A precautionary tale: more sorry than safe(?)

by Judith Curry

The unfortunate reality is that efforts to regulate one risk can create other, often more dangerous risks. – Jonathan Adler

The philosophical and political debate surrounding the precautionary principle is highlighted in two recent articles.

Jeremy Rifkin

Jeremy Rifkin has an article in the Guardian entitled A precautionary tale. Subtitle:   The EU plans new regulations for scientific risk-taking, based on the principle of sustainable development. US big business is furious.  Excerpts:

Chances are that most people have never heard of “the precautionary principle”. This relatively new term is the most radical idea for rethinking humanity’s relationship to the natural world since the 18th-century European Enlightenment. Its potential impact is already being felt within the business community and the halls of government, with profound implications for all of us.

At issue is a proposed EU directive that would force companies to prove chemical products introduced into the marketplace are safe before being granted permission to market them.  Under the proposed EU standards, companies would be required to register and test for the safety of more than 30,000 chemicals at an estimated cost of nearly €6bn (£4bn) to the industry.

What’s at stake here goes far beyond the chemical industry. The EU is attempting to establish a radical new approach to science and technology based on the principle of sustainable development and global stewardship of the Earth’s environment.

At the heart of the precautionary principle is a radical divergence in the way Europe has come to perceive risks compared to the US. In Europe, intellectuals are increasingly debating the question of the great shift from a risk-taking age to a risk-prevention era. That debate is virtually non-existent among American intellectuals. Risks of all kinds are now global in scale, open-ended in duration, incalculable in their consequences, and not compensational. When everyone is vulnerable, and all can be lost, then traditional notions of calculating and pooling risks become virtually meaningless. This is what European academics call a risk society.

The precautionary principle is deeply at odds with the traditional Enlightenment idea about science. Risk taking is at the heart of modern science. To attempt to put limits on scientific pursuits, in lieu of greater certainty about their potential impacts on the environment, is, some scientists say, tantamount to squelching our very notion of progress.

Jonathan Adler

Jonathan Adler has published a paper More Sorry Than Safe:  Assessing the Precautionary Principle and the Proposed International Biosafety Protocol.

Recent advances in biotechnology promise tremendous benefits, including fast growing, resilient crops, more nutritious foods, new medicines and vaccines, and even new technologies for environmental decontamination. Yet modern biotechnology also inspires fear and trepidation.

The full promise of genetic engineering has yet to be discovered. For some, the possibility of unforeseen risks is cause for regulation until the uncertainty can be resolved, irrespective of the benefits that reliance on biotechnology could bring. Advocates of this “precautionary” approach urge adoption of an international biosafety protocol-negotiated under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity-to regulate the use and international transfer of GMOs.

Calls for precautionary regulation of biotechnology may seem compelling-until one considers the trade-offs. Government regulation of new technology inevitably slows its development and adoption. Imposing additional regulatory burdens on a given technology lowers the expected returns from new innovations. This, in turn, provides disincentives for research. As a result, excessive regulation may sacrifice the benefits of innovation in the interest of “safety.” In the case of biotechnology, excessive precautionary regulation could, for example, limit the introduction of high-yield crops, nutritionally-enhanced foodstuffs, or new vaccines. While regulation of new technology is supposed to make the world a safer place, precautionary regulation of biotechnology could leave the world less safe than it would be otherwise. In short, an international biosafety protocol could make us more sorry than safe.

The precautionary principle holds that “[w]hen an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”In other words, regulate first, assess the risks later. As applied in the environmental context, this means that it is better to err on the side of regulating or controlling new technologies than to risk new or unforeseen problems. In the ideal, new technologies should be proven “safe” before they are used.

The precautionary principle appeals to the common sense idea that “it is better to be safe than sorry.” In practice, the precautionary principle biases regulatory decisions against the introduction of any new technology. While those who advocate adoption of the precautionary principle purport to be acting in defense of public health and the environment, the precautionary principle may well leave us more sorry and less safe. As noted by the late Aaron Wildavsky, “The empirical question is whether the health [and environmental] gains from the regulation of the substances involved are greater or lesser than the health [and environmental] costs of the regulation.”  

The problem is that by focusing on one set of risks-those posed by the introduction of new technologies with somewhat uncertain effects-the precautionary principle turns a blind eye to the harms that occur, or are made worse, due to the lack of technological development. “The truly fatal flaw of the precautionary principle, ignored by almost all the commentators, is the unsupported presumption that an action aimed at public health protection cannot possibly have negative effects on public health.”  The unfortunate reality is that efforts to regulate one risk can create other, often more dangerous risks.

Insofar as regulations divert resources away from potentially life-saving or safety-enhancing activities, they make people worse off. At the extreme, regulations that impose substantial costs can even increase overall mortality.

Higher economic growth and aggregate wealth strongly correlate with reduced mortality and morbidity. This should be no surprise as the accumulation of wealth is necessary to fund medical research, support markets for advanced life-saving technologies, build infrastructure necessary for better food distribution, and so on. In a phrase, poorer is sicker, and wealthier is healthier.  “There is no free health. “ Much the same can be said for environmental protection.

JC reflections

The precautionary principle dominates climate policy.   At the heart of the policy debate is whether the climate ‘cure’ in terms of CO2 emissions policy is worse than the climate ‘disease’.

Rifkin remarks that the precautionary principle reflects the great shift from a risk-taking age to a risk-prevention era, with substantial socioeconomic implications.  Further, the precautionary principle turns out notion of justice on its head:  guilty until proven innocent, versus innocent until proven guilty.

So, if we are to dismiss the precautionary principle, then how should we proceed.  Well, we can proceed with caution.  Or better yet is the Proactionary principle:  The proactionary principle valorizes calculated risk-taking as essential to human progress, where the capacity for progress is taken to define us as a species.

The precautionary principle is only one of a number of decision-analytic frameworks for dealing with deep uncertainty, one which IMO is not well suited to a wicked problem like climate change.  Alternative frameworks for decision making under deep uncertainty have been discussed in these previous CE posts:

Uncertainty is key information in these alternative decision- analytic frameworks, and consensus is not required!

So, maybe its time to move on from the precautionary principle in terms of dealing with the complex, wicked climate change problem.



475 responses to “A precautionary tale: more sorry than safe(?)

  1. The precautionary principle is self-disproving.

    We don’t know what its unintended consequences are, so don’t use it.

    • The RHHardin Precautionary Precautionary Principle: Because we don’t know what unintended consequences might obtain from applying the Precautionary Principle, we ought not risk using it.

      The Hofstadter Precautionary Principle: Because we don’t know what unintended consequences might obtain from applying The RHHardin Precautionary Principle, we ought not risk using it either. In fact, we ought not use the Hofstadter Precautionary Principle either.

      • In testimony before Congress in 2009 it was estimated that introducing a cap and trade policy would triple the unemployment rate –e.g., if unployment is ‘x’ now the unemployment will be 3x if the Leftists get their way.

    • Atlas Shrugged.

    • Precautionary principle — since we cannot know all the risks of action re: climate we should avoid doing anything new or different. [Especially since there is no evidence that doing nothing is harmful.]

    • True, true, Phillip Stott warns us that actually attempting to bring stability to the world’s complex, coupled and chaotic climate system by singling out a single factor like atmospheric CO2 levels, “may even trigger unexpected consequences.”

  2. The proactionary principle applied to climate science would suggest technology to mitagate the use of CO2 causing fossil fuels wouldn’t it?

    • The truly fatal flaw of the precautionary principle, ignored by almost all the commentators, is the unsupported presumption that an action aimed at public health protection cannot possibly have negative effects on public health.

      The experience of the Ebola doctor does seem to challenge the presumption that any action aimed at public health protection somehow deserves a pass when it comes to assessing the wisdom of an act… or, the lack of it.

      • @Wagathon. Anyone can propose any action and claim that it is in the or aimed at public health protection. From using GMO foods to banning GMO foods. Eugenics could be done in the protection of public health. Forced sterilization could be as well. The whole notion seems to be a conceptual disaster from beginning to end.
        Might that be, because the notion arises out of a totalitarian conception of life. Individuals make risk assessments everyday in the service of their own lives. ‘Be cautious’ is good advice but we all know that it is a matter of judgement about how much and when and where and under what circumstances. Being overly cautious in an emergency which requires immediate action, like taking your hand off a hot stove, would seem to be on the other side of insanity.
        The problem arises when the sensible advice of being cautious is raised to a ‘principle’ and applied to everyone by STATE power.
        It is a totalitarian’s wet dream in that it reverses cause and effect, turns innocent until proven guilty into guilty until proven innocent. Stasis becomes the ultimate goal which is what bureaucrats want in their hearts instead of messy, dynamic, ever changing society.
        What we need, if we need anything, is a firmer grasp on the Principle of Liberty, individual freedom, voluntary associations and why mandating things with ‘laws’ even when they supposedly do good, like mandating the wearing of seat belts, is profoundly, morally wrong.

      • So true and that is why we now have the makings for a Kafkaesque situation: the Randian hero — whose activity is nothing more than engaging in the business of living, for money (and for the benefit of all society) — is arrested and accused of a crime and doesn’t know how to plead his innocence because he doesn’t understand that he actually is guilty… of releasing CO2 into atmosphere.

  3. “The unfortunate reality is that efforts to regulate one risk can create other, often more dangerous risks.” – Jonathan Adler

    So can the failure to address or regulate risk.

    • What is really really really the worst, they want to regulate risk that is not really risk. They want to regulate how well green things grow and how much water is required. They are not trying to regulate risk, they are trying to regulate life on earth that depends on CO2.

      • In some circles, that is population control.

      • If all it takes for green things to grow well is CO2, why are there no plants on Venus, whose atmosphere is 96% CO2?

      • Major Appell circles Mars.

      • thisisnotgoodtogo

        “If all it takes for green things to grow well is CO2, why are there no plants on Venus, whose atmosphere is 96% CO2?”

        Who said CO2 is all it takes? Is David Appell well upstairs?

      • Mars’ atmosphere FWIW is also almost pure CO2, just not much of anything tho. .

      • >> Who said CO2 is all it takes <<

        That's my point, and what "CO2 is plant food" people overlook. It takes certain temperature and precipitation ranges for plants to flourish. This study found that higher temperatures are already cancelling out the CO2 fertilization factor for several major crops:

        Environmental Research Letters Volume 2 Number 1
        David B Lobell and Christopher B Field 2007 Environ. Res. Lett. 2 014002 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/1/014002
        “Global scale climate–crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming”

      • That’s my point, and what “CO2 is plant food” people overlook.

        They also overlook (often deliberately ignore) the point that weeds are plants too.

      • David Appell:

        Environmental Research Letters Volume 2 Number 1
        David B Lobell and Christopher B Field 2007 Environ. Res. Lett. 2 014002 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/1/014002
        “Global scale climate–crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming”

        Smoke and mirrors!
        That study really is a prime example of torturing data until they confess, aka how to lie with statistics.

      • David,

        Care to show us where mr pope stated CO2 was all it took?

        Dishonesty. It’s how you do discussion.

    • Sounds like you are suggesting that we flip a coin.
      Before flipping a coin shouldn’t we consider cost?

      • I said nothing about “flipping a coin.”

        Of course cost is a factor. But we must also consider the cost of doing nothing.

      • stevefitzpatrick

        David Appell,
        The cost of doing nothing is in many cases completely unknown. The cost of regulation is sometimes poorly known, but certainly non-zero, and often huge. Costly regulations to avert a risk with unknown costs are impossible to justify economically; it is more a religious choice. Which is why it should be rejected by the voters.

      • What, the risk of losing the coin?

      • No, the costs of doing nothing are reasonably well known and scary, even the unduly optimistic ones (Tol for example). See RCP 8.5 and the consequences as described in the AR5.

      • Eli, read Goklany’s paper, linked to by him and by me below, for a refutation and an indication of a mores sensible approach.

      • No, the costs of doing nothing are reasonably well known and scary, even the unduly optimistic ones (Tol for example). See RCP 8.5 and the consequences as described in the AR5.

        That’s not “well known”, that’s fantasy. The “costs of doing nothing” are entirely speculative and the probabilities are beyond evaluation. They also aren’t limited to climate (e.g. eco-catastrophe).

        For all that, the opposite of “doing nothing” isn’t doing what you (clearly, IMO) are pushing for. There are many ways the “problem” of increasing pCO2 could be solved without impacting the growth of cheap energy and other worthwhile development. Many would have similar time-frames to your urgent, immediate, and disastrous “mitigation” policies, while simply redirecting a bit of economic growth so as to achieve earlier implementation of (inevitable, IMO) extraction technologies.

      • Faustino and AK: Spot on. The adult answer is to address CO2 prudently. If nothing else the pause has shown that CO2 isn’t an immediate threat; no need to reduce emissions in the short term, no need to harm the poor.

    • “regulating” incalculable, unverifiable, implausible risks is nothing more or less than a power play in favor of certain anti-freedom values held by some intellectuals

      • ‘Now said Poseidon, god of earthquakes, …
        the sleek Phaiakan cutter, even now
        has carried out her mission and glides home
        over the misty sea. Let me impale her,
        end her voyage, and end all ocean-crossing
        with passengers, then heave a mass of mountain
        around the city.’

        The Odyssey Homer Bk 13.

      • The risk is neither incalculable, nor unverifiable, nor implausible. [0/3]

        How great is the “power play” of those who think they can pollute with impunity, altering the clilmate for the next 100,000 years?

        Was your freedom curtailed by the catalytic converter? By stick deoderant instead of aerosol cans? By having to pay a monthly waste bill instead of dumping your garbage at the end of the street?

        How exactly is your freedom curtailed by plugging your applicances into an outlet that delivers electricity produced by noncarbon sources than by plugging it into an outlet powered by carbon sources?

      • The timestamps of skiphil and DavidA’s comment look strange. Is 12:36 AM past midnight?

      • Nope, it’s before.

        Heh, also after. Don’t you love it?

      • Curious George

        @David Appell: I just don’t believe that Ford Model T came with a catalytic converter. It solved the problem of New York streets full of horse manure. If you want to allow cars only after an invention of a catalytic converter, you are literally putting the cart before the horse.

        Has it ever been safe to abandon caves? Or trees? I don’t dream of going back.

    • You really do have a single-sided world-view, don’t you?

      • phatboy | August 11, 2014 at 1:31 am | Reply

        You really do have a single-sided world-view, don’t you?

        Yes, it is better to have a two-sided world-view where we consider both (1) the finiteness of non-renewable fossil fuels along with (2) the potential of fossil-fuel emissions to raise global temperatures.

        phatboy probably wants a zero-sided world-view, which is the ostrich’s view-point.

      • I’m not interested in anything you have to say

      • Yes Web, let’s consider the “finiteness of non-renewable fossil fuels” and the potential for a warmer world. First, “finiteeness”:

        From the Institute for Energy Research, 2011:
        In the last 100 years, America’s population has tripled. Life expectancy has increased by 70 percent. The productivity of the American people, measured in terms of real per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has increased by 600 percent. At the same time, we have consumed more than 340 billion barrels of oil, almost 60 billion short tons of coal, and more than 1,090 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

        These things are linked. Affordable and reliable energy is a crucial factor in making these and many other significant human, social and technological achievements possible.

        Yet even with steadily increasing rates of economic and population growth, as well as increasing energy consumption, the United States today possesses greater recoverable supplies of oil, natural gas and coal than at any point in its recorded history. How can that be? Have vast new sources of hydrocarbon fuels magically materialized beneath our feet over the past 100 years? Or is it possible that, despite what you’ve read, heard and have been told, our continent has always had a lot more energy available to it than some would have us believe?

        The answers lie in the data. In 1980, official estimates of proved oil reserves in the United States stood at roughly 30 billion barrels. Yet over the past 30 years, more than 77 billion barrels of oil have been produced here. In other words, over the last 30 years, the United States produced more than two and a half times the proved reserves we thought we had available in 1980. Thanks to new and continuing innovations in exploration and production technology, there’s every reason to believe that today’s estimates of reserves are only a fraction of what will be produced and delivered tomorrow—not only here in the United States, but across the entire North American continent.

        Total Recoverable Resources: 1.79 trillion barrels.
        • Enough oil to fuel every passenger car in the United States for 430 years
        • Almost twice as much as the combined proved reserves of all OPEC nations
        • More than six times the proved reserves of Saudi Arabia

        Total Recoverable Resources: 497 billion short tons.
        • Provide enough electricity for approximately 500 years at coal’s current level of consumption for electricity generation
        • More coal than any other country in the world
        • More than the combined total of the top five non-North American countries’ reserves. (Russia, China, Australia, India, and Ukraine)
        • Almost three times as much coal as Russia, which has the world’s second largest reserves.

        Total Recoverable Resources: 4.244 quadrillion cubic feet.
        • Enough natural gas to provide the United States with electricity for 575 years at current natural gas generation levels
        • Enough natural gas to fuel homes heated by natural gas in the United States for 857 years
        • More natural gas than all of the next five largest national proved reserves (more than Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan)

        Re: the potential for a warmer planet – 2 points. Point one – the pause despite continued increase in Co2 levels, and point 2, why is a warmer world necesssarily a bad thing? As Kim has pointed out repeatedly, and factually, a warrmer word sustains a greater abundance and diversity of life.

        Simple fact of the matter is, if we want a “greener” planet, we want more Co2, not less.

      • Thanks, Barnes; I wish I knew whom I’d stolen that from.

      • phatboy: Appelll has a cause, joined by a consensus: that is his universe. Kim has commented that she will cry for his like when the cause crumbles, and so will I.

      • rls, are you saying you’d like to see Appell crumble? ;-)

    • @ Barnes

      “Affordable and reliable energy is a crucial factor in making these and many other significant human, social and technological achievements possible.”

      Or, as Jerry Pournelle is fond of saying, accurately, ‘Cheap, plentiful energy is the key to freedom and prosperity.’.

      Am I the only one who has noticed that no matter its efficacy in regulating the planetary thermostat (which is NEVER discussed), EVERY ‘energy policy’ advocated by the progressives who dominate climate science and establish energy policies will have the indisputable effect of INCREASING the cost of energy and DECREASING its supply? And asked, given the obvious consequences of such policies, ‘Why?’.

    • >> Or, as Jerry Pournelle is fond of saying, accurately, ‘Cheap, plentiful energy is the key to freedom and prosperity. <<

      Cheap and plentiful for who — the consumer, or all the people who must live with that cheap energy's pollution for the next several millennia?

      Shouldn't the consumer pay the damage costs of his pollution? If not, who should pay them?

      • David writes-
        “Shouldn’t the consumer pay the damage costs of his pollution? If not, who should pay them?”

        My response- Start with the term “damage” —
        “1. The loss caused by one person to another, or to his property, either with the design of injuring him, with negligence and carelessness, or by inevitable accident.
        2. He who has caused the damage is bound to repair it and, if he has done it maliciously, he may be. compelled to pay beyond the actual loss. When damage occurs by accident, without blame to anyone, the loss is borne by the owner of the thing injured;”

        In the case of CO2 emissions there has been no intent of anyone emitting CO2 to harm another party there fore there is no blame to anyone and no recovery. You could also easily argue that the emission of the CO2 provided a net benefit not a harm.

      • David,
        How much should the environmental movement pay for the situation we’re in given that the movement has been running misinformation campaigns against emissions-free and low cost power for 40 years?
        This is a perfect example of a situation where the “cure” (dumping nukes)
        was worse than the disease. And the campaigners blame everyone but themselves for their mistakes.

      • @ David Appell

        So you are maintaining the raising the cost of energy and reducing its supply is actually a desirable outcome of ‘climate mitigation’?

        “Shouldn’t the consumer pay the damage costs of his pollution? If not, who should pay them?”

        Yes, the consumer should pay the damage costs of his pollution. Except that CO2 isn’t pollution and there no empirical costs to CO2 which demand payment. The only empirical effect of increased CO2 levels to date is (apparently) increasingly vigorous plant growth.

        Ex cathedra declaration of costs abound. For example, ‘studies show’ (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080515072740.htm) that Global Warming increases kidney stones and Climate Science has declared, and tolerates no dissension, that ACO2 is the cause of Global Warming. Should kidney stone sufferers sue fossil fuel providers for their medical costs and punitive damages for the accompanying ‘pain and suffering’?

      • No coal for thee there is greater deed to be done.

      • “Cheap and plentiful for who — the consumer, or all the people who must live with that cheap energy’s pollution for the next several millennia?”

        The very best thing about being a progressive is that you can be mind numbingly ignorant, and still consider yourself a member of the intellectual elite.

        “The people who must live with … cheap energy’s pollution….”

        Makes a lot of sense if by pollution you mean the food, medicines, technology, transportation and limited energy they do have, that allows them to live at the level of the bronze age, rather than the stone age conditions their progressive dictators would otherwise provide.

        True, there are vast swaths of the globe where people are allowed by their progressive leaders to live free of the evils of capitalism, but even they are occasionally saved from their own immolation by charity from the evil west.

        Amazingly, when hundreds of thousands are hiding on a mountaintop to avoid being butchered, nobody tries to get Burkina Fasso to intervene.

      • Fracking has increased use of natural gas with reductions in CO2 and pollution. Even use of oil is better than coal as far as pollution goes.

