical uniform density from 0 to .2 and a believer uniform density from 0 to 1 and there is an official “consensus” that the believer density is 90% likely to be correct and the skeptic density is 10% to be correct. The skeptics say, “No, there is greater uncertainty about this than the consensus thinks. It’s actually a 50% chance for each density to be correct.” If p is this Bernoulli probability of which model is right, then a p of 50% has a higher variance than a p of 90% and so is more “uncertain.” But now the more uncertain belief system puts more weight on low values of the AGW damage variable. So Lewandowsky’s conclusion suffers from an inappropriate model of the uncertainty.

  10. “and we do not even have to resort to any economic modelling to understand how greater uncertainty translates into greater risk”. – Stefan Lewandowsky

    The reason climate scientist are supported with tax dollars by the public is that climate scientists are suppose to reduce uncertainty and thereby allowing the public to act with reduced level of risk [not waste precious resources doing the wrong things].
    The failure to reduce uncertainty means climate scientists have failed, and have failed obviously because they not approach the subject in scientific manner.
    Rather than being some justification adopt their silly beliefs- which was a main cause why they failed to have little interest in approaching the subject in rational and scientific manner.

    If the climate scientist can not reduce uncertainty, what else is their jobs?

    • gbaikie,
      You make a great point:
      Lewandowsky’s essay is actually a confession of the utter fialure of the AGW movement to offer anything close to enough information to make informed decisions, or policies which could be successfully implemented.
      Instead Lewandowsky offers a cheap non-rational argument that is nothing more than an appeal to authority.

      • I like appeals to authority. I appeal to authorities a lot. It’s the smart thing to do. It makes no sense to appeal to lack of authority.

      • Max_OK,
        We never doubted that you depend on appeals to authority.
        Thank you for making that completely clear.
        Here is a handy guide for you on argument from authority:
        http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html
        “[I]t is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition.”
        You are the best example of this fallacy currently posting here.

    • ursus augustus

      The true role of science and scientists is to do the science enquiry, objectively and with all proper skill and honesty, and then communicate their results again with all proper skill and honesty. If they screw up the second stage then uncertainty is increased because their work is now tainted by the question of their integrity. That is the other dimension of the real uncertainty about climate science , orthogonal to the competing theories and theses. The ravings of evangelical, amateur commentators like Lewandowsky do not help at all.

  11. We finally understand — most of us — that constructing an Earthly climate model that captures the holistic interaction of the myriad dependent variables is naturally daunting. Moreover, there is not enough computing power on the planet to resolve the model that contained all of factors even if we knew what they all were and how they effected each other.

    Accurate Tea Leaf Reading in a Climate of Chaos

  12. The more uncertain we are whether there is a risk of catastrophe, the more certain we are of that catastrophe. It would be hard to come up with a better example of progressive cognitive dissonance

    And the most delicious aspect of this all too common phenomenon is that those who expound this drivel are sublimely pleased with their self perceived cleverness.

  13. It’s quite clear from Lewandowsky’s first post that his argument is based on the distribution of climate sensitivity estimates – that, given the best information we have now, there is more uncertainty at the high end of climate sensitivity than at the low end. I would expect a lengthy critique to counter this claim in some way given that it’s the basis of Lewandowsky’s argument, so it’s interesting that Pile’s post doesn’t even mention it.

    • That’s the point I assumed even not reading the paper.

    • I didn’t see the need to go into the analysis that preceded Lewandowsky’s summary — the paragraph I quoted. The summary was so tortured, and the claims so tautologous, contradictory, and extraordinary, that it didn’t seem necessary. Lewandowsky uses the shape of one distribution of estimates, but then uses synthetic ranges for the subsequent analysis. And this really gives the game away: in order to change the ‘magnitude of uncertainty’ (which in any analysis is *necessarily* a fudge, or subjective measure), one merely needs to posit a superficially plausible outlier at the upper end to change the game.

      And it is not as if there isn’t a search to demonstrate that things are ‘worse than we thought’ already. So there is a real danger that analyses of this kind include in their distributions estimates which are already over-statements of risk. Overestimation can cascade through analyses. Isn’t this the inevitable problem of trying to turn uncertainty into certainty? We might posit a more reliable rule than Lewandowsky offers: uncertainty *allows* the over-estimation of risk. It permits speculation, in other words, especially where policy-makers demand parameters.

      There’s a parallel in the relationship between rolling news and experts. A seemingly catastrophic event is invariably followed by mawkish speculation and over-reaction supplied by expertise. The final analysis invariably shows that things weren’t as bad as had been predicted, but expertise gets to pat itself on the back for taking aggressive action for heading off the crisis.

    • Peter Lang

      Megan,

      given the best information we have now, there is more uncertainty at the high end of climate sensitivity than at the low end.

      Does this conclusion from Nordhaus (2012) address your point?

      we conclude that no loaded gun of strong tail dominance has been uncovered to date.

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9779.2011.01544.x/full

    • Peter,

      Your quote from Nordhaus is misleading. You should always present a long enough quote to tell the whole meaning and not only a part of it.

      Including the previous sentence as well gets closer to that:

      I conclude that tail events are sometimes of extreme importance, and we must be extremely careful to include them in situations of deep uncertainty. However, we conclude that no loaded gun of strong tail dominance has been uncovered to date.

      What Nordhaus is saying in these two sentences is:
      - the precautionary principle is valid
      - it’s important to look at the long tail of severe outcomes
      - there’s, however, not clear evidence that the really extreme alternatives will dominate in drawing proper conclusions.

      Nordhaus leaves the final conclusion open. He doesn’t fully buy the Dismal theorem of Weizmann as the correct conclusion, but he does consider the long tail important.

      I hadn’t seen this article before and have now only skimmed through it. Based on this I do presently think that the paper is in full agreement with my own thinking, which I have tried to open in some of my earlier messages.

  14. The logical fallacies manifest in Stefan’s posts are staggering both in quantity and individual scope. As one example, take his quote: “In a nutshell, the logic of this position can be condensed to ‘there is so much uncertainty that I am certain there isn’t a problem.’” In this case, he deconstructs the argument of the “denialists” incorrectly in order to bolster his own position. In this case he chains a falsity of fact to a straw man. The actual construct should be something like, “…there is so much uncertainty that it is unclear how current data should be interpreted and policy formulated.”

    And here’s another one: “The first conclusion about the climate system therefore has to be that the greater the uncertainty, the greater the potential for catastrophe.” Wow. That is virtually a textbook example of “false conclusion.” To illustrate, rephrase as: Because there is uncertainty, there is greater potential for catastrophe. No. Correct is: Because there is uncertainty there is uncertainty about the potential for catastrophe. Even this improved latter version represents only a tautological structure (self-defining) in which no meaningful information changes hands. Note that the author has not even attempted to establish a relationship between the information set of uncertainty about the climate viz a vi uncertainty about result. He assumes it…this seems to combine jumping to conclusion and perhaps mixes in a bit of “circular argument.”

    Finally, I’ll close with a brief analogous argument to illustrate the case at hand. Assuming I’m ill and don’t know what’s wrong with me (i.e. this is not a condition in which I can appeal to either knowledge or previous experience), I would not respond by swallowing everything in my medicine cabinet. I would instead respond by going to the doctor for a diagnosis. If the condition is rare or complex (i.e. not well understood by the current state of medicine), I can assume the diagnosis might take awhile and have a degree of uncertainty associated with it. My prescription might involve various meds which might make me better or alternatively render it impossible for me to type further lengthy diatribes and perhaps even hasten my demise. That is, the result of treatment would be unpredictable precisely because the starting state of understanding was based in uncertainty.

  15. Willis Eschenbach

    There is only one way to escape that uncertainty: Mitigation. Now.

    Dumber than a box of hammers. The huge uncertainties about mitigation are a) whether it will work at all (very doubtful), and b) whether it will do huge damage to the poor (almost certain). Since by his lights the uncertainty about mitigation means that the results of mitigation could be much worse than we imagine, the only logical thing to do is … nothing.

    Because you see, I’m certain that if we do nothing, that nothing will get done. If nothing gets done, we’re certain what the result will be—nothing. Since we’re certain about the result, the uncertainty level will fall to zero, and Lewandowsky will be totally happy that there is no uncertainty in his future …

    Seriously, why does anyone take this kind of madness seriously?

    Judith, as always, thanks for pointing out the ongoing madness.

    w.

    • Willis,

      I think you have it wrong:

      Dumber than a box of hammers

      More like dumber than a box of stupid rocks.

    • “The huge uncertainties about mitigation are a) whether it will work at all (very doubtful)”

      It’ll work. If you reduce CO2 emissions enough, CO2 level will stop rising.

      • Rob Starkey

        lolwot—in the real world will the actions taken by an individual or an individual nation impact what happens globally over the long term. Imo-that is a very important issue

    • Peter Lang

      The huge uncertainties about mitigation are a) whether it will work at all (very doubtful), and b) whether it will do huge damage to the poor (almost certain).

      Good summary. Succinctly stated.

      • It’s hardly a good argument though, because he couldn’t see it through.

        First he claims “huge uncertainties” but then he can’t help injecting feelings that the uncertainties aren’t that big:

        “(very doubtful)”

        “(almost certain)”

        That doesn’t sound like huge uncertainties to me. If something is “almost certain” how can it have a huge uncertainty?

        I think what Willis’s comment really highlights is how some skeptics like to have their cake and eat it too with regard to uncertainty: What gets called uncertain and what gets called certain is not determined by logical reasoning, but by a calculation of which supports the cause.

      • Willis Eschenbach

        lolwot | June 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm

        It’s hardly a good argument though, because he couldn’t see it through.

        Lolwot, I’ve included what I think about the issues. I said:

        The huge uncertainties about mitigation are a) whether it will work at all (very doubtful), and b) whether it will do huge damage to the poor (almost certain).

        But that’s just what I think. The uncertainties exist, not because of my judgement about them, but because many people’s judgement of the questions is very different from those of AGW alarmists. They would say that mitigation almost certainly will work and that it is doubtful that they would do huge damage to the poor, while I and many other folks think just the opposite… and that’s why the questions are hugely uncertain. Not because of my opinion on the questions, but because there are greatly differing opinions on the questions.

        w.

    • Willis, I don’t know why anyone would take you seriously.
      You can’t even hold a job. I can’t recall the exact number, but I believe you said you have been in and out of about 20 occupations.

      • Willis Eschenbach

        Heck, max, likely more than 20 occupations. It’s not, however, because I “can’t hold a job”, that’s your twisted and incorrect interpretation of my life and the way I’ve chosen to work.

        I’ve had a host of occupations because I only take jobs with fixed ending dates. I don’t like open-ended work commitments. I’m a short-term consultant, a man who is hired to do a specific task. I’m not a long-distance trucker, I’m the man that they call in to fix the truck and then go home, so that the trucker can keep on trucking. My motto has always been “Retire early … and often”.

        And once I’ve taken any job, I finish it, on time and under budget. I don’t get fired, I don’t get laid off, I don’t quit, and I never have. I finish the job, I shake hands all around, and I go forward to my next job. That’s why folks are happy to hire me, they know when they do so their job will get done, professionally and completely. I’m sorry you don’t like the way I work, but lots of folks do, and as a result I’ve been very successful and made lots of money despite my unconventional style of working.

        But that’s not why people take my ideas about climate seriously. It is because they are good, solid scientific ideas that are backed up by citations, by data, by my experience in a host of occupations, by logic, by common sense, and as appropriate by computer code, so that folks like you can verify that I’m correct.

        Finally, I am taken seriously in part because I do what is anathema to far too many AGW supporting scientists—I admit when I’m wrong. That happens, not too often, but far more often than I’d like … but that is the essence of science. I put my ideas out on the public anvil, hand out the hammers, and see if folks can demolish them. Sometimes they can, but more often, they can’t … and that’s why people take me seriously.

        All the best,

        w.

        PS—Another reason people take me seriously is that I post under my own name, which means that I have to take responsibility for my past comments. This distinguishes me from folks like you, who can simply change their screen-name and never have to take responsibility for anything that you’ve said in the past.

        PSS—For more on the subject, see my post, “It’s Not About Me“.

      • Dave Springer

        Willis Eschenbach | June 7, 2012 at 2:11 am | Reply

        “I’ve had a host of occupations because I only take jobs with fixed ending dates. I don’t like open-ended work commitments.”

        What is the fixed ending date of your anti-AGW writing gig, moron?

        ROFLMAO

      • Curious from Cleathropes

        Dave,
        I seem to recall that “Moron” is a term used to denote people of a low IQ?As IQ is a defined test perhaps it would be worth you comparing your IQ’s with Willis’s and seeing whom is “closer to the mark”?
        I know who my money is on ;-)

        BTW – in the tests I have done I have been consistently in the 140 to 145 range.

      • Willis Eschenbach

        Dave Springer | June 7, 2012 at 6:11 am

        Willis Eschenbach | June 7, 2012 at 2:11 am

        “I’ve had a host of occupations because I only take jobs with fixed ending dates. I don’t like open-ended work commitments.”

        What is the fixed ending date of your anti-AGW writing gig, moron?

        ROFLMAO

        You may not have noticed, Dave, but “jobs” and an “occupation” refer to what someone does to make a living, to earn money. Right now, for me that would be house building, pounding nails, cutting big pieces of wood into smaller pieces and reassembling them into the shape of a house. The fixed ending date is when the house is finished.

        On the other hand, I am an amateur scientist, from the Latin meaning that I do scientific research for the love of it, rather than for the money.

        Since my scientific research and writing is neither a job nor an occupation, but something that I do for the sheer pleasure of it, you’d have to be a moron to think it would have a fixed ending date …

        Finally, I don’t write “anti-AGW”, other than peripherally. I write in favor of transparent science, and in favor of the results of my own research. I’m neither a skeptic nor a supporter of AGW. I’m a climate revolutionary. I think that the planet has a host of thermostatic mechanisms that keep the temperature between fairly narrow limits, and has for millions of years. I think analyzing it in any other fashion makes no sense. Because of that, both the skeptical and the AGW positions seem misguided to me.

        Best regards,

        w.

      • Max,

        I’m willing to bet you’d have a hard time beating out Willis in any sort of profession. The ability to work in a wide range of fields or occupations is generally considered a sign of competence. My first job out of grad school was the result of the highering manager being impressed by the widely different work experiences I had. She was sharp enough to understand that it is an indication of having a vawell developed skill set and not just having a lot of experience in a single area.

  16. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    <blockquoteStefan Lewandowsky says: "We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated"Climate Etc. folks who are wrestling with this passage can reflect on the meaning of the word expect. For example, both of the following are true:

    • Physicians expect that 23.5% of people will die of cancer.
    • Edith didn’t expect to die of cancer.

    Similarly, both of the following are true.

    • Climatologists expect that AGW is serious and accelerating.
    • Fred didn’t expect that AGW would impact the lives of his children.

    When it comes to serious life-and-death issues, plenty of folks (like Edith and Fred) find it difficult to appreciate the numerical / statistical / scientific usages of “expect.”

    • It is also true that climatologists do not expect taht AGW is serious and accelerating.

  17. …the precautionary principle works both ways. Which is riskier, trying to follow the climate-change rhetoric of the IPCC and Green groups by warping world economics and politics to deal (impossibly) with climate change, or facing up to the economics and politics of the real world.

    Real World Truth or Consequences

  18. Lewandowsky’s logical fallacies are stunning. Yes, because there is uncertainty, things could be worse than our best guess. But there is no way to go from that to greater uncertainty means things will necessarily be worse than expected.

  19. So sorry, Lewandowski’s argument is too … (choose the word) to keep on reading. First quoted paragraph is more than enough.

  20. A fun excercise is to attempt getting committed AGW extremists like Lewandowski to identify a mitigation policy that works in reality.

    • bob droege

      Works or is cheap and easy?

      Heavily tax fossil fuels and build as many nuclear power plants as possible.

      • Heavily taxing fossil fuels might be easy, but it’s not cheap. A blistering punishment–indeed, literally fatal–for many poor people.

        (I’m presuming, incidentally, that “at many nuclear power plants as possible” continues to be ~0. So far the greens have proved amazingly effective at blocking them through legal maneuvers. But even if we build zillions of them, it’s still going to be hard on people too poor to buy an electric car.)

      • bob droege

        Most of the poor people in this world, cannot even afford fossil fuels, and manage to live without them. Not a rich and rewarding life, but the lack of fossil fuels is not fatal.

        I wouldn’t put the failure to continue building nukes solely on the greens, the lack of a solid return on investment in uncertain regulatory frameworks is more important, at least in the US.

      • Just wait until 80% of us are burning wood, grass, and cow dung. We’ll see how fatal it isn’t.

      • Taxing fossil fuels is stupid and expensive and how do you implement it anyway?
        Check with Pielke Jr. and the Iron Law.
        And building nuke power is great, but check and see what is actually happening world wide irt nuclear power.

      • bob droege

        You asked for something that works and you respond that what I suggested was stupid and expensive. Of course you think it is stupid, you dont think there is any greenhouse effect, and that CO2 won’t cause any problems. If that was true, there would be no reason to tax it, because the main reason for taxing fossil fuels is to make the alternatives cheaper. Implementation is easy, require companies that burn coal to report and pay by the ton. Gas taxes are widely implemented with no problems.

        And I have often considered the costs of mitigation and how much I would be willing to “spend” in order to prevent the damage that building up the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause. Put in terms of percent of GDP that is spent on energy, how much higher would we need to go in order to cease the emision of CO2? Double the current percentage and it would be easy peasy.

        The thing is, is that those who are rich enough now to use fossil fuels, are rich enough to go without. And do you think a person in the third world with no access to fossil fuels at this time would not trade your lifestyle for his with the provision that he could not use fossil fuels?

        There are still some things that can’t be done without fossil fuels, but the things that can should be done.

      • Peter Lang

        And I have often considered the costs of mitigation and how much I would be willing to “spend” in order to prevent the damage that building up the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause.

        How do you know that you will get what you pay for? How do you know that CO2 pricing will change the climate in the way you would like it to?

      • bob,
        I do think there is a greenhouse effect. Taht you claim I do not sort of illustrates a problem you AGW extremists have: you do not know how to read for content, nor do you seem to be able to apply critical thinking skills.
        As the evidence shows, the greenhouse effect is not dangerous.
        As to your rather arrogant claim about people living without fossil fuels:
        I would invite you to live without any contribution from fossil fuels or petroleum for a year and get back to us how it is going. But only if you can do it without using any fossil fueled technology: No plastic, no electricity, no medicine, no cell phones.

      • Peter Lang,

        The point is to stop changing the climate.

        And Hunter, did you miss my last sentence, I said there were things that couldn’t be done without fossil fuels, for example air travel, but medicines and plastics can be produced without burning fossil fuels. And I particularly think we should save some oil for those uses.