      • >> In the case of CO2 emissions there has been no intent of anyone emitting CO2 to harm another party there fore there is no blame to anyone and no recovery.<<

        That was true for the public up to about 1990, though many scientists knew it decades before. In any case, it's no longer true and we're well aware of the risks of CO2-fueled climate change. So your argument fails.

      • >> This is a perfect example of a situation where the “cure” (dumping nukes) was worse than the disease. <<

        Maybe; maybe not. I am for more nuclear, but I think reasonable people can disagree on the risks of nuclear power, including its waste problem.

      • >> Fracking has increased use of natural gas with reductions in CO2 and pollution. <<

        Some. It's better than coal, to be sure, but its reductions are not nearly enough to solve the climate problem. US annualized CO2 emissions are down 9.4% from their Jan 2008 peak (-0.57 Gt/yr), but some of that was due to the recession and US CO2 emisions are growing again, up 0.12 Gt/yr in the last 12 months alone..

      • >> So you are maintaining the raising the cost of energy and reducing its supply is actually a desirable outcome of ‘climate mitigation’? <> Except that CO2 isn’t pollution <<

        Of course it is. I'm not playing in your pretend-science game.

      • >> Makes a lot of sense if by pollution you mean the food, medicines, technology, transportation and limited energy they do have, <<

        Power production by coal creates more damage than value, according to the right's once-favorite environmental ecologist:

        "Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy," Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus, American Economic Review, 101(5): 1649–75 (2011).

        To summarize that paper's findings: for every $1 in value that comes from coal-generated electricity, it creates $2.20 in damages.

        Total damages: $70 billion per year (in 2012 dollars).

        Petroleum-generated electricity is even worse: $5.13 in damages for $1 in value

      • This is the second time Appell has cited the Nordhaus et al study here. As I politely pointed out to him last time, absolving him as a civilian from understanding this point, it says right in the methods section of that paper that they have assumed in their calculations that the average benefit of private consumption is equal to its marginal benefit. In other words, for technical simplicity reasons the paper assumes that there is no consumer surplus at all from any consumption purchases, an assumption that renders its calculations a highly unrealistic lower bound on the private benefits of fossil energy production.

        The technical assumption involved is tantamount to saying that you were just indifferent between buying and not buying everything you ever purchased, including all your food, clothing, and shelter. Personally, at market prices I feel I come out way ahead by having food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, etc. For example, I had a medium chocolate Wendy’s Frosty the other day for $1.07 (with tax) and got at least $2.00 of enjoyment out of it (I would have been willing to pay at least that much for it) but the Nordhaus et al calculation assumes that I only got $1.07 in enjoyment for zero net benefit after paying for it. In my opinion, they ought to highlight the unrealistic downward bias that assumption makes, but economists all understand this among themselves and so don’t always make it clear to civilians.

        This now makes the second polite explanation to Appell of why he is misapplying the paper. If he cites it one more time in this context my politeness will be strained.

      • @ David Appell

        “Power production by coal creates more damage than value, according to the right’s once-favorite environmental ecologist:”

        Usually, it is very difficult to test climate theory.

        This one however would be very easy: Shut down all coal powered generators for five years. At the end of the test, catalog all the ways in which value was increased, the damages that never occurred, and celebrate the net cornucopia of coalless blessings.

        I’m sure that the population at large, having enjoyed their coal free existence, would be happy to reward the authors of the experiment as they so richly deserved.

      • Funny how “that cheap energy” became just coal.

        Just what the poor people of the world need. Clueless progressives trying to kill the economic engine of the west that so many of victims of centrally planned dictatorships are willing to risk dying to join. And a lucky few are finally getting the chance to emulate.

      • Bob, a better plan would be to phase coal out over 30 years or add CCS to remaining plants. However, you may not like that so much, because it may just work, and nobody would miss the coal.

      • Steve, to amplify/simplify the consumer surplus point: prices are set where a demand curve meets a supply curve. The consumer at that point on the demand curve gets the benefit he pays for. Everyone higher up the curve – those prepared to pay more – gets a greater benefit, their “consumer surplus.”

      • Faustino: That explanation may help some people. In my experience, bringing in supply and demand curves works best in explaining things to people who naturally think in economics terms. If you want to go farther in that direction, you can say that the paper under discussion assumes that all demand curves are perfectly elastic, or at least that deviations from perfect elasticity are small enough to be neglected.

        Over in the public finance literature they usually try to be somewhat more careful about this stuff in assessing the impact of taxes and the like by using compensating and equivalent variation, but I never took those courses and so don’t like to pontificate about them in too much detail. The basic idea is that compensating variation calculates how much income you’d have to give the individual at the after-tax prices to make him just as well off as under the pre-tax prices. Equivalent variation asks how much income we would have to take from the individual at the pre-tax prices to make him as well off as he would be under the after-tax prices. (Kind or related to the concepts behind the Paasch and Lespayres price indices.) This


        is a TAs explanation to his students on how to do problems using these concepts and looks to me like a pretty good explanation.

        The point here is that Nordhaus and his coauthors did not do either of these calculations in their cost-benefit analyses of fossil fuel consumption. They simply assumed away the problem, thereby producing a weak lower-bound on the social benefits of fossil fuels.

      • David,

        I take it that caring about people who don’t exist is easier for you than caring about people who happen to be real.

        BTW, if you really do care so much, why don’t you buy some farm land in China and get back to basics?

    • “So can the failure to address or regulate risk”

      You think? Absolutely typical warmist comment. Did you even bother reading the post? Can you honestly say you’ve grappled with these issues? I sincerely doubt it.

    • “Of course cost is a factor. But we must also consider the cost of doing nothing.”

      The cost of doing nothing is nothing. I think you mean we need to consider the risk.

    • David

      CO2 mitigation activities have no known benefits, but if you are concerned about adverse weather, construction of good infrastructure does. perhaps you should be an advocate for that.

      • Logic. danger.

      • >> CO2 mitigation activities have no known benefits <<

        Also obviously false. Except in the alternative reality contrarians have constructed for themselves.

      • I’ll bite Dave, please give us one example of a mitigation activity, its cost and benefits including how much it will,lower global temperature over what time frame. Thanks.

      • Ok David,

        What benefits can we expect from CO2 mitigation benefits?

        And keep in mind that as the best climate science can’t tell us exactly what the degree of impact to average temperature a doubling of CO2 will give us, please explain the basis for the benefits you say we will get.

    • Really strange comment. The “efforts to regulate one risk” are obviously intended to avoid the costs created by that risk – the ones you are referring to. But – listen carefully here – “the unfortunate reality is that… can create other, often more dangerous risks.”
      Adler is saying that both sides should be taken into account, and sensible decisions should be made that minimize costs of all kinds. You seem to be arguing with him, and therefore must be saying that it is really dangerous to pay attention to any but the costs that you want to pay attention to.

    • Craig Loehle

      David Appell asks if my “freedom” was curtailed by having to get a catalytic converter or having my trash taken to the dump instead of dumping it into the street.
      In fact, pollution control technologies are not free and do raise the cost of a car, which can curtail the freedom of the poor. Is it worth it? Perhaps, but let’s lot pretend that expensive things are free.
      When solar and wind power are bankrupting countries in Europe because they cost so much, and being bankrupt certainly does curtail the freedom of the unemployed and those paying higher taxes, it is disingenuous to pretend that stopping warming is like simply having the trash man pick up your trash. It is expensive. And if the “harm” is only another degree of warming which makes plants grow better, why do I even want to prevent that? Of course David believes in 6 degrees of warming (or else why be so agitated?).

      • >> Is it worth it? Perhaps, but let’s lot pretend that expensive things are free <> And if the “harm” is only another degree of warming which makes plants grow better, why do I even want to prevent that? <<

        Again, I don't play in the pretend-science sand box, where all the kids wear blinders and everyone lives happily ever after.

      • Craig, in Australia and I expect in many other countries, the costs in terms of first price and fuel of many regulations led to an aging of the vehicle fleet, as people hung on to their old cars, utes etc longer. To the extent that “safety features” and anti-pollution moves caused this, they might have been counter-productive. (This has been offset of course by the price & variety benefits from lower import barriers and a higher $A.)

      • One lurking disaster of the Australian carbon tax was the sometimes quadrupling of the cost of refrigerant gas. Many businesses ended up wasting food when they could not afford to re-gas, and the talk of Australia as food-basket and boucherie to Asia failed to take into account the soaring processing costs.

        Well, I suppose if coal is burnt uselessly (maybe even in BoA plants) because it’s more efficient to waste coal power than to ramp it up and down to support “renewables”…then no pottiness, no daffiness, no green loopiness should surprise any more. Especially not after Woodchips-to-Drax and Flannery’s Geothermia.

        Can we please get the adults back into the kitchen? They’re the ones who don’t need to ask if they’re applying a principle with a faddish name…even as they apply whatever good judgement is implied by the jargon expression.

        Adults. Now.

      • Well, mosomoso, the Abbott government claimed that the adults were now in charge. I’m not so sure.

      • @ Craig Loehle

        “……..it is disingenuous to pretend that stopping warming is like simply having the trash man pick up your trash.”

        You may also want to remind Appell that it is disingenuous to pretend that there is any evidence that ANY or ALL of the measures being demanded to ‘stop warming’ will have ANY measurable impact on the planetary temperature or any other measurable climatary parameter.

      • The real reason David doesn’t play in the sand box is because the grownups do not approve of him treating it as his personal litter box.

    • David Appell | August 11, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
      >> Who said CO2 is all it takes <<

      That's my point, and what "CO2 is plant food" people overlook. It takes certain temperature and precipitation ranges for plants to flourish. This study found that higher temperatures are already cancelling out the CO2 fertilization factor for several major crops:
      Sure. Now, on what temperature band do crops grow in this world of ours? And what fraction of tha band does "global warming" represent?

      Oh, and do you believe in evolution?

  4. The unfortunate reality is that efforts to regulate one risk can create other, often more dangerous risks.

    Indeed! And this just in this morning is relevant to wrong regulation having the opposite of the desirable effect. I’d urge Climate Etc. readers to consider endorsing the letter; it’s here: http://tedrockwellmemorial.org/lnt.html

    If you want a short well pamphlet explain some of the background see this:

    Under affiliation, if nothing else is relevant anyone can use: “ FRIENDS OF NUCLEAR ENERGY AND NUCLEAR MEDICINE”
    They need to collect that so they can give figures to respond to those who want to dismiss this as “just nuclear industry self-interest”.

    Following is the email I received this morning encouraging those interested to endorse this important letter:

    Subject: Amazing Greenpeace encounter, Letter to American Nuclear Society about LNT

    To: Dr. Patrick Moore,
    Ecologist, EcoSense Environmental, Inc,.Early Leader of Greenpeace, Canada
    To: Dr. Bruno Comby,
    Founder of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, France
    To: Go Nuclear, Inc.
    Board of Directors, Board of Advisors
    To: Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy – USA,
    Board of Directors
    To: American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Energy Committee
    To: Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information, S.A.R.I.

    To: Leading Engineers and Scientists in the development of nuclear energy worldwide
    To: Signers of the Letter to White House Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, February 1, 2010
    To: Dr. David Rossin,
    Lead Author of Letter to ANS on Linear No-Threshold Hypothesis

    I went out to dinner with some friends in a large American city recently and met a college student who was soliciting membership in Greenpeace. I asked her if she knew Dr. Patrick Moore. She said, yes, he was an early member of Greenpeace who “went off to do his own thing. as if organizations like Greenpeace don’t go off and do their own thing. I asked her if she knew about Golden Rice. She said no. I explained to her that Dr. Moore and the Allow Golden Rice Now organization says that Greenpeace is working to prevent the use of this critically important genetically modified food. Golden Rice Now organization says that Preventing use of Golden Rice is a Crime Against Humanity. This Greenpeace membership solicitor dismissed that claim and the use of any Genetically Modified Organism. We switched to nuclear power. She hesitated, admitted that nuclear power was a clean source of energy, then went into the Greenpeace brainwashed mode. Her eyes rolled back as she said multiple times, “BUT WHAT IF……, BUT WHAT IF…., BUT WHAT IF…. meaning what if nuclear power plant(s) had the worst accident Greenpeace fantasizes and then tells the world that nuclear power plants can spread radioactivity EVERYWHERE AND WILL KILL A LOT OF PEOPLE BY RADIATION EXPOSURE. She went on to state that Greenpeace recommends environmentally friendly, safe, green sidewalks that make electricity one footstep at a time.

    I know that many of you want to tell me: John, don’t waste your time talking to members of Greenpeace. Its just another radical belief based group that pays no attention to science. YOU ARE RIGHT!!

    That is not why I am telling you this story. Its what happened next that pertains to all of us. The Greenpeace membership solicitor went up to some other people who were standing nearby. They happened to be life-long friends of mine. MY FRIENDS TOLD THE GREENPEACE SOLICITOR THAT THEY ARE INTERESTED IN SUPPORTING GREENPEACE, BUT THEY COULDN’T TALK ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY WERE WITH ME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Why tell you this now???????

    The tremendous irrational fear of low-dose radiation and the incredible power of media and anti-nuclear activists to scare the “universe” out of the public is where we are today.

    This is a request for you to support a letter to the American Nuclear Society, ANS, regarding the serious long-term problems with using the Linear No-Threshold Hypothesis, LNT for determining risk to low-dose radiation.

    An opportunity to support this key issue on a global scale does not happen often.

    Attached is a summary of signatories around the world as of August 8th. Deadline for signing this letter before going to the ANS is August 15.

    Please note in the attached summary of signatures how well Canada has done, because the Canadian Nuclear Society supported this letter. Can you do the same?

    Click here for a link to an important two page summary of the history and problems with LNT by Dr. Jerry Cuttler in Canada.

    Former Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy – USDOE and Past President of the American Nuclear Society, Dr. David Rossin is leading this letter.

    Please go to the website for the letter: tedrockwellmemorial.org read the letter and give your signature support by filling in the form, if you agree.

    Everyone receiving this message from John Shanahan is invited to sign the letter to the American Nuclear Society about the Linear No-Threshold Hypothesis Scientists, engineers, medical professionals can select their affiliation from over 190 choices. or generic affiliations:, Employees in Nuclear Energy, Employees in Nuclear Medicine, Independent Scientist, etc. Everyone can use: FRIENDS OF NUCLEAR ENERGY AND NUCLEAR MEDICINE.

    Invite scientists, engineers and medical professionals you know who have reason to support nuclear power and nuclear medicine. The success of nuclear energy and uses of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine, etc. depends on changing excessively restrictive and very costly radiation protection standards based on LNT and by having many signatures on this long overdue letter. Can each of you get more signatures? This is important for nuclear energy and nuclear medicine worldwide and for the benefits of people everywhere.

    Thank you,


    John A. Shanahan, Dr.-Ing.

    President, Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy – USA
    President, Go Nuclear, Inc.

    2800 S. University Blvd. #20
    Denver, Colorado, USA 80210

    Tel. (USA) 303 399 0393
    E-mail: acorncreek2006@gmail.com (Acorn Creek is a hiking trail in the Rocky Mountains)


    The letter he is asking the interested to endorse is here:

  5. The proactionary principle valorizes calculated risk-taking as essential to human progress, where the capacity for progress is taken to define us as a species.

    This is the best. I will now read the rest of what you wrote, but I do doubt you will write anything better than this.

  6. The precautionary principle in the context of climate presupposes the existence of a problem which, with the passage of time and observational data, has proved to be non-existent. Regardless, they carry on like nothing’s changed since they first managed to scare themselves with this “man made CO2 is the driver of climate” perversion.

  7. “At issue is a proposed EU directive that would force companies to prove chemical products introduced into the marketplace are safe before being granted permission to market them….

    In Europe, intellectuals are increasingly debating the question of the great shift from a risk-taking age to a risk-prevention era. That debate is virtually non-existent among American intellectuals.”

    I’m sorry, where exactly does Rifkin think the whole “climate debate,” with its precautionary principle, got its real start? Was that Senate hearing room in Europe?

    Granted, Europe is much further down the road toward economic centralization and the economic collapse that will come with it. But to suggest the US is not sick with the same progressive mental illness is silly.

    No it hasn’t extended to GMOs here yet, but this is how the US FDA has worked for decades. OK, so the FDA isn’t run by intellectuals. I’ll give ya that. But still….

    • ==> “Granted, Europe is much further down the road toward economic centralization and the economic collapse that will come with it.”

      Well, well. What have we here? Yet another “alarmist” at Climate Etc. Whooda thunk it?

      • Thrill Seeker

        Why alarmed? I’m thrilled that a major economic competitor is heading toward economic insignificance.

      • ==> “Why alarmed? I’m thrilled that a major economic competitor is heading toward economic insignificance.”

        So much for the standard “skeptic” concern about starving children, eh?

      • Even lamer, but it seems you agree that central control starves children.

      • Kim

        As much as I despise Joshua Littletree’s muscleless, dependent whining, you have managed to parody him magnificently :)

    • David L. Hagen

      EU’s “precautionary” science will eliminate chemicals benefiting the Poor
      The strict regulatory process proposed will skyrocket the cost of introducing new chemicals. Consequently, inexpensive chemicals that could benefit the poor will be driven out of the market by the regulatory process and the foundational need to recup costs with higher prices.
      this is clearly seen in the incredible costs incurred by the US FDA’s regulations and consequent very high prices required of approved drugs. See:
      From Idea to Market: The Drug Approval Process

      Overall, this entire process, on average, takes between 8 to 12 years. . . .It is not surprising that from conception to market most compounds face an uphill battle to become an approved drug. For approximately every 5,000 to 10,000 compounds that enter preclinical testing, only one is approved for marketing.[8] A 1993 report by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimated the cost of developing a new drug to be $359 million.[9] Newer figures place the cost at more than $500 million.

    • Gary, note that Rifkin’s article was written more than ten years ago.

      • Faustino,

        Yes, I saw where some other commenter mentioned that too. But my point stands. He was as wrong in 2004 as he would be if he said it today. The idiocracy has been driving climate policy in the US since at least 1988. The use of the precautionary principle as a rationale for progressive energy policy is not, unfortunately, only a European phenomenon.

  8. Typically the precautionary principle is mandated where effects are uncertain, unknown, or little understood, but potentially significantly adverse. Where these conditions apply then we are required to err on the side of caution.

    There are two aspects to this worth a comment.

    First, if one is being cautious in one direction one is being reckless in the other. In other words if you are dealing with an issue with two competing interests at play one group’s precaution demands that we deal recklessly with the other’s interest. Typically in the climate debate we are pitting a collective good against a private good – I’ve wryly wondered whether we could be precautionary about the private interests instead!

    Second, there seems to be a view that precaution needs to be included in the very analysis of risk, rather than just in its management (i.e. post analysis). This leads to risk assessments being based on a series of assumptions that include “one more for safety”. Rather than knowing at the end just how uncertain etc things are, the risk assessment ends up adopting an extreme position (often well hidden back throughout the assessment).

    Climate science tends be worse at this than other areas because it doesn’t seem to spend much time on the probability distribution of outcomes, preferring instead deterministic modelling.

    • => “:Typically in the climate debate we are pitting a collective good against a private good –…”

      This ignores uncertainties such as those from negative or positive externalities). Simply defining “good” in this context is “wicked.”

      It also ignores the fact that “collective” good applies differently to different constituancies just as does “private good.”

      It also ignores the complicated nature of defining some hard line that differentiates “collective good” from “private good.”

      • I hadn’t intended it to be all that complicated, and it doesn’t turn on collective vs private goods. Perhaps an example will help you.

        If a community decides to be precautionary about uncertain/unknown sea level rise and puts hazard lines all the along the coast line to protect the private interests of future buyers, other private interests immediately see a very certain loss in their property values.

        My point was: Why not apply the precautionary principle back the other way to protect current owners from loss when it is all so uncertain/unknown?

        I only threw the comment about collective interests in because so often the precautionary principle is rolled out to protect “the environment” (which is by definition an externality :)) and neglect the mischief that is being done to real people.

      • US coastal flood insurance works that way, where it is nationally subsidizing the risk taken by a few. It is not very popular to subsidize a risk of choice. They should pay their real actuarial rate, or we encourage even more risk taking.

      • HAS –

        ==> “My point was: Why not apply the precautionary principle back the other way to protect current owners from loss when it is all so uncertain/unknown?”

        Thanks for the follow-up.

        How would that work in practice – without there being a similar loss in property values or some other metric (at least to someone)? In your example, how are you suggesting that current owners be protected from loss?

        AFAIC, the precautionary principle, like “no regrets” policies or statements that we should avoid “unintended consequences” are great concepts but extremely difficult to implement in a polarized context.

      • ==< "US coastal flood insurance works that way, where it is nationally subsidizing the risk taken by a few. "

        Which would then suggest to me that there is a loss to someone (taxpayers who subsidize that insurance).

        There is no free lunch, folks.

      • I don’t claim to be able to sort out these issues of risk, but I think that Judith’s “Proactionary Principle” deserves to be considered in relation to debate about collective vs. private goods, negative vs. positive externalities etc.

        i.e., IF there were significant value in the “Proactionary Principle” then that principle would surely affect how alleged “private” only goods and “negative” externalities are to be judged. I am not trying to prejudge the debate about the Proactionary Principle, merely trying to observe that the outcome of that debate will (I think) shape important aspects of how one defines “private” goods and “negative” externalities vs. their putative opposites.

        “So, if we are to dismiss the precautionary principle, then how should we proceed. Well, we can proceed with caution. Or better yet is the Proactionary principle: The proactionary principle valorizes calculated risk-taking as essential to human progress, where the capacity for progress is taken to define us as a species.”

      • Jim D, we are dealing here where the risk is unknown/uncertain (including whether there even is a risk) but the consequences are high. If you live on a coast that gets flooded every decade then that is your look out (and if the US subsidises that as you say it is inequitable).

        But in my example we are talking about an event that (say) depends on exaggerated emissions scenarios, CO2 sensitivities at the high end, GCMs being accurate and consequent accelerating sea level rise, aided and abetted by the collapse of the Antarctica sea ice shelf, and the risk is to a structure with a 50 year life getting washed away in 100 years time.

        A sensible insurer would put in an exclusion and a sensible owner would accept it. Rational management would be “wait and see” and do something when the fog starts to clear (if called for), just like with other highly uncertain progressive events.

        Joshua “how would current owners be protected from loss”. The loss I was referring to was the arbitrary loss of value as a consequence of regulatory fiat. You protect against that by not regulating based on precaution.

      • HAS you are assuming that everyone knows that regulatory constraints affect the market value of the regulated assets. Expect a denial that this is so.

      • HAS –

        ==> “The loss I was referring to was the arbitrary loss of value as a consequence of regulatory fiat. You protect against that by not regulating based on precaution.”

        Perhaps you’re being too cryptic for someone of my limited intellect – or maybe you’re assuming knowledge on my part that I don’t have, but I’m having a lot of trouble following your argument.

        I don’t understand how you determine the state of being arbitrary. Do you mean arbitrary as in random? Do you mean arbitrary as in based on subjective values?

        If it is the latter, it leads to my next question.

        How do you non-arbitrarily protect the existing home-owner against loss? If you don’t subsidize insurance, you aren’t protecting them against loss.

        Now maybe you think that they shouldn’t be protected against loss – but you aren’t “protecting” them against loss simply by not restricting future development. You are subjecting them to a risk of one form of loss against a risk of another form of loss.

        It seems to me that you are calling some losses losses and some losses not losses. That seems rather arbitrary (in the sense of based on subjective criteria).

      • HAS –

        Maybe you can give a relevant example (i.e., related to environmental regulation), where regulatory fiat created a risk of loss where none would exist otherwise?

      • NW – the curious thing is that a regulation that is capricious, even if in the interests of giving certainty, ends up creating uncertainty (eg from regulatory risk), and this kills markets for the asset and hence causes loss of value.

        Joshua, the example where 100 year hazard lines are put on the coast based on extremely unlikely and uncertain scenarios justified by a sense of precaution (and unaccountable scientific advice). A risk that is best managed by waiting and not replacing structures that might last 50 years if concrete evidence emerges, gets converted into an immediate loss of value (see para above).

      • HAS –

        ==> “Joshua, the example where 100 year hazard lines are put on the coast based on extremely unlikely and uncertain scenarios justified by a sense of precaution (and unaccountable scientific advice). A risk that is best managed by waiting and not replacing structures that might last 50 years if concrete evidence emerges, gets converted into an immediate loss of value (see para above).”

        I still can’t quite understand your argument. NW seems to be quite clear about, and he’s a smart and knowledgeable guy, so maybe I just lack the required smarts or knowledge..

        But as best I can tell, you’re saying that by not subjecting them to a risk from one kind of loss you are protecting them from the risk of other kinds of loss. That doesn’t add up for me.

        It seems to me that underlying your point is disagreement (with some scientists) about the magnitude of risk of loss from climate change and then using that disagreement to wage an ideological argument. It seems to me that the basis of your argument is that you don’t think that there is sufficient risk of loss to merit protection and that the problem there is that not everyone agrees with you.

        I already know that different people assess the risk from climate change differently.

        It seems to me that what you’re doing here is politicizing the science.

        I will say that one thing I find interesting is that broadly speaking “skeptics” argue in favor of adaptation vs. mitigation but ignore how the underlying ideology of most “skeptics” (as “small-government” ideologues) implies opposition to any form of adaptation (as a society).

      • What difference will it make then…

        Rev 10:6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:

        I mean when He stops time. How big do you feel the button will be?

      • All adaptation is local, as is politics. Try doing either centrally. Oh, we have tried.

      • > everyone knows that regulatory constraints affect the market value of the regulated assets.

        Pot producers might agree. It’s not clear that they all want their product legalized.

        Subprime lenders too.

      • Joshua
        “But as best I can tell, you’re saying that by not subjecting them to a risk from one kind of loss you are protecting them from the risk of other kinds of loss. That doesn’t add up for me.”

        No, I’m not saying that. It is what the precautionary principle says about the assessment of risk that is the problem – if the risks are uncertain or unknown and the consequences potentially significantly adverse, err on the side of caution (i.e. weight the adverse risks more heavily, often to the extent of prohibition).

        The problem I’m referring to here is that risk and reward are often subjective and depend on your point of view. For the non-coastal resident the downside risk of regulation is low (although communities often forget the flow on impact of real estate values taking a hit), the future is uncertain (regardless of the view you take on climate change), so to be on the safe side regulate. The coastal resident has a different view.

        Just to be clear this has nothing particularly to do with climate change, Columbus should never have been allowed to set sail based on the precautionary principle and contemporary views of the risks (“there be dragons”). As I recall the Chinese in fact took this view on exploration. Unfortunately the Spanish lacked the foresight of the Chinese, the US got established, and the rest as they say is history.

      • As a final comment, and taking things back to the original post from our hostess, there are better ways to manage uncertain and unknown risks with potentially significant adverse impacts, than to mindlessly upgrade the weighting of the risks (aka being precautionary).

      • Excellent responses by HAS and very informative. Thank you.

        I’ll give an example to support this statement by HAS:

        NW – the curious thing is that a regulation that is capricious, even if in the interests of giving certainty, ends up creating uncertainty (e.g. from regulatory risk), and this kills markets for the asset and hence causes loss of value.

        Regulatory ratcheting has raised the cost of nuclear power, slowed its development, slowed the rate of licencing and approvals, extended the construction period, greatly increased the financial risk for investors and made them not economic in may countries.

        The consequences of this are:
        1. Many fatalities are being caused by not using nuclear power instead of fossil fuels
        2. global GHG emissions are 10% to 20% higher now than they would have been if not for the impediments imposed on its development.
        3. the rate of future GHG emissions reductions will be much slower than if nuclear was being rolled out much faster than it is,
        4.. The available technologies are less mature than they would be if the 1970-80s growth rate had continued
        5. nuclear would be even safer than it already is.

        That is the net of the ill-informed regulations. As you said: “the curious thing is that a regulation that is capricious, even if in the interests of giving certainty, ends up creating uncertainty (e.g. from regulatory risk), and this kills markets for the asset and hence causes loss of value.

    • > I’ve wryly wondered whether we could be precautionary about the private interests instead!

      That is sorely needed. We should create two markets for that, one to offset potential losses, and the other to sell protective measures.

      I propose we call the former “insurance” and the latter “security”.

      Sounds like revolutionary. We must be quick before the idea gets stolen.

      Who’s buying in?

      • Unfortunately some smart bureaucrat will come along mumbling about the need for precaution, and stuff your new found markets completely.

      • The possibility that there could be such bureaucrat makes me err on the safe side. I thereby declare he’s only imaginary.

        Take that, possible bureaucrat!

    • In this conflict between the two contrary principles lost are the human failures typical in government (i.e., interests that lead to influence peddling, etc.) that contributes fog to knowing the issues. I prefer “In medias res” as a guiding principle. By that I would not have government disrupt the existing order for uncertain risk but have it educate people about the risk and uncertainties. The final judge of risks and uncertainties should be private through the market for transactions and via referendum for significant disputes over laws or regulation.

  9. David L. Hagen

    Alarms over global warming ignore the far greater danger of cooling down to the next glaciation!
    Can we generate enough warming to prevent mile high ice crushing Chicago etc?

  10. “At issue is a proposed EU directive that would force companies to prove chemical products introduced into the marketplace are safe before being granted permission to market them.”

    This could cause significant issues with things ALREADY on sale – the assumption being that ALL on sale is safe, not just the “new” stuff. Someone will sue at some point because of this, I feel sure.

  11. “Chances are that most people have never heard of “the precautionary principle.”

    I haven’t met anybody who has never heard of that. And I live in a pretty rough end of the bush.

    Still, since Jeremy is a global expert in global stuff which hasn’t happened yet and global tech which doesn’t work yet…maybe he doesn’t check out actual people in actual places. We’re bo-ring.

    And in case anyone is clinging to that Enlightenment whatsy, Jeremy and the Guardian will help ween you off it gradually:

    “The old Enlightenment science is too primitive to address a world where the bar for risk has been raised to the threshold of possible extinction.”

    You better come live in Jeremy Land, the happiest non-existent kingdom of them all. It’s your chance to go all ultra-high-tech and huggy-green Avatar at the same time. Or would you rather be extinct?

  12. Interesting that the Rivkin piece is from 2004, i.e. it would appear that this was when he first “discovered” the precautionary principle.

    However, considering that (from everything I’ve read about him), he’s nothing but a pompous, self-important, self-indulgent aging hippie and self-made “guru” of the far left, while one might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on his own perspective (as per this 2004 article), I’m not entirely sure that this is warranted!

    P’haps this part of description via your wiki link sums him up best:

    Rifkin’s work has also been controversial. Opponents have attacked the lack of scientific rigor in his claims as well as some of the tactics he has used to promote his views. The Harvard scientist Stephen Jay Gould characterized Rifkin’s 1983 book “Algeny” as “a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda masquerading as scholarship”

    That Rivkin should have become so influential within EU (and UN) circles is sad, but not surprising. IMHO, he’s a perfect fit for the UN’s very own ‘propaganda masquerading as scholarship’ mold.

    • You nailed it, Hilary. He’s a loon for the ages. His face should be on the EU flag.

    • I saw Stephen Gould on a speaking tour in Portland OR in the ninties. He was great with scientific communication.

    • ‘We must arrest all change’ … now where have we
      heard that before?

      H/t Plato’s ‘Noble Lie.’

      • Anyone who says “we must arrest all change” is immediately disqualified from the debate in a world of which the primary characteristic is constant change.

    • Rifkin plays a role as foil in The Future and its Enemies. He comes from the left but shifted over the years to an all-purpose enemy of technological change, what TFAIE refers to as a stasist. Over the years he has made a nice career out of jumping on public apprehension about various new ideas or trends. It isn’t all green stuff, either, as he’s written about labor markets too.

      Lots of people like a good apocalyptic prophecy; these now appear in secular guise and have sold quite well with Carson, Erlich, the Club of Rome, McKibben, Gray, and many other less well-known authors working this side of the street. There is a much less popular vein of counter-authors starting in the 1970s such as Maddox, Beckmann, Avery, McCracken, Tucker, Simon, Ridley, Bailey, Efron, Lomborg, etc. Interesting assignment for any communications or rhetoric scholars would be to go through these books over the decades and map out the dominant and repeating arguments and tropes from each side. One thing I’ve noticed is that back in the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, it was the anti-apocalyptics who were constantly citing the peer-reviewed literature and upholding the validity of mainstream science rhetorically, distinguishing what was in the journals from what the regulators and activists were saying. To some extent that is still true on topics like GMOs, but clearly the balance has shifted rhetorically on the ACGW front.

  13. ‘Where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.’

    It is more applicable to building a nuclear reactor than gene therapy – despite both being powerful technologies in a social context of increasingly powerful – and therefore potentially dangerous – technologies. It leads inevitably to the need for control of the application – rather than the science – of powerful technologies. A 50 year moratorium on nuclear energy would – for instance – have had very little impact other than to avoid a legacy of hundreds of thousands of tons of intractable waste, decaying facilities that can’t be safely decommissioned and blighted landscapes.

    Gene splicing seems one of those technologies that would benefit from an ordered implementation with very little downside – despite moralistic bleating about the dangers of sacrificing crop yields.

    But it is not the precautionary principle that is applied to drugs and chemicals. It seems little enough to ask that drugs and chemicals dispersed in the population and environment be safe. This is the least that can be sought. It is a simple principle of consumer protection that existed long before the precautionary principle was formulated.

    The precautionary principle is – however – strictly applicable to climate change. The confounding factor here is that energy is central to the realisation of human potential this century. The objective is a high growth and high energy future that will require pragmatic and creative approaches to emissions, land use, agriculture and conservation.

    Both of these essays are superficial and forgettable. They are unfortunate and thinly argued knee jerk reactions to proposals for public safety – that seem in deep confusion to weakly critique the wrong and inapplicable principle.

    Neither contain any practical alternatives – which makes it all irrelevant. Regulations for public safety are absolutely necessary. You may question rationally specific proposals but not the principle of consumer safety. Indeed in a rational view the precautionary principle is fairly unremarkable as well.

    • Yes

      The real issue is “unintended” vs “unpredictable” consequence

      For example, the proliferation of Facebook technology has led to widespread, damaging cyber-bullying. Is there anyone stupid enough to pretend that this specific outcome was not predictable, unintended or not ?

      Yet no “progressive” has to my knowledge recommended that this technology be banned, although it is a small enough issue compared to supply of affordable, reliable energy

      Most people do not mind being hypocritical, they just mind it being pointed out

  14. Exempting the status quo from an assessment of its risks, poorly understood features, and so on doesn’t sound like much of a rational decision making principle to me.

  15. Easy formula: Apply the Precautionary Principle to the Precautionary Principle. Now, you work it out in practice.

  16. Haven’t governments been messing around with the risks faced by citizens for well more than a century already? What is this portentious nonsense about a brand-new gee-whiz debate about a move from risk-taking to risk prevention? Can you say Bismarck and Beveridge? Honestly.

  17. Give me any proposed innovation, any; and I can come up with a dozen ‘problems’ that you will have to prove don’t exist before I will let you proceed. This is insanity!

    On the point of caution, just remember that maybe 20,000,000 people died because DDT was banned.

      • Faustino –

        Just to check, based on your rating of Paul’s comment – Do you agree that “maybe 20,000,000 people died because DDT was banned?”

      • Joshua, I’ve seen respectable estimates of many million, I can’t confirm 20 million as a best estimate. I’ll let you know if I find a good citation.

      • http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/05/rachel-carsons-deadly-fantasies/2/

        J Gordon Edwards, 1992: “This implication that DDT is horribly deadly is completely false. Human volunteers have ingested as much as 35 milligrams of it a day for nearly two years and suffered no adverse effects. Millions of people have lived with DDT intimately during the mosquito spray programs and nobody even got sick as a result. The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1965 that ‘in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable.’ The World Health Organization stated that DDT had ‘killed more insects and saved more people than any other substance.’”

        500 million deaths prevented by DDT suggests that 20 million from its withdrawal is highly plausible.

        “The legacy of Rachel Carson is that tens of millions of human lives – mostly children in poor, tropical countries – have been traded for the possibility of slightly improved fertility in raptors. This remains one of the monumental human tragedies of the last century.”


        “Worldwide more than 2,700 people will die today because of a bureaucratic regulation instituted during the Nixon administration in 1972.” That’s almost a million a year. We’ve had 42 years since the ban.


        “By means of that ban, environmentalists effectively ensured that, over the course of the ensuing 30+ years, more than 50 million people would die needlessly of a disease that was entirely preventable.”

        Joshua, there are many sources indicating deaths in the tens of millions. I won’t cite more, they are easily located.

      • Faustino –

        To collect that list I am quite sure that you were looking for information to confirm a bias. I would guess that you Googled with a search that would return links that make an argument only from one side of the issue. If you looked at all the information available on the issue, you would have certainly found multiple arguments.

        As examples:

        You would have found studies that show how making a counterfactual claim such as you have done – what would have happened had there been a different course of action taken – is very tricky. If there had not been international treaties aimed at preventing the overuse of DDT for agricultural purposes, there would have been much more mosquito resistance. In order to prove the counterfactual about what would have happened had there not been the treaties, you need to account for that greater resistance and what it would have meant.

        Additionally, you have to account for the fact that proper spraying of DDT, in order to be effective, needs to be done in a systematic and organized manner. Many of the countries where malaria has persisted lack the infrastructure and funding to implement such spraying programs.

        There are countries where overuse of DDT was continued and in fact the mosquitoes became resistant and DDT rendered ineffective. There are areas whjere DDT was continued in use (improperly) and malaria rates either didn’t drop or increased again after initially dropping.

        DDT was not banned.

        Initiatives aimed at reducing the misuse of DDT allowed for its continued use for vector control when other methods were not practical.

        The most effective means of vector control for malaria includes the use of DDT, and I have little doubt that DDT could have been used more effectively than it has been – and from what I’ve read ideologically-based opposition to the use of DDT did lead to sub-optimal malaria control (and thus more deaths) than what might have occurred in the best of all possible worlds. On the other side, if DDT usage had continued as it was occurring prior to the international treaties limiting it’s usage, it is quite possible, and in fact very likely, that the results, deferentially, would not have meant tens of millions fewer deaths because of the reasons I’ve referred to – among others.

        The problem, IMO, with the arguments about DDT usage is that it is another case where serious debates about science and policy are used as an ideological weapon by partisans for the purpose of demonizing people along ideological lines.

        I had expected better from you, as a serious thinker. Although I often disagree with your ideological outlook, I have generally found that you take issues seriously enough to think things through more thoroughly. Your facile acceptance of a shallow argument in this instance, along with your demonizing and polemical arguments elsewhere on this thread, along with the fact that you clearly did a slipshod job of looking for links to discuss the issue at hand, show me that I should not place such confidence in the consistency in the depth of your analysis. Not that you should care what I think – just an FYI.

      • Joshua, “DDT was not banned.”

        Right, it was just “regulated” a touch. Coal isn’t going to be “banned” either, just people using it are going to be bankrupted per our fearless leader.

      • Shoulda stopped at The Edge of the Sea,
        Think how many more there would be.

      • I think J. Gordon Edwards should be listened to carefully. Anyone who can eat 1 tsp of DDT per week and live to 85 is a rock star.

      • Cap,
        Your and Faustino’s efforts are admirable, but give it up. The first rule of progressive thought is to never, ever acknowledge the unintended consequences of their policies. The second rule is that when the first rule becomes impossible, blame someone else.
        Today’s over-reliance on coal is an entirely predictable consequence of the progressives’ 40-year demonization of nuclear power, but Joshua will tell you it’s all the fault of greedy power companies and the Republicans who are preventing alternatives (except for nukes, of course).

      • JeffN, I have no expectation that anything I my say will have any impact on the mind set of the Joshua’s, Micheal’s or Jim D’s of the world. I am really just waiting for their face plants. Speaking of which,

        http://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/2/3/153 is a new article estimating lulc versus radiant influence on US high plains “climate”. Funny how just adding water seems to offset “Greenhouse Gas” forcing.

      • It should be acknowledged that the role of DDT in wiping out malaria may be overstated. Recent research has found that screening windows and growth of the middle class nuclear family were primary factors. Shrinking of household size and people sleeping in separate rooms are what prevent the spread from person to person.

      • Cap’n –

        ==> “Right, it was just “regulated” a touch. Coal isn’t going to be “banned” either, just people using it are going to be bankrupted per our fearless leader.”

        The difference between a “ban” and what actually happened is not, particularly in this context, trivial. The thread is full of polemics about “regulatory fiat’ and whatnot. Polemics about malevolent and ignorant people, blah, blah. It’s full of binary thinking about the trade-off against governments’ taking on policies to protect its citizens – as if these complex issues could validly be so simplistically reduced.

        In such a context, the “banned DDT” meme takes on a particular sheen.

        In fact, there wasn’t a “ban.” There were cooperative agreements among nations. Those cooperative agreements included provisions for continuing the use of DDT for the specific purpose of vector control in a balanced fashion along with alternative methods for vector control. The proximal goal was to eliminate indiscriminate and irresponsible spraying of DDT given the unknowns related to potential health impact and the problems with mosquito resistance. Look at the treaties and what they said. Look at what Rachel Carson, herself, had to say about ongoing usage of DDT.

        Now I don’t doubt that there was some degree of a problem where treaties that were intended to be focused and conditional policies had a broader impact than what was intended. I also don’t doubt that reasonable concerns about clear problems related to inappropriate DDT usage was extended wider into more of an ideological opposition that went beyond where were known consequences from DDT usage. Yes, there were unintended consequences.

        But all policies have unintended consequences. A failure to address indiscriminate and irresponsible spraying would also have had “unintended consequences,” and facile conclusion-drawing about complex counterfactuals related to what would have happened if things had been different, in order to demonize people along ideological lines, does not advance the cause of careful policy-making.

        ==> “I have no expectation that anything I my say will have any impact on the mind set of the Joshua’s, Micheal’s or Jim D’s of the world.”

        And this is precisely the kind of polemic I was talking about – reducing me to a “mind set” and assigning some form of labeling or guilt by association on the basis of that “mind set.” What “mind set” are you referring to? That I think that we should be careful before blaming a certain segment of people of the deaths of tens of millions given policy outcomes in a very complex interaction between a variety of global-scale events involving a wide-variety of nations and a vast variety of extenuating conditions?