        And I am not being arrogant if I say there are nearly a billion people on this earth that are too poor to afford even fossil fuels, that’s just the way things are.

        As for the iron law, what iron price are you willing to pay to go to lower fossil fuel emmissions? I would certainly be willing to pay what europeans pay for gas, or more. My electric rates are pretty low right now, and would pay whatever it would cost to go 100% renewable or nuclear. I would pay double or triple for the energy I use, maybe a little bit more for those that really can not afford it.

        The US could do it for 1-2% of GDP, and probalbly get some payback from increased revenues from the jobs it would create.

  21. “We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated, and that the allowance we must make for sea level rise will also be greater than anticipated. ”

    I can’t wrap my tiny mind around this. Could one of you true believers, since I assume you guys speak the same language, explain this to me.? “Necessarily?” Not “possibly?” They also seem to be saying that “expected” is something different from “anticipated?” WTF.

    • The magic word is “expect.” He’s referring to expectation values. Because there is no such thing as “negative damage,” higher uncertainty about the “amount of damage” means that the expectation value of the damage goes up. (If there were such a thing as “negative damage,” then the curve would presumably be symetrical, and greater uncertainty would tend to zero out. Note that he doesn’t say the expected “value” of the changes, or other such term that would include potentially beneficial effects of climate change. His language limits the issue to only one kind of outcome–”damage.”

  22. During and follwoing the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill was there was a high degree of uncertainty around the potential impacts which would result from the massive oil release. Scientists developed models which projected that the oil would extend up the eastern seaboard. While the spill caused tragic impacts in some areas, overall the effects apear to have been much less than the mildest expectations of the relevant scientific communities. Has anyone studied the “bias” in those projections and/or compared such ofrecast to warming alarmism and other disaster projections?

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      RPS, the answer to your question is “yes.” See “Deepwater Horizon dispersants lingered in the deep” (Nature, 2011).

      Summary Early, aggressive, large-scale mitigation remediated a coastal oil-slick disaster, at the cost of longer-term damage to the deepwater ecology of the Gulf. Overall, the Deepwater Horizon spill was a success story for Lewandowsky-style science-guided mitigation overseen by direct government intervention.

      • “at the cost of longer-term damage” was a “success”?

        More evidence that Einstein was right about the only definite infinity in the real world.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        Brian H, the scientist’s conclusion was pure common sense.

        The researchers agree that only time will tell whether applying the dispersant at-depth was the right decision.

        “It was a classic decision between bad and worse,” says Valentine, “and I’m still not sure which one we chose.”

        Yes, it would have been far better to not spill the oil in the first place … and not burn all our planet’s carbon either.

      • When you can show us how you are managing a life without electricity, I might consider you worth being taken seriously.

  23. Uncertainty certainly isn’t your friend if the loss function has a heavy upper tail as the “cost” of things being worse than you expect will be far higher than the “saving” when things work out better than you expect. This is hardly rocket science, and has been well understood for a long time in statistical decision theory.

    The thing that *really* isn’t your friend is not properly accounting for all relevant uncertainties and the nature of the loss function when deciding on the most rational course of action. Which is why e.g. the IPCC has a lengthy discussion regarding the uncertainty in climate sensitivity; the rational decision depends on the tails of the distribution, not just the most likely value because the loss is not symmetric.

    • I believe the point of skeptics is 1) That there isn’t sufficient resolution in beginning state data to allow “confidence” in the resultant tails 2) It seems that data of the last 15 or so years either, depending on study/data set either: a) contradicts or b) falls within the low range of curve predictions to a degree that is itself statistically interesting in it’s consistency viz a vi predictions to the contrary.

      As in the source article, you assert your conclusion “the rational decision depends on the tails of distribution,” assuming the accuracy of the tails; that is, you beg the question. Regardless of science, I fail to see how your point passes the test of logic.

      • If the skeptics argument is that uncertain about our uncertainty is a good reason to ignore the uncertainty, then that is rather silly IMHO. The distribution of values for climate sensitivity is a summary of what the climatologists consider to be plausible given the theory and observations. The decision taken should be made on the basis of assumptions that are clearly and unambiguously stated, and that is the precise value of such distributions.

        An infinite recursion into uncertainty about uncertainty is pointless navel gazing. If you really want to argue against the tails of the distribution, then attack the science on which they are based, that would be substantive.

        As to rational decision making, then read up on statistical decision theory, if you don’t understand how that passes the test of logic, then I suggest you start with the Cox Axioms http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cox%27s_theorem

        The “data of the last 15 years” is a canard. 15 years isn’t enough data to expect to achieve statistical significance even if the null hypothesis is true. A lack of statisical significance does not prove the null hypothesis.

      • To say that 15 years is not enough to prove the null hypothesis does not make sense when 15 years of failed forecasts can prove something that the data does not support.

      • You can’t assert that the forecasts have failed if there isn’t enough data to falsify them. A lack of statistical significance does not falsify a hypothesis as it can be caused either by the null hypothesis actually being true or it can happen because the null hypothesis is false but there isn’t enough data to show that it is false, and without investigating the power of the test, you don’t know which. Statistical hypothesis testing is a little counter-intuitive, so I am not unduly suprised that error is made as often as it is, but it is an error nevertheless.

      • Sounds like a conversation with a Volvo service manager.

      • or perhaps a statistician.

      • Precisely.

      • If climate is based on 30 year averages according to the WMO, what does the statistician say about climate changing? …selective use of historical data which conveniently starts from the random trough to determine a rising trend?

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        You are missing the point. If you use a 30 year trend, it is likely to be statistically significant whether you start at a random trough or not, in which case your criticism is invalid.

        An important feature of statistical hypothesis testing is that they are not symmetrical, in the sense that you start of assuming that you are wrong (i.e. that the null hypothesis is true) and see if you can show that the null hypothesis is false. Sadly skeptic claims based on “no significant warming since XXXX” are doing the opposite as they are arguing for the null hypothesis, so they are implicitly starting from the assumption that they are correct, which is not very skeptical! What they should do is investigate the statistical power of the test, or take the null hypothesis to be that the climate is warming at the rate suggested by mainstream science. Sadly they never actually do that, which is why the canard returns on a regular basis.

        The skeptics on the other hand otften do start the trend on a random peak, and because the time period is short, the result is often very sensitive to a change of a year or two in the start date. The laws of statistics still hold even if you don’t know about them, and those who are unable to take criticism on board will learn only very slowly.

      • Okay, I see your error: “If the skeptics argument is that uncertain about our uncertainty is a good reason to ignore the uncertainty.” That’s not the heart of the skeptic position. It’s not that uncertainty is good reason to ignore any proposition. Rather, it’s that uncertainty is an incredibly poor basis for decision making. Here’s a too long analogy illustrating my point culled from a REALLY too long earlier post of mine earlier in this thread:

        Assuming I’m ill and don’t know what’s wrong with me (i.e. this is not a condition in which I can appeal to either knowledge or previous experience), I would not respond by swallowing everything in my medicine cabinet. I would instead respond by going to the doctor for a diagnosis. If the condition is rare or complex (i.e. not well understood by the current state of medicine), I can assume the diagnosis might take awhile and have a degree of uncertainty associated with it. My prescription might involve various meds which might make me better or alternatively render it impossible for me to type further lengthy diatribes and perhaps even hasten my demise. That is, the result of treatment would be unpredictable precisely because the starting state of understanding was based in uncertainty.

        And by the way, thanks very much for the considered tone of your response to my challenge of your argument.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        “Rather, it’s that uncertainty is an incredibly poor basis for decision making”

        Nobody claims it is. Statistical decision theory is a provably optimal (under some pretty reasonable assumptions) form of rational decision making taking into account what you do know and what you know you don’t know.

        In your example would uncertainty about the outcome stop you from taking the prescription? I doubt it, because taking into account the relevant uncertainties it is the rational thing to do.

        Note that insurance companies perform statistical decision theory all the time, because it is what maximises their profits. In many circumstances they insure against events (like flood damage) where it is the upper tail of the distribution that dominates because the loss is not symmetrical.

        Sincere appologies about the tone of my earlier post, I do get grumpy sometimes, and direct posts often come across as more “direct” than actually intended.

        Having said which, it would be a good idea to investigate the statistical basis of the “15 year” arguments. As I pointed out, many of them are deeply flawed from a statistical perspective.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        appologies for percieved tone. I have tried several times to post a response to your reply, but it hasn’t appeared yet. It may turn up, it might not, but I have given up for now.

      • Dr… I thank for for your kind words. I took no offense at any of your posts but do appreciate your concern for tone.

        I am only aware of decision theory and am not conversant in it. Just a couple notes though. Insurance companies determine statistical tails with the degree of success they enjoy because they carefully control sensitive dependency on initial conditions to known states of certainty and adjust their models to changes in data over time. Restricting coverage of pre-existing conditions is an example of the former whereas changes in California earthquake premiums/availability after the Sylmar Earthquake is an example of the latter. I would argue that Climate Science in it’s current state, speaking generally, does neither. The sensitive dependence on initial conditions is clearly not understood well in CS given the lack of predictive accuracy of AGW models. Further, this lack of accuracy has only been allowed to sporadically inform further predictions. Based on their failed or nearly failed predictions over the last 15 years, I’d suggest that a skeptical view toward a doctrine of “settled science” is indicated.

        You do mis-state and perhaps misunderstand my pharmacological example. My point was not that the patient does not take a prescription for an understood illness as you seem to take the argument to be. Rather the point is that for a manifest condition (skin rash) with unknown prognosis and unclear diagnosis, a response of swallowing the medicine cabinet is inappropriate. Further, applying even just the available known rash specific medicines may result in tragic consequence (i.e. cortisone on skin cancer). Thus, it serves as an example where acting in the face of uncertainty without sufficient understanding is not valuable and necessarily contains as much risk as it does possibility of success. Indeed Monte Carlo Theory (with which I am familiar through investing) drives of the statically necessary tight binding between risk and reward. In the context of the current argument, the perceived future benefit of “we really have to because this is serious,” necessarily contains it’s own proportionately substantial risk. That last bit is my full agreement with you that the laws of statistics will win out.

      • Steven Mosher

        15 years is plenty. as you know it would depend specifically on the hypothesis being tested and the observations.
        for example.
        a prediction of .2c per decade could be rejected after 15 years of observed cooling of say…..5c per decade. or 10 years of extreme warming. there is nothing magical about the number of years in and of itself.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        Steven, of course IF the expected trend under AGW were higher, or the effects of weather noise were lower then 15 years may well be enough. But they are not, which means that 15 years IS insufficient in this case. Statistics has a method of determining how much data is required, namely analysis of statistical power (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_power). So if skeptics want to claim that the lack of statistical significance is meaningful (or even unexpected) then they need to assess the statistical power of the test, which curiously enough they never seem to do.

        Alternatively, they could make the null hypothesis that they want to reject that warming has occurred at the same rate as over the last 30 years and try and reject that. Oddly they never do that either.

        I have no problem with skeptics trying to disprove AGW, it is a healthy part of normal science. However, they have to get the statistical methodology right, or their criticism will be unconvincing.

      • http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/j/j/global_temperatures_09.pdf

        This states 15 years of no warming would be inconsistent with the models at the 95%.

      • Dave Springer

        Consensus (per IPCC) that humans are causing climate change is 95% confident. That leaves a 5% chance humans aren’t responsible. Maybe the 5% probability is the actual result, hmmm?

      • Dr b, this isn’t rolling dice. If the models are out of the 95% there should be available explanations as to why.

      • “This states 15 years of no warming would be inconsistent with the models at the 95%.”

        That is based on the assumption that the climate models are a good representaton of reality – do you accept that to be the case? It is also not clear whether they mean the observed trend or the ENSO adjusted trend. If it is the ENSO adjusted trend then it is no suprise that 15 years is sufficient as adjusting for ENSO reduces the amount of weather noise obscuring the trend. Santer et al.’s analysis put it at 17 years.

        However, the point is that lack of statistical significance does not imply that the observations are inconsistent with the models, for the reason I have already given. “no statistically signifiant warming” is not the same thing as “there is no warming”.

        “If the models are out of the 95%”

        Yes, but only IF that is true, which they it is not, e.g.

        http://www.realclimate.org/images/model11.jpg

        I have recently reproduced this figure myself, it is an accurate representation of the archived IPCC CMIP3 projections and of the observations.

      • No, the models stand on their own, good representation of reality or not. My opinion is if the models show results consistent with what actually happens they are likely a good representation. Considering how quickly they came to the lower bound of the 95% range with no obvious reason, this seems unlikely. Should the models go out of the 95% without a reasonable explanation, such as a long period of low solar activity and a cooling PDO and a cooling AMO happening all at once since this would be expected to happen more than 5% of the time, I find the explanation that we expect it to happen 5% of the time a rather poor excuse for a failed model.

      • And actually we don’t expect 5% of the results to be below the 95%. We expect 2.5% of the results to land there so please adjust my comments in your mind as required.

      • Steven, as I have pointed out, the observations have not strayed outside the 95% credible region of the models.

      • And I haven’t said they have failed yet.

      • It’s easy to not see the forest for the trees here. Clearly the AGW argument would be very different if the observations had started to show the accelerated warming that is required to exceed 1.5 degrees C of global warming by 2100. And clearly they haven’t, at least not yet.

      • “Considering how quickly they came to the lower bound of the 95% range with no obvious reason, this seems unlikely.”

        they haven’t come close to the lower bound either, as I have shown, and the MET Office document gives reasons for the departure from the ensemble mean (ENSO, data biases, solar cycle – if you want to see the effect of data biases then have a look at the trends with HadCRUT4 which addresses the biases they mention).

        http://woodfortrees.org/graph/hadcrut4gl/from:1999/plot/hadcrut4gl/from:1999/trend

        Te 15 year figure they give is obtained purely by model simulations, so if you want to apply the result from the model simulations to the observations then that is only valid if you accept that the models are a reasonable representation of reality. Clearly the MET Office think that they are, so it is reasonable for them to make that assumption. If you want to use the 15 year figure for the observations as well, then it is a tacit acceptance of the models as a reasonable representation of climate physics.

      • Close is a subjective word. I consider it close regardless of if you do or not, yet we can both be right.

      • So if I test a coin toss series against the observational data that is accepting the validity of the coin toss as an accurate representation? I fail to see the logic here.

      • The whole purpose of statistics is to avoid subjectivity and hence prevent biases from entering into analyses; hence I think it is better to stick to standard statistical practices in science whether the observations conform to ones hypothesis or not.

        Do you accept that the MET Office document actually does provide reasons for the departure from the ensemble mean?

      • The Met office document adjusts the temperatures down for ENSO, not up. I’m not sure what you are talking about.

      • “So if I test a coin toss series against the observational data that is accepting the validity of the coin toss as an accurate representation? I fail to see the logic here.”

        If you use a method for determining how much data is required to reject the null hypothesis for flipping coins to decide how much data is required to reject the null hypothesis for a trend in GMST then that would only be reasonable if flipping a coin was a reasonable model of the climate (which would be a pretty dumb assumption in this particular case – but then again it is not an apt analogy as far as I can see).

      • You are stating that one must accept that a hypothesis is accurate in order to test the hypothesis by its results. That is my take of what you are saying.

      • O.K., so what about data bias and solar cycles that I also mentioned?

      • This solar cycle is not unusual at all from a historical perspective. The data biases have been corrected for. Perhaps there will be more biases corrected later. One can only hope we are getting better data with time.

      • “You are stating that one must accept that a hypothesis is accurate in order to test the hypothesis by its results. That is my take of what you are saying.”

        No, I am saying nothing of the sort. Lets say you want to work out how many times you would need to roll a six sided die before you could be confident that the null hypothesis of the die being unbiased (i.e. it has a long run mean score of 3.5) when the null hypothesis is false, i.e. the statical power of the test.

        Now you can work that out analytically if you want, or you could make a computer simulation of the physics of rolling die and run it lots of times and work out the answer from the results. The latter approach is only valid if the computer simulation was essentially correct, if it simulated a 100-sided die rather than a 6 sided die then you wouldn’t get the right answer.

        The 15 year figure is valid for the computer models as it is derived from the siimulations obtained from the models. If the models are not accurate representations of reality, there is no reason to expect it to hold for reality as well.

      • “This solar cycle is not unusual at all from a historical perspective.”

        I suggest you try explaining that to Svensmark, Friss-Chrsitense, Shaviv etc. I think they might disagree.

        “The data biases have been corrected for. ”

        Yes, and as I have pointed out, once corrected for there is a substantial warming trend (0.138 degrees per decade), as I have pointed out to you.

        It was you that claimed that there were no reasons given. The data bias alone when corrected is enough to invalidate the idea that the observations were inconsistent with the models.

        Sorry I have had enough of this, life is too short to discuss science with someone that can’t admit that they had made factually incorrect assertions.

      • You are just confused. I said IF the models went out of the 95% I would expect reasonable explanations as to why. I did not say the models had gone out of the 95%. You state that in order to test the models by their results you must accept they are an accurate reflection of reality. This is an odd comment and perhaps someone can explain to me why it makes any sense at all. The solar cycles clearly are not unusual from a historical perspective. They might be unusual recently but it certainly isn’t compared to those of the early 20th century. And it is a lot less unusual than some cycles we have have had in the past.

      • This comment proves my point “The solar cycles clearly are not unusual from a historical perspective.” of course not, but changes in solar cycles can still explain a short term reduction in warming wthout being historically unusual, they just need to be different from the average.

        I also notice that you have not addressed the data bias explanation, which as I have pointed out is on its own more than enough to explain the deviation from the ensemble mean. However, rather than accept this and acknowledge this with good grace, you just ignore it.

        Sadly this sort of rhetorical evasiveness is pervasive in the climate debate. I give up.

      • I think the problem is that “[good/reasonable/accurate] representation of reality” is far too vague to base any meaningful consideration on. Mixing that with precise concepts like 95 per cent probablity only creates confusion.

      • I did address the data bias you mentioned. Your problem is you wish to change my opinion. My opinion is not going to be changed by a couple of blog comments. If you wish to know what would change my opinion you should ask instead of assuming your somewhat haphazard blog comments could do so.

      • Steven Mosher

        Doctor. yes I am well aware of power tests. Perhaps you should visit Lucia’s were we have been discussing testing models against observations for some time. Well aware of it. Personally, i think a 95% rule is a subjective decision. Reporting the observed level of confidence is preferable. Bottomline. its nonsense to talk about the number of years required. Do the test, report the result. as you know the shorter the time period the wider the bars.