        I just love the “people like you (or them)” and the “these (or “those) people” arguments because they show, clearly, how often these discussion are really about a “us” and “them” identification that produces identity-aggressive and identity-defensive behaviors.

      • Relatedly –


        I hope that anyone who doubts the overwhelming characteristic of identity-aggressive and identity-defensive behaviors associated with “motivated reasoning’ as it applies to what we find in the blogosphere among “skeptics” (and of course, among “realists” as well), reads that article and then re-reads this thread with with some reflection and introspection.

        The article is perhaps a bit dramatic for my tastes (e.g., I don’t think that there’s evidence that “the world is being destroyed”) but I think it touches on some important principles.

        And faustino – in particular I mean you. Consider your polemics and how they dovetail, or don’t, with your philosophical orientation.

      • Joshua, the “mind set” that I doubt any of my comments will change is set minds, mainly set on nitpicish semantics. There was a “cooperative agreement among nations” to do what? Effectively ban the use of DDT unless a group of those cooperative governments agreed there was a medical need to allow limited use of DDT. Technically, that is not a ban but effectively it was. Since there were countries that interpreted the agreement as a ban, DDT was not used when it could have saved lives.

        Since ban means forbidding people from doing or using something, regulations that forbid people from using DDT is a ban, even if “everyone” isn’t forbidden.

      • ==> “There was a “cooperative agreement among nations” to do what?

        Perhaps reading the treaties would be the first place to start in answering that question.

        And you still haven’t addressed the bottom line realities of the counterfactual nature of the arguments being presented.

        Although I have discussed this issue with many “skeptics” on quite a few threads, not a single one has brought facts to the table w/r/t the lack of information sufficient to prove a counterfactual the argument (about tens? hundreds? of) million deaths – an argument that is accepted and repeated without duly diligent skepticism.

        Why? I suggest because to do so appears to not be as satisfying as demonizing the “other.” I can point to much empirical literature that backs my point of view. Of course, the pattern is not limited to “skeptics.” It’s part of human nature, just is a tendency to resist accepting the fundamental nature of that human tendency.

        At any rate, what’s really important is that I’ve found a great new source for bacon – a cracked pepper variety that is really top-notch. I no longer even bother with pork belly anymore unless I’m at a particularly good Chinese restaurant.

        Have a good day, Cap’n. I pity you that you have to deal with people with set minds such as mine, and it’s good to know that you are open to change, and that, of course, only people who agree with you about such complex and highly uncertain matters are similarly open-minded.

        Just a coincidence, of course.

      • Joshua

        DDT was one of the main tools used in the National Malaria Eradication Program which inspired the WHOs Global Malaria Eradication Program. None of tools used were particularly environmentally friendly especially draining lots and lots of swamp/marsh lands. The WHO ended its program in 1969, due to “technical issues” in Africa. Most of the developed nations of the world though ended up being malaria free.

        Another questionable decision in the same time frame was the USDAs recommending Americans over cook every thing except for beef. Bacon wrapped pork loin seared on the outside and delightfully medium rare on the inside was a tragic culinary loss. Governments can screw up a wet dream can’t they?

      • capt,

        The US had virtually eliminated malaria before DDT was used for vector control.

        The hysterical anti-environmentalists obsession with DDT is weird.

      • ==> “The US had virtually eliminated malaria before DDT was used for vector control.”

        It’s really amazing how often “skeptics” get confused about that. I’ve explained it to many, yet the mistaken notion that DDT was instrumental in the U.S. keeps popping up. I’ve probably pointed out the illogic of the argument, as shown by the chronology of DDT usage, dozens of times by now.

        You’d think that as “skeptics” they’d research something before making a claim. And Cap’n’s one of the more careful ones.

        Notice how Cap’n and other “skeptics” that want to make hay by exploiting deaths from malaria neglect to mention a lack of draining swamps, providing good housing, etc. as contributing to millions of unnecessary deaths to malaria in other countries – even though they sometimes slip up, as Cap’n did here, and mention them as important methodology here in the U.S.. The only factor that shows on their radar is DDT – as if continued indiscriminate spraying, in countries that lacked the necessary public health infrastructure, good housing stock, and the resources to drain swamps, would have been a “silver bullet.”

        ==> “The hysterical anti-environmentalists obsession with DDT is weird.”

        Looks to me like it makes them feel good to blame millions, tens of millions , hundreds of millions of deaths on environmentalists.

      • Micheal, “The US had virtually eliminated malaria before DDT was used for vector control.”

        Do you enjoy making yourself look like an idiot? According to just about every non-idiotic source, DDT was used extensively in about every way it could be used from interior wall spraying to aerial spraying to eliminate Malaria which is exactly what vector control is in a program called National Malaria Eradication. It wasn’t called national malaria limitation.


      • Joshua, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vector_control

        note: ” any method to limit or eradicate the mammals, birds, insects or other arthropods which transmit disease pathogens.”

        From the CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/elimination_us.html

        Micheal’s response may be in moderation a while.

      • Consider, for example, the difficulty of using DDT as a silver bullet when houses in a given malarial area may often not have four walls, walls without gaps, screens on doors and windows, etc. Consider the difficulty of using DDT as a silver bullet when it has a deterrent effect, that causes mosquitoes to go from one house that has been sprayed to the neighboring house that haven’t been sprayed, or from inside a house that has been sprayed to unsprayed areas outside where people often sleep- because of a lack of resources to conduct a well-run eradication campaigns.

        Yet I don’t see “skeptics” expressing concern about the lack of financial resources needed to correct the problem of millions tens of millions hundreds of millions who have died due to lack of good housing stock and funds to support comprehensive eradication campaigns.

        I wonder why that is?

      • And btw Joshua, limited use of DDT has been indicated to be counter productive. Much like antiboitics, if you don’t follow through with the full course the “bug” develops a resistance. There are other pesticides and programs that can be just as effective as the 1940s and 50s US effort, but without a vaccine, the US and Global leaders of the time thought that the intensive DDT and drainage methods where the best available. As I said earlier, it wasn’t an environmentally friendly approach, but once eradicated things would return to more normal conditions. They were exercising their precautionary principals doncha know.

      • Geez, Cap”n –

        You must be off your bacon:

        Look at this chart:


        When did use of DDT in the U.S. get off the ground?

        Follow these links from over at Wiki:

        By the time DDT was introduced in the U.S., the disease had already been brought under control by a variety of other means.[24] One CDC physician involved in the United States’ DDT spraying campaign said of the effort that “we kicked a dying dog.”[25]

      • Cap’n –

        ==> “And btw Joshua, limited use of DDT has been indicated to be counter productive. Much like antiboitics, if you don’t follow through with the full course the “bug” develops a resistance.”

        As I’ve argued, all that much more reason why the “hundreds of millions died because of the ‘ban’ on DDT” is facile and exploitative.

        The argument rests on a mistaken counterfactual that absent the international treaties limiting usage, DDT would have been sprayed in the proper manner so as to maximize vector control versus problems with resistance.

        Ok. I really am done with this. I will await one “skeptic” to come back and effectively deal with the counterfactual problem with the “hundreds of millions of lives would have been saved” meme.

        Just once, in all these discussions about DDT on these thread, it would be interesting to see one freakin’ “skeptic” take on that issue.

      • joshua, The use of DDT may have been like kicking a dead horse, but the goal was eradication, not reduction of malaria. The goal was to kill the pathogen not limit the cases. If there was a case found, they sprayed and treated hundreds of houses and swamps around the area. Had they succeeded, there would have been zero (or very close) cases of malaria today. So Fastino’s number is basically the total number of cases since the ban in the US.

        There were also goals to eliminate Polio, small pox, measles etc. etc. only a malaria vaccine was never found. I have no idea if eradication of malaria was a noble enough cause, but history is what it is.

      • Have a good night, Cap’n.

        Just picked cukes, garlic, and dill from the garden – time to make some tzaziki.

        Spread some of that on some bacon and place it on a plate alongside some slices of heirloom tomatoes and some basil, and you’ll never look at life the same way afterwards.

      • Joshua, “Just once, in all these discussions about DDT on these thread, it would be interesting to see one freakin’ “skeptic” take on that issue.”

        If it were counter factual I probably would take it on, but that isn’t the case. This year the US has the highest number of malaria cases it has had since the 1970s. Here is a bit from a natgeo article;’
        “In several places where malaria had been on the brink of extinction, including both Sri Lanka and India, the disease came roaring back. And in much of sub-Saharan Africa, malaria eradication never really got started. The WHO program largely bypassed the continent, and smaller scale efforts made little headway.

        Soon after the program collapsed, mosquito control lost access to its crucial tool, DDT. The problem was overuse—not by malaria fighters but by farmers, especially cotton growers, trying to protect their crops. The spray was so cheap that many times the necessary doses were sometimes applied. The insecticide accumulated in the soil and tainted watercourses. Though nontoxic to humans, DDT harmed peregrine falcons, sea lions, and salmon. In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, documenting this abuse and painting so damning a picture that the chemical was eventually outlawed by most of the world for agricultural use. Exceptions were made for malaria control, but DDT became nearly impossible to procure. “The ban on DDT,” says Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health, “may have killed 20 million children.””


        Unless national geographic has become a conservative mouthpiece that should be a fairly unbiased reference.

        Dr. Robert Gwadz probably won’t pop into Climate Etc. to defend himself from Micheal, so here a little something about the counter factual spouting doctor.


        Enjoy your pork fat.

      • can I get a little release from moderation consideration?

      • I responded to Joshua out of courtesy, and look where that led – so much off-topic wasted energy. I’d learned this lesson before, hopefully I’ll recall it another time.

      • Faustino, “I responded to Joshua out of courtesy, and look where that led – so much off-topic wasted energy.”

        Not much waste really. The national geographic article was interesting. Another thing that is interesting is that cerebral malaria might explain a good deal of the post traumatic stress issues of Vietnam vets plus malaria prophylactic drugs like mefloquine might be doing more harm than good.

        There is also an interesting EPA document entitled, “DDT, A Review of Scientific and Economic Aspects of the Decision To Ban Its Use as a Pesticide”

        Also interesting is the number of acres of wetlands drained since the early 1900s to combat malaria, encephalitis and various fevers which would likely have some impact on Climate as well as health.

        All of these relate to precautionary actions that might not have expected results, none of which I would have read had you not responded. Pretty much right on topic I would think :)

      • ==> “I responded to Joshua out of courtesy, and look where that led – so much off-topic wasted energy”

        So here we go.

        Assigning causality (to those in ideological opposition) for the deaths of hundreds of millions is on-topic. And providing links that (at least as interpreted by some) support that view of causality is a courtesy.

        But discussing the veracity, facts, and details related to that argument for causality? That is off-topic and wasted energy.

        This goes back to what I said elsewhere in this thread. For some, the “topic” is demonizing those who have different ideological views. Why else would discussing the logic and facts of an argument laying blame for hundreds of millions of deaths be labeled as wasted energy and off-topic? What is the topic? The facts related to the causality of the deaths, or who should be blamed? Can the two somehow be separated as faustino has done?

        You continue to disappoint (me) faustino,

        Again, I suggest that you reexamine this thread and your participation in it, within the framework of your stated philosophical and spiritual orientation. Just a suggestion. Feel free to ignore it.

      • Micheal, “It ain’t 20 million.”

        According to Amy Pearce, PhD, it is pretty close to 20 million just for malaria, but it was used for other diseases plus things like grain storage and other pesticide uses. Muller did get a Nobel all by hisself for the discovery doncha know.


        there seems to be a consensus building

      • joshua, said, “Notice how Cap’n and other “skeptics” that want to make hay by exploiting deaths from malaria neglect to mention a lack of draining swamps, providing good housing, etc. as contributing to millions of unnecessary deaths to malaria in other countries – even though they sometimes slip up, as Cap’n did here, and mention them as important methodology here in the U.S.. The only factor that shows on their radar is DDT”

        Which is interesting since I had stated this, “DDT was one of the main tools used in the National Malaria Eradication Program which inspired the WHOs Global Malaria Eradication Program. None of tools used were particularly environmentally friendly especially draining lots and lots of swamp/marsh lands. The WHO ended its program in 1969, due to “technical issues” in Africa. Most of the developed nations of the world though ended up being malaria free.”

        Since your forte is not the science or math but the etiquette of the debate, perhaps you can critique yourself here?

    • Faustino | August 12, 2014 at 4:11 am |
      “500 million deaths prevented by DDT suggests that 20 million from its withdrawal is highly plausible.”


      That’s feeble.

      A complete failure of scepticism.

      • The 500 million figure is ludicrous.

        The most cursory thinking about it should alert anyone with the tiniest scintilla of scepticism that it’s completely implausible.

      • Michael: “that’s feeble”. You must agree then that AGW is also feeble. My introductory chapter of my first climate science course emphasizes that climate cannot be determined by analyzing the physics of individual parts. And yet that is precisely what the AGW believers are doing. They use the knowledge of radiative physics and plots of surface temperatures since the mid 1980s to prove their case. Skeptics are merely saying it is not enough.

      • rls,

        Good to see that at least you aren’t trying to defend this ridiculous, obviously wrong, claim.

      • ‘The National Malaria Eradication Program was a cooperative undertaking by state and local health agencies of 13 southeastern states and the Communicable Disease Center of the U. S. Public Health Service, originally proposed by Dr. L. L. Williams. The program commenced operations on July 1, 1947. It consisted primarily of DDT application to the interior surfaces of rural homes or entire premises in counties where malaria was reported to have been prevalent in recent years. By the end of 1949, more than 4,650,000 house spray applications had been made.’ http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/elimination_us.html

        ‘Besides killing a child every thirty seconds, malaria is a recurring disease for many. Children who survive malaria past infancy suffer an average of six bouts each year, making it the most common reason to miss school; adult sufferers miss an average of ten working days a year (United Nations Children’s Fund [UNICEF] 1999, 4). The infection rate had fallen significantly over the decades, primarily because of DDT sprayed inside homes and on mosquito breeding sites. But as a UNICEF report describes it, “DDT was widely discredited in the 1960s because of its harmful effects on the environment” (6). So the disease is nearly back to where it was 50 years ago. The tragedy is not being ignored. Roll Back Malaria was launched in October 1998 by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank to “prevent and control this centuries- old scourge” (UNICEF 1999, 1). Since DDT is unavailable in most nations, and international agencies are shy to use it even where it is legal, the UNICEF program must rely on other measures. These include “insecticide-treated mosquito nets, mosquito coils, repellants and other materials; early detection, containment, and prevention of malaria epidemics; and strengthening of local capacity to monitor malaria in affected regions” (UNICEF 1999, 8). – See more at: http://perc.org/articles/legacy-ddt-ban#sthash.ZkVEwS9D.dpuf

        DDT was approved by the WHO for use as a residual surface spray in 2007. DDT is safe for people. Are there some doubts remaining? Yes but so too and more clearly and directly with vaccinations – with the occasional adverse reaction. There is little doubt that DDT was over used – but it is equally clear that the response went far beyond what even Rachel Carson sought. This resulted in millions of unnecessary deaths that are still occurring daily.

      • I don’t know about you, but the experience of observing infants and small children with malarial meningitis does not invoke fond thoughts of Rachel Carson for me. Mother’s grief is not consolable especially with the unspoken knowledge that this did not need to be. One leaves such scenes haunted.

        There was a recent Climate Etc post about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. The problem is, such devastating impacts such as malaria in infants and small children is a world away from decision makers like President Obama. They are oblivious. The faces of hopeless mothers, their body language shows how concerned they are about the trace gas radiative transfer model of climate change. Another one of the things I’m going to raise with God. Anyone else wants to join me in Hell?

      • Here is a national geographic article from 2007 which seems to support faustino.


      • Captain, I just did a quick search in response to Joshua’s insinuation that it was not reasonable for me to accept the 20 million deaths figure. Thanks for the link, but I think that this sub-thread is played out.

      • Faustino,

        It’s not an insinuation.

        The 500 million figure is a joke, it’s absurd, ‘not even wrong’.

        Sceptics? Ha!!

      • ‘To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT. It has contributed to the great increase in agricultural productivity, while sparing countless humanity from a host of diseases, most notably, perhaps, scrub typhus and malaria. Indeed, it is estimated that, in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths due to malaria that would otherwise have been inevitable. Abandonment of this valuable insecticide should be undertaken only at such time and in such places as it is evident that the prospective gain to humanity exceeds the consequent losses. At this writing, all available substitutes for DDT are both more expensive per crop-year and decidedly more hazardous.’

        National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy, The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs, The World of Biological Research, Requirements for the Future (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1970), 432.

      • Rob,

        If you really think that 25 million people were dying of malaria every year, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

        Scepticism, remember it?

      • Death rates were higher in the Vietnam War than for the US Navy and Marine Corps in WW2: one source indicates 113,000 cases and 90 deaths.

      • The quote comes from the US National Academy of Sciences in a 1970 report – as clearly shown.

        How many hundreds of millions do you think it was Michael?

      • Rob,

        OK, I’ll put you out of your misery.

        It was a typo in the report.

        That level of mortality would have been almost like having a spanish flu epidemic every year for 20 consecutive years.

        Even the, ‘correct’, 50 million figure, is probably an over-estimate – taking the historical assumed death rate of around 2 mill/yr and further assuming that DDT prevented every single death over that period (which it obviously didn’t).

      • So Michael is claiming a typo from the NAS? LOL. I am not defending the estimate from 1970 merely reporting it in good faith.

        How many millions saved by DDT in the decades before the US ban – and not saved since?

        It is not a simple calculation – but the significant public health implications are quite evident.

      • Rob is again channeling his inner anti-enviromentalist hysteric.

        DDT doesn’t save anyone much.

        The historical record is quite clear on this – what works to dramatically cut malaria is a systematic, co-ordinated, appropriately resourced and long-term country/region wide anti-malaria campaign. DDT can be a part of that.

        The credulity of the ‘skeptics’ over the 500 million figure is something to behold.

      • Neither is the question.

        How many millions dead because DDT wasn’t used seems to be the relevant point.

      • Again – the figure comes from an NAS from 1970 before which DDT was the primary control. Still largely is – increasingly since the WHO endorsed DDT for indoor residual use in 2007.

        ‘It is undeniable that rapid control of malaria is vital to free malaria-prone countries from the scourge of this debilitating disease The primary tools used for malaria prevention are long-lasting insecticidal nets, and indoor residual spraying (IRS) in which insecticides are sprayed on indoor walls of homes.’ http://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/health-costs-and-benefits-of-ddt-use-in-malaria-control-and-prevention

      • Rob Ellison | August 13, 2014 at 4:53 am |
        “How many millions dead because DDT wasn’t used seems to be the relevant point.”

        And it ain’t 20 million.

        This stems from a two-fold idelogically driven delusion;
        1. The cedulous belif in the icirrect 500 million figure. It keeps raising its headlike a zombie, no matter how many times the error is noted
        It’s just too goo not to be true for the anti-environmental hysterics.
        2. A wilful misunderstanding of how malaria eradication has worked and a obsession over one tool in that – DDT.

        I wonder how many people would have died if we’d followed the ‘skeptics’ view that all we need to get rid of malaria is DDT??

      • DDT was an overnight hit in the 1940’s – because it was cheap and effective.

        There are a couple of methods for mosquito control – residual insecticides on nets and surfaces and larval control. The latter is problematic.

        e.g. http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/malaria_worldwide/reduction/vector_control.html

        The bottom line despite Michael’s silly and tendentious argumentation is that DDT was the primary agent for elimination of malaria in a number of countries at the time including the US.

        e.g. http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/elimination_us.html

        The reaction against DDT eliminated this source of control. The cost of this in human lives was highlighted in the 1970 quote from the NAS. All Michael can manage to do is quibble about the numbers.

        The question to be answered is the one I have asked a couple of times. How many millions died as a result of a moral panic? There is no getting around this – and ignoring the policy lessons as fringe activists like Michael are wont to do invites a repeat of an unfortunate history.

  18. Just in case this might be of interest. They say not even the climate agreement being planned for 2015 would prevent passing the 2 C threshold. The precautionary principle doesn’t provide a magic formula, but I think it is a wise principle to keep in mind.

    Expectations for a New Climate Agreement
    Henry D. Jacoby and Y. H. Henry Chen
    MIT Global Change Research Program, August 2014

  19. Actually there is a proactionary principal when it comes to new energy and fuel technology. Industries are encouraged to move this very new area of industry forwards, and risk-taking can be made possible by having public-private partnerships and government incentives. As in every new industry, not every effort will succeed, but the pay-off for those that do is a large incentive, because non-carbon energy and fuel are guaranteed needs. A lot of wealth is to be had by early wise investors. Like they say, a crisis is an opportunity (although the often-quoted idea of Chinese words being the same is unfortunately a fallacy) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_word_for_%22crisis%22

    • It’s strange that those who live or die by commercial investment decisions can not see these great pay-offs. In Australia, the pay-offs come entirely through government subsidies and regulations favouring the subsidised activities. That is, there are no real pay-offs, only transfers from viable to non-viable activities, which have the contradictory effect of reducing our overall capacity to deal with the future. Stick to science, Jim D, leave the economics.

  20. Safety helmets for bike riders in Australia is an example of risk assessment overkill.
    Cannot get visitors who ride bikes at home to hire them in Australia as prohibitive cost. Nor will locals use hire bikes.
    No answer here. I believe that people are entitled to make their own risk assessment and choose to wear one or not.
    On the other hand I have fallen off and been saved from serious injury by a helmet.
    Overall though I still hold to individual responsibility.

    • But there’s an externality here–the loved ones of the decision maker (DM) will suffer if the DM is hurt, and we really cannot expect the DM to properly take this into account, given all that heuristics and biases wisdom you know. And so the DM needs to be regulated. Also the DM is driving up the price of scare medical resources for everyone, and since we’re all paying for that, we can’t let the DM do whatever he d-mn well pleases can we?

      • Technically the medical resources are only there for the damaged DM anyway.Sensible people do not need them . Reminds me of a doctor I knew who would not treat smokers. But smokers are people too. Someone’s family.
        Heck if we used this logic we would have to ban smokers and skeptics.
        Hospitals would close and all those nurses, doctors and mechanics would be out of a job.
        Economy in a recession, etc.

      • “A parody (also called spoof, send-up or lampoon), in use, is an imitative work created to imitate, or comment on and trivialize an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation.”

        angech, your comment was merely the occasion, not the target. :)

      • But helmet laws are unambiguously bad for kidney patients awaiting organs from deceased donors, as young, healthy people dying from head trauma in motorcycle accidents is a prime source of life-saving donations. Got to consider all the externalities, right?

      • Right, Spanky.

      • A cardiac surgeon once called them donorcycles.

        I don’t want a pickle.

    • Safety helments is a good example. Riding mountain bikes in rough terrain or fast on city streets or parks are places that they should be used by logical people. Not mandated cause it is hard to regulate all decisions. Educate and let the risk taker decide. Children under 18 can be mandated to use helmets. But fat tire bikes on level campuses should be up to the individual.

      • Exactly. Statistical data on helmet use doesn’t show any health benefit.

        Basically, conditions where helmets prevent serious head injury are rare (impact fast enough to cause injury and sudden enough not to react to). They’re needed when pushing the limits of the bike and in uncontrolled environments like high speed road biking and mountain biking. But just tooling around the suburbs, they not likely worth the inconvenience.

      • U.S. study found that for every kid saved by a bicycle helmet mandate, 81,000 kids were discouraged altogether from riding their bikes.


        Regulators tend to underestimate behavior responses to their ukases.

      • Steve, there is evidence in Australia that the negative health impacts of reduced bicycle riding (from those who object to compulsorily wearing helmets) exceed the gains from the regulation. (I’m a helmet-wearing cyclist, seems a sensible choice to me, no compulsion needed.)

      • Interesting that the study only talks about #’s of deaths. Are there studies that report on #’s of head injuries?

      • Good catch, Joshua: “Finally, information on other adverse outcomes (such as head injuries, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations) would be necessary for a complete accounting of the costs and benefits of helmet laws.”

        A newer paper: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18773 whose abstract says

        “Cycling is popular among children, but results in thousands of injuries annually. In recent years, many states and localities have enacted bicycle helmet laws. We examine direct and indirect effects of these laws on injuries. Using hospital-level panel data and triple difference models, we find helmet laws are associated with reductions in bicycle-related head injuries among children. However, laws also are associated with decreases in non-head cycling injuries, as well as increases in head injuries from other wheeled sports. Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.”

        Note also the modesty of the authors in not drawing immediate policy conclusions “Get rid of helmet laws now!” while spending a lot of time explaining their statistical methods. Science without advocacy?

        TO ME, these findings make the bicycle-helmet laws look like overreaching nannyism, in that the benefits from them are speculative and not very strong in the data while the costs in terms of reduced freedom (VALUES ALERT) are immediate and obvious. But regardless of one’s final policy conclusion, the main point holds that in doing the complete accounting you have to take into account the unintended effect of reducing cycling altogether (for good or ill).

      • Scott

        What about ‘risk compensation?’


        It would be my observation as a life long skier that those wearing helmets go substantially faster and take more risks than those not wearing them as they feel ‘safer’ and therefore adjust their behaviour to get the same adrenaline rush.

        Combine this with the fact that skiing is mostly carried out by young people who think they are immortal, who like to show off, who are unable to judge relevant closing speeds very well as they may not be car drivers (many skiers are below 21) and the wearing of helmets can cause reckless behaviour

        I would also observe that cyclists without helmets tend on the whole to travel in a more sedate fashion.

        So I am not convinced that everyone benefits from wearing a helmet. Whether this translates to some sort of risk compensation as regards climate change and emissions I don’t know.


      • I’ve done plenty of bush and urban riding, night and day, much of it commuting, some of it sport. All I can say is that I wear a helmet…but I have never seen how strict helmet laws will ever fit with the aspirations of green politicians to make cities like Sydney into new Amsterdams.

        I’ve spoken many a time with cycling activists who always feel the pedal revolution is just round the corner. But after massive spending and chaotically imposed infrastructure, especially under current Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, Sydney cyclists are just a trickle, only worsening the city’s transit problems. It’s getting to be like the climate wars, with all sorts of phony figures and factoids to justify the ridiculous expenditures and bloated claims.

        Helmet laws are only one reason why this green dream will never come to fruition in many cities. Where cycling does fit well, it’s not a green dream but an old tradition favoured by terrain and long usage. And even in cities like Paris which have no helmet laws, public bikes and favourable terrain…it still kind of sucks.

        It’s a fetish. Yet another “issue” for the adolescent of heart. And that’s coming from a keen cyclist.

  21. I haven’t read Indur Goklany’s book on the precautionary principle, but I think it might have interesting perspectives.

    “Environmental scholar Indur Goklany disagrees with both the UN and the EU visions. In his new book The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment, he makes a powerful case that many environmentalists have misapplied the plain language of the precautionary principle, a concept he argues was intended originally to be a general notion recommending that policymakers choose rules to produce net reductions in environmental and public-health risks. Instead, environmentalists have turned the precautionary principle into a regulatory nightmare, transforming precaution into something quite different.”


  22. Grock invent wheel.
    Me invent fire and CO2 blame Big Grock for global warming.

  23. Beware snake oil sales
    man peddling blame.

  24. This article reminds me of this

    There Was An Old Woman

    There was an old woman who swallowed a fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed a fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.
    There was an old woman who swallowed a spider,
    That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die. ”

    (Full lyrics)

    There are always unintended consequences as the descendants of those who introduced alien species into their local habitat came to realise. Think of the Romans introducing rabbits into Britain-we are now knee deep in them. I had to clear one from my keyboard before I could use it. They also introduced wild garlic here with which my garden is infested.

    The potential of ‘doing’ something about co2-such as these mad engineering fixes sometimes featured here- seem far worse than the non problem we currently have.


    • @ climatereason

      “The potential of ‘doing’ something about co2-such as these mad engineering fixes sometimes featured here- seem far worse than the non problem we currently have.”

      Exactly Tony. First demonstrate, beyond ex cathedra proclamations of its existence and severity, that we HAVE a problem, then we’ll discuss solutions.

      As several posters (including me, earlier) have pointed out, the availability of cheap, plentiful energy is critical to our civilization and EVERY ‘climate change mitigation policy’ has the obvious and immediate effect of increasing energy costs and reducing its supply. Color me skeptical.

    • Tony: Never heard it before. Brightened my day! Thanks.

    • Stephen Schneider thought they should not blacken the poles and so on to stop global cooling. He thought that sort of geo-engineering could be carried out but that there might be “unintended consequences”. (“Unintended Consequences” was a radically new concept in the early 70s, just like “Precautionary Principle” in our own times. Strictly for elites and deep thinkers.)

      Well, we didn’t soot the poles to stop all that 1970s iciness. Maybe we were saved by Schneider’s decision-analytic framework! (Or maybe people weren’t quite potty enough to soot the poles.)

      • “’Unintended Consequences’ was a radically new concept in the early 70s…”

        The term may have become popularized in the 70s, but the concept has been around for centuries. It underlies the whole concept of a free market.

        Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is essentially an example of positive unintended consequences. The term became popular more recently to describe the inevitable negative consequences of central planning.

        A free market is preferable because the profit motive makes positive unintended consequences more likely. Progressivism has exactly the opposite effect, negative unintended consequences tend to accumulate.

        The primary reason is the mechanism for correction. In a free market, bad ideas fail because no one will pay for the inferior products or services that result. Bankruptcy then frees the assets to be used more beneficially elsewhere.

        In a progressive society, there is no real mechanism, or incentive, for disposing of failures and retasking of assets. A politicians’ or bureaucrats’ continued employment has nothing to do with positive or negative results.

        See eg. progressive education in the US, or the IPCC.

    • I remember some students sang that song for a play in elementary school when I was in kindergarten/1st grade.

  25. When the risk is of the nature of that presented by global warming, I cannot see dropping the precautionary principle as acceptable. Having said that I notice also that using the precautionary principle properly for global warming is extremely difficult.

    The principle is to me indisputably a valid principle, but it’s a poor guide for practical decision making as it allows interpretations that cover virtually all proposed policies.

    Applying precautionary principle as an absolute rule leads to irrational conclusions. Thus every practical application implies a comparison of alternatives that’s quantitative in nature even, when done without explicit analysis. Rational application of the principle requires that a risk-benefit analysis is done as quantitatively as possible.

    • Heh, lovely, and valuable, Pekka; you are applying the Precautionary Principle to the Precautionary Principle.

      I was also very pleased a few months ago when you agreed that Stern’s stuff was whacko, though maybe not exactly in those terms.

      Now we just have to work on your fear of the future. Global warming, to the extent man can cause it through fossil fuels, will be a net benefit to mankind.

      H/t Max Anacker.

    • Come over to the wild side, Pekka.
      Now you see why we are over here at last.

    • A proper precautionary principle says don’t do something stupid before you have some real data that proves it is necessary.

      Model Output is not Data. Flawed Model Output is REALLY NOT DATA.

    • Pekka,

      Here is some practical advice related to the precautionary principle and the climate issue. Do not make critical decisions regarding GHG emissions using predictions of un-validated climate simulation models. If you don’t have a validated model (one that has been demonstrated with sufficient physical data to make accurate predictions), use the best physical data available to make the decision. See:

    • Hal, you conclude: “Our TRCS research team experience with the Shuttle Challenger and Columbia accident investigation boards, as well as numerous independent and non-advocacy review boards regularly conducted on NASA manned and unmanned programs, leads us to believe that a similar independent review activity for the SCC calculation methodology is required. Following the template for successful independent review familiar to us, we recommend that in addition to climate science experts, numerous review board members selected from a broad array of technical fields that utilize the same basic technical disciplines, but are not directly involved in climate science research, are needed to achieve an adequate independent and objective review. Review board members should be vetted for identification and resolution of any possible conflicts of interest.” I’ve been advocating something similar for many years as necessary before engaging in expensive programs of dubious merit. No joy, though, your group has more clout, good luck.

  26. “The EU plans new regulations for scientific risk-taking, based on the principle of sustainable development. US big business is furious.”

    Regulations increased anthropogenic CO2 emissions (Germany), business decreased them (USA).

    • ‘Sustainable’, as commonly used, is paralytic. It is a pithing, and a pity.

  27. Thrill Seeker

    The elephant in the room wrt precautionary principle is that none of the solutions on offer significantly reduce the risk. They are beneficial in the short term to special interest groups but have no long term benefit. Teh juice isn’t worth the squeeze in other words.

  28. Let’s just try to do the best possible cost-benefit analysis in those cases where it is clear we must. Hmmm, not sure how we figure that 2nd bit out. It will vary quite a bit from case to case, depending on how many knowns vs. unknowns there are (including unknown unknowns). It is clear, however, that changing from “everything that is not forbidden is allowed” to “everything that is not allowed is forbidden” takes us from one sort of government to a very different sort. It is also clear that one can always claim that a new product or technology causes cancer, or harms the environment in any number of ways, so that it would be quite possible to make it prohibitively expensive to ever bring anything new to market as you could never prove that it was totally safe or totally without effects on something. Indeed, most things, even water and oxygen are toxic at some level. Practically, however, increased regulation would only increase our current problems of those with political connections getting special favors and of competitors being able to prevent new products from taking away their market share. In short, the haves will continue to get richer and the have-nots will be unable to advance. This is an unforeseen (by most) consequence of regulations and “benevolent” government that leads to calls for more regulation and tax rules which in turn will have unforeseen consequences. Large businesses are the ones that can afford teams of tax lawyers, tax accountants, and lobbyists. They love to help guide the creation of regulations. But they do it for the all the best reasons, of course. As do our politicians. And professions of intentions are more important than actual results – apparently.

    • @ Bill

      “This is an unforeseen (by most) consequence of regulations and “benevolent” government that leads to calls for more regulation and tax rules which in turn will have unforeseen consequences. ”

      Actually, rather than being an unforeseen ‘consequence’, this is actually a foreseen ‘feature’ of the regulations, benevolent government, and taxes.

      • Hence the (by most) in parentheses. They are forseeable but the majority of people don’t even consider it.

      • As implied, those who can see the “unforeseen” consequences can foresee the capacity for financial gain through actions which have a dis-benefit for society at large. This creates a powerful and focussed lobby for unwarranted changes.

  29. nottawa rafter

    I often think of this question as it relates to the geo-political arena. A decision may appear to be correct in 5 years only to have appeared to be the wrong decision in 20 years only to perhaps have been the right decision in 50 years only to have been…….
    There are situations all across the globe now where this kind of second guessing can go on.
    In the long sweep of history there are too many leaves on the decision tree to reflect any kind of rational thought process. It just makes you want to take a nap.

  30. ” In the ideal, new technologies should be proven “safe” before they are used.”

    And there is the dirty little secret. They CAN’T be ‘proven’ safe. Once the regulation is in place, EVERY advance will be hauled into endless kabuki theater courts which will demand ‘proof’ that the device/technology/product/plant/medicine is ABSOLUTELY safe; the consequences of NOT having it will NEVER be debated.

    As kim says above, ‘sustainable’, as commonly used, is paralytic. By design.

    • Walt Allensworth

      Exactly Bob. I was going to write:
      Since safety can never be proven by less than an infinite number of tests, and therefore an infinite amount of money, the Precautionary Principle is simply another rule created by the political ruling class who will pick the winners (those who support them) and the losers (those who fight them).

      As always… it’s nice to be King, or barring that, in the King’s favor.

  31. An important element of the risk analysis is the decisions on which outcomes are desirable. Europe is apparently focusing on a more centralized decision making process around desired outcomes. In relation to CO2, their initial foray into this centralized approach – carbon trading, appears to be failing. Different elements in Europe want to decarbonize or denuclearize – the combination moves European risk analysis and decision making into a “Through the Looking Glass” realm where physics and economics goes out the window.

    I continue to be in the so what camp in regards to CO2 and few the best possible outcome over the coming centuries as warming. Warmer is better even if we do have to rebuild the great coastal cities. By the time that happens, word population will be likely declining.

  32. Your thought-provoking discussions, Judith, are and will always be invaluable. So much of this is lost on the media and our politicians, equally damaging of our important subjects of the day.

  33. A large problem in this debate is the inability or unwillingness of climate alarmists to accept any reasonable notion of harm done by measures that make energy less affordable. For instance, if it costs more to heat my home I have less disposable income for preventative health care.

    First do no harm!


  34. The precautionary principle dominates climate policy. At the heart of the policy debate is whether the climate ‘cure’ in terms of CO2 emissions policy is worse than the climate ‘disease’.

    We know that more CO2 makes green things grow better while using less water.

    A proper precautionary principle would say to not do anything to reduce CO2 before someone uses actual real data to show that CO2 will cause any harm.

    They don’t even have something as simple as a precautionary principle used properly. Kinda like how they use their Flawed Climate Models.

    It is the money. A huge number of people, worldwide, are making their living on the Climate Alarmism. Follow the money.

    • It’s much deeper then money, AGW is the cumulative green/EarthDay/Campus Marxist Western culture rolled into one single meme. Those dedicated to it at the core want to impose authority for numerous reasons including delusional idealism (as they would describe it to themselves).

      If you focus on the money pit alone you miss the larger point. It’s like trying to relate the core of WW2 to economic or resource pressures of the participants. It just wasn’t that simple. There are all kinds of people involved and you have to look at them culturally and politically beyond their methods of compensation. Most people voicing opinions have small or even conflicted financial relationships to the AGW policy debate. For example, I’m confident the greenshirt movement has increased my profits by exaggerating scarcity of energy producing industries. On the other hand many other industries likely have suffered due to the higher then market driven impacts.

      Many, many green investors know it’s a sham. They may not even be greens at all. It’s the same in academia or those coordinating political support of climate policy. This is actually part of the self correcting part of human nature. When the green invention falls away, another contrivance will likely absorb the emotional needs the movement provided.

  35. Risk and uncertainty are everyday occurrences in the business world, but it appears that politicians are not qualified to handle it. They need to get that Anarchist mayor in Iceland to help. Anyhow, here is what almost any good business executive would do about the climate decision: Look at the time line and decide what has to be done now and what can be done later. Don’t blow your money on a solution that is unnecessary in the short term given that better solutions might be found in the long term. There! Please pass it along to the EU Pols. Hope that fixes everything.

  36. I see a major conceptual difficulty here:

    “…a proposed EU directive that would force companies to prove chemical products introduced into the marketplace are safe before being granted permission to market them.”

    What is the definition of “safe?” That puts us right back into the area of risk, and how much is allowable. So, there is no genuine way to avoid the question. Only to sweep it under the rug and claim it has been dealt with according to the Precautionary Principle.

    • Let them destroy the EU economy. Helps competitive US industries and the emerging economies. Any who choose precautionary principles over innovations will reap the benefits and costs while the rest of the world innovate and develop. The old Europe will slowly strangle itself.

  37. Is the universe governed by deterministic laws and rules or does randomness negate all attempts to predict precise physical outcomes? Risk or Fate? Maybe the debate resolves to the eternal question, do we have free will? If you believe we have free will then the future can not be predicted and any attempt to calculate the effects of humans on the biosphere are doomed to failure. But if you believe reality can be precisely calculated by the laws of motion, energy and time then risk can be bounded or even eliminated. I have pondered this question and have come to the conclusion that free will is an illusion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will
    Put another way, that given enough computational power and access to ALL relevant data, processes and initial conditions then the future can be predicted. The problem as I see it is we are still a few decades away from assembling these components in to a functioning system. Such as it is then we are fated to solve the question of AGW before we have passed the proverbial tipping point. Many of us will not live to see this happen but it is comforting to know the problem is solvable.
    Jack Smith

  38. Of course in the case of the politically motivated AGW hypothesis the “precautionary principle” is another blank check opportunity to exploit. It’s a redux from the 60’s-70’s pleas for policy authority from fledgling power grabbing greens that went like this;

    “even if we are wrong about “x” (fill in any of a thousand human actions deemed negative by a select elite) “we” (the proletariat) are “better off” (as deemed by the policy elite). It doesn’t matter if X fails based on objective reason, they are indemnified of costs or unintended consequences. Good intentions voids any accountability, loss of individual rights or even democracy itself.

    This is another topic to avoid discussing the central problem regarding AGW, it evolved from political and social corruption. Science following political ambitions. If missile defense contractors had populist support to for a world defense shield, “to save the world” from an undefined or quantified “asteroid” threat and demanded a global tax to fund it many singing the praises of jack-boot greens would sing another song in such an event. The basic flaws remain the same, arrogance of the presumed elite to extend beyond quantitative evidence. The precautionary principle is policy backsliding and face saving for a movement so shameful and failed it deserves not the slightest policy validations as if it could have been based on science reasoning. It never should have left the labs on campus and should have been aggressively targeted for political cronyism and junk science exploits no less then 45+ years ago. It’s growth came from a failure of ethics in containing agenda twisting of objective science principles. Why we treated our academic and research communities as incubators for social and political extremism is a more germane topic.

    So applying the precautionary principle to climate policy would join the long list of failed appeasements to social rotting and/or political reward for the worst inclinations of human nature. Talking about reparations for the damages inflicted by AGW movement while politically unlikely makes more sense given the facts at hand.

  39. John Robertson

    Proper application of the Precautionary Principle ensures knowledge that parasites want to feast upon the lifeblood of their host.
    That every planet-saver who is not entirely self sufficient is a hypocrite.
    Fools and Bandits are the beneficiaries of this type of stupidity.
    By the use of such a concept, I can justify prison or worse for all who agitate to do-good using mine and other peoples money.
    Simple logic, I believe such persons to be dangerous maniacs, who have stated their intent.
    They intend to rob me of my freedoms and wealth, under the “precautionary principle”,I believe this, therefore I must act now to prevent these people from acting.
    So stupid.
    The precautionary principle is a longwinded way of evading the rule of law.
    Innocent until proven guilty, being the first obligation to civil order that the alarmed ones wish to evade.
    The more the persons implicated in the CAGW meme attempt to justify their position, the more odious they show themselves to be.

  40. David L. Hagen

    Harming the Poor by elevating Nature
    Arie Trouwborst summarizes:

    Generally speaking, the precautionary principle calls for action at an early stage in response to threats of environmental harm, including in situations of scientific uncertainty. Applying the principle means giving the benefit of the doubt to the environment: in dubio pro natura.