      • gavincawley, I have decided to give this one more try since things that seem obvious to me may not seem obvious to others. First it does look like I ignored your hadcrut4 comments. That is because I was already aware of them and have taken them into consideration. I saw no point in going any further than aknowledging they existed. Second, I am aware that going from an unusually active solar cycle to one less active would affect the temperature. My point in stating that it was not unusual is not that it would have no effect but to point out that it could have much more effect should we have an abrupt change to an extremely weak cycle and the models should be able to take a rather average solar cycle in stride. They do include natural variability after all and changes in the solar cycle is not a new concept. Now some questions of you. Why do you seem to believe that a weak solar cycle has already affected the climate as much as it is going to? What happened to the concept of lag? What about possible indirect effects that wouldn’t show up immediately? Where would we be on the 95% if the solar cycle was extremely weak instead of just a rather average cycle? If a very weak extended solar cycle series could drive the temperature out of the 95% as it appears it could quite easily, how can you explain what would happen once the AMO goes negative? It isn’t a wild idea that the models are over estimating climate sensitivity. Held has an argument on his blog that states the current mean for climate sensitivity might be closer to the upper limit instead. You should take a look. You may be frustrated with me but the feeling was mutual.

    • There is a huge pool of potential disasters with equal or greater probablility than CAGW. Hyping that one simply happens to fit the agenda of the IPCC’s masters.

      Precautionating against every far-out improbable calamity is an obvious mug’s game. Well, not with my money, Buster!

      • It is sad that climate cannot be discussed on blogs without hyperbole and conspiracy theory. For a start, there are plenty of people who are concerned about AGW without it being CAGW.

        Whether you “precautionate” against some calamity should be based on a rational cost-benefit calculation, which is precisely what I was advocating.

      • A weighted cost-benefit calculation (weighted by probability) means that AGW is the very last thing we should spend a nickel on “preventing” or restraining. The probable return for general wealth and resilience enhancement is orders of magnitude higher.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        O.K. show me your working. The IPCC have already done this and published them. I have an open mind and am swayed by cogent argument and by evidence, but not by assertion.

      • No problem, honey;
        But I want 10% of IPCC’s budget, up front. These things take time and money, y’know!

      • O.K., so you have nothing to back up your assertion. I don’t find that very convincing.

      • “O.K. show me your working. ”

        There is no argument about the fact that currently we are in cold
        period in terms of last 10 million years. Or this period we in is an
        ice age. And interglacial period we are in is not exceptional compared
        to others in the past millions of years. And wild claims about being warmest in last two thousand years, or thousand years, or 500 years, includes this obvious fact.
        Or no says it’s the warmest in last million years, or that
        it’s the warmest it’s ever been on earth.
        Ergo: everyone knows in terms
        long history of earth, this is a cold period. Though everyone means all people with any understanding in the subject and/or aren’t apparently mentally unbalanced [such as Ted Turner].
        Or we got glacier ice all over the place. And having all this ice which mostly less than 2 million year old, is blazing sign that says, “You are in a ice age period”.
        So being too hot is not “the problem”.
        What could be a problem is the ice could melt. And this reasonably possible because it has happened before [within the last 10 million years or this cold period- the ice is mostly less than 2 million years old].

        So it certainly isn’t impossible that all glacier ice could melt at some time during the interglacial period. And if you believe that there a new element- human causing global warming, this seem more likely, or a given.
        But we are in period of global warming- meaning during last ten thousand or so, we generally in a warming trend, though could argue that
        the latter four thousand until the present has been getting cooler. So in last few thousand year, we have not been in a “bull market” in in regards to the last 10 thousand years trend of warming- rather it’s been a “market correction”. But it could reasonable to say that in last century or so *could be* the beginning of a bull market perhaps lasting centuries.
        Or seems we have hit the bottom of centuries long “market correction”.

        So we are in recovery, and perhaps in a bull market. And a large amount of existing ice could melt, and large amount of ice added during the Little Ice Age has melted. And the question is how quickly could this happen and how quickly could sea level rise occur as result of such melting.

        During the period of modern human, or during the time since what is called human civilization, began- or having some village easily exceed 1000 population and be permanent [lastly centuries]. Or when humans
        developed farming. It has a period which has had global rise of sea level
        rising meters per year, but if one only include say human civilization from say ancient Greek period, it has been less than 1 meter per century.
        So if we had 1 meter rise in sea level in a century, that might interesting, but isn’t really a problem for humans or other life. Whereas
        2 meter rise of higher within a century would exceed what later human civilizations have had to deal with- it’s a public policy headline.
        So a 2 meter rise in sea level is not the “end of the world”, but one could rightly say it’s not what we have been accustomed to in the “modern world”.
        Few including the ICCP regard a rise of more than 1 meter in next century as likely- though it can’t ruled out completely. Or best available
        evidence is sea level rise will be less than 1 meter rise.
        It’s charitable to say it’s difficult to predict one century into the future,
        it’s foolish in regards to most public policy include events beyond 50 years into the future.
        But one could wonder about centuries in the future, and one might be correct to guess it is possibly that we could have more than 1 meter rise per century within the next 500 years.
        And we could have space aliens visiting us within 500 years.
        And one probably would not be regarded as too off the wall to guess that humans could living on different planets within 500 years. Or we might develop fusion as energy source for powerplants, and many unexpected thing could occur.
        Having such far distant ideas of what may occur in centuries in the future, probably necessity for policy makers to be aware of- because it allows one to able to think better about the policy issues which are actually relevant and is way of being capable of making decisions. It’s probably not as important as understanding history. but it’s good to know history and be aware of the possible future.

      • What is perhaps worse is that alarmism over climate change is distracting people away from real threats to the environment. Just one example. Every dollar spent trying to prove coral reefs are at risk from climate change means a dollar not spent on dealing with already proven threats to reefs.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        Again, it is a pity that climate can’t be discussed without hyperbole. There is good evidence to suggest that both warming of the oceans and ocean acidification is likely to affect coral reefs. Calling it “alarmism” (without providing any evidence to suggest that the concern is unwarranted) is unnecessarily emotive and itself is a distraction from rational discussion.

      • Actually doc, there ain’t a lot of good evidence. There is plenty of evidence for the damage being caused by untreated sewage or siltration.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        just testing…

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        seems like some of my posts are appearing and some are not.

        timg56 can you give some references to research on that?

      • doctorbunsetc.,
        Your claims of OA are hyperbole, which ironic since you bemoan hyperbole irt climate.
        Corals have no problem with likely pH changes or temperatures. Additionally, pH has not changed in anything close to the alarmist predictions. It is interesting to see how AGW extremists rely on unsupported speculations and hype when they cannot make a case.

      • Ok doc,

        How about this linkhttp://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/coasts/coral_reefs/coral_threats/

        From, of all places WWE. (Note: WWF, like the majority of environmental organizations are not known for their quality of scientific content.)

        Where does climate change come in on their list? Right there at the bottom. Most likely because a) there isn’t much evidence for it and b) WWF would be remiss if it didn’t include a reference to climate change in anything it covers.

      • timg56,
        You point out the real costs of AGW extremism: The opportunity costs of the things undone. The carbon black reduction technologies that could have been developed. The development of clean coal. Mitigation of pollutant impacts in wetlands, forests, coral reefs, etc. All of this has ben squandered by a childish pseudo-scientific social mania fixated on CO2 at the expense of everything else.

      • Who said it was a zero sum game?
        Clean coal and carbon black reduction technologies could have been developed no matter what was spent elsewhere.
        But clean coal is expensive.

    • Peter Lang

      the rational decision depends on the tails of the distribution

      What tails?

      we conclude that no loaded gun of strong tail dominance has been uncovered to date.

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9779.2011.01544.x/full

      • Peter Lang

        Did you miss the 2012 artilce I linked to?

      • “From time to time, something occurs which is outside the range of normal expectations. We will call these “tail events” in the sense that they are way out of the tail of a probability distribution.”

        I’m suprised the opening sentence of the abstract made it through peer review ( the event is way out of the tail so calling it a “tail event” is a little counter-intuitive ;o). As a statistician I would probably call these events “outliers”, a “tail event” being something that lies comfortably within the tails of the distribution, but away from the mode.

        I understand the point about essentially infinite losses from outliers beyond the body of the upper tail, e.g. a large comet striking the earth, or in AGW terms a tipping point being reached that results in runaway greenhouse effect (not that the IPCC suggests this is in any way likely).

        HOWEVER, what I am talking about is not these outliers, but outcomes that are well within the tail, for instance climate sensitivity being say 4 degrees per doubling rather than 2 and a bit. In this case the losses are not unlimited, but they are likely to be much larger than the “saving” if climate sensitivity is say 1 degree per doubling (a point in the lower tail). In that case mitigating against the possibility of climate sensitivity being 4 degrees per doubling makes good sense as a cost-benefit exercise.

        Essentially I am comfortable with the idea of ignoring the outliers with unlimited losses, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the upper tail outcomes that have a higher level of plausibility and finite losses.

      • Peter

        Here you are totally in contradiction with the paper of Nordhaus that you quote really misleadingly.

        Lets pick also another passage from his conclusions to balance:

        Even though the loaded gun of strong tail dominance has not been discovered to date, the results of the Dismal Theorem are sufficiently powerful to serve as a reminder that we must constantly be alert to this possibility.

      • Peter Lang

        Pekka Pirila,

        I disagree with you that I am “totally in contradiction with the paper by Nordhaus”.

        I quoted the last sentence from his Abstract which makes the main point from his conclusions. All the preceding sentences are butt covering lead ups and caveats. But his last sentence makes the point. Here is the entire abstract:

        From time to time, something occurs which is outside the range of normal expectations. We will call these “tail events” in the sense that they are way out of the tail of a probability distribution. I consider the question of the implications of tail events for economic policy and climate-change economics. This issue has been analyzed by Martin Weitzman who proposed a Dismal Theorem. The general idea is that, under limited conditions concerning the structure of uncertainty and risk aversion, society has an indefinitely large expected loss from high-consequence, low-probability events. Under such conditions, standard economic tools such as cost-benefit analysis cannot be applied. The present study is intended to put the Dismal Theorem in context and examine the range of its relevance, with an application to catastrophic climate change. I conclude that tail events are sometimes of extreme importance, and we must be extremely careful to include them in situations of deep uncertainty. However, we conclude that no loaded gun of strong tail dominance has been uncovered to date.

        The last sentence summarises the conclusion form the paper.

        To further demonstrate that I have not missed the point, the Conclusions section is titled:

        4. Not so Dismal Conclusions

      • Not so dismal conclusions.

        Nordhaus accepts the importance of long tails. He tells clearly that considering them is important. What he does not accept is the idea that the effect of the tails would be overwhelming and make all other argumentation moot.

        Risk aversion and the precautionary principle affect strongly the conclusions, but they don’t make more detailed quantitative analysis worthless. This view is expressed very clearly by Nordhaus. Your quote tells only a small part of his views and the view obtained from that quote alone is highly distorted.

        When we look at ideas like the Dismal Theorem, it’s clear that not uncovering a case so far is not a proof of non-existence for this kind of issue. Therefore Nordhaus concludes that the issue must be continuously kept in mind.

      • Pekka, your English is inadequate to get the sense of “not so dismal”. It’s a form of humorous understatement or double negative, and literally would mean something like “reasonably positive and upbeat”.

        As for “keeping in mind”, that doesn’t imply or require a budget, much less policy distorting the normal functioning of the economy. It means, “keep a watch for any significant indication that it’s actually occurring, and only then take appropriate steps”.

      • Brian H,

        I’m fully confident that my knowledge of English is sufficient for understanding what Nordhaus is saying in this paper.

      • “not so dismal”. It’s a form of humorous understatement or double negative, and literally would mean something like “reasonably positive and upbeat”.

        There is no double negative in “not so dismal”, however it is an example of litotes (which often involves a double negative, but not always). However it doesn’t mean “reasonably positive and upbeat”, it means “bad, but not actually dismal” (Think of “always look on the bright side” from “Life of Brian”).

      • Peter Lang

        Pekka,

        I disagree with your interpretation of the Nordhaus (2012) paper http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9779.2011.01544.x/full .

        The paper analyses Weitzman’s ‘Dismal Theorem’ and criticises the highly exaggerated assumptions. It shows how Weitzman made assumptions which are gross exaggerations of IPCC or AGW consensus figures. For example: “5% chance of a 10 °C change, or a 1% chance of a 20 °C change”.

        He points out that ‘thick tails’ do exist in nature, for example, with earthquake effects and therefore must be considered (which he does). He points out it is possible in the case of climate change, but so far there is no persuasive evidence to support the CAGW scaremongering, which is now dependent on their being a ‘fat tail’.

        We conclude that a loaded gun of strong tail dominance has not been discovered to date. At the same time, the results of the Dismal Theorem are sufficiently powerful to serve as a reminder that we must constantly be alert to this possibility. Perhaps climate change is not the Dismal event, but there is a sufficiently large number of other high-consequence, low-probability events that we need to pay careful attention to tail events.

        The highlighted sentence looks pretty clear to me what his message is. He is saying we cannot dismiss the possibility of a thick tail, but there is no persuasive evidence that would justify us implementing policies that will do great economic damage.

        I do agree with your last paragraph:

        When we look at ideas like the Dismal Theorem, it’s clear that not uncovering a case so far is not a proof of non-existence for this kind of issue. Therefore Nordhaus concludes that the issue must be continuously kept in mind.

        Yes. “kept in mind”. Few would dispute that. That does not mean there is evidence that would justify belief in “Catastrophic man made Climate Change”, nor in taking high cost mitigation strategies.

        I believe you have seriously misunderstood what this paper is saying.

      • Peter,

        It’s possible that we don’t understand each other at all, but I don’t take seriously the proposal that I wouldn’t understand Nordhaus. What he discusses is very familiar to me and I can follow very easily the argumentation of Nordhaus.

      • Peter Lang

        Pekka Pirila,

        I accept and agree with that comment – it is probably a misunderstanding between us. I don’t think it can be sorted out here.

      • Peter,

        I add only that I reacted to your comments largely due to the connection where you presented them. This thread started from a comment of Gavincawley, which is most certainly not contrary to Nordhaus’ paper, but in full agreement with what Nordhaus is writing.

        The more extreme proposal of Weizmann is criticized for good reasons. That criticism applies fully also to the writings of Lewandowsky, which are really dependent on the extreme views.

      • Gavincawley,

        I am not clear what you are trying to say in your explanation of what “not so dismal” means.

        To me it is clear. It means that the Dismal arguments presented by alarmists are exaggerated.

        It’s not as bad as they would have us believe.

        It’s not as bad as we thought

        The “thick tail” is thinner and shorter, and may even be chopped off (e.g. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/11/22/science.1203513 )

      • I return to this paper

        http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9779.2011.01544.x/full

        Both this paper and the paper of Weitzman that is criticized in the paper present theoretical work of environmental economics as their scientific content. Both papers do discuss climate sensitivity as an example for making their point understood and supposedly to indicate the relevance of the analysis for practical considerations. In this part Weitzman seems to make unbelievable assumptions and even outright errors. The weaknesses of his theoretical part are discussed by Nordhaus

        As far as I can see Weitzman has totally misunderstood the nature of the empirical data that he uses to derive his estimates for the probabilities of very high climate sensitivities. Nordhaus is critical of Weitzman on this point but even he seems to have missed the nature of that data. He refers to IPCC AR4 WG1 Table 9.3 as if each of the studies listed in that table would present an overall estimate of the PDF of the climate sensitivity, but none of them does that. The papers provide more or less independent constraints for the climate sensitivity. As far as they are independent they should be combined using Bayesian approach to combine evidence. That results in a narrower range than given by any of the studies separately. It’s totally false to use the results as estimates from which an average can be taken to summarize the result.

        This particular set of data has been discussed in some length in this thread

        http://judithcurry.com/2011/07/05/the-ipccs-alteration-of-forster-gregorys-model-independent-climate-sensitivity-results/

        (I don’t agree fully on the opening post of that thread, but the discussion as whole is pretty comprehensive.)

        While I’m so critical on the issue discussed above, I don’t dismiss the relevance of the issues brought up by Weitzman and further critically developed by Nordhaus. The basic points are valid even if the case study is weak.

      • Pekka,

        Thank you for your further comment about the ‘thick tail’ relevance.

        It is hard to deal with a discussion like this on blog posts and I don’t understand very well what you are saying. Could you point me to an article that explains what you are saying (or perhaps post your explanation on your web site (written for a non specialist).

        The following summarises my view.

        1. First step is to bound the problem. Could climate change be catastrophic? The Earth’s climate history over the past 500 million years shows that Earth’s temperature range is bounded. For 75% of that time there has been no polar ice caps. ‘Normal operating temperature’ is much warmer than now. Life thrives when warmer and struggles when colder. To me these facts rule out the sort of catastrophic consequences suggested by alarmists like James Hansen. So, I believe ‘Catastrophic’ is ruled out. Therefore, we are dealing with costs and benefits of climate change, perhaps rapid climate change, but not catastrophe.

        2. Sea level rise is often presented as the most tangible and perhaps greatest cost. However, even that is not a huge cost. So it is just a cost to be dealt with. [I realise there are other potential hazards too].

        3. Nordhaus (2008) lists the parameters he used to determine benefit/cost of climate change (central values and uncertainty), optimal carbon price and other outputs. His analysis included some limited analysis of non symmetrical distributions (with tails) (e.g. p136-137). His input parameters are summarised in Table 7-1, p127 (and the non symmetrical are discussed in the text). For 2 x CO2 (TSC) he used mean = 3.0 and SD = 1.11. Table 7-2, p130, shows that, for carbon pricing, TSC has the second highest uncertainty, and the damage coefficient has by far the highest uncertainty. He also discusses the relevance of the tail. Starting on p143 he addresses “Abrupt and Catastrophic Climate Change”. On p146 he says:

        Preliminary runs of the DICE model suggest that it does not display the extreme results shown by Weitzman’s theory or Tol’s empirical analysis. The analysis of extreme values shown in Tables 7-2 and 7-3 does not reveal any sharp nonlinearities in the uncertain variables. That is, the values of the major variables (such as the social cost of carbon) are close to linear in the value of the uncertain variables.

        That is, in 2008, Nordhaus was thinking much as he states in the conclusions of his 2012 paper; i.e. ‘thick tails’ have to be considered, but there is no persuasive evidence that we should be implementing policies that would be highly economically damaging on the basis of possible ‘thick tail’ scenarios.

        Nordhaus (2012) describes his further analysis of the ‘thick tails’ and concludes”

        we conclude that no loaded gun of strong tail dominance has been uncovered to date.

        We conclude that a loaded gun of strong tail dominance has not been discovered to date. At the same time, the results of the Dismal Theorem are sufficiently powerful to serve as a reminder that we must constantly be alert to this possibility. Perhaps climate change is not the Dismal event, but there is a sufficiently large number of other high-consequence, low-probability events that we need to pay careful attention to tail events.

        Yes. Pay attention, but do not damage the economies of the world while we are paying attention, researching and funding RD&D of cost competitive alternatives to fossil fuels.

        Not So Dismal Conclusions
        The distribution of economic catastrophes over the last six decades indicates that there are indeed severe and frequent output declines, but the tail of the declines is not sufficiently fat to trigger strong tail dominance.

        Even though the loaded gun of strong tail dominance has not been discovered to date, the results of the Dismal Theorem are sufficiently powerful to serve as a reminder that we must constantly be alert to this possibility. Perhaps climate change is not a Dismal event for the globe, or even for countries. But there are a sufficiently large number of other possibilities from exotic events such asteroids and robotic enslavement to more mundane events such as tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, and financial collapses to motivate careful attention to tail events.

        4. One of the results of the RICE and DICE models is they show that delaying mitigation by 50 years would have negligible effect on the climate but would mean we’d be a lot more wealth and better able to take the correct action. We’d be better informed and have better technologies available. This is what Bjorn Lomborg has been saying for a long time. I find his argument persuasive.

        For Australia it seems the policy that has been legislated by our current government would have a net cost of about $390 billion (discounted at 4.35%, the default average rate in the RICE 2012 model) cumulative to 2050. That is about $20,000 per person or about $40,000 per working person. However, the benefits would be about zero in the absence of an international, economically efficient, optimal carbon price implemented and maintained by all countries in unison. Since that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future, it is highly damaging for Australia to proceed with the currently legislation. http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=1325#80580

        So the benefit/cost for the Australian CO2 tax and ETS is about 0.1; i.e. the costs are about ten times the benefits.

      • Peter

        Weitzman and Nordhaus look at theoretical models of mainly academic interest, because their differing views are related to a question about the nature of the likelihood of literally infinite damage. I don’t consider that kind of catastrophic consequences of AGW relevant. A total extinction of human race might be considered an infinite damage, but anything less is finite – and limiting to anything less makes the Dismal Theorem formally wrong.

        The real question is more modest: What is the likelihood of some very large but finite damage. Here we talk about something like the Black Swan of Nassim Nicolas Taleb. From Taleb, Mandelbrot and many other experts of statistics we have learned that people usually underestimate very much the likelihood of something extreme. The real probability distributions have very often thick tails. These tails don’t usually extend all the way to infinity, but they are the reason, why some very serious things have happened.

        The other problem with these tails is that bad outcomes should be given more weight than simple calculation of expectation values gives them. The well justified risk aversion should be taken into account. This is an issue that Nordhaus discusses in some length when he looks at the possible values of the relative risk aversion (alfa). Unfortunately the parameterization of risk averse utility functions is again something based more on the need to have some simple formula to put into mathematical analysis than something really understood. (The state of the theory could well be described as “dismal”).

        Still, we cannot really bound the problem at a level that would be fully satisfactory. It cannot be excluded that very serious damage may result from increasing CO2 emissions. The damage might be so bad that many people would call it “Catastrophic”. Estimating the likelihood of such an outcome is beyond the present capabilities of everybody. I don’t agree that you can just rule it out.

        Nordhaus’ models are just models. They are relevant assuming that his input is correct. He may be right that the argument of Weitzman on the impossibility of doing cost-benefit analysis (based on the Dismal Theorem) is not valid, but there are many other reasons to say that his calculations are just one set of calculations and other equally well justified calculations may give very different results in both directions.

        I do agree that the policy should not be based on very long term and extreme catastrophe scenarios – not based on the impossibility of very severe outcomes, but because all policy proposals made on that basis are totally unrealistic in their assumptions on our ability to choose right and efficient policies for preventing the catastrophes.

        For good policy decisions the quantitative comparison of costs and benefits must be based on effects that occur over a period short enough to allow for reasonably accurate quantitative estimates. It’s right to think about longer term future, but that must be brought to be part of the analysis in a way that does not make results fully dependent on very badly understood input.

        The concept of sustainability might offer a way forward, but that requires some method to measure quantitatively the relative levels of sustainability of alternative future states. Whether that can really be done is an important question that I cannot answer.

      • Thank you for pointing me to http://judithcurry.com/2011/07/05/the-ipccs-alteration-of-forster-gregorys-model-independent-climate-sensitivity-results/ ,

        I’ve read the post and some comments. The post is interesting, but clearly the climate sensitivity estimate of 1.6C (1.2C to 2.3C) has not been accepted as the mainstream “consensus”. Why not?

        My reaction to this paper is it suggests another IPCC fudge to make empirical data fit the models. How does the non expert know what to believe? I have little faith in IPCC.

      • Pekka Pirila,

        Thank you for your comment. Very interesting. I take on board some of what you say, but have concerns with some of what you say.

        Weitzman and Nordhaus look at theoretical models of mainly academic interest,

        You say that Nordhaus’s modelling is of mainly academic interest. Well, so is the work by other researchers you have pointed too. And so is the work by Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut. But their works are all having a strong influence on policy. So they are not just academic. Furthermore, in my view, Nordhaus’s modelling is more rational, realistic and pragmatic than either Stern’s or Garnaut’s. So I find it useful, and informative. It is relevant for policy (although I suspect the damage parameters are over estimated, and possibly climate sensitivity too)

        The real question is more modest: What is the likelihood of some very large but finite damage.

        I agree; and that is what Nordhaus, and others have modelled. They considered the ‘tail events’ in their outputs. They show that, on a rational basis, they do not make much difference to the estimated social price of carbon or to the policies they suggest we should implement – if we want to act on a rational basis.

        He is not suggesting we stop investigating. He is just saying there is no persuasive evidence that we should pay too much for mitigation at this time, given the best information currently available.

        From Taleb, Mandelbrot and many other experts of statistics we have learned that people usually underestimate very much the likelihood of something extreme. The real probability distributions have very often thick tails.

        Yes. I recognise and accept that (up to a point – nuclear probability safety assessment (PSA) comes to mind and the fact that there have been only three accidents, with just about 60 confirmed fatalities and a projected additional 4000 fatalities in a population of 200 million people over 70 years; so the PSAs cannot be said to have under-estimated the risk of nuclear fatalities, or catastrophes, so far, IMO).

        The other problem with these tails is that bad outcomes should be given more weight than simple calculation of expectation values gives them. The well justified risk aversion should be taken into account.

        Yes. I agree with that too. However, it does depend on what you mean by “more weight”. Does than mean more attention and more analysis? If so I agree. Does it mean more costly mitigation? If so I am not persuaded, unless the equivalent analysis has been done for all risks we face and we are distributing our money in proper proportion to mitigating all risks we face.

        It cannot be excluded that very serious damage may result from increasing CO2 emissions. The damage might be so bad that many people would call it “Catastrophic”.

        I agree it cannot be excluded. So ongoing research is required. But it does not justify us wasting our wealth on high cost mitigation strategies, especially since we are not considering the CO2 risk in equal balance with all the other risks we face.

        Estimating the likelihood of such an outcome is beyond the present capabilities of everybody. I don’t agree that you can just rule it out.

        I agree it is beyond the capabilities of everybody. I don’t say we can rule it out. What I do say, and the reason I am cautious about what you seem to be arguing, is that the risk of damage from man’s GHG emissions needs to be considered in proper balance with all the other potentially catastrophic risks we face. Clearly that has not been done to date and still is not being done. So I am against wasting our wealth (which means reducing human wellbeing and causing fatalities that would otherwise be avoided) on the one risk that has been flogged by the socialists-progressives as a means to an end – to scare the people into agreeing to hand over control of our governments to the policies they would like to implement. That is what I see as the main agenda underpinning the totally out of proportion interest in this one risk of many.

        Nordhaus’ models are just models. They are relevant assuming that his input is correct.

        True. But that applies to nearly all the climate research being done. It applies to the GCMs and the determination of climate sensitivity. From my perspective, Nordhaus’s is the most practical and useful modelling (of its type) because it can be used to inform policy. It also highlights which inputs are the most significant for setting policy, which are the most uncertain and most sensitive. From that we can be guided as to where most of the effort should be directed. For example, we see that the damage function is the most important place to reduce the uncertainty. And it is the damage function that I suspect is likely to be excessive.

        but there are many other reasons to say that his calculations are just one set of calculations and other equally well justified calculations may give very different results in both directions.

        Of course that is true. But I don’t see how it is a helpful statement. It applies to all the work being done, especially to the projected climate responses.

        For good policy decisions the quantitative comparison of costs and benefits must be based on effects that occur over a period short enough to allow for reasonably accurate quantitative estimates. It’s right to think about longer term future, but that must be brought to be part of the analysis in a way that does not make results fully dependent on very badly understood input.

        I agree 100% with you on this. I like your article “How to decide on climate policieshttp://pirila.fi/energy/2011/04/23/how-to-decide-on-climate-policies/
        I’d like to understand more about this:

        There is plentiful of evidence on the value of Dynamic Programming as a tool for analyzing more limited problems that are influenced by successive decision making.

        You conclude that article with

        The approach that I support here will at the minimum offer a framework for discussing the multitude of issues involved and through that also some basis for deciding, which issues should be taken explicitly into account at the minimum and which might be left out without distorting the conclusions severely.

        I’d agree if, by “multiple issues”, you include looking at all the potentially high consequence risks that face mankind and you advocate investigating all on an a properly comparable basis (with research effort proportional to the risk). I feel this has not been done to date. I feel we have put to much emphasis on one risk, GHG emissions. I feel this has been driven by ideology and politics. Therefore, I am against wasting our wealth on whatever mitigation policies are proposed until all risk have been considered on a properly comparable basis.

      • Peter

        but have concerns with some of what you say.

        Weitzman and Nordhaus look at theoretical models of mainly academic interest,

        You say that Nordhaus’s modelling is of mainly academic interest.

        In the above had in mind those specific papers. Their principal scientific content is based on mathematical analysis that is mainly of academic interest as far as it is discussed this paper of Nordhaus.

        Both papers contain examples, but they are too unrealistic. There are somewhat similar effects in more realistic data and more realistic models. These effects are, however, not strong enough for allowing for a real theorem that can be proven. Nordhaus looks at the limit of validity of the formally taken Dismal Theorem, but even his cases are unrealistic – or at least it’s impossible to tell, whether they are valid for real world.

        For practical decision making we don’t need theorems which are valid allowing for infinities. For practical decision making we should understand how strong the similar effects can be in practice. Even if the Dismal Theorem were true, it might be as insignificant as is the knowledge that the life on Earth cannot survive for ever, but will certainly be over in some billions of years, if not before. More important is to realize that effects similar to those given by the theorem may be true and of practical importance even when the theorem is formally false.

        Looking at the formal theorem and it’s limits of validity is one issue, trying to estimate, how important the issues are in practice is another. Neither paper does really try to do that.

      • Peter,

        However, it does depend on what you mean by “more weight”. Does than mean more attention and more analysis? If so I agree. Does it mean more costly mitigation?

        By that I mean the same thing that’s always discussed when risks are analyzed. An equal absolute change is more important when the overall situation is worse. In general it’s accepted that loosing $1000 is at least a little more significant than gaining $1000, because the final wealth is lower in the first case. The difference grows with sum and is clear to most individuals when we get to one million.

        The effect has some influence also on the acceptable cost of mitigation.

        It explains also, how buying an insurance may be rational while selling the insurance is also rational for the insurance company.

      • Peter,

        I’d agree if, by “multiple issues”, you include looking at all the potentially high consequence risks that face mankind and you advocate investigating all on an a properly comparable basis (with research effort proportional to the risk). I feel this has not been done to date.

        My thinking goes along similar lines – therefore we may, indeed, largely agree. A balance must, however, be made between proceeding on what seems to be best justified based of lacking knowledge and also lacking coverage of all potentially relevant issues on the one hand and the requirement of better knowledge before anything substantial is done on the other.

      • Peter Lang

        Pekka Pirila @6:50 am

        Thank you for your three responses. In your comment at 6:50 am you said.

        My thinking goes along similar lines – therefore we may, indeed, largely agree. A balance must, however, be made between proceeding on what seems to be best justified based of lacking knowledge and also lacking coverage of all potentially relevant issues on the one hand and the requirement of better knowledge before anything substantial is done on the other.

        Yes. But I’d make two points. First, we’ve poured at least $100 billion into climate related policies. How much have we spent on the other potential catastrophic risks? What is being done to ensure proper balance (especially given that WEF “Globak Risks 2012 does not rank climate change as the highest risk and Copenhagen Consensus has repeatedly ranked it well down in the priorities for funding)? Should we spend vast sums on mitigation of the one risk that has come to prominence due largely to ideology and politics, or should we apportion our spending according to some rational and balanced assessment of the various risks?

        Second, doesn’t your point apply equally to the Nordhaus paper on tail events and his conclusion “Not So Dismal”. Your response at 6:01 am seemed to be dismissing the Nordhaus “tail events” paper as mainly academic and not much use for policy. However, my view is it states clearly that, using the best information we have available (on climate sensitivity, damage function and all the others), there is no persuasive evidence (yet) of severe tail events, at least not enough to justify high cost mitigation policies (at this time). From my perspective that is a valuable piece of information to inform policy. It is possibly more valuable than most of the other climate science results.

        Pekka Pirila @6:01 am

        Your comment plays down the value of the Nordhaus ‘tail events’ paper

        There are somewhat similar effects in more realistic data and more realistic models. These effects are, however, not strong enough for allowing for a real theorem that can be proven.

        For practical decision making we should understand how strong the similar effects can be in practice.

        You say that Nordhaus’s paper is academic and we need something more practical. Is there something more practical? If not, it seems that Nordhaus has provided as good as we’ve got. Its conclusion is clear and valuable. It should inform our governments to step back from wasting stacks of wealth.

      • Peter,

        I start with the second point. Nordhaus is a scientist and the paper is published in a scientific journal. Under those conditions the paper should be taken literally, i.e. one should not try to read between lines something that’s not written explicitly. Neither should the model calculations be taken as anything more than they are built to be. On that basis you cannot use the paper to support your conclusions. To get such support additional research would be needed – and the results might give such support or fail to give that.

        On the first point. I agree that the balance is not right. The politicians, the media and the public tend to pick one issue at the time and overemphasize that compared to other issues that would deserve similar attention. The climate change has been the top issue for quite a while. If the most pessimistic alternatives that are consistent with the present knowledge turn out to be true, the climate change may remain The Issue for quite a while. It’s, however, more likely that something else will take over the position of The Envirnmental/Development Issue.

        Including the issues of economy, climate change is even now far from the most important issue in people’s mind at least here in Europe.

      • “Yes. But I’d make two points. First, we’ve poured at least $100 billion into climate related policies. ”

        At least 100 billion dollars. But can anyone put upper limit on the dollars spend.

        If this was regarded a good way to spend tax dollars, the total amount spent would be bragged about.

        It’s a special kind of transparency.
        The idea of having more transparency doesn’t include what is actually being done.

        “A May 20 report noted that while annual federal funding for such activities has been increasing substantially, there is a lack of shared understanding of strategic priorities among the various responsible agency officials. This assessment agrees with the conclusions of a 2008 Congressional Research Service analysis which found no “overarching policy goal for climate change that guides the programs funded or the priorities among programs.” ”
        ….
        “According to the GAO, annual federal climate spending has increased from $4.6 billion in 2003 to $8.8 billion in 2010, amounting to $106.7 billion over that period. The money was spent in four general categories: technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, science to understand climate changes, international assistance for developing countries, and wildlife adaptation to respond to actual or expected changes. Technology spending, the largest category, grew from $2.56 billion to $5.5 billion over this period, increasingly advancing over others in total share. Data compiled by Joanne Nova at the Science and Policy Institute indicates that the U.S. Government spent more than $32.5 billion on climate studies between 1989 and 2009. This doesn’t count about $79 billion more spent for climate change technology research, foreign aid and tax breaks for “green energy.” ”

        And all the above is minor part of total costs. Because the “whole purpose” is to change what the private sector does, not what the government does.:
        “The Small Business Administration estimates that compliance with such regulations costs the U.S. economy more than $1.75 trillion per year — about 12%-14% of GDP”
        http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2011/08/23/the-alarming-cost-of-climate-change-hysteria/

        So at least 100 billion, is a very low ball number, more like 100 billion per year, at least. Or a non-low ball ball number for the US only, could be high as 10 trillions dollar spent so far.
        And the US did sign Kyoto treaty. What would happened if Senator instead being 97 out of 100 being opposed to treaty, had been 60 in favor of the treaty?
        Times the wreckage by 10? And instead reducing CO2, the US could followed the same course as countries who had signed the treaty- not reduce their CO2 emission, but do waste a lot their relatively meager funds. And not only that, the US would exerted it’s political power to encourage all nations to throw more money at it.
        So, once again, the US has saved the world.

      • Peter Lang

        Pekka Pirila,

        Nordhaus is a scientist and the paper is published in a scientific journal. Under those conditions the paper should be taken literally, i.e. one should not try to read between lines something that’s not written explicitly. Neither should the model calculations be taken as anything more than they are built to be. On that basis you cannot use the paper to support your conclusions.

        If that were true then we’d take no notice of any of the climate science papers either.

        By the way, I am not reading his conclusion between the lines. I am using what he has written explicitly.

        There may be better work or more appropriate work but, if so, where is it?

        To get such support additional research would be needed – and the results might give such support or fail to give that.

        We’ve already spent $100 billion and counting, and still don’t have the relevant information. Sorry; that sounds like a researcher speaking. It also is in direct conflict with what you said in your comment at 6:50 am. We need to make decisions on the best information we have, and the best information we have says don’t waste your wealth on unidentified, low probability, hypothetical catastrophes.

        I think we agree that we’ve not applied proper risk management processes to identify, analyse, evaluate and treat the significant risks facing us, of which climate change is just one, and probably not the worst.

      • Peter Lang

        Pekka Pirila,

        Where are we at? Summarising my thoughts, and thinking big picture this is my view:

        • Using central values of climate sensitivity and damage function, GHG emissions are not catastrophic. Present estimates are that there is a small net cost.

        • Using the best estimates of the ‘tail events’, Nordhaus in both 2008 and 2012 concludes there is no persuasive evidence of catastrophic consequences; he concludes:

        we conclude that loaded gun of strong tail dominance has not been discovered to date.

        • Nordhaus (2008) shows that by far the least cost way to reduce emissions is with a cost competitive alternative to fossil fuels.

        • Bjorn Lomborg has between saying for years that mitigation policies are a massive waste of money and will achieve next to nothing as Kyoto demonstrated). Lomborg recommends we focus on research to provide a cost competitive alternative to fossil fuels.

        • We have the most important part of that technology (nuclear Gen III). What is needed is to remove the impediments that are preventing it from being cost competitive with fossil fuels everywhere. Much of the impediments is imposed by governments, so they can be removed by governments too. And part is development and roll out of small modular Gen IV reactors. All this will take decades, but that is where the focus should be, not on another massive international agreement to price carbon.