    Prevention, Precaution, Logic And Law: The Relationship Between The Precautionary Principle And Associated Questions” Erasmus Law Review, 2009 Vol. 02, Nr. 02, pp 105-127.

    Bjorn Lomborg addresses “The Abuse of the Precautionary Principle:

    The problem here is the abused precautionary principle is great as a political sledgehammer – carefully formulated, you can ban anything – but this is unreasonable. We have to weigh risks and benefits, not just issue blanket edicts about safe and dangerous. . . .The vamped-up precautionary principle is inherently self-contradictory. Notice how it suggests that you should only do safe actions. But as nothing is entirely safe, you get a different outcome depending on the question you ask. . . .
    And we definitely can prove that these precautionary bans are unsafe. They will cause higher food prices, more starvation in third world countries, less fruit and vegetable consumption in the EU and hence more cancer deaths. . . .
    We need to stand up for common sense and rational policies on human health and the environment. We need to insist on proper risk assessments, through smart weighing of pros and cons. Like we do when the kids want an ice cream across the road.
    Lomborg shows how Greens use of the “precautionary” principle sledgehammer harms the poor in Environment of Poverty

    . . .Each year, ten million people die from infectious diseases like malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, along with pneumonia and diarrhea. . . .According to the World Health Organization, about seven million deaths each year are caused by air pollution, with the majority a result of burning twigs and dung inside. . . .while global warming causes another 141,000 deaths. . . .Unfortunately . . .Almost all environmental aid – about $21.5 billion, according to the OECD – is spent on climate change.

    Trouwborst uses these “thought-provoking quotes”:

    The precautionary principle may well be the most innovative, pervasive, and significant new concept in environmental policy over the past quarter century. It may also be the most reckless, arbitrary, and ill-advised.

    G.E. Marchant and K.L. Mossman, Arbitrary and Capricious: The Precautionary Principle in the European Union Courts (London: AEI Press 2004) at 1.

    Obama and Greens are harming the extreme poor in Africa by denying them the cheapest power for an immeasureable impact (aka “protect”) the environment.

    As we know,
    There are known knowns.
    There are things we know we know.
    We also know
    There are known unknowns.
    That is to say
    We know there are some things
    We do not know.
    But there are also unknown unknowns,
    The ones we don’t know
    We don’t know.

    D. Rumsfeld, US Department of Defence news briefing, 12 February 2002, dod.gov

  41. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    The precautionary principle has been for ages the wisdom of sages:

    Primum non nocere
    (“first, do no harm”)

    Non-maleficence, which is derived from the maxim, is one of the principal precepts of bioethics that all healthcare students are taught in school and is a fundamental principle throughout the world.

    It reminds the health care provider that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do.

    Non-maleficence is often contrasted with its corollary, beneficence.

    Note in particular that the principle of primum non nocere is associated not to economic harm, but to medical harm.

    If this principle applies in medicine, how much more does it apply in climate-change?

    Proposition  It is wrong to sell pesticides that (in the long run) disastrously harm one infant in five thousand.

    Corollarly  It is wrong to embrace a carbon energy economy that (in the long run) drowns one city in fifty,

    *EVERYONE* appreciates *THIS* moral reasoning, eh Climate Etc readers?

    \scriptstyle\rule[2.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}\,\boldsymbol{\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}\,\heartsuit\,{\displaystyle\text{\bfseries!!!}}\,\heartsuit\,\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}}\ \rule[-0.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}

    • It is wrong to makes false unsupportable claims that something will cause great harms.

      • Rob,

        I’m curious what guys like fan would think about applying their logic to aspirin.

        Some time ago I heard the remark that were aspirin to come on the market today, it would not be allowed due to large uncertainties in how it works and its many side effects.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Modern science provides new power to the principle of primum non nocere:

      Environmental and State-Level Regulatory Factors
      Affect the Incidence of [redacted]
      and Intellectual Disability

      The observed spatial variability of both ID [intellectual disability] and ASD [redacted spectrum disorders] rates is associated with environmental and state-level regulatory factors; the magnitude of influence of compound environmental predictors was approximately three times greater than that of state-level incentives.

      Conclusion  No chemical enterprise has *ANY* moral, economic, or legal right to skip toxicity testing. Just as Big Carbon has *NO* moral, economic, or legal right to melt the Earth’s ice-caps and drown the world’s low-lying nations.

      Common Sense  Economists and libertarians alike are entirely wrong to prioritize globalized economic gain above citizen-level maleficence.

      *EVERYONE* appreciates *THAT*, eh Climate Etc readers?

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      • More false claims of great harms that require action.

        If you really fear adverse weather- advocate building good infrastructure. There are limited financial resources that need to be used wisely

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Learn some science and engineering, Rob Starkey!

      Common Sense  No technological intervention stops [redacted] societal harms from endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

      Common Sense  Dikes don’t fix sea-level rise in porous-bedrock karst-country (like Florida) … and neither does any other infrastructure remedy.

      *EVERYONE* appreciates *THESE* plain science-and-engineering facts, eh Climate Etc readers?

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    • Proposition: It is wrong to ban the sale of a pesticide if the ban disastrously harms one child in 1,000 and is based on the poorly examined claim that its sale might disastrously harm one child in 5,000.

      Corollary: it is wrong to give up the known benefits of energy for the unknown benefits of policy action – particularly when activists pressing for “action” reject alternative policies that work.

      • @ Jeffn

        “Corollary: it is wrong to give up the known benefits of energy for the unknown benefits of policy action – particularly when activists pressing for “action” reject alternative policies that work.”

        Even more particularly, it is wrong to give up the known benefits of energy when there not even a CLAIM as to the measurable impact on the ‘climate’ of the advertised policy actions, never mind any actual evidence of their efficacy.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Jeffn’s asserts [bizarrely]
      Proposition  It is wrong to ban the sale of a pesticide if the ban disastrously harms one child in 1,000 and is based on the poorly examined claim that its sale might disastrously harm one child in 5,000.

      You flunk medical ethics, Jeffn! Because market-fundamentalist pollution — however economically advantageous — grossly violates the ethical principle of informed consent … by injecting toxic chemicals into the common environment.

      Observation  Of the twenty-four types of libertarian, all 24 score well on IQ tests, and yet moral-blindness and social-blindness are astoundingly common across the libertarian spectrum.

      Question  Is this too-common libertarian cognitive disability the fundamental reason why libertarians can’t win elections?

      The world wonders!

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    • Fan: What a different world it would be if the precautionary principal had been in play when Ford rolled out his first model A. Ah, so many fewer deaths.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      rls deplores “[the absence of safety regulations during the Great Depression]”

      Notably in regard to the 20th century’s asbestos-caused cancer epidemic, you are entirely correct rls! Not to mention the immense healthcare burdens associated to lead, cadmium, mercury, coal-dust, tobacco, radium paint, etc.

      Thank you rls, for reminding Climate Etc readers that these disasters *ARE* preventable, by wisely embracing the precautionary principle!

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      • The first model A was rolled out in 1903, decades before the depression. But that’s beside the point. I noticed no response from you regarding the danger of automobiles. Do you accept that the car kills 40,000 people each year in the US? Who’s to blame? Abestos, lead, etc. should have been curbed when problems were first seen, but how do you exercise the precautionary principle before problems are seen? I used to play with the squiggly mercury bubbles as a kid and my dad, a cautionary man, saw no problem. In fact. to my knowledge, there have been no problems.

      • That’s it fan, bring in medical research. Perhaps one of the few sciences that is more riddled with garbage than climate science. Remind us the percentage of medical research that’s been deemed as unreproducible?

        PS – grandfather and uncles were all coal miners and smokers. I remember my Uncle Louey sitting on the back step after coming home from work chain smoking half a pack because they couldn’t smoke in the mines. They all lived to between 86 and 94. In other words, genetics is still the biggest determining factor on health and longevity. But don’t tell some doctors that.

    • It means don’t do anything unless you have to or have proof that there are no ill consequences. Hence, use the precautionary principle on the precautionary principle. Don’t make everyone’s electricity more expensive, driving up the price of food and fuel and possibly causing hunger or even people to freeze to death next year on the basis that it might prevent 0.1 degrees of warming 80 years from now. Not sure how you can turn common sense on its head so easily.

    • A fan of…… etc. – You obviously have no interest in climate science. Your style gives away who you are: you must be either Ampersand the graphic novelist who drew those 24 libertarians or a close copy. He/you hates deniers and constantly needles them. You are not stupid or uneducated. Unfortunately you choose to use your talent to totally twist the meaning of what happens around you.

    • “Proposition It is wrong to sell pesticides that (in the long run) disastrously harm one infant in five thousand.” Is it still wrong if those pesticides save the lives of hundreds who would otherwise die from malnutrition? Far too simplistic, Fan.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse
        Proposition [from medical ethics] “It is wrong to sell pesticides that (in the long run) disastrously harm one infant in five thousand.”

        Faustino wonders “Is it still wrong if those pesticides save the lives of hundreds who would otherwise die from malnutrition?”

        The plain teaching of medical ethics is “it’s still wrong.”

        For the common-sense reason, that the explicit consent is required of all who end-up ingesting toxic chemicals.

        Pretty much *EVERYONE* appreciates the broad validity of this fundamental principle of human dignity and justice … except strict market-fundamentalists and libertarians, eh Faustino?

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  42. Example of the Precautionary Principle at work in the context of AGW: to preserve Michael Mann’s right to tenure, free enterprise capitalism and the foundational principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility must be destroyed, even if it means undermining respect for the country’s most basic of all Judeo-Christian values: sincerity and honesty.

  43. Nice review of risk aversion and problems of efforts to avoid risk:

    Some snippets from the article:
    “Risk is poorly understood. At the height of the economic boom that culminated in 2007, financial firms employed legions of the best and brightest – mathematicians and computer scientists drawn from the best universities in the world and armed with some of most powerful computers ever built – to better assess and mitigate risk.

    These risk experts devised a number of strategies to mitigate risk. One was the mortgage-backed security. The idea of the mortgage-backed security is that it minimized the risk of both default and prepayment to a lending institution by securitizing, packaging, and selling buckets of mortgages. Instead of the lender bearing all the risk for the loans they were making, they could allow other financial institutions to purchase some or all of the loan note, thus sharing in the risk as well as the interest earned on the mortgage. The idea was to spread the risk around the market. The problem with this strategy is that it created systemic risk of such a magnitude that it nearly destroyed the entire global financial system. When no one owns risk, everyone owns it.

    Oddly, very few of the risk experts saw this coming.”


    • nottawa rafter

      I have often wondered how much the top management of the financial firms who bought the securitization instruments knew about the activities at the mortgage origination with their liar loans, no doc and negative amortization mortgages. When the entire process was exposed years later, the impending doom was self evident. I once read an executive VP of one of the investment banks said he spent less than 1% of his time on mortgage securitization holdings.

    • One VP said that one has to keep dancing as long as the music plays or be thrown out of management by the quarterly earnings gurus. They knew at some level it was musical chairs but no one could predict when it would stop. Lots of money to be made while the music kept playing and no one to predict the final end. So everyone except the few insightful banks kept going except Wells Fargo, who now dominates the mortgage market and bank sector because of good management.

      • Two good books on financial crises
        All the Devils are Here, hidden history of financial crises by Beth McLean

        One by Alan Greenspan, the Future of Forcasting (economics)


    • I don’t see much of an issue with sharing risk widely, and disagree with most of what people say about this and the financial crisis. What’s problematic is incentivizing risk-taking without adequate due diligence and monitoring, and then selling the mortgage so created to someone else as if it was your grandfather’s mortgage with Jimmy Stewart.

    • Another way of thinking about this is Jacob Frenkel’s well-known elevator description of the Miller-Modigliani theorem: “If you cut a pizza into many slices, you still have one pizza.” The problem was not slicing up pizzas; it was starting with crap pizza.

      • One of the joys of being southern is that we don’t have A pizza. There are fewer “crap” pizzas once you eliminate regional pizza bias.

      • Ah yes. Pizza is various, and we’d all be happier if we kept this in mind. The real problem is that all pizzas are made by people who are stoned, so the quality control ain’t so great. Put differently, every pizza parlour makes some great pizza and some crap pizza.

    • From the linked article, continuing the quote above:

      Oddly, very few of the risk experts saw this coming. Part of the problem was that the calculation of risk the experts relied on was based on certain assumptions. The assumptions they used did not account for systemic risk, nor did they account adequately for what Nassim Taleb has termed “Black Swan events.” The complex formulas used to assess risk gave a false sense of security: someone very smart has done the math on this, so we are covered. Of course, if the assumptions the math is based on are incomplete or erroneous, the best mathematicians in the world (and the financial firms employ some of the best mathematicians in the world) are not going to be helpful. Garbage in, garbage out.

      First of all, as I said above:

      That wasn’t a “black swan”, it was an eagle.

      That is, it was an almost inevitable “predator” on the situation, perfectly predictable by anyone familiar with similar, previous, events.

      Let’s take a hypothetical case, some sort of hedge fund, or other financial tool, that gets so big that even with normal leverage, perhaps even with no leverage, it takes up so much capital that it puts the entire economy at risk. Or perhaps, rather than a single entity, it’s a model or strategy that a lot of different traders are using, without anybody noticing the hidden assumption that puts it at risk. If the model fails, a whole lot of small operations are at risk, making “bail-outs” much harder. [bold in this quote only]

      How is the mortgage situation like the LTCM mess? First, let’s clear some of the ignorant deadwood: it wasn’t bad loans that brought down the mess. It wasn’t even “the mortgage-backed security.” It was second- and third-derivative re-securitizations, where the top tranche, the one with the lowest risk, was evaluated without considering the obvious vulnerability to “popping bubbles” in the housing market.

      The fact that there was a bubble was obvious to anybody listening to radio advertisements (who knew the business) by 2005. The vulnerability of the top tranches of such re-securitizations to the “popping” of that bubble, an inevitable event, would have been obvious to anybody who looked closely at how those securities were structured.

      Personally, I didn’t predict the collapse because I was no longer in the Mortgage business, and didn’t realize these securities were actually being used by banks as part of their reserves. Anybody who did know, and was familiar with mortgage underwriting and risk management (and how banking and reserves work), should have seen it coming. Especially with the LTCM experience reasonably fresh in all our memories.

      Thus, I don’t see how the events of 2007-2008 can be called a “Black Swan”. Like I said, and “eagle”.

      • There were bad loans and mis-classified loan. When they were cut up, many were sold as higher quality/lower risk than they actually should have been. People bought MBS not knowing the make up of the mortgages behind them. Then, the bubble burst and no one knew which security were worth anything since their models for on time payment/pre-payment and interest payments were shot.

        We should have used treasuries to refi bubble mortgages and maybe even write down some debt (instead of the stimulus). Most securities probably expected prepayment due to the previously high volume in the realestate market. We would have reduced payments and freed up disposable income to restore saving and spending capability faster and at the same time restored value to many MBS we bought.

      • We should have used treasuries to refi bubble mortgages and maybe even write down some debt (instead of the stimulus). Most securities probably expected prepayment due to the previously high volume in the realestate market. We would have reduced payments and freed up disposable income to restore saving and spending capability faster and at the same time restored value to many MBS we bought.

        Perhaps. My own thought at the time was similar: buy the foreclosing mortgages out of their products (perhaps at a reduced fraction of the face value), refi with reductions and/or sell the property at a loss. It probably wouldn’t have cost more than the stimulus package, and once the government was committed to the process, the money supply would have expanded again.

        There would have been a major moral hazard, of course.

      • AK, I’ve said this before on an earlier thread so it’s repetitive, but… We’ve now got a fairly large body of experiments on asset market bubbles. I can agree with you that bad assets aren’t a necessary condition for producing bubbles and crashes, but neither is securitization of any kind. In fact the big central puzzle in the laboratory bubbles literature is how damn easy it is to get bubbles provided that the body of traders are not all acquainted with one another’s trading behavior. The surest way to make bubbles unhappen is to bring the same group of traders back to the lab a second and third time. By the third time, no more bubbles.

        BUT now bring back several groups who have all had this experience, and recombine them into new groups–mixtures of traders who know everyone is experienced but nevertheless do not know one another’s trading behavior through own experience. Let them go off to separate labs and trade again in exactly the same environment where, most recently, they traded without bubbles. The bubbles return, same as they ever were.

        My point is that the “common knowledge of behavior” that theorists stress is a necessary condition for (stochastically perturbed but stable) steady states or steady paths is something constructed through shared experience. Anything that disrupts this–a large influx of new traders, for instance–seems likely to ignite bubbles and subsequent crashes.

        To repeat, we can know create bubbles in the lab on demand, on almost every try for them, with just one asset with a known lifetime and stable, known dividend process and the only other store of value is money with a zero return. That means that a lot of things people insist are necessary conditions for bubbles just aren’t.

      • @NW…

        I’m not talking about bubbles, I’m talking about systemic crashes. There was a whole string of mortgage/housing bubbles during the latter 20th century, but no systemic crash of the sort we saw in 2006/2007.

      • Well, here is something two of my colleagues wrote (as an op-ed in the WSJ in 2009) about just that question. VL Smith is a Nobel laureate… just saying, he has extra cred and doesn’t shoot his mouth off daily like some other laureates do. Anyway you may find this interesting. Smith and Gjerstad have a book coming out sometime soon that expands on these ideas.


    • Somehow I missed this class in my MBA program. The one where you learn that you can somehow magically make bad loans ok by mixing in a few good ones and then spreading them around to a bunch of institutions.

      My grandmother – who was a single mom before the term was ever coined – could have offered better advice than the many geniuses who came up with this concept.

  44. John Smith (it's my real name)

    Dr. Curry, think highly of you, but you may too fair minded and civilized in thinking that most of the folk proposing things like the “precautionary principle” are benevolent.
    I think it is a shear power grab.
    We are witnessing the emergence of a strange, very scary, secular neo-puritanism.
    Cotton Mather and Robespierre were beyond reproach.

    • Yes, I agree. If they are benevolent, they are seriously ignorant and misguided, and should read this thread.

    • Fascinating.

    • So much for the interplay between public and private interests. So much for risk assessment in the face of uncertainty.

      People who disagree with y’all about these complex matters (no doubt largely due to political ideology) are malevolent at best, with the rare exception of those who are ignorant and misguided.

      Your confidence in your superiority and valor and good intentions is quite striking.

    • We talked about “secular puritanism” when I was in college. Later in grad school, an economic historian tried to convince me that the country was in the midst of the “4th Great Awakening” and that within 20 years cigarettes would be illegal. That prediction was only somewhat extreme as things turned out.

  45. Risk is also in the eye of the beholder: many folks are afraid of minuscule pesticide residues in food grown via conventional methods or afraid of air travel or afraid of nuclear power, GMOs, Alar, acid rain, vaccines for children, CO2 increases in the atmosphere, etc. It seems that most people are unable to adequately assess risks in an objective manner. This brings to mind the famous quote from H. L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”– H.L. Mencken


  46. Europe has never had any injuries or deaths from weather which any proposed measures would have prevented. On the other hand, it has history of government killing it’s citizens, and it’s had neighboring nations invade one another involving bombing, terrorizing and murdering it’s citizens.
    So Europeans should invest in the capability so as would prevent Russia from invading Ukraine and not have another repeat of Kosovo war.
    One thing they could do is stop feeding the bear, and start doing fracking and aggressively planning on tapping arctic region for oil.

  47. PP: is a mental disease causing STUPIDITY IN HIGH PLACES.These include the top of the IVORY TOWER as well as top GOVERNMENT officials hopelessly ignorant of science.

  48. Craig Loehle

    Some examples of the cost of precaution:
    The entire industry of hand-made dolls and toys is being exterminated because they can’t afford to do all the testing required. All “toys” must be safe for children to chew on, even bikes–as if children chew on bikes! Big toy companies can afford to do the testing.
    The Lacey Act regulates trade in endangered species but also caught up Gibson Guitars for their importation of wood from India and other places–wood which they had a permit for from those countries. How do you prove that a piece of wood was not harvested illegally?
    A few people have raised a scare about vaccines causing autism, and as a “precaution” many people stopped vaccinating their kids, leading to recent resurgences of measles and whooping cough in the US.
    The fear of technology has caused the US to not build any nuclear reactors in 30(?) years.
    The FAA would like to make drones illegal, but has (fortunately) not been quite successful.
    If government regulated the internet 30 yrs ago we would still be using dial-up.
    The time to pass all tests for new drugs has gotten longer and more expensive, meaning that people are dying or remaining ill due to lack of new drugs.

  49. Craig Loehle

    Some more examples:
    The effort in the US to prevent all forest fires has led to forests in the West in particular being so choked with dry understory and dead wood that fire becomes catastrophic.
    It was argued at the time that trains traveled to fast to be safe for human health–fortunately such critics could not stop trains from being built.
    A critical assumption in the PP is that any harm that arises will be huge, sudden, and irreversible. But more often the harm resulting from a technology occurs gradually, can be detected, and is small. In such cases (ie most of the time) then one can mitigate the harm in some way or even eliminate it with a new version of the technology. Deaths per highway mile have been going down for decades, for example.

    • Steven Mosher

      today we have stopped thinning trees around tahoe because they found a frog.


      • Ah but it is a yellow legged mountain frog once abundant until invasive predatory trout were introduced to the mountain lakes and streams. I am not sure how not clearing brush will help thin the trout population.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Houses built on the USA’s ocean coast  are destined to drown.

      Houses built in the PNW’s wild forests  are destined to burn.

      In both cases the wildlife do just fine.

      However, now *IS* the time (in both cases) to end insurance subsidies for improvident homebuilders … allowing market-values to slide where they may.

      Let the Precautionary Principle work in the market!

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      • You have a bit of a conundrum there fanny. If you regulate how structures are build in those hazard zone then not allow them to be insured you will have an issue of major proportions. There is the option of reducing regulations though.

      • Curious George

        I am with Fan on this one. There should be an insurance – just not a subsidized one. Undoubtedly Noah got an affordable insurance for his Ark.

      • CG, “I am with Fan on this one. There should be an insurance – just not a subsidized one.”

        That depends on what you think is “subsidized”. Florida has some of the toughest construction codes and highest flood/wind insurance rates. Florida is also a donor state meaning it pays more into FEMA required insurance that it receives. That is kinda the object for the insurance industry, to make money. The problems with the FEMA and private insurances is that New Orleans, New York and New Jersey are not donor states. Their risk was grossly underestimated which is odd considering New Orleans is below sea level and just about everyone knew the levies were marginal at best.

        There are a lot of Florida Keys property owners that have or are trying to opt out of Wind insurance since there is rarely any wind damage done to properties that is actually covered. As for flood, Florida rate were increased by 11% to 25% so that the “subsidized” Florida insured are paying enough to rebuild most properties every 20 years.or so. That is one heck of a “subsidy” doncha know.

  50. Morley Sutter

    Jeremy Rifkin has written: “At issue is a proposed EU directive that would force companies to prove chemical products introduced into the marketplace are safe before being granted permission to market them.”
    This statement refers to a logical impossibility. Proving something is “safe” is trying to prove a negative, in this case, that no harm can be produced by the chemical. But it is impossible to know all possible risks that a chemical might prooduce and therefore it is impossible to test for them. It is like trying to prove there are no dragons in a room; despite a careful search, a dragon might be hiding somewhere in that room.
    In short, the idea is nonsense. There are some risks attached to every activity and every chemical to which we are exposed. We have to decide what is an “acceptable risk” in any given circumstance.

    • Now Morley, nothing is impossible in UNtopia.

    • A British guy who ate only carrots was bright orange when he died an early death. Should we ban carrots?

      • Yes, and what about peanuts? Deadly to a segment of the population. Ban them too?

        Which raises the issue of fundamental heterogeneity of treatment effects. When toxicology aggregates data from many individuals and finds some risk using a between-estimator, what the hell does that mean? That all members of the population are sensitive, or that a fraction of the population is very sensitive? Would you ban peanuts on the same grounds?

      • > Yes, and what about peanuts? Deadly to a segment of the population. Ban them too?

        Lots of institutions already banned them.

        I bet you don’t have kids, NW, or you’re not in charge of making lunches. Or if you do, you give em pizza.

  51. The idiocy of the regulators is in the binary nature of their approval. So many times regulation lacks any sense of degree of danger.

    One episode that comes to mind is the issue of the potential of lead in paint. Manufactures may not rely upon the label, but must test their paint for being lead free. When you are at the scale of Mattel, buying paint by the ton, there is some justification, particularly when the paint manufacturer is in China. But that rule also applies to the basement carpenter and craftsman who buys paint in 1/2 oz Testor’s sizes. The rule has put them out of business. It has also eliminated the resale market of toys because the 20 years old heirloom toy doesn’t have a lead-free certificate.

    There has to be some sense of degree in “What is the worst that can happen?” “Who is assuming the risk?”

    The FDA gets my ire. They don’t approve things unless they are proven “save and effective.” Oh, you can get stuff if you become part of a multi-million dollar study and want to chance getting a placebo. Nuts! Let people assume risk under informed consent! The FDA’s nanny approach dumbs down the populace. Things that are sold as “safe and effective” can be very dangerous beyond certain dosage levels.

    What’s wrong with a grading system of risk/reward, similar to the hazardous materials diamond Does a material detonate? Is it combustible by spark? Is it “Keep out of eyes” or “Don’t even look at it without a welder’s mask. Is it “Keep out of the reach of children” or is it “Keep away from all living things?”

  52. “Under the proposed EU standards, companies would be required to register and test for the safety of more than 30,000 chemicals at an estimated cost of nearly €6bn (£4bn) to the industry.”

    Well the chemical companies will just have to have all “organic” divisions and come up with greener product names. Instead of cyanide use essence of bitter almond. I can see a whole line of essential oil based pesticides being popular in the EU. Of course they would have to be stored in pyramids.

  53. Morley Sutter

    Your comment is more euphonious and correct if “UNtopia” is “EUtopia”

  54. Craig Loehle

    Ironically, “organic” and “natural” foods are believed to be beyond reproach and need no testing but:
    too much green tea can damage the liver;
    some herbals can interfere with medications, even cancer treatments, and lead to your death;
    pigging out on licorice can cause a severe health emergency;
    various herbals encourage people to avoid going to a doc for serious illnesses because they think they are being treated;
    and so on.
    It is a natural tendency for people who live in the suburbs and have not had to deal with nature much (like livestock, storms, floods) and don’t work with their hands to become more risk-averse. But too much risk aversion leads to never letting your kids play outside, never driving on the highway or never driving at all, never eating out or going to movies (germs), never playing sports. It leads to absurd results.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Craig Loehle asserts [wrongly and without evidence]  “Ironically, “organic” and “natural” foods are  believed  NOT believed to be beyond reproach and need no testing”

      Craig Loehle, you are entirely correct that willful ignorance and prejudice contribute little or nothing to public discourse!

      Thank you Craig Loehle, for posting a comment that illustrates so plainly the perils of willful ignorance and the merits of the Precautionary Principle!

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      • fan Loehle is speaking of the rank and file warm and fuzzy er.. liberal in the American sense of the word. Homeopathic medicine is growing by leaps and bounds in the EU along with the fear of anything “scientific”. It is the age of the Scaredicrats.

    • @Craig: absolutely! Another example: when was the last time you heard of someone ending up dead from pesticides residues on food? Answer: it doesn’t happen. Not because of regulation, but because there isn’t a problem from infinitesimal residues on food. Then compare to the “organic” industry…outbreaks of hundreds of people who die periodically from the organisms in the “fertilizer” of “organically” grown food. If one were to actually apply the precautionary principle to agriculture, modern, high yield agriculture would be required and “organic” methods would be banned!


  55. The concept of a precautionary principle calls to my mind at least: Risk aversion and situational awareness reflecting a person’s temperament.

    Risk aversion is a behavior of humans, while exposed to uncertainty, to attempt to reduce that uncertainty.

    Situational awareness is the perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic systems.

    A person’s temperament reflects a behavior profile which includes irritability, activity, frequency of smiling, and an approach or avoidant posture to unfamiliar events.

    (The above descriptions were modified from a Wikipedia source)

    Combining all three: a timid person, who is clueless as to what is going on around themselves, who life’s approach is primarily avoidance, would more likely than not make a choice, when confronted with unfamiliar issues or events like climate change, favoring a consensus or crowd pleasing action. This notion of not adventuring vary far from what is familiar can be observed in emergent situations where most (like > 80%) wait for someone else to act.

    There are people of different temperament, risk aversion, and situational awareness who make decisions based upon their own mixture of those three personal characteristics.Therefore, it is important to know who is talking with regards to a recommendation of the precautionary principle. To determine what may behind a persons recommendation, one doesn’t quite require a Rorschach Test to assess a person’s state of mind, but, there needs to be some assessment of the person making such recommendations: are believable? are they honest in their life’s endeavors?

    Notice, I didn’t invoke science in this decision making process, and for good reason. Science, in the face of uncertainty, is usually silent; or, at best says: I don’t know. It is the wheedlers of mass hysteria who seem to be the most destructive and unhelpful, best reflected by HL Mencken, something about making everyday normal events appear scary so that the Government could protect them from such hobgoblins.

    Please feel free to substitute for the word “Government”: Warmists, academics, expert panels and/or opinions, authoritative sources, consensus statements, spiritualists, fortune tellers, soothsayers, shamans, pickpockets, etc….

    • Yeah, whatever happened to that leftist mantra and bumper sticker: ‘Question Authority’. I think the current generations are more compliant and acquiescent, I wonder why? A generational temperament.

  56. Dr Curry,

    My comment may be a bit lengthy, at least for me, but, does it require moderation? or should I modify my opinion?

  57. This was all beautifully expressed by Cornford in Microcosmographica Academica back in 1908: “Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.”

  58. The cartoon about the wheel reminds us that scientists should keep forgetting about clouds when toting up their list of fears. It is the wheel that’s essentially responsible for 100 percent of humanity’s problems because it takes lots of energy to turn a lots of wheels — e.g., forget about controls on coal and natural gas: the Obama administration should launch a bold new initiative and tackle the problem of greenhouse gas emissions by weaning the US off its dependence on the wheel.

    China is the largest producer of CO2 since 2006 (currently, about 50% more than the US). The people of China should be limited to a single wheel apiece (but, even that may be a slippery slope: didn’t it all start with a single wheel? Wasn’t the wheel barrow invented by the Chinese to build the Great Wall? Was that wall really needed?).

    The use of wheels in China – just a few of them per capita – was good enough for 1,000s of years. Now, we have the problem there of runaway wheel use and yet another entitlement: everyone has got to have a wheel!

  59. “While the United States is often viewed as being the country with the most cars per person, the statistics clearly show that this isn’t the case. When it comes to passenger vehicles, the United States isn’t even within the top five countries. Countries like Germany, Iceland, Ireland and Luxemburg all have over a hundred more vehicles per 1,000 people than the United States.”

    (http://drivesteady.com/cars-per-capita )

  60. Judith, it’s a good topic for discussion, but I think it’s misleading to say that “Jeremy Rifkin has an article in the Guardian … Jonathan Adler has published a paper …” Rifkin’s article was over ten years ago, and Adler published his paper in 2000.

  61. ‘As of October 23, 2013, 22 substances9
    have been identified as substances of very high concern
    (SVHC) that are effectively banned from use in the EU unless such use is authorized under the law. In all, ECHA has identified 144 chemicals or chemical groups as SVHC candidates for authorization,10 with many more chemicals being evaluated for this designation, including approximately 1,350 chemicals known or likely to be carcinogens, mutagens, or chemicals toxic to reproductive systems; persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals (PBTs); or very persistent and very bioaccumulative chemicals (vPvBs). According to the law, no use of PBTs or vPvBs is to be authorized unless there is no suitable alternative, and the socio-economic benefits of the use outweigh the risks. If a chemical use presents unacceptable risks, that chemical use may be restricted. High-production-volume chemicals routinely will be subject to the authorization process. The authorization and restriction processes also may be applied to chemicals produced or imported in volumes less than 1 t.’ http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS22673.pdf .


    Hell yes – let’s not ask industry to demonstrate risk management. Better yet – just allow open slather.

    • Well I for one hope they deal with all this Very Bad Stuff (VBS) in a decisive way, especially if it is manufactured abroad and competes with domestic Very Benign Stuff (also VBS to avoid confusion).

    • “Think of the firm as a gigantic tub of whole milk. The farmer can sell the whole milk as is. Or he can separate out the cream and sell it at a considerably higher price than the whole milk would bring. (That’s the analog of a firm selling low-yield and hence high-priced debt securities.) But, of course, what the farmer would have left would be skim milk with low butterfat content and that would sell for much less than whole milk. That corresponds to the levered equity. The M and M proposition says that if there were no costs of separation (and, of course, no government dairy-support programs), the cream plus the skim milk would bring the same price as the whole milk.”

      Modligliani-Miller theory – named after the Italian painter and sculptor and the great American literary stylist. But then as applied to stoned pizza chefs?

      Obviously I think you are totally full of it. Pizza is a creative act where the whole is much greater than the parts and is very much enhanced with mind altering drugs like beer. Quality control be damned.

      The best beer for this is Victoria Bitter full Strength – VBfS.

  62. Theo Goodwin

    Rifkin writes:

    “Risks of all kinds are now global in scale, open-ended in duration, incalculable in their consequences, and not compensational. When everyone is vulnerable, and all can be lost, then traditional notions of calculating and pooling risks become virtually meaningless. This is what European academics call a risk society.”

    We know of no risk to which everyone is vulnerable or to which all can be lost. If Al Gore’s wildest dreams came true, most would not be vulnerable to the harms that might come from global warming.

    In other words, Rifkin’s paragraph is nonsense. It is reassuring to see that some things never change.

    I propose a challenge. Give me rational reasons that support the so-called Precautionary Principle without stating the Precautionary Principle in your premises. It cannot be done. (I am asking for reasons that support the Precautionary Principle, not reasons for caution in general.)

    By the way, Adler’s comments provide overwhelming reason for rejecting the Precautionary Principle.

  63. Anybody who’s ever had a RAID array crash immediately gets this concept. Sometimes being precautionary increases vulnerability.

    And then there’s PLC ‘hot backup’…

  64. The precautionary principle invoked in re climate change seems to be a good litmus test for climate change argument quality. When this thread was originally posted, decided to do a ‘scientific’ scoring of the usual suspects (prolific commenters) as to what they could be predicted to post. By count so far, selectivity > 0.9 and specificity > 0.9. On both measures (‘don’t miss the disease’ and ‘false positives’ ) already better than mammography for breast cancer in sorting predicted positions by quality of underlying fact/logic.
    Since the precautionary principle inherently involves economics ( cost benefit over time frames) this useful litmus test also exposes a woefully missing aspect of the larger policy debate. Something Dr. Pielke Jr has been ‘excommunicated’ for merely pointing out.
    So this thread once again proves three things:
    The science isn’t settled, by a long shot.
    The economics of adaptation/mitigation are not settled, by a long shot.
    And many posters remain definitionally/fact challenged. For example, there is no such thing as a fossil fuel technically recoverable resource. Resources, yes. Geological estimates of what might be in the ground in various geological formationsnthat have been roughly delineated. Technically recoverable reserves ( at any cost/price) also yes, although with greater uncertainty, by more core drilling. Never confound the two, as was also done above.The very BEST world petroleum resources in place yield about 65% TRR from resource in place (e.g. Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar, a massive sandstone reservoir filled with light sweet crude that can be water flooded). The vaunted Bakken tight oil shale has a TRR about 1.2% of estimated source in place. And for US ‘oil shale’ kerogen reserves in the Green River formation, TRR is exactly 0. The limitation is water, not kerogen. Just facts.

  65. Assuming the EU is far more advanced compared to the US in the practice of applying the precautionary principle to thorny events, what was the response of France and the UK to the invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939?

  66. Precautionary principle is unobjective and anti-science in the sense that it encourages Kuhnian value-based or opinion-based judgments and turning over the matter to the politicians. This eschews Hume-ian objectivity and opens the field to all kinds of manipulation based on political interests, vested (financial or career) interests, etc. If I push a policy measure based on a fat tail that has never been observed in nature, it is tantamount to policy by whim, by “what if this happened,” or by figment of the imagination. This is all stuff of liberal idealists who think they know what is right (the truth?) for the common good based on their value judgments that are not objective science or fact based but in the interest of the common good. The UNFCCC Rio Convention protocol set the stage in defining the tone and latitude of the approach on climate change with hefty emphasis on precautionary principle and hefty focus on wealth transfer to developing countries.

    The Parties to this Convention…(a)cknowledging that change in the Earth’s climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind …(and) concerned that human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases … that these increases enhance the natural greenhouse effect, and that this will result on average in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere and MAY adversely affect natural ecosystems and humankind…(and) noting that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs…developing country Parties, that would have to bear a disproportionate or abnormal burden under the Convention, should be given full consideration. (Heavy emphasis on “givens” that are actually hypotheses).


  67. As noted in the book, The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment, the problem isn’t the precautionary principle, rather it is the way the precautionary principle has been used – or more correctly – misused, particularly by self-avowed environmentalists. There is a rational approach to using the precautionary principle. It is laid out in brief in the paper, Goklany, IM, From Precautionary Principle to Risk-Risk Analysis, Nature Biotechnology 20 (November 2002): 1075.

    This general approach has been applied in the aforementioned book to policies to limit global warming and its impacts, genetically modified crops and DDT. [Thanks Dagfinn (at August 11, 2014 at 12:58 am) for linking to the book.]

    The case example for global warming using the methodology proposed in the Nature Biotechnology paper is also worked out in Applying the Precautionary Principle to Global Warming, Center for the Study of American Business, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., USA, Policy Study 158 (2000). Following is its abstract:

    The precautionary principle has been invoked to justify a policy of aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emission controls that would go beyond “no regrets” actions to reduce global warming. However, this justification is based upon selectively applying the principle to the potential public health and environmental consequences of global warming but not to the adverse consequences of such a policy.

    This report attempts to rectify this one-sided application of the precautionary principle. It finds that such a policy, despite its claim to be precautionary, would, in fact, be incautious in many areas because it has a high likelihood of increasing overall risks to public health and the environment. Specifically, GHG emission reduction requirements that go beyond secular improvements in technology and elimination of unjustified energy subsidies could retard economic development, leading to greater hunger, poorer health, and higher mortality, especially in developing countries. Moreover, higher oil and gas prices would reduce food availability and would also retard switching from solid fuels to more environmentally benign fuels for heating and cooking in households of the developing world. Indoor air pollution resulting from current heating and cooking practices in these nations is a major source of premature deaths.

    A truly precautionary principle argues, instead, for focusing on solving current problems that may be aggravated by climate change, and on increasing society’s adaptability and decreasing its vulnerability to environmental problems in general and climate change in particular. These could be achieved by bolstering the mutually-reinforcing forces of technological change, economic growth, and trade. Moreover, enhancing adaptability and reducing vulnerability will raise the thresholds at which greenhouse gas concentrations could become “dangerous.”

    If you are interested in the results of applying the same methodology to GMOs and DDT, pl. check out the publications on my web site.

  68. The ol’ ‘incautious precautionary trick,’ er ‘principle.’

  69. As several alluded upthread, choosing not to take a specific action because of potential risk implicitly accepts the risks involved with not taking that action.

    Unless the risks of inaction are included in the evaluation, one is practically certain to introduce deadweight disadvantages that preclude innovation and progress.

    Someone above commented on moving from an environment where everything that is not forbidden is allowed to the opposite–where everything that is not allowed is forbidden. This has been the defacto definition of the difference between Anglo Saxon legal environments and those symbolized by the Napoleonic Code, expanded to include later fascistic and communistic societies.

    The increased output of innovative practices in the former compared to the latter is well-established. The increased wealth of Anglo Saxon societies has often been imputed to the different approach to risk. (And I speak against self interest in saying that, as I believe the Nordic semi-socialist approach is actually more conducive to human happiness.)

    However, I think more discussion could be had about risk, specifically, what right do you have to expose me to risk? This is a question that skeptics seem to pass over too lightly. Fortunately for skeptics, alarmists have a never-ending capacity for ignoring the important questions in favor of the bizarre, so skeptics haven’t been pushed to answer it.

    • Tom,
      There are risks on both sides of the equation. There is risk associated with using fossil fuels, but there are also risks if one doesn’t use fossil fuels. The trick is trying to figure out which increases risks more — acting or not acting? This is what the above-noted paper, From Precautionary Principle to Risk-Risk Analysis, Nature Biotechnology, is all about. And, I reiterate, my take on it is all worked out in Applying the Precautionary Principle to Global Warming,

    • Ayn Rand was “pushed to answer it” and did. Looking at the matter pragmatically, do I expose you to risk if I raise bees to harvest their honey?And, based on alarm about my bee-raising activities, should be entitled to share in the profits of my investment in time and energy? Do you and all who vote their self-interest justify their sharing in the fruits of my labor based on the notion that you and your fellow voters who make the laws feel they also own a part of the nectar of flowers that my bees harvest?

      • Wagathon, if you plan to build an oil refinery near my home, do I have a right to complain, object, litigate or protest? The things do blow up every now and again…

      • With genuine respect, Tom, I think your comment underscores a serious flaw that we too often see from progressives. Basically it’s an abdication of responsibility wrapped in a pose of moral superiority. It goes like this:
        “I want the government to prevent you from building a refinery anywhere near me. And because I consider myself an advocate of justice, I reserve the right to defame you as racist (and demand you be punished) if you build a refinery anywhere that impacts someone else. But, when I’m on my way to the meetings to shut you down and financially punish your company, you better figure out how to have plenty of refined gasoline at my corner station at a discount when I pull up with my Volvo with the Co-exist bumper stickers.”

        I’ve no doubt that, politically, it’s lots of fun to adopt the role of only demanding, never satisfying demands, but in the long run it doesn’t work out. Take climate policy on a meta level- progressives demand a cap-n-trade or carbon tax in order to force people to use alternatives that either don’t exist (CCS and renewables at scale) or oppose (nuclear and gas) and blame their policy failure on an information deficit about climate science. 20+ years of this and tomorrow the Progressive demand will be the same thing and the excuse will be the same thing and the result will be the same thing.