        • See expansion of this last point here: http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2012/06/05/conservatives-who-think-seriously-about-the-planet/comment-page-4/#comment-111744

  24. I can falsify the very premise of the quoted article, i.e.: “It is very clear that uncertainty is no one’s friend”.

    There is at least one: Uncertainty is my friend. I have exposed my reasoning in several occasions e.g. in my paper “A random walk on water”, http://itia.ntua.gr/923/ (including my replies to review comments linked from the same web address). Only dead things are certain–and I opt for life.

  25. The immortal adage, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” springs to mind …

  26. In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. ~Benjamin Franklin

  27. So, if you really don’t know what is happening, then it will be worse than you think. Since you are not thinking, then how bad will it really be.
    The Climate of the past ten thousand years has stayed bounded in the same range of inside plus and minus 2 degrees C of the average.
    If you really don’t know what is happening, that is the best prediction for the next ten thousand years. If temperature gets out of the bounds of the past ten thousand years, then we should try to understand why. If it continues to stay inside the bounds of the past ten thousand years we should try to understand why. To say that something is going to happen different because humans have added a little to a trace gas is really not something that is reasonable to believe. The real science says CO2 can only cause a small change. Both sides say this. The “problem” comes from the carbon “feedbacks” and no one on either side really understands them.
    The data shows that they are not there. 1998 was the warmest year, or real close, and the alarmist forcasts have been wrong, wrong, wrong, wronger, ever since.

    • bob droege

      You don’t know what that word “trace” means.

      And 1998 was not the warmest year by all metrics, you should know better.

      You are referring to Hadcrut3, which is not the best metric because it doesn’t really have global coverage. Not that any of the surface metrics have global coverage but there are better ones out there and at least three of them have more recent years warmer than 1998.

    • @HermanAlexanderPope, what you say about historical data and prediction is eminently sensible and I agree.

      What everyone says about CO2 still sounds like nonsense emanating from misapplication of tyndall and radiative transfer theory to say CO2 can radiatively push heat “uphill”. Nobody has done any real physics experiments to prove this probably because real physicists think it is a ludicrous thought.

      How long does it take to reach radiative thermal equilibrium? Not long enough to cause any detectable warming in a CO2 molecule exposed to IR. It makes more sense to say the earth is warmed by the thermosphere. At least people claim it is up to 2500degC, so it should have no trouble pumping heat down to earth since heat does in reality flow downhill (without the addition of work).

    • The last time CO2 levels were as high as they are now, sea level was 200 feet higher. That is a fact. Not something from a model. It is the from the geologic record. The uncertainty today is we don’t know how fast the sea level is going to rise. We do know, however, that there were instances in the 360 feet of sea level rise following the end of the last glaciation when the rise was as much of 10 feet in as little as 100 years.

  28. Sorry, this discussion is above my head. I only understand one sort of uncertainty. When you measure something, you assign a +/- value to the number. This is the uncertainty. This uncertainty is what it is. Period.

    • You are assuming you can estimate a range. It ain’t necessarily so, which is what Stephan was saying

      • The post at http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/lewandowskyUncertainty_I.html certainly doesn’t seem to say that you can’t estimate a range; he uses ranges of different shapes kinds to make his point that wider ranges of estimates (i.e. ‘uncertainty’) ‘necessarily’ increases the likelihood of catastrophe.

      • Eli, you write “You are assuming you can estimate a range.”

        I most certainly am. I know of no instance whatsoever, when a number has been measured, that it is impossible to put a +/- on that number. I would be grateful fo any reference which proves otherwise. Note, I carefully use the word “measured”. Where numbers are not measured, I dont know what a +/- value would mean.

      • Well, the preferred equation I recall for determining the error bars on your measurement uses (n-1) for the denominator, where n is the number of measurements. So if you only have one data point, your +/- is undefined.

        I suppose you could always use another equation that uses a different denominator. But I’m pretty sure that equation is wrong–using that one, your uncertainty for one data point ends up zero, which is obviously wrong.

      • qbeamus. I suppose in theory you are pedantically correct. My postings are rather cryptic. I usually include the word “replicated”. I am not sure what a single measurement really means. If one can measure something once, why cannot it be measured again? So, in theory you may be correct, but in practical terms, what you say makes no sense to me.

      • Steven Mosher

        we can always estimate a range: -inf to +inf
        the question is .. is the range estimate useful.
        Funnily, at the highest estimates for sensitivity the proper course of action is “do nothing” the future is screwed, live for today.

      • “we can always estimate a range: -inf to +inf
        the question is .. is the range estimate useful.
        Funnily, at the highest estimates for sensitivity the proper course of action is “do nothing” the future is screwed, live for today.”

        If the highest estimate sensitivity were correct, it means we are living in a dream world. God is playing tricks. Or everything is the X-files.

        But if there was actual and immediate problem, things would be different.
        The “heads up” of this would be the removal all these people who have been essentially wasting decades of public money and resources with no discernible results.
        All who have been claiming to be currently “engaged in the most important issue of our time” would be shown the door.

        Because it’s been more than adequately demonstrated that these people could only be an unnecessary distraction in the process of solving any real problem.

        As general rule a good metric of how important anything is:
        If something is important and mistakes are made, then people are fired.

        And of course leading an important effort, would be regarded by all politicians as an important job.

      • gbaikie:

        “If something is important and mistakes are made, then people are fired.”

        Do you know this from your own personal job history?

      • “gbaikie:

        “If something is important and mistakes are made, then people are fired.”

        Do you know this from your own personal job history?”

        At actually is something pointed out by Rand Simberg, and I borrowed and applied to this particular issue.
        Rand Simberg said it in regards to space policy.

        For me, one of most significant thing ever said about space policy:

        “Simberg’s Three Rules
        Of Space Policy
        Rule 1: Space Is Not Important
        Rule 2: Space Is Not Important
        Rule 3: Space Is Not Important”
        http://spaceandtelecomlaw.unl.edu/conferences/lincoln%202011/Simberg_NebraskaLawConf_Apr_2011_simberg.pdf

        Most people wouldn’t see this as an important point.
        But for those interested in space policy, it is critical to understanding “the problem”.

        The reason it’s important to understand, is, if you involved with
        space policy, you will have a bias. And that bias is that the topic of space is very important.
        In other words, for example one can’t understand why the US President does not address this issue, and are very excited if a president manages to mention the topic.

        In real world Space is not just important, is a necessity.
        Wars depends on space assets. Communication depends on space assets. Climate science is dependent of space assets. Etc. Etc.
        BUT all this does not refute the point that space is not important.

        It helps answer the question, why aren’t there moon colonies already?
        Why didn’t this occur decades ago. What is wrong with people!!!

        So, even though US government spends almost 20 billion per year of the NASA space program. And about 40 to 50 billion on Space related program of national security. It isn’t important.
        So you have all this positive reinforcement, making one think that the correct answer is space is important, but the political reality, and in regard space policy, the only reality, is that it is not important.

        So constant strong public support, huge awareness of NASA, and such things as moon program, etc, etc, yet nothing happens. Why? Why? Why?

        Space is not important.

        Of course what Virgin is doing, and what SpaceX is doing, could change this.

      • What blather. I would have fired you for suggesting to colonize Mercury. Take that back, I wouldn’t have hired you in the first place.

        Here’s a skeptic with a minimal demonstration of knowledge concerning earth sciences spewing about space sciences strategies. Give me a break.

    • A Bayesian analysis cannot make bad data relevant. God-in-garbage-out–GIGO–i.e., you can’t turn a pig’s ear into Flammkuchen. And, the most recent and most accurate data we have ever had–based on information gathered using satellites–shows that the oceans have been cooling for more than a decade.

      How Likely Is It the Soup Needs More Salt?

    • My reply above was directed to you, Jim.

  29. ‘Our knowledge about past climate change is limited as well. There are only a handful of high-resolution ice core climate records of the past 100,000 years, and even fewer ocean records of comparable resolution. Better definition of past climate states is needed not only in and of itself, but for use by modelers to test their best climate models in reproducing what we know happened in the past before believing model projections about the future. We are not there yet, and progress needs to be made on both better data and improved models before we can begin to answer some critical questions about future climate change.

    Researchers always tell you that more research funding is needed, and we are not any different. Our main message is not just that, however. It is that global climate is moving in a direction that makes abrupt climate change more probable, that these dynamics lie beyond the capability of many of the models used in IPCC reports, and the consequences of ignoring this may be large. For those of us living around the edge of the N. Atlantic Ocean, we may be planning for climate scenarios of global warming that are opposite to what might actually occur.’ http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=83339&tid=3622&cid=10046

    Dynamical systems such as Earth’s climate are characterised by control variables and abrupt and nonlinear change. Small changes in control variables can initiate far reaching changes. There is a reasonable presumption that climate will shift again several times in this century with unpredictable results. Anthropogenic influences are on top of natural variability that can and does result in a significant temperature range and extreme floods and droughts

    It makes sense to reduce emissions in ways that increase the resilience of cultures and economies to change.

    • David Wojick

      This statement seems self contradictory: “It makes sense to reduce emissions in ways that increase the resilience of cultures and economies to change.”

      Reducing emissions typically diverts resources from increasing resilience. Do you have an example that does both?

      • David, I enjoy your posts for your impeccable logic (although I may on rare occasions disagree), but I am not sure I agree Chief’s statement here is necessarily self-contradictory. I think he simply means that reducing emissions is fine provided it is done in a way that does not harm but ideally improves resilience to changing circumstances. This can be such things as making better use of resources, such as efficiency improvements which are good ends in themselves. For example, a coal-fired power station that improved efficiency by 25%, is not only reducing its emissions, but also producing power for less coal, meaning if coal were to hypothetically become rarer and more expensive it could withstand that from an economic point of view.

        And if you find other power sources that made you less dependent on foreign supplies or supplies from unstable parts of the world, that also improves your resilience should those unreliable sources dry up. Also, if you find other means of generating power that are economically feasible (ie probably not wind) then it adds to the diversity of your energy supply.

        But if you do this on a basis of (at very best) an extremely uncertain possibility in an economically unsustainable way, then it only stands to reason you are harming your capacity to develop resilience and adaptability.

    • Actually, climate is moving AWAY from the coldest extreme seen since the beginning of the Holocene (the LIA), towards the milder warmer, median conditions. We can only hope it continues, because the most likely next abrupt nonlinear change would be a return to the overdue Ice Sheet condition which bounds interglacials like ours.

      • Brian H
        Re: “most likely next abrupt nonlinear change would be a return to the overdue Ice Sheet condition which bounds interglacials like ours.”
        Good observation. The greatest uncertainty is:
        Will our descendents Fry or Freeze?
        Climate appears to have substantially COOLED since the Holocene climatic optimum.
        Freezing has far greater dangers than warming (“frying.”). We can accommodate a rise in sea level. It is much harder to grow food under glaciers.
        Now the key question is:
        Can we achieve and sustain sufficient anthropogenic warming to avoid the next glaciation?
        To decide, we must accurately understand and quantify ALL natural drivers as well as anthropogenic drivers for BOTH warming and cooling.
        To date IPCC models do not include major natural oscillations and cannot be validated – Lucia shows that they are running 2 sigma too warm for the last 32 years.

        How do we discover where the models are wrong and how much?

  30. in the face of uncertainty accepting fear is the most dangerous course you can set.

  31. Brian H writes: “There is a huge pool of potential disasters with equal or greater probablility than CAGW. Hyping that one simply happens to fit the agenda of the IPCC’s masters.

    Precautionating against every far-out improbable calamity is an obvious mug’s game. Well, not with my money, Buster!”

    Boy do I agree with this. I see nuclear war as both more devastating (obviously) and much more likely. Why aren’t we talking about that more? When’s the last time Newsweek or Rolling Stone wrote a single word on this scary topic. Where are all the anti-nuke op-eds in the NYT’s?

    Cancer is already killing many, many more than climate change ever will. Why don’t we take all those global warming/climate change billions and pour it into cancer research?

    The list is long.

    • Moreover (try to use that word at least once a week), where are the MS articles discussing some of the obvious benefits of a warmer world? That I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything on this topic in the MSM…nothing…speaks volumes in my opinion. Prima facie evidence right there that the game’s rigged.

    • Well said. I guess nuclear war was only an appealing topic when the chief proposal for preventing it was unilateral disarmament. Now that eliminating the biggest threat would involve knocking over another tin-pot Middle Eastern dictatorship, it’s better to keep one’s mouth shut and hope no one notices.

  32. So uncertainty = Murphy’s Law?

  33. Lewandowsky is conflating two kinds of uncertainty. He is correct that as the standard deviation (the “uncertainty”) in the model grows, the expected downside grows as well, as a result of the asymmetry of the graph.

    Then he confuses the high level “uncertainty” about whether the models are correct, whether there is a problem or not, etc, all that stuff, with “uncertainty” inside the model. He’s moving uncertainty about the model inside the model, where it re-appears as a fat tail.

    What I can’t tell is whether he knows he’s doing this or not.

    • “What I can’t tell is whether he knows he’s doing this or not”
      I suspect that he has problems tying his shoe laces, so the latter is more likely.

    • “Then he confuses the high level “uncertainty” about whether the models are correct, whether there is a problem or not, etc, all that stuff, with “uncertainty” inside the model.”

      Exactly. Gold star. I’m almost certain Lewandowski has no idea that he is confused.

  34. But the people worrying about global warming are missing the REAL problem–the flying spaghetti monster from outer space. The spaghetti monster is, possibly, on its way to Earth to devour us! Now, we don’t know for a fact that the flying spaghetti monster from outer space exists, but we don’t know that it doesn’t. So applying the precautionary principle, we need to do something about it. And we have complete uncertainty as to its powers, so the damage when it gets here could be even worse than we think. In addition to devouring all people, it might eat the animals, too!

    It’s an argument so silly only the highly educated could take it seriously.

    (I find amusing the fact that the same people argue opposite sides of the precautionary principle with respect to climate change and with respect to religion. Or, put another way, I find it hilarious that the argument CAGW believers apply to climate change is also a proof that they should all be devout, practicing Catholics, since Hell is higher stakes than just dying.)

    • Not worried about the spaghetti monster.

      This is based not on the low probability of it existing or being headed our way, but on the knowledge that I know a lot of people that eat a shit full of spaghetti. Sucker is doomed if he ever shows up in this portion of the galaxy.

    • There’s no evidence for flying spaghetti monsters or hell.

      There is evidence that CO2 is rising, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that the climate has changed in the past and can change in the future.

      I agree with what Lewandowsky says, there’s just one part he doesn’t mention which is that there is some certainty.

      A bedrock of certainty on which the uncertainty exists. It isn’t pure uncertainty like hells or the flying spaghetti monster.

      • You’re using “evidence” too sloppily. Yes, there is “some evidence” of the existance of both the spaghetti monster and Hell–namely, the fact that some people say they exist. If you want to object that you’re not persuaded by that evidence, fine–neither am I. But the same is true for the potential harm caused by CO2. Whatever evidence there is does not rise to a scientific demonstration. So far, it’s all just some guys telling us to worry–exactly the same situation we have with the religious debate.

        When you can produce scientific documentation that:

        1) atmospheric CO2 is driven by emissions, rather than dynamic sinks;
        2) increased atmospheric CO2 will cause significant warming;
        3) significant warming will be a net bad thing; and
        4) controlling emissions is a more cost effective response than saving our money now and spending it on adaptation later…

        Get back to me then.

      • Couldn’t disagree with you more. The fact that some people say something exists isn’t evidence.

        Your four points ignore uncertainty. You demand certainty. Points 1 and 2 have been scientifically shown to be very likely. Point 3 is part of the risk that establishes the danger.

        Point 4 ignores the danger from uncertainty itself.

      • lolwot,

        RE: There is evidence that CO2 is rising, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that the climate has changed in the past and can change in the future.

        You do realize tha while all three of these statements are true, they essentially mean nothing until you can show that the following statements are also true:

        a) that the rise of CO2 is the primary driver of rising temperatures / climate change and b) that an increase in temperature is most likely to result in significantly adverse impacts.

        As we are discussing “uncertainty”, I’ll point out that there is a great deal of it with regard to the last two.

      • “As we are discussing “uncertainty”, I’ll point out that there is a great deal of it with regard to the last two.”

        And as Lewandowsky points out, that’s what establishes the danger.

        In other words I don’t need to prove a) to show there is a danger. There is a danger simply if we can’t disprove a). It’s like you’ve taken a pill containing a chemical you know will impact your body but you don’t know how.

        With a bit of certainty we might be able to say the impact will be anything from a happy feeling to a severe headache.

        But by not having a clue what the impact will be we have to include the far nastier impact of death as a possibility.

        Uncertainty is not your friend.

      • lolwot,

        Regarding the pill taking – there happens to be a very good example of that available to us. Aspirin. If aspirin were to be introduced today, the FDA would not allow it on the market. We still don’t know exactly how it works or all of the things it can do. And its effects can vary from person to person. Taking too much can cause problems, but how much is too much? Even though I am aware of the uncertainty associated with aspirin, I don’t hesitate to take it when I think it will help me.

    • bob droege

      You, Sir, are a heretic!

      His awesome noodleage is neither carnivorous nor from outer space.

  35. Do we learn something more from either one?

    Risk aversion is generally considered a valid principle. The precautionary principle is closely related and also valid, but few valid principles are misused as badly as the precautionary principle has been.

    Adding to the uncertainty may add to reasons to worry, but even when it does that it doesn’t necessarily add support for acting, because it’s practically always true that adding to the uncertainty reduces also the capability of acting efficiently and wisely. If we can do only stupid things, it may be better to wait until we know better what to do.

    When we really know nothing we have maximal uncertainty, but that’s certainly not the right place for acting.

    Many people say that we know enough to justify reducing CO2 emissions. Fine, except that reducing CO2 emissions is not directly an option. There are many concrete ways of doing that, but justifying any single one of them requires more than just saying: we should reduce CO2 emissions.

    • Makes perfect sense to me Pekka.

    • Right.

      The current abuse of the PP amounts to saying we should jump out the window because the room might catch on fire.

      No flames currently visible, of course. And the fall would certainly seriously injure or maim us. But it’ll be better than burning to death! If there were a fire, which there isn’t but might be someday. If there were a flame. Etc.

  36. Kent Draper

    Why doesn’t ANYBODY wonder that it might get WAY better? Is this the “glass half empty” group? I absolutely love the climate the way it is and the way it will be…………:) It’s why all this fuss doesn’t make any sense. It’s what makes me wonder about the motive of the folks saying “run away, we’re all gonna die”………. What a horrible burden they must carry around.

    • Hmmm. Maybe we should be ordering personality tests on the disciples of “Chicken Little”?

      I am 100% certain that airports and airport weather stations are warmer because of jet traffic adding heat.

      I am 100% certain that water temperatures are warmer because of international shipping adding heat.

      I defy anybody to prove otherwise.

      The precautionary principle should apply equally to environmental policies that will cause economic and social damage to humans immediately, except that those who will really be harmed don’t have a political voice.

    • Forgot to mention that I am also 100% certain than the molten core of earth makes the surface warmer. I also defy anybody to prove otherwise.

      • No, you’re right–the general assumption that the Earth is in thermal equilibrium is, in fact, known to be false. The Earth is still warmed from the heat of its initial collapse.

        In addition, it’s also warmed by the heat of nuclear fission going on in the core/mantle. When I was in undergraduate school I once calculated (back of the envelope) the amount by which the Earth’s temperature is elevated by that heat. The answer was not trivial–on the order of a few degrees.

        So long term, the Earth is cooling.

      • bob droege

        But long term, the Sun is on the main sequence, as long as it continues to burn hydrogen, which is depleting the matter or shielding between us and the core of the sun, it will get hotter and brighter.

        So, long term, the earth is warming, with a fate simular to Venus, the only question is when.

      • Neither of those is true. All collapse and radiative heat has long since leaked away to space, billions of years ago.

        The Earth must make do with whatever it receives from nearby radiators. So it would be a mistake to remove it from the solar system.

    • Unfortunately, CO2 is powerless to warm the climate. We will soon enough have reason to rue that.

  37. Kip Hansen

    Lewandowsky seems to have stepped beyond the borders of rational ethical behavior by suggesting that ‘greater the uncertainty, the greater the potential for catastrophe.’
    It is nonsensical to propose that ‘the more uncertain we are about a potential problem –> the greater is the risk of catastrophe.” Think of the implications for everyday life. Take it to its obvious extreme in one direction. I am very uncertain that eating more salt than the Heart Association recommends will damage my health….in fact, I am so uncertain of that fact that I think it is almost certainly false. Following Lewandowsky, I am really in for it, clearly headed for disaster.
    Like many advocates blinded by their advocacy, Lewandowsky makes a serious mistake of a priori assumption….that CAGW/Climate Change is a serious, dangerous problem about which only the only the degree of danger is uncertain. We see the same sort of blindness in anti-BPA advocates who view even the tiniest remaining uncertainty of about possible or potential negative effect, after millions have been spent and studies done failing to find any harm, as proof of the greatest danger.
    I believe the facts in the Climate Wars are otherwise. The uncertainty is whether or not CO2-forced climate change exists in that simple of a sense at all; if it exists, will it be net positive or net negative?; each of nearly every parameter that contributes to the calculation of the existence and magnitude of the situation/problem are in varying degrees themselves uncertain, many of them uncertain in even in their sign (positive or negative) and many others uncertain by whole orders of magnitude; all of this concerning a system that is known/suspected to be non-linearly chaotic, essentially unpredictable, in nature.
    Yes, we are uncertain. That’s about all we are at this point.

    • “I am very uncertain that eating more salt than the Heart Association recommends will damage my health….in fact, I am so uncertain of that fact that I think it is almost certainly false.”

      That’s not uncertainty, that’s you disagreeing. You are certain they are wrong.

      True uncertainty would mean you don’t know. Greater uncertainty would mean you’d have to ponder if the health effects are worse than the HA state.

      “Like many advocates blinded by their advocacy, Lewandowsky makes a serious mistake of a priori assumption….that CAGW/Climate Change is a serious, dangerous problem about which only the only the degree of danger is uncertain.”

      No he doesn’t. You are misrepresenting his position and argument by turning it on it’s head.

      He’s arguing that the danger is in the uncertainty.

  38. What uncertainty ?
    Just do opposite what James Hansen proposes.
    Here is an extract from Columbia University’s website (isn’t that the Gavin S’s base ?).

    Global Warming Scientist Once Warned of ‘Ice Age’
    In a Washington Post story dated July 9, 1971, James Hansen – then a research associate at Columbia University – warned of a modern day ice age, which would cause the planet’s temperature to plummet as many as six degrees. The reason, he said then, was a fine dust emitted into the air via carbon dioxide pollution that would eventually become so dense that it would block sunlight and result in cooler temperatures – a scenario exactly the opposite of what leading climatologists say is happening now, that greenhouse gases are trapping heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere. Hansen and one of his research partners believed that the problem was so severe that the “ice age” could happen between five and ten years after the report – putting the prediction for extreme global cooling between about 1976 and 1981.
    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2007/20070924_Grandfather.pdf

  39. Uncertainty is not your friend

    When certainty is wrong, uncertainty is our friend.

  40. Stefan Lewandowsky believes that if you are uncertain of a risk, then the greater the response there should be towards the risk.
    This is the plot of risk of dying from dementia vs age:-
    http://www.medicine.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/booth/risk/dementia2.jpg
    As you get older there is an exponential risk of getting dementia. We all want to get old, and we all wish that we don’t get dementia.
    Now, as we can quantify the risk with great precision, do we not bother with research into neuro-degenerative diseases?
    Seldom I have come across such a perverse intellectual argument for a hugely expensive societal cost. The Federal government spent nearly $70 billion on Climate research in the last 4 years. To put this in perspective, Medicare spends $100 billion a year on looking after patients with dementia, every year. This fiscal year $458 million was allocated to the National Institutes of Health for Alzheimer’s research; over the same four years Climate Research got $70 billion, Dementia Research got just over $2 billion.
    http://www.alz.org/boomers/
    My idea of funding research based on quantifiable risk is far different from Stefan Lewandowsky’s.

    • As usual, Doc, you are the voice of sweet reason. :)

    • I would imagine climate research funding also helps with weather predictions, which aids farmers, travelers, commuters etc, who contribute to food and standard of living so people don’t starve to death. And climate research funding also has the benefit of helping with renewable energy research which aids in the transformation of our fossil fuel dependence, which has a 100% certainty of eventually becoming a minor part of our energy economy.

      The certainty is probably less than 100%, but oil depletion is probably responsible for the majority our current global economic problems and the austerity measures being taken. Cheap energy is a form of debt on future economic growth and when that cheap energy starts drying up, debts come due:

      Released recently, the DoD seems to agree:
      Department of Defense Energy Initiatives: Background and Issues for Congress (pdf)

      “… Oil is critical to the U.S. economy. It is the United States’ largest source of energy, providing 37% of the total energy the nation consumes and 94% of the energy used for transportation. Every U.S. recession in the last 40 years has been preceded by an increase in oil prices. Any disruption in the global free flow of oil could result in an increase in oil prices and pose a serious risk to the U.S. and international economies.
      ….
      Other analyses estimate that climate control and air conditioning account for between 57% and 70% of generator power demand.”

      Everything in our global economy centers around energy and environmental factors.

    • DocMartyn,
      +1

  41. I loved this sentence by Ben Pile

    “and the entire torrent of turgid crap produced by Malthusians such as Paul Ehrlich over the last half century. ”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  42. I think I can safely conclude that Stefan Lewandowsky was not educated in a Catholic school. The brothers would have whacked the crap out of him for spewing such utter nonsense. I’d be embarrased to have those statements associated with my name. Wonder if his pa owns a company manufacturing hip waders.

  43. All of the absurdities
    That lay before us
    All of the doubts
    And the uncertainties
    That lay in store for us

    - Depeche Mode

  44. How certain are global warming alarmists that humanity will never again face global cooling. And, since reason dictates uncertainty — it’s happened before — what should we do about it: start building coal-fired powerplants like China is doing at a rate of one per week?

  45. The Left cannot exist unless they have something to fear and someone on the ‘right’ to point fingers at, to cast blame on and demonize and drum-up hate against. That is what the Left makes: ill will.

    Joycean War on the Productive

  46. Doh!

    .

    Abstract

    …presatellite observations of Greenlandic glaciers are rare. Here we present a unique record that documents the frontal positions for 132 southeast Greenlandic glaciers from rediscovered historical aerial imagery beginning in the early 1930s. We combine the historical aerial images with both early and modern satellite imagery to extract frontal variations of marine- and land-terminating outlet glaciers, as well as local glaciers and ice caps, over the past 80 years… Furthermore, the recent retreat was matched in its vigour during a period of warming in the 1930s with comparable increases in air temperature. We show that many land-terminating glaciers underwent a more rapid retreat in the 1930s than in the 2000s…

  47. Politicians who want to convince their flock that they are good leaders will thrive on uncertainty and therein lies the danger. The only answer is better science. CO2 is less than 1% of the atmosphere, yet it has such a profound affect on climate. We need a debate on exactly why? But the IPCC refuses to debate, preferring to hand down its decisions from on high. Is that good science?
    Some of the things we could debate are in my paper ‘An alternative theory of climate change’ at: http://members.iinet.net.au/alexandergbiggs .

    • Any debate should be done in the scientific journals. The IPCC is more of a judge of that debate.

      • Some would argue they are somewhat less of a judge than all that.

      • Rob Starkey

        Lolwot

        Good point and well summarized.

        I add- the IPCC has been “a judge” of:

        1. The rate of warming as a function of CO2

        2. The changes in weather conditions that will result from the aforementioned predicted warming to the nations of the planet

        3. The net result on humanity of the changes in the weather conditions, and

        4. What all the people’s of the planet should be doing.

      • Did the IPCC debate their conclusions through the scientific journals? I doubt it. That is not the way the UN works, probably because many countries do not have scientific journals and the UN has to be careful not to favour those that have. Anyway it is the duty of science to explain its decisions to any one prepared to listen. Climate is so important to every one that the UN should have sent it’s scientists to every Town Hall around the world, not only to defend their conclusions, but also spread the word. Incidently members of the IPCC seem to like to keep a low profile. Is that because they are uncomfortable defending their lowest common denominator decision? Remember most are meteorologists but climate science requires skills not commonly available, such as ‘Signal tracing’ as in electronics applied to heat flow or, to understand feed-back loops, Cybernetics a la Norbert Wiener of MIT.

      • lolwot,
        So you have also ignored the well documented evidence of just how poorly the IPCC conducts their business?
        True believers seem remarkably immune from critically thinking.

      • “So you have also ignored the well documented evidence of just how poorly the IPCC conducts their business?”

        Of course. The thinking [if one call it thinking- emoting would be more accurate] is humans make mistakes.
        These are the good guys.
        So, of course one should ignore it- it’s the good thing to do.
        It’s simply rude and off message to focus much attention on good guys debatable minor failings.

      • Minor faililng we can deal with.
        Systemic corruptino and deception is more challenging. It requires strong true believer faith to ignore what the IPCC and those rent seekers involved with it are doing.

      • I think they’re just human. But they need to be superhuman, since they have no conflict of interest policy in effect and since a reliable consensus requires the absence of groupthink. And that is the problem with the idea that the Climategate emails mean nothing since they (allegedly) only show that climate scientists are human.

      • “So you have also ignored the well documented evidence of just how poorly the IPCC conducts their business?”

        The IPCC does a very good job. Their reports are the best reviews of the field of climate science as it stands at the time.

        What the IPCC reports aren’t though is perfect. And that’s what you and your pals exploit. The old lie that if something isn’t perfect it must be totally flawed.

  48. Well, I think the Lewandowsky post is very intelligent. Basically he is saying that our decision on whether or not to mitigate against climate risks is not just about whether or not mainstream scientific consensus is right about climate change, but also how much it costs to mitigate in advance of major climate changes, and how much the damages will be if we don’t mitigate. We really have three factors to consider: the risk “x” of mainstream science being correct in its predictions; the mitigation cost “y”; and the cost of climate change “z” if we don’t mitigate. We know that “y” is expensive; how expensive, we don’t know. Anyone who has looked seriously at “z” — and those who blithely say “CO2 is good for plants!” are not looking seriously at “z” — should be quite concerned about what would happen if the Earth’s average surface temperature rose several degrees C. So it seems to me that as long as we accept that “x” is a significant and serious risk, however uncertain, we should really be thinking about “y” and “z”.
    Here is a thought experiment. Let’s say I take my life’s savings and build I house in an area where there is an unknown risk of natural disasters. There could be earthquakes, floods, wildfires, landslides, volcanos, tornadoes, you name it, but we don’t know what the probability “x” is that we will have those disasters. Many scientists say disaster is nearly certain in the coming years (x>.95), but there are some that say my house is built in the calmest, most placid spot on the planet and I don’t have a thing to worry about (x=0). And unfortunately, loss or serious damage to this house would be financially and spiritually ruinous. Should I buy insurance? The question is really what my insurance options are (“y”) and what will happen to my house in a disaster (“z”). If “z” could mean my house is gutted, and I can afford a good policy “y”, it would be foolish not to buy the insurance, regardless of what “x” is. I simply can’t afford to lose the house. What kind of person takes reckless risks with the only thing they have?

    • Peter,

      To answer your last question – quiet a few people. One example, all those who build in a flood plain.

      For that matter anyone whose home is built in an earthquake area. How about all of the people who live in my neck of the woods – Oregon and Washington. We are definately living in an earthquake zone and one with active volcanoes. And it is a fact that at some point the area will experience a large magnitude earthquake and the probability is fairly good for a volcanic eruption. Guess what? We still decide to live here, despite the “uncertainty”.

    • Rob Starkey

      Peter

      Using your example-Imo it really comes down to the specifics. If you judge the risk of harm to be relatively low, and the cost to insure against damage from the harm to be high, you would not purchase the insurance.

      To take your example a step further consider if you had to consider buying insurance where it would only take effect if 90% of your neighbors also agreed to purchase a similar policy. The thing is, you are being asked to commit to purchase now and you don’t know if most of your neighbors will buy and many seem to be opposed. You still have to pay for your policy even in the others opt out and you will then not get any meaningful coverage. Does it make sense to buy under those conditions, or do you consider spending a small percentage more to build your house so that it will be able to adapt to most of any expected damage?

    • Peter Lang

      We know that “y” is expensive; how expensive, we don’t know. Anyone who has looked seriously at “z” — and those who blithely say “CO2 is good for plants!” are not looking seriously at “z” — should be quite concerned about what would happen if the Earth’s average surface temperature rose several degrees C.

      I believe your statements are false. Those who have looked seriously at Y and Z have shown that Y is hugely expensive and Z is not, within a sensible time frame (even using AGW consensus assumptions). They also show that there is no benefit at all from implementing silly policies like a CO2 price unless it an optimal, economically efficient system is implemented by the whole world together.
      http://nordhaus.econ.yale.edu/Balance_2nd_proofs.pdf
      http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=1325#80580
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9779.2011.01544.x/full

    • Peter,
      A problem among many with your argument is that the IPCC has never offered x > .95.
      Another is that your point about building in an area of unknown risks is frankly silly. No one who is at all prudent builds a house without some adaptation or understanding of likely risks. I am unaware of people building grade-level concrete foundation houses at the beach, for example. Buying insurance for flood and earthquakes requires buying from special providers. If a house in Oklahoma or Ohio is damaged from an earthquake, it is not a covered peril. Yet those areas do have earthquakes from time-to-time.

  49. Greg House

    To the so called “precautionary principle”. This is an absurd thing, because if you apply the “precautionary principle” to acting in accordance with the “precautionary principle”, the result will be you should refrain from those actions. So we have a contradiction.

  50. Doh!

    .

    The more educated you are the more skeptical you are about global warming alarmists’ claims.

    This according to a just published study that was funded by – of all groups – the US National Science Foundation.

    …the memes simply are not so effective in the 21st century as they were in the 20th.

    Conclusion: Education or the lack of it will not change this reality.>/em>
    (The Daily Bell)

  51. Greg House

    To the uncertainty about “climate science”, well, we already have a physical certainty that the “back radiation” won’t work (http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/wood_rw.1909.html), hence the main pillar of the AGW concept has no basis in science.

  52. To the numarcy-challenged: merci beaucoup for all the fish!

    …We can see in the above excerpt that those who were advocating greater education in order to raise the acceptance of climate change are all too willing to abandon education once it is perceived that numeracy was having the “wrong” impact.

    Of course, this is another dead end when it comes to the inculcation of this meme. There is a good deal of conflicting information about whether the world is warming or not. No doubt heightened numeracy brings this lack of evidence to people’s attention. (Ibid.)

  53. Given that the profs had assumed from the start that scepticism is wrong, this forced them to the conclusion that simply teaching people more science and giving them more facts and numbers is not a good idea as it will lead them into bad (sceptical) decisions.

    (Ibid.)

  54. The ‘good’ German citizenry who turned their backs on the self-fulfilling prophecy of preconceived notions around them were just as guilty for what happened as those who acted against the ‘bad’ German citizenry..

  55. Another scaremongering article. When are these people to stop?
    There is no uncertainty. The sea level rise has been uniform as shown => http://bit.ly/KBBlN9

    The sea level rise has been 150mm, 15cm or about 6 inches for the last century, which we can adapt to very easily.

    • For each degree centigrade increase in the secular global surface temperature, the sea level rises by about 250 mm. The increase in the secular global surface temperature for the 20th century was about 0.6 deg C. As a result, the increase in the sea level rise for the last century was about 150mm (=250*0.6).

    • Rob Starkey

      Girma- Imo when you write there is no uncertainty you sound less creditable. You know that there is uncertainty regarding the rate of sea level rise in the future.

      You have used prior history to predict a future decline in temps and a rise in ice as a result. You (I would guess) would admit that there is a significant probability that you are mistaken.

      • There cannot be too much uncertainty for the next two decades, as it is unlikely for the ocean pattern of the last century to change in the next two decades.

  56. Beth Cooper

    Lewandowsky? Hmm ,,, a case of the apocalyptic mindset focusing on uncertainty. Uncertainty is ‘necessarily’ a DOOM scenario.
    ( For hyper anxiety I reccomend my four leaf clover soup.)

  57. Beth Cooper

    And spell check, ‘recommend.’

  58. I agree with Stefan Lewandowsky’s argument. For a long time I have been arguing that uncertainty is the source of the danger from man-made climate change and that climate skeptics have been wrongly wielding uncertainty as if it represents the opposite. I have argued that bodies like the IPCC should more heavily emphasize uncertainty in the impacts of climate change as a root part of the danger of continued emissions.

    Stefan Lewandowsky nails on opening of his first post with:

    “In a nutshell, the logic of this position can be condensed to “there is so much uncertainty that I am certain there isn’t a problem.” How logical is this position?”

    There is an important aspect that Lewandowsky didn’t mention though – while there is uncertainty in the magnitude and scale of impacts, there IS certainty in the underlying science that substantiate significant impacts on the climate from human GHG emissions. This certainty makes the danger of human induced climate change different from a phantom threat (some have cited speculations about earth destroying blackholes appearing from nowhere or flying monsters from space, but these are phantom threats with no underlying evidence of such things imminently being “near” whereas the CO2 rise is actually happening and will lead to significant impact on climate within the next few centuries if left unchecked).