      • –e.g., California, a state run entirely by liberals that is choking on Leftist dogma and the productivity-sapping lawyer tax. Rather than deal with what we know and can observe and logically do something about, we indulge in a fear of global warming that is killing our future. Rather than look to the future with a positive spirit we find that in our society we must instead deal with despairing trivialities like the two irrational, politically-inspired climate change cases brought in California (a Leftist, anti-business state notorious for being a crackpot lawsuit magnet). In both instances – Native Village of Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil Corp.; and, Comer, et al. v. Murphy Oil USA, et al. – these nuisance cases were ultimately dismissed but only after a considerable expense and waste of time. The Supreme Court declined to consider the allegations of Kivalina‘s plaintiffs that Exxon’s greenhouse gas emissions contributed to climate change causing the erosion of an island in Alaska. The defendants in Comer were accused of contributing to climate change and sued twice for contributing to the strength of Hurricane Katrina, requiring the defendants to twice defend themselves on the same facts.

  70. There is a lot of economic alarmism used against the precautionary principle. They say it is just too expensive, but the numbers people on both sides have given so far are near 3% of GDP by 2100. That is, your choice is a 100% GDP with an unmitigated climate, possibly over 700 ppm CO2 and still rising by 2100, or a 97% GDP with a stabilized climate near 450 ppm. It does no good to the debate to overplay the difference between 100% and 97% GDP by 2100. Other factors, including uncertainty in GDP growth far outweigh this difference, because GDP growth compared to 2010 could be between 300% and 900%. Making mitigation seem like the economic end of the world serves no informative purpose. 97% is equivalent to delaying the growth that would have happened by 2100 by two years to 2102, and the reward is a stable and cleaner climate and renewable or limitless energy, which would be regarded by many as well worth those two years extra to wait.

    • nottawa rafter

      Jim D
      I can’t find the reference to 3% GDP you mentioned. Would you mind pointing me to the quotes so I can put the sentences into context. Thanks.

      • Lomborg used 2.8% in the recent post, and AR5 WG3 used 0.06% per year which is 3% of typical global GDP growths of 1.5-2.5%. Note that the 0.06% per year is in the noise of the annual GDP growth variation. It’s a major error by the skeptics who believe the economic argument against mitigation without checking these numbers for themselves, most notably that the mitigation cost is only about 10% of the natural variation in GDP. The AR5 WG3 has been out for nearly a year now, but the economic alarmism misinformation persists.

    • > … renewable or limitless energy

      Do you really believe that ?

      I’ve not seen one post from you that offers the slightest hint of reality on this topic

      Try to grasp it, Jimmy old bean, renewabubbles are unreliabubbles. Comic book bubbles

      • At low cost compared to global GDP, apparently. Even Lomborg has those numbers and graphs on mitigation costs in his senate presentation. Of course, global GDP isn’t a good measure of damage due to climate change because losing livelihoods and lives in poor countries doesn’t impact global GDP much, as Lomborg should know, if he cares. But loss is only measured by GDP for him, going by his presentation. It’s an extremely capitalist view of the world’s worth.

      • Yes – it is a very capitalist view of things. Maximum economic growth and a high energy future as the highest priority.

        Fast mitigation and adaptation that actually improves lives – and of course energy innovation. All the rest is about as tedious and fringe extremist stupid as Bart. I know – let’s vote on it.

      • Rob Ellison, you missed the point completely. The attitude is that damage is only damage to the extent it affects global GDP. Not the case in the real world at all. It is not even close to a proportional measure. It’s people, not money, that matters. This is a blind spot to capitalists.

      • Jim, you don’t understand economics. Money is just a tool. There are many ways to look at money, one I like to use is to look at it as the dye in a CAT scan. It shows human activiity and allows us to make judgements for the betterment of people boadly.

      • If you are weighting damage by GDP, you are saying that each person in the US is 10 times the value of each one in India, for example, and 20-30 times those in most African countries. Is that intentional?

      • Jimbo shows his concern for the poor by further increasing energy costs, decreasing productivity, decreasing income and the availability of resources for adaptation and energy innovation.

        All – all too frequent – stupid fringe nonsense. Energy has a price that has increased very significantly this century.

      • I point out that policy skeptics like Lomborg show concern for the poor, but then only use GDP for damage which is a complete fail.

  71. Fire is clearly out then.

    “Everything not expressly permitted is verboten!”

  72. I remember reading an assertion by the late Dr. Petr Beckmann, in his newsletter Access to Energy — before the war on coal and petroleum, his focus was against those who were stifling the nuclear power industry — and I will paraphrase: ‘Don’t think they will stop with the death of nuclear power, they are against all forms of centralized power. Next will be coal.’

    How prophetic – written in the late 70’s, and throughout the 80’s. The real battle (or motives), as has been mentioned many times, is to control population and to suppress energy-intensive development. Whether to minimize proliferation of privilege (e.g., Progress and Privilege, William Tucker), or to keep the untermenschen at bay, there is evil afoot and has been for decades. I fear I’ll not live long enough to see this evil defeated, regardless of the abundant evidence that it’s based on flawed, Malthusian reasoning.

  73. WSJ Aug 12, 2014
    Book Review: ‘Innovation Breakdown’ by Joseph V. Gulfo
    MelaFind’s breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved.

    About MelaFind, a non-invasive multi-spectral artificial intelligent system for diagnosing melanomas
    Chronology essence:
    Dr. Gulfo joins Melafind in 2004 to shepherd FDA approval.
    FDA puts Melafind on “expedited review”
    2007 Clinical trial protocol approved.
    2009 Clinical trial results positive, met all goals.
    Jan 2010: J.Shuren appointed as FDA Dir. of Center for Devices and Radiological Health who wants to revamp approval process.
    Mar 2010: Melafind gets “Not Approvable letter”
    Nov 2010: Days before Melafind hearing before independent review board, FDA issues public “could cause harm because of the potential for misdiagnosis.”
    May 2011: Dr. Gulfo went public with a Citizen’s Petition to the FDA commissioner, directly requesting a review of MelaFind’s case.
    July 2011, a congressional hearing was held.
    FDA advisory committee votes 8-7 to approve.
    Sept 2011, FDA approves MelaFind.

    In the concluding paragraph:

    Compare MelaFind’s experience in the U.S. with its reception in Europe: MelaFind was submitted for marketing approval in Europe in May 2011 [when MelaFind appealed FDA]. It was approved just five months later. [that would be 1 month after FDA approval] One key reason for Europe’s efficient approval process is that European governments don’t review medical devices directly. Instead they certify independent “notified bodies” that specialize and compete to review new products. The European system works more quickly than the U.S. system, and there is no evidence that it results in reduced patient safety.

    “compete to review new products” — Yes, that does give one pause. Auditors compete to review and certify I&E statements and balance sheets. Yet Enron still goes thud. (On the plus side, so did Arthur Anderson). Investment bankers bundle mortgages into derivative investments — they get eaten by black swans. Journal editors compete to publish peer-reviewed papers — no failings in THAT department, are there?

    But if competition gives one pause, what about monopoly power? What about the regulators who guard their turf and feather their nest? From 2007, when the device was found safe enough for testing, to Sept. 2011, when it was finally approved, how many people died or were permanently harmed by needless expense, because the regulators said “No.”?

    • Investment bankers bundle mortgages into derivative investments — they get eaten by black swans.

      That wasn’t a “black swan”, it was an eagle.

      • AK: Brings me to a thought I’ve had in recent years. Wall street used to reflect the health of American businesses. Is it now a casino?

      • @rls Is it now a casino?
        Reminds me of an old WC Fields joke.
        Fields invites a mark to sit at the card table.
        Mark: What are we going to play
        Fields: Poker
        Mark: Poker? Isn’t that gambling?
        Fields: Not the way I play, No.

      • @rls…

        Brings me to a thought I’ve had in recent years. Wall street used to reflect the health of American businesses. Is it now a casino?

        Judge for Yourself!

  74. I don’t think it is absurd to test chemicals for safety. But I’m not certain that chemical companies should pay all the costs.

    • Ray Bolger called. He wants his straw back. The question isn’t whether to test for safety, but how.

      • He’d know how, if he only had a brain. I wonder who else that might apply to?

      • The question isn’t whether to test for safety, but how, how far, how much, how long and to what level of risk under the circumstances of use, and who assumes that risk? The benefits should be weighed by the persons assuming the risk.

        Every substance comes with risk. It depends upon level and time of exposure. Oxygen:

        Human volunteers which inhaled 90-95% oxygen through a face mask for 6 hours showed signs of tracheal irritation and fatigue. Other symptoms (which may have been caused by placing a tube into the trachea during the experiment) included: sinusitis, conjunctivitis, fever, and symptoms of acute bronchitis.
        Poisoning began in dogs 36 hours after inhalation of pure oxygen at atmospheric pressure. Distress was seen within 48 hours and death within 60 hours.

      • Damn,

        I think we should limit the amount of oxygen people can consume.

        It might also have the benefit of reducing the amount of CO2 people emit into the environment.

      • Every substance comes with risk. It depends upon level and time of exposure

        From:Ball: All Rain Is Acid Rain WUWT Aug. 15, 2014
        At that time, the philosophy was ‘the solution to pollution is dilution’, so they built the smokestacks higher to disperse the sulfur further downwind. Ironically, after scrubbers were put on the stacks, reports appeared of reduced tree growth downwind because small amounts of sulfur were a fertilizer enhancing growth. This appears to support Paracelsus’ 16th century observation that the toxicity is in the dosage.

    • @ ThomasFuller: what chemicals would you test? How would you test them? I’m totally serious. Are you testing for development of cancer? Are you testing for some threshold dose that produces acute toxicity? In what model would you test these substances… rodents? Bacteria? People? Testing is expensive. Doing testing that is applicable to human health is VERY expensive. And, because one can never prove a negative, there will always be someone or some group who claims that the tests don’t represent what COULD happen.

      BTW: The testing that’s been done so far has shown ~ 50% of “man made” chemicals are potential rodent carcinogens; ~ 50% of “natural” chemicals are potential rodent carcinogens. Humans are exposed to far, far higher doses of “natural” chemicals than they are of “man made” chemicals. See, Ames B, Gold LS. Environmental pollution, pesticides, and the prevention of cancer: misconceptions. FASEB J 1997;11:1041-52.

  75. Judith, I’ve just read the 2000 paper mentioned by Indur M Goklany: Applying the Precautionary Principle to Global Warming, which can be downloaded at http://papers.ssrn.com/paper.taf?abstract_id=250380 . I wish I’d read this years ago, it argues for similar policies as those I’ve advocated for several years, but from a much stronger and more persuasive base. I think that everyone engaged on the potential CAGW issue should read it.

    Many arguments at CE over the years could have been answered by: “See Goklany’s 2000 paper” – an awful lot of ill-informed argument on policies could have been avoided, and even committed warmists would surely have had to accept that the policies supported by the IPCC et al were inappropriate. Perhaps Dr/Prof Goklany could write a follow-up post to this one? I’ve referred the paper to someone with more influence and contacts in Australian policy-making, hopefully it might have some belated effect now that the climate (no pun intended) here is more favourable.

  76. I downloaded it already.

  77. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Arno Arrak complains “You [FOMD?] choose to use your talent to totally twist the meaning of what happens around you.”

    Arno Arrak, perhaps you should regard more seriously the recent critiques of libertarian ideology:

    Phosphorus and Freedom
    The Libertarian Fantasy

    Before you rage against unwarranted government interference in your life, you might want to ask why the government is interfering.

    Often — not always, of course, but far more often than the free-market faithful would have you believe — there is, in fact, a good reason for the government to get involved.

    Pollution controls are the simplest example, but not unique.

    Commonly, self-proclaimed libertarians deal with the problem of market failure both by pretending that it doesn’t happen and by imagining government as much worse than it really is.

    That’s why you shouldn’t believe talk of a rising libertarian tide.

    Conclusion  There are plenty of solid common-sense reasons why libertarians can’t win elections.

    And pretty much *EVERYONE* appreciates these common-sense realities … except libertarians!

    That’s `cuz high-IQ libertarianism is only tenuously connected to common-sense appreciation of economic realities, real-world politics, moral principles, and the human condition. Eh, Arno Arrak?

    \scriptstyle\rule[2.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}\,\boldsymbol{\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}\,\heartsuit\,{\displaystyle\text{\bfseries!!!}}\,\heartsuit\,\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}}\ \rule[-0.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}

    • Fan,

      You often use simplistic and misleading arguments to make your point. Now while many libertarians and numbskulls like Rush Limbaugh will decry any government action, true libertarian principles make no such arguement.

      It has been years since I read Austrian-type economic literature, I do remembered enough to explain to you a part of the philosophy that many people, including many libertarians and presumably you, do not understand. The libertarian philosophy understands that resources are finite and need good stewardship for sustained use for market consumption. Citizens are not entitled to prevent or damage resources and deprive their fellow citizens without lawful intervention.

      An example woud be that if you live upsteam of a water resource you cannot cut off your downstream neighbors by damming the water and deprive them without due process. Another example is that you cannot willfully damage a resource such as air or water with pollution without due process. You may be subject to a fine or a tax or even a ban if your fellow citizens or the law determines a misuse of a commonly held resource.

      In fact the whole idea of something like a carbon tax comes from libertarian philosophy of taxing the use or damage of a commonly held resource in accordance with how the citizens or the law view that resource. A pollution tax is just a libertarian way of costing out a finite resource.

      In the case of something like air or water the finite value is so great as to effect life existence itself, the laws covering that would have to be, by the pure value itself, very stringent.

    • Fan, you quote “Often, there is good reason for the government to be involved.” Less often, in my experience, than government believes. But even if there are grounds for government involvement, that is not sufficient. The track record of government intervention and regulation is appalling. If for some reason markets are not working optimally [and if they aren’t, it is often because of poor government regulation], that is not sufficient. Government must demonstrate that it can improve outcomes. Here’s something I published on this ten years ago:

      Market failure and government failure

      Markets are very efficient devices for providing and processing information, for organising production and distribution of goods and services so as to allocate resources to their highest valued use and thus maximise community income. Their superiority to central planning is well attested.

      There may, however, be cases where markets do not produce the most efficient outcome, where there is “market failure.” This tends to arise in particular circumstances, for example when there is a natural monopoly, where externalities are not taken into account, where there is information asymmetry or in the case of public goods. (There is extensive literature on the issue for those who seek more detail.)

      The identification of market failure alone is not, however, sufficient reason for government intervention. There can be no presumption that governments outperform markets: indeed, “government failure” is more common. The World Bank advised that “the countless cases of unsuccessful intervention suggest the need for caution. To justify intervention it is not enough to know that the market is failing; it is also necessary to be confident that the government can do better.” A Bureau of Industry Economics paper assessing the 15 major interventionist policies of the Commonwealth Government from 1970-85 found no positive outcomes: 13 had negative returns, while for two the net outcome was unclear.

      Should the cost to the community of market failure be significant, government should first see whether it is possible to improve the workings of the market. If not, it must assess its capacity to produce a better outcome, and the costs and benefits of any intervention. Given that a number of studies have found administrative costs of around 15-50 per cent in government industry support programs, the prospect of a net benefit from intervention must be considered doubtful.

      Within the Queensland system, the term market failure has rarely been used in its true economic sense. It tends to be shorthand for “We think that certain opportunities for which there is no commercial support should in fact be pursued, with government funding.” That is, picking winners again.
      Imperfect government: “The skills of government in addressing market failure are often exaggerated. Government intervention must overcome three formidable difficulties: the tendency of regulated firms to “capture” their regulators, weak incentives for efficiency within the public sector, and missing information (where markets lack it, governments are likely to lack it as well). … The record of intervention is poor … history suggests that the burden of proof should lie with those who would extend the government’s role.” The Economist, 17/2/96.

      World Bank (1991) (p 131), World Development Report: the challenge of development, OUP, Washington DC
      Ralph Lattimore, BIE seminar paper, 1986 (unpublished).

      • I don’t have time to dig up my comments here, but I once expounded on how the “free market” competition between nation-states (and their governments) in pre-modern western Europe led to the modern system of liberal/libertarian capitalism. The key point is that a system of internal free markets, especially including one in available investment capital, allowed a nascent government (of a forming nation-state) to achieve substantial military superiority compared to more poorly managed states.

        In general, AFAIK, my comments simply extended the ideas of Adam Smith, although at least one “conservative” here dismissed it as “neo-Marxist” “historical revisionism” IIRC.

  78. michael hart

    I don’t see much new in Rifkin’s comments. Dirigiste Eurocrats pandering to anti-industrial Cider-with-Rosie types and the eat-yourself-fitter chemophobes. Has he only just noticed?

  79. As usual, 99% of blogger comments have zero objectivity in their one-sided arguments or “staw-men” examples. Its always about those dog-gone “liberal socialists” and environmentalists worshiping “Mother Earth” trying to eliminate individual liberty and mess up the economy.
    Is the ozone hole an example of the “precautionary principle”? Here we had Nobel winning science (Molina). But as I remember, Molina (and others) had difficulty in “proving ozone depletion” outside the lab and modelling it. Many conservatives argued that the “science” did not justify the policy actions taken by President Reagan and the World. +20 years later, people like Fred Singer and conservative organizations like Heartland, Heritage, Cato still argue that this is bad policy based on highly questionable science.
    In the 1950’s, physician Alice Stewart “believed” she had a sound science basis of causal links between X-rays in pregnant women to childhood cancers. But, it took over 25 years to adequately “prove” this linkage. Should a “precautionary principle” been applied in this case?
    And one could go on and on with major modern day environmental issues such as acid rain, DDT, oxygenates in gasoline (and also MTBE), elimination of fluoride in drinking water — where the “science” is always “just not good enough” to justify policy actions of change.

    Could it be that the so called radical environmentalists just have a view of the world as these NASA pictures show?:


    • er, climate issues have nothing to do with ozone depletion, acid rain, ddt, flouridation etc, notwithstanding the rightness or wrongness of those studies.

      • Actually they do, they are the no regret/low regret actions that have the most immediate impact on health related issues and potential longer term impact on “climate change”. These are all positive results of “doing nothing” or “business as usual” in the US.

    • Stephen Segrest

      Unbelievably dumb comparison of the respiratory effects of the oxides of Nitrogen and CO2. There is dose response relationship between people exposed to oxides of Nitrogen and respiratory illnesses, inflammatory markers, etc. There is NO data of any respiratory tract impact of CO2. Indeed, CO2 produced by oxidative process in cell’s mitochondria is approximately 40,000 PPMv, transported to the lungs and exhaled. Submariners on our Nuclear fleet are exposed at times to 8,000 PPMv. Going to a convention with a large gathering in an auditorium, thousands are exposed to 800 to 1,200 PPMv.

      Your invoking the benefits of the Clean Air Act with controlling the oxides of Nitrogen and comparing mitigation strategies for CO2 appears to represent profound ignorance or is a malicious intent to misinform.

      • RiHoo8 — No, its the “staw-man” argument (and then your outrage) that shows “profound ignorance” and “malicious intent to misinform”.

        Anyone can go to organizations’ websites like the EPA, CDC (U.S. Center for Disease Control), WHO (World Health Organization) and see where and how they discuss human health impacts (including respiratory) of GW.

        I’m not going to play your game — as this is the point of my post. I could provide a thousand links to respected scientific opinion and it still wouldn’t be good enough.

        It is your (and others) black/white representations with cherry-picking “gotchas” that shows that your political ideology drives your opinions on science.

        For folks like Heartland, Heritage, and Cato their “fact finding” will always (although you can probably find an outliner “gotcha”) result in an opinion that “the science just isn’t good enough” to justify a more stringent environmental policy change.

    • Actually, no. No, there was no need to ban fluorocarbons. The ozone “hole” existed before CFCs and still exists today. It only occurs when correct physical and chemical conditions occur, which is why it waxes and wanes over time and occurs only over the poles. The great fear was that the “hole” would extend beyond the poles because of CFC’s. The reality is that the ozone thinning can’t extend much beyond the poles because of the unique chemical and physical conditions that exits there during the winter months, and that CFCs contribute little (if any) to atmospheric ozone depletion.

      DDT: Thank you for providing THE example of the negative impact from a regulation. Ending DDT use in much of the world contributed (and continues to contribute) to the deaths of millions from malaria. To this day, activist groups (that happen to not be impacted by the disease) continue to pressure areas of the world that have endemic malaria to avoid DDT use. In areas where DDT has been re-introduced, malaria rates plummeted.

      Acid rain, when systematically studied, was NOT the serious environmental threat that was commonly portrayed in the media. See the first National Acid Rain Assessment Report. That report showed that less than 0.1% of forest resources (only a few at high elevation) experienced damage that was plausibly attributable to “acid rain”. The “problem” resolved so quickly because there wasn’t REALLY a major problem.

      Interesting that you mention problematic gasoline additives. They were added because of EPA regulations. Yet another example of the dangers of “precaution” and of government intervention.


      • There are many respected scientists (like Nobel winning scientist like Dr. Molina) that would disagree with your opinions and conclusions.

        Like my response to RiHoo8 — I could provide a thousand links to these opinions from respected scientists — and it just wouldn’t be good enough.

    • You only have an appeal to authority argument