    The certainty of significant impacts from rising CO2 doesn’t prove the impacts will be very harmful or catastrophic – they might not be. But as Lewandowsky points out the greater the uncertainty the less we can rule out the truely devastating impacts.

    I would recommend advocates for action on CO2 emission reductions start communicating the danger of the uncertainties in the science to the public. Yes it’s alarmist but if we don’t know what impact a doubling of CO2 will have on eg ocean circulation that is alarming.

    • lolwot,
      You do realize that Lewandowsky is not a climate scientists and is only repeating alarmist crap?

  59. tempterrain

    “Uncertainty is not your friend (?)”
    Is that so? I’d say it was certainly a friend of AGW deniers. It makes for a simple argument: Scientists aren’t totally sure there is a problem due to GHG emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, they can’t provide any proof, the jury is still out, therefore there is no need for any action. Does this sound familiar?

    Note to Judith. Its good you’ve put the question mark at the end of the sentence, for a change. Just need to persuade you that there’s no need for parenthesis now, and to put the verb at the beginning of the sentence when framing a question :-)

    • I think it’s meant to denote that the headline belongs to someone else and isn’t being written here as an argument just something for people to read. A (?) is a good way of making sure people don’t get the wrong end of the stick.

    • tt-
      Here I thought you had actually read what skeptics have written on the topic. Instead we see that you are just a bigot clinging to his ignorance.

  60. Beth Cooper

    Today’s ‘Thought for today.’ ( I have the franchise for this.)

    The future is uncertain. Don’t dig in, be prepared for anything.
    Be flexible.

  61. I think Lewandowsky started well with the phrase that characterizes many skeptics’ way of thinking, i.e. “there is so much uncertainty that I am certain there isn’t a problem”. This characterizes Lindzen, for example, who implies, by his words, great certainty in sensitivities near the no-feedback response, and that these sensitivities have no overlap with the IPCC uncertainty range at all. Many skeptics agree with Lindzen’s implied level of certainty when they make their statements that the IPCC range cannot possibly even remotely be right. There are other skeptics that have a broader range than the IPCC, but include it as a subset, JC being one of very few in this category on this site, as far as I can tell. Most fall into the Lindzen narrow-error-bar certainty class judging from their statements.

    • Regarding the title, most skeptics have not taken Uncertainty as their friend, they have adopted a Certainty that is actually a mirage.

  62. MattStat/MatthewRMarler

    There is only one way to escape that uncertainty: Mitigation. Now.

    The two problems he does not address are highlighted one way or another by many authors. 1. There are many risks of which we are uncertain, and we can’t devote major resources to many of them at once. 2. We are uncertain what measures will produce mitigation, so it makes sense to wait and investigate until we have greater certainty what actions will produce actual mitigation.

  63. I haven’t read the Comments yet, so may be repeating. The material excerpted from Lewandowsky is so bad that I won’t waste time on reading more from him. It’s only value is that it led you to post Ben Pile’s excellent rejoinder.

    Lewandowsky’s claim that “it is clear that the more we want to limit the budget, the steeper and the sooner the required emission cuts” is probably the reverse of the truth.

    • Faustino, and also Matt immediately above, yes indeed… It seems someone needs a basic introduction to option value. :)

  64. Only a Chicken Little alarmist would equate uncertainty with some kind of danger. To normal people they (uncertainty and danger) simply are two different things.

    Andrew

    • John Carpenter

      You don’t have to be an alarmist to equate uncertainty with danger. If I am standing on a ledge over murky water, do I dive in? I can’t judge the bottom and am uncertain about the depth so I probably don’t dive because I associate a danger of diving into shallow water as a bad thing. There are many examples like this where one would not be considered an alarmist and yet associate an uncertainty with danger.

      • But standing on a ledge over murky water isn’t uncertainty. Diving off ledges and murky waters are known to be problematic for humans.

        Global Average Temp Warmer or Colder? When was that ever known to be problematic for humans? Happens all the time. Literally.

        Andrew

      • Sure. My place of birth was under water long long long before I was born, but that was not problematic for humans, as there were no humans way back then. Probably the people living there now wouldn’t like living under water, but who cares about them. I don’t live there anymore .

      • Good argument, Max. Something bad may have happened to somebody somewhere, so I believe in Global Warming. Keep up the good work.

        Andrew

  65. I think the mathematical argument of Lewandowsky is fine, so far as it goes, but it proceeds on the basis of a very special definition of uncertainty.

    In decision theory, one of the common ways of modeling uncertainty is to imagine that the decision maker faces a number of possible distributions i, say the c.d.f.s Gi(x), i = 1 to n, but does not know which Gi(x) is the true distribution of x. One way of representing the uncertainty in the situation is by a “metadistribution” over the c.d.f.s… say a discrete probability distribution, with probability Wi of each c.d.f. Gi(x). The statistically oriented people here will recognize this as a mixture of the distributions Gi(x), or alternatively, a Bayesian situation where the Wi are the current probabilities of each c.d.f. Gi(x).

    Consider a special case where we can unambiguously order the c.d.f.s by first-order stochastic dominance: That’s the case where we can choose the subscript i (the label on the distribution functions) in such a way that G1(x) >= G2(x) >= G3(x) … Gn(x) for all x. For an example, this would be the case for a collection of normal distributions with common variance but increasing mean (mean in distribution 1 < mean in distribution 2 and so on), but that's just an example for the sake of intuition.

    If x is climate sensitivity, what do we mean by maximum uncertainty? Suppose it means that we have a uniform metadistribution over the possible Gi(x): That is, our current probabilities over the distributions is Wi = 1/n for all i. If you think of each of the Gi(x) as an alternative data-generating process implied by one of n different well-specified models (internal parameters, structural equations and so forth), then this is like having uniform priors over each of the models. You attach no more credence to one model than any other. Does that sound like maximum uncertainty, given the set of known models? It does to me.

    Trouble is, this is not the situation that gives the highest probability that x exceeds some "disastrous" threshhold. That would clearly be the state where Wn = 1 and we know that the "most calamitous" model Gn(x) holds for sure. EVERY other metadistribution Wi produces a lower overall probability that x exceeds some disastrous thresshold.

    So, I think Lewandowski's point is true but so special, as far as the meaning of uncertainty goes, as to be more in the nature of rhetoric than logical necessity.

    • Dang, I almost understood that :) One of the problems I have is that the actual estimate of sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 looks like a worst case which is multiplied by 3 to get an unrealistic even worse case. There is a 40% decrease in TOA forcing felt at the surface with no amplification. 3C looks like the absolute worst case and even James Annan, not a skeptic by any means, believes the tail should be cut at 4C. So we are looking at 3 to 4 C from a depressed initial condition that could be as much as 2C below today and only a portion of that will be felt at the surface.

      • Dang, I almost understood that too :)

      • I do understand what NW said.
        In terms of natural phenomena, what he is describing falls under the pattern of superstatistics. Christian Beck is a primary researcher in this area, which has also attracted names such as Murray Gell-Mann. The general idea is that as NW stated, another layer of uncertainty is spread on top of the underlying probability density function.

        There are perfectly understood reasons why a couple of layers of statistics arise in natural phenomena, and I do understand how it can enter into the often subjective realm of epistemic uncertainty. Qualitatively, it operates under the same rules, but you usually can’t get the same quantitative agreement with estimated priors as with the aleatory uncertainty in natural phenomena, where some very simple automatic rules apply (i.e. Boltzmann factors, MaxEnt).

        The more fundamental aspect to this is the idea of uncertainty propagation, which every physics freshman had to learn in the lab, whether they remember it or not. Consider uncertainty propagation where a derived result from a measurement includes a numerator and a divisor. If the numerator and divisor have equal uncertainty, it is the divisor that will drive the uncertainty into the fat tail region. Climate science is filled with divisors of the form of rates, i.e. Δamount/Δtime. When Δtime has uncertainty this gets propagated as a much larger uncertainty in the outcomes. Anyone that did the freshman physics lab experiment of estimating the gravitational constant from a trajectory has run into this problem.

      • Well just let time go to infinite, problem solved :)

        Seriously, there are several ways to do sanity checks to narrow the uncertainty. or better estimate the uncertainty. Like Mosher mentioned above, the high end estimates we are doomed anyway, no action required. So determine a range where action may be effective and there goes some of the fat tail.

  66. Beth Cooper

    Peter Lang 2 7.59pm, says:
    ‘In the face of massive uncertainty, hedging your bets and keeping your options open is almost always the best strategy. Money and technology are our raw materials for options.’ Yes.

  67. All is uncertain save for death and txes!

  68. Lewandowsky isn’t making a terribly subtle argument, but it’s an effective and correct rejoinder to the oft heard ‘skeptic’ argument sthat uncertainty means either; that we shouldn’t do anything yet, or , at the more bizarre end of the opinion spectrum, that it means there’s definitely no problem.

    • Michael–

      “We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated, and that the allowance we must make for sea level rise will also be greater than anticipated. All of those results arise from simple mathematics, and we do not even have to resort to any economic modelling to understand how greater uncertainty translates into greater risk.”

      That is Lewandowsky. It all results from very special simple mathematics which proceeds on the basis of a very special definition of uncertainty. Hence, I would not describe this particular assertion as effective (on me) or correct (given the many meanings one could attach to uncertainty).

      • That’s the one part I don’t agree with;

        “will necessarily be greater ”

        Could be greater, sure. “will be” – huh?

  69. When I drive, at times I find myself behind what I believe are worry-warts; people who drive with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake. These people have a death grip on the steering wheel, and their response to anything that crosses their vision is with abrupt stopping, imperiling me and those behind me with reacting to the worry-wart’s uncertainty. I try to anticipate what the worry-wart is going to do, but when they exhibit sudden stopping or swerving ahead of me, it makes me nervous. My usual strategy is to find an open lane and pass the worry-wart as quickly as possible and let someone else play bumper tag with them.

    So one of the problems worry-warts create, and I extend this to others who figuratively drive their life by having one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake, is that they drive those people around them crazy who are trying to get on with their lives. The worry-wart behaves as an anxious neurotic. The precautionary principle, that is one foot on the brake the other on accelerator, reflects an individual dealing with uncertainty when they are careening down a highway shared with lots of other people some equally as crazy in aggressiveness or timidity or just plain cluelessness.

    The precautionary principle, when exercised with lots of other participants on the climate change road of life, can and does lead to disastrous crashes, initiated and perpetrated by a few uncertain minds. The current crashes reflecting uncertainty: wind turbines and solar energy whose technology has not yet advanced sufficiently for them to be sustainable without subsidies; political capital spent on CO2 emissions mitigation when the supporting science has not yet developed. There are other uncertainties. I ask that those worry-warts advocating a precautionary principle for CO2 mitigation, please get off the highway altogether or at least move over and let me pass.

    • True, true and our socio-economic worrywarts have us all dividing up a smaller pie than if they’d get out of the way and we’re giving them a portion when they in fact provide nothing of value to society–and mostly even worse: they all think they’re Upton Sinclair saving vegetarians from the evils of the meat industry (now it’s pink slime) or act like Ralph Nadar who really did nothing more than give the rear-engine small car to Germany’s VW by trashing Chevy’s Corvair or Carl Sagan who in one of his more irrational moments pretty much dared Saddam to torch Kuwait’s oil wells.

    • Life is filled with uncertainties, we just get on with it and deal with them as best we can. Uncertainty is not always costly, it can provide opportunities for those of an entrepreneurial nature. Is there gold-bearing rock in that valley? Don’t know. Let’s find out.

      I don’t think a life without uncertainty is conceivable; and such a life would be extremely boring.

  70. There is an even deeper predicate problem with the precautionary principle. For proposition P the principle returns -P, but for proposition
    -P the principle returns P. It is therefor incapable of outputing consistent values.

  71. lolwot writes in true warmist fashion: ” There is evidence that CO2 is rising, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that the climate has changed in the past and can change in the future.”

    Jesus. What a sad mess this is.

  72. ursus augustus

    Lewadowsky is a professor of psychology and Uni of western Australia. He is an AGW true beiever and at the zealot end of the spectrum, i.e out there in Mann-Gleick Space. He is not a clinical pshychologist but heads psych. research at UWA ( as I understand it) but is on the record effectively diagnosing skeptics as being psychologically disordered. IMO he is just a highly educated nut. The Unabomber was one too but just further gone and with a prediliction for violence.

    I would not pay him the amount of attention given here, it only reinforces his thesis that you are all nuts. If you pay him any more attention, he may have a point.

  73. ursus augustus

    and with better spelling,

    Lewandowsky is a professor of psychology at the University of Western Australia. He is an AGW true believer at the zealot end of the spectrum, i.e out there in Mann-Gleick Space. He is not a clinical pshychologist but heads psych. research at UWA ( as I understand it) but is on the record effectively diagnosing skeptics as being psychologically disordered. IMO he is just a highly educated nut. The Unabomber was one too but just further gone and with a predeliction for violence.

    I would not pay him the amount of attention given here, it only reinforces his thesis that you are all nuts. If you pay him any more attention, he may have a point.

    • “Research: The effects of time on memory; dynamic models of short-term and working memory; individual differences in categorization.”

      …from his vita: http://websites.psychology.uwa.edu.au/labs/cogscience/documents/SLvita.pdf

      And I could be interested in having a talk with him about his research. Sounds cool. But, what exactly does it have to do with…?

    • Yep, he has published several pieces claiming that CAGW skeptics are mentally challenged conspiracy theorists, such as this one:

      http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/33900.html

      A few quotes to give you the flavour:

      “When leading climate scientists are repeatedly exonerated after the “climategate” pseudo-scandal, then to climate “sceptics” this simply means that the relevant enquiries were pre-programmed to find nothing wrong. Thus, the U.K. Parliament conspired to produce a whitewash of Professor Jones a few weeks ago, as did Lord Oxburgh when his panel, constituted with the advice of the Royal Society, found earlier this month that climate researchers “… did a public service of great value by carrying out much time-consuming meticulous work on temperature records.”

      and

      “In the case of the 9/11 “truthers” this point has been reached as the number of its disciples is dwindling rapidly.

      Precisely the same fate awaits the conspiracy theory known as climate “scepticism”.

      It will collapse under its own absurdity because as new scientific evidence amasses at a rapid pace, the presumed conspiracy must grow ever more grotesque and all-encompassing:”

      and

      “The conspiracy must involve not just the tens of thousands of scientists who from all corners of the globe contribute to our knowledge of climate change, but now also the U.K. Parliament.

      The conspiracy must include the United States Navy, whose nuclear submarines started patrolling the Arctic in the 1950s and whose sonar readings have indubitably established that the ice cap is melting.”

      and

      “The conspiracy theory known as climate “scepticism” will soon collapse because it must be extended to include even the macrolepidoptera, including the rhopalocera, geometroidea and noctuoidea. Yes, the European moths and butterflies must be part of the conspiracy, because they mate repeatedly every season now, rather than once only as during the preceding 150 years.”

      Lewandowsky has been slandering his opponents and making stuff up for years – this article was written in 2010, and there are plenty more along the same lines, for example see:

      http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stephan-lewandowsky-33172.html

      for a list of those published on the ABC website alone.

      • johanna,
        Just closely read Max_OK and yo uwill understand why the gibberish you quote is so popular with the true believers.

  74. We could just pass a law making all science uncertain and any scientific results illegal. The North Carolina GOP is taking the lead on this, as Colbert explains.

    http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/colbert_report_north_carolinas_scientific_revisionism_20120605/?ln

    • Dave Springer

      You realize Colbert is a comedian whose skits are a whatever mix of fact and fantasy the writers believe will play to libtards?

      In point of fact N.Carolina’s proposed law is that no state agencies shall produce policy based on sea level rise that is beyond extrapolation of current measured rates. This is largely to do with issuing building permits or more pointedly with denial of building permits based upon predicted sea level rise where that rise is accelerated beyond any historical rate of rise.

      A more objective label for this law would be the Chicken Little Law because it prevents people with paranoid delusions from creating public policy based on their delusions.

    • Max_OK,
      You are the bestest troll here in a long time.
      I hope you post lots and lots.

  75. Humans lack the capability and capacity to perceive and analyze the relevant information or to even manipulate in any meaningful way any of factors that are involved in such a grand heuristic undertaking. And, there is nothing humanity can do that will ever have the slightest effect on the outcome of the process. Believing otherwise is to dedicate the living to an irrelevance that can only result in the building of another Tower of Babel.

  76. ferd berple

    “We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated”

    Illogical nonsense.

  77. i am not certain these alarmist are sane.
    therefore it is worse than i thought.
    i get it now!

  78. Uncertainty in action … I turn 70 on Saturday, I made a late decision to invite some friends as well as immediate family to the highly-esteemed Punjabi Palace. I was thinking of a small, homogenous group, some of whom I first met in India in the ’70s, but date and guest list has been erratic, partly because various parties would be flying in and out of Australia at different times, partly because of a debilitating back injury then falling off my bike, which distracted me from getting organised. So I didn’t invite an old friend until two days ago, along with her new bloke who I’d met once. I’ve just discovered that he has two daughters, who will be with him for the weekend, plus one daughter’s boyfriend; so extra seats and a different format. So I’ll extend an invitation to any netizens in the area (Brisbane West End) on Friday evening. Just a very minor example of the uncertainties with which we cope from day-to-day, mixed in with the longer term uncertainties with which we continually have to deal. The critical thing is not a carbon tax or ETS but equanimity – surely a psychologist should know this?

    The PP is run by Indians from Fiji, which is a long way from Amritsar. But I’ll have a genuine Punjabi guest to keep them up to scratch.

    Off to the airport now, where my son is arriving from India and one daughter from Canberra. C’est la vie.

    • Faustino, congrats on reaching your allotted three score and ten! Wish I could be there to say hello.

  79. Dave Springer

    This guy needs professional help. In the modern world there’s no reason anyone should be so tormented by such positivity in negative outcomes i.e. pessimism. It perhaps rises to clinical paranoid delusion. But then again maybe I’m just an optimist viewing the world through rose colored glasses. :-)

    It is very clear that uncertainty is no one’s friend. We have seen that greater uncertainty about the evolution of the climate should give us even greater cause for concern. We have seen that all other things being equal, greater uncertainty means that things could be worse than we thought. We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated, and that the allowance we must make for sea level rise will also be greater than anticipated. All of those results arise from simple mathematics, and we do not even have to resort to any economic modelling to understand how greater uncertainty translates into greater risk. – Stefan Lewandowsky

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pessimism#Psychology

    Psychology

    The study of pessimism has parallels with the study of depression. Psychologists trace pessimistic attitudes to emotional pain or even biology. Aaron Beck argues that depression is due to unrealistic negative views about the world. Beck starts treatment by engaging in conversation with clients about their negative thoughts. Pessimists, however, are often able to provide arguments that suggest that their understanding of reality is justified; as in Depressive realism or (pessimistic realism).[1] The pessimism item on the Beck Depression Inventory has been judged useful in predicting suicides.[6] The Beck Hopelessness Scale has also been described as a measurement of pessimism.[7]

  80. Until someone can define the ideal climate how can we guess whether climate changes are towards that ideal or away from it?

  81. When stay-at-home parents home-school their children — apparently those are counted as green jobs.

  82. Lewandowsky is ignoring the fact that even with high uncertainty about the value of feedback, we can place an upper bound on it based on the fact that at some feedback, the earth would have already run away. We have no way of putting a lower bound on feedback. We do have a way of estimating an upper bound.

  83. The language of ‘uncertainty’ and ‘change’ is simply getting away from us. For example, there was uncertainty as to who would be the victor in the last presidential election. No matter won, however, there was going to be a change.

    Compare that to the upcoming election. Again there is uncertainty. But this time the uncertainty is whether there will be a change. And, the Left is fighting for no change.

  84. “Max_OK,
    You are the bestest troll here in a long time.
    I hope you post lots and lots.”

    There’s a line in The Last Temptation of Christ I always liked. The devil in the form of a guardian angel encourages Jesus to sleep around by saying, “There is only one woman in the world. One woman with many faces.”

    I kinda feel like that about the warmists who so enliven the proceedings around here. Only difference is I don’t want to sleep with them. Still, they do all seem to share the same annoying traits.

    One troll, many names.

  85. matthew hincman

    I haven’t finished read this yet, but perhaps it could help those who cannot befriend the inevitable:

    The Impermanence of Being: Toward a Psychology of Uncertainty, Kerry Gordon, Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2003 43:96

    http://jhp.sagepub.com/content/43/2/96.full.pdf+html

    • $25 for one day’s access – it must be an extremely valuable paper! But not so valuable as to be shared with the whole world.

    • Matthew Hincman

      An excerpt :

      “Rollo May (1977) stated that totalitarianism “may be viewed as serving a purpose on a cultural scale parallel to that in which a neurotic symptom protects an individual from a situation of unbearable anxiety” (p. 12). His further statement that “people grasp at political authoritarianism in the desperate need for relief from anxiety” (May, 1977, p. 12) suggests that perhaps, in the end, it is precisely our resistance to chaos and uncertainty and our almost pathological need to impose order where there may, in fact, be none at all, that is the cause of so much of our dis-ease. I am reminded of the words of systems theorist Kenneth Boulding, who warned that we always “run into the temptation of imposing an order on the universe which may not really be there” (Stamps, 1980, p. i).”

  86. Hello Judith,

    I believe I know the mistake that Lewandowsky was making as it is very similar to a classic mathematical problem that most people will mistake as a paradox (a paradox being something like proving 1=2).

    Being a math grad student I decided to look at Lewandowsky origional article to see the “simple math” she claims is there.

    I didn’t see any math, simple or otherwise, and although her arguments were vague I believed I followed them, and instantly recognized it as the envelope paradox.

    You can read all about the envelop paradox here at the following link, but I will give a brief summary and analysis here.

    http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/70470.html

    The gist of the paradox is that someone has two envelopes, one with X dollars and the other with 2X dollars.

    You pick one envelope and find it contains $100. Then that person asks you if you want to keep the $100 or switch to the other envelope.

    Since you had a 50/50 chance of picking the smaller envelope to begin with then there is a 50% chance that the other envelope contains $200 and a 50% chance that it contains $50.

    So on average the other envelope contains $125 and you should switch.

    BUT THIS IS RIDICULOUS!!!

    Since you had a 50/50 chance of picking the larger envelope to begin with it should not matter if you switch or not – and of course it doesn’t.

    The problem is most people think having a 50/50 chance of picking the smaller envelope means there is a 50/50 chance the other envelope contains $200.

    Or in other words, they believe what they know about one envelope effects what could be in the other envelope.

    This is not true.

    It doesn’t matter how much you know about the envelopes, one will always contain $50 and the other $100.

    Just like how the climate will act the same without mitigation policies no matter how much you know.

    And just like with Lewandowsky the more uncertainty there is the more money/danger you think there is.

    Consider for example the following three scenarios:

    PERFECT INFORMATION – You know one envelope contains $50 and the other $100. You open the $100 envelope.

    You calculate that switching will on average give you $50.

    PARTIAL INFORMATION – You know one envelope contains X dollars and the other 2X. You open the $100 envelope.

    You calculate switching will on average give you $125.

    NO INFORMATION- You know each envelope contains money but know nothing beyond that. You open the $100 envelope.

    OMG guys! The other envelope could contain a million-billion dollars! I know it’s a small possibility, but it’s worth the risk. Look I did the calculations:

    lim(n->infinity) 1/n \sum_{i=1}^{n} i = infinity
    (Sorry if you guys can’t read that. It says, the limit as n goes to infinity of 1/n times the sum of the first n numbers is infinity. Or in other words, assume the envelopes contain a dollar amount between 1 and n distributed evenly, and take the limit of the average as n goes to infinity, and you figure out that the average envelope has infinite money).

    Of course, this is faulty mathematics, but a difficult trap to avoid and one I feel Lewandowsky has fallen into.

    And if I could conclude with my own comments on the matter, I feel that this idea of acting because of great uncertainty is nothing more than Pascal’s Wager, but even worse.

    Pascal at least assumed that leading a Christian life did not harm you because of the finiteness of life compared to the infinity of death.

    There’s a reason why we don’t rush around trying to protect ourselves from asteroids, or a volcano hitting LA, or outlaw pork.

    In fact just the other day a man on the street told me that if Congress allows homosexuals to marry God will send the rapture.

    To have good reason to act you need more than just uncertainty, which is why I don’t think activists will get anywhere pushing this current line of thought.

    • Adam, thanks much for your analysis

      • There is a simple statistical way to put this. There were only ever two events:

        E = X and NOT(E) = 2X.

        The error creeps in immediately when you imagine there are three events:

        E1 = .5x, E2 = x and NOT(E1 or E2) = 2x.

        That is the crux of the error in the 2-envelope problem. There are only two states, not three states. And if you keep that firmly in mind, it doesn’t matter whether you have full, partial or no information. Even before you randomly receive an envelope, you will know that once you receive it, you have no incentive to switch, whether you know x EXCLUSIVE-OR have opened your envelope. Only when you both know x AND have opened your own envelope could you have an incentive to switch.

        But Adam, I’m still unclear about how the two-envelope problem connects to Lewandowski. I didn’t follow that part of your discussio

      • > But Adam, I’m still unclear about how the two-envelope problem connects to Lewandowski.

        Me too.

    • “To have good reason to act you need more than just uncertainty, which is why I don’t think activists will get anywhere pushing this current line of thought.”

      We do have more than just uncertainty which is why Lewandowsky’s argument is sound.

      Lewandowsky’s argument is based upon certainties in the science. We know CO2 level is rising, is already at highs of over 800,000 years and at the rate of rise it will induce a significant radiative imbalance if it doubles which will have an impact on global temperature, and global temperature in turn impacts a lot more. The jump in Co2 will also impact ocean pH.

      It’s the uncertainties Lewandowsky talks about are uncertainties in the impacts – the magnitudes and scales of the impacts.

      I don’t see how the envelope paradox even fits Lewandowsky’s argument.

      As an aside: The reason why we don’t rush around trying to protect ourselves from asteroids is because a major asteroid hasn’t hit the planet in a long time. We don’t have that kind of certainty from past precedent with the artificial changes being made to CO2. This will possibly be the only time in Earth’s history that CO2 has doubled in less than 300 years.

      • The Monty Hall problem seems less paradoxical from a bird’s eye view:

        > When first presented with the Monty Hall problem an overwhelming majority of people assume that each door has an equal probability and conclude that switching does not matter (Mueser and Granberg, 1999). Out of 228 subjects in one study, only 13% chose to switch (Granberg and Brown, 1995:713). In her book The Power of Logical Thinking, vos Savant (1996:15) quotes cognitive psychologist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini as saying “… no other statistical puzzle comes so close to fooling all the people all the time” and “that even Nobel physicists systematically give the wrong answer, and that they insist on it, and they are ready to berate in print those who propose the right answer.” Interestingly, pigeons make mistakes and learn from mistakes, and experiments, Herbranson and Schroeder, 2010, show that they rapidly learn to always switch, unlike humans.

      • This is not the Monty Hall problem.

        For the Monty Hall problem switching is the best option only because you know the door he is going to show you will contain a goat.

        (For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, in the Monty Hall problem you have three doors, one that contains a car and two that contain a goat. You choose one door and then Monty shows you what’;s behind one of the doors that you didn’t pick. It is important that Monty will always show you a goat. Then he asks you if you want to switch to the remaining unopened door.).

        Since Monty will show always show you a goat, if you switch you will get the car if and only if you initially picked a goat.

        A 2/3 chance.

        If you don’t switch you get the car if and only if you initially picked a car.

        A 1/3 chance.

        However, if you change the original problem to have Monty open a door at random, then 1/3 of the time you will initially pick the car and should stay. One third of the time you will pick a goat, Monty will open the door to the goat, and you should switch. And one third of the time you will pick a goat, Monty will open the door to the car, and it doesn’t matter if you switch or stay.

        In this second problem it does not matter if you switch or stay.

        This is not the Monty Hall problem. Please see the link I provided, which also links to additional analysis.

      • @Adam Chavin: This is not the Monty Hall problem.

        There is no “the” Monty Hall problem as many have pointed out over the years, only various scenarios in which you may or may not do better by switching.

        You should always switch since there is no scenario in which you can do worse by switching, whereas there exist scenarios where you can do strictly better by switching. Unless you know which scenario you’re in, you must switch. And even if you know you’re in a scenario where it makes no difference, you have lost nothing by switching.

      • Let me simplify the envelop paradox. Someone gives you an envelop with money in it… You take it.

        Monty Hall, You have two out of three chances of getting a goat. Switch doors and fire up the barbecue :)

      • Thank you for your kind answer.

        I’m not sure to what “this” refers in “this is not the Monty Hall problem”.

        If you mean that the Monty Hall problem is not the two-envelope problem, you surely have a point. But you have to admit that the two problems are somehow related. For instance, Mueser & Gransberg (1999), who studied the interaction of decision making and problem definition of the MH problem, stated:

        > The Monty Hall Dilemma is representative of a class of problems in which individuals use widely reliable cues which, under the given circumstance, are misleading. Although such behaviors appear, on their face, to violate rational standards, they are explicable in terms of a
        rational, well-defined decision making strategy. This is not to say that individuals’ actions are, in fact, narrowly rational, since we recognize that responses are shaped by both the cognitive limitations of the individual and the particulars of personal experience.

        If you mean that the Lewandowsky’s argument does not correspond to the Monty Hall fallacy, then we would need an interpretation of Lewandowsky’s argument as fitting on of this problem, as NW underlined above. Meanwhile, if I thought it would be interesting to mention a more popular example.

        This example matters because it shows how it is paradox, even it does not amount to prove that 1 = 2, i.e. it’s a veridical paradox, and because we do have some empirical evidence of paradoxical behavior, as can attest Nobel prize winners and pigeons.

        ***

        Thank you for your link above. It made me read Chalmers’ St.Petersburg version of the paradox, whose conclusion should be noted:

        > Decision-theoretically, the moral is that dominance reasoning is not generally valid. Say one has two choices A and B, and a parameter C whose value is unknown, on which the utility of A or B may depend. An unrestricted dominance principle says that if, given any specific value of C, A is preferable to B, then A is preferable to B overall. The St. Petersburg two-envelope paradox (taking C as the value in envelope A, and A and B as the respective choices) shows us that this principle is false.

        http://www.consc.net/papers/stpete.html

        I believe that from a decision-theoretic point of view, the two problems might not be that different. All we need is to tweak the payoffs and validate them through appropriate tests.

        I don’t think that trying to reduce Lewandowsky’s argument to a numerical absurdity renders much justice to his work. Not that it’s not possible. But even then, I’m sure Lewandowsky would welcome such criticism and tweak his formulation accordingly.

        In any case, to connect all this to Pascal’s wager, which incidentally might be considered valid, just does not smell right to me.

      • Lolwot says,

        “We do have more than just uncertainty which is why Lewandowsky’s argument is sound.”

        I would be interested how you react to my argument at

        http://judithcurry.com/2012/06/06/uncertainty-is-not-your-friend/#comment-206986

    • I love Monty Hall, You pick door number two, behind it is 3C…

    • Pascal’s wager is completely different from what Lewandowsky argues.

      Pascal’s wager is based on the evidence-less concepts of heaven and hell and divine judgement.

      Whereas Lewandowsky’s argument is based on evidence established fact that human emissions will significantly enhance the greenhouse effect which will impact the climate.

      Lewandowsky’s argument is more akin to the analogy of swallowing a series of pills without knowing what the impact will be. In that case uncertainty is not your friend. Uncertainty in the effects of the pills increases the danger and if the uncertainty is large enough the effects include the possibility of death. It makes no sense to argue that this is like Pascal’s Wager. The fact it’s dangerous should be obvious to all.

      • Huh? What on earth does swallowing a series of unknown substances have to do with what we are discussing?

      • It’s taking an action without knowing the consequences, other than the action will impact you.

        It’s an analogy with our impact on climate.

      • Michael Hart

        That argument appears to start from the premise that you know, a priori, that at least one of the pills must be harmful. [Or are collectively harmful]

        What reason do you have to believe that the “pills” are not made of sugar?

      • lolwot,
        Lewandowsky is no cliamte scientists. He is no more qualified to his opinion than you or I. You just happen to like his opinion and so are ignoring the prepostrous nature of his infantile reasoning.

      • “He is no more qualified to his opinion than you or I. You just happen to like his opinion”

        Uh yes. That’s the point. I agree with his argument.

        His reasoning is sound, you haven’t even bothered addressing it, just ad-homs.

  87. By “Basic Mathematics” there is 95% certainty that there will be no humans living in 9120 years. No, really, there is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_paradox

    That’s far too certain to worry about though!

    • The logic of the doomsday paradox would predict, from any example of a positive integer however large, that with probability 1 there can be only finitely many positive integers. Since there are infinitely many positive integers the logic must be wrong.

      The doomsday paradox is the sort of reasoning about population dynamics one might expect out of the philosophy department. In the biology department the reasoning is more along the lines of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_dynamics, with the Lotka-Volterra equation playing an important role.

      • maksimovich

        The Lotka-Volterra equation is a problem in dynamics ie Hilberts 16th,The LV system being non-Hamiltonian.its integral H is generically a transcendental function, in the case of the rational numbers the degree of the corresponding polynomial are not bounded uniformly.This is an open problem ( Arnold V) in bifurcation theory eg Andronov and Pontryagin.

    • There could be a problem with your statistics. The warming period between Ice Ages is 8-12k years and humanity’s entire experience on Earth has taken place during the Holocene Epoch which means 11k of the 8-12k years of the latest interglacial warming epoch has already past.

      Perhaps Al Gore and Michael Mann should get together and make a movie about it–e.g., An Inconvenient Truth: Some Like It Hot — That Would Be Us — And, It Ain’t ‘Gonna Last Forever (The Next Ice Age May Be Overdue) — So, We Should Just Off Ourselves Now

  88. Imagine an American visiting England for the first time who takes a bus to an interesting part of the countryside and decides to hire a car, the better to sightsee. He sets out along an empty two-lane highway, and after ten minutes of driving rounds a bend only to find a car coming the other way in his lane, within two seconds of a collision! Predict the outcome.

    Prediction 1. Since he’s been in that lane for 600 seconds, the probability he will remain in the lane for the next two seconds is (n+1)/(n+2) = 301/302 where n = 600/2. Hence the probability of collision is 99.7%.

    Prediction 2. Since he’s a defensive driver with excellent reflexes he waits one second to see if the other driver is going to get out of his way, then swerves out of the way of this madman. Probability of collision: less than 50%, unless the other driver has equally good reflexes.

    (This actually happened to me in 1975 on a country road in Massachusetts shortly after returning from a three-month trip to Scotland. Fortunately I had the second outcome, but thinking about it even today sets my teeth on edge. The “madman” and I stared at each other for a while until I realized my mistake. A really good thing his reflexes were a lot slower than mine.)

  89. There is a huge skewing here. It is constantly said that uncertainty means (A) things may be worse than we think, while doggedly ignoring (B) that they might just as easily be better than we think.
    So the downsides of (A) are explored in detail, but the downside of a (large and certain) needless impoverishing of everyone on the planet in the light of (B), receives but short thrift.

    • It’s more worser than that. Attempting to mitigate A slashes the benefits from B, if it occurs, while doing little or noting to evade or mitigate A; but preparing for B still maximizes resources and flexibility for responding to A if necessary. Only maleficent fools demand preparation for A.

      • Edit: little or nothing.

        P.S. There is also C: (-A), in this case cooling rather than warming. Its downsides are far worse than (A), and A-prep is utterly disabling for responding to (-A). Whereas B-prep deals optimally with both (A) and (-A).

        Repeat with emphasis: Only maleficent, malignant fools demand A-prep.

  90. Zero to hero? Overnight Lewandowski scored the opening goal of the Euro 2012 football tournament for Poland against Greece.

  91. Beth Cooper

    I’m finding Nassim Talib’s ;The Black Swan is the most exciting book of non fiction I’ve read since Karl Popper’s ‘Open society and Its Enemies.’
    There’s jest no such corroborating bird, no matter how many white swans you might see.

    Travelling in Mediocristan, one way street,
    Highway, low way, misnomered freeway,
    Go right, go left, look up, look down.

    And if I come to a fork in the road,
    Would I like Frost, take the fork less travelled?
    Would I dare, and could I dare…
    If the arrow says ‘No?’

  92. Beth;
    Never mind Frost. Listen to Berra: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

    >:-P

  93. Beth Cooper

    BH: I will. )

  94. Gbaikie, @ June 9, 2012 at 10:32 am
    http://judithcurry.com/2012/06/06/uncertainty-is-not-your-friend/#comment-207850

    Thank you for that link. I’ve made some good use of it. You might be interest to see the discussion starting here http://johnquiggin.com/2012/06/10/weekend-reflections-189/comment-page-1/#comment-174680

    This is on Professor John Quiggin’s thread. John Quiggin was heavily involved in the Ross Garnaut study that underpinned the Australian CO2 tax and ETS legislation, and persuaded the parliamentarians to legislate the tax and ETS. He is of far Left (socialist & progressive) political persuasion. you may be interested in my question about the compliance cost of the ETS and how he has responded. Responses included deleting my comments he did not want to address, replacing them with his pejorative comments, and avoidance of the main question. Avoidance and diversion is the speciality. I am becoming more convinced that my questions about the ultimate compliance cost of the ETS is an issue worth pursuing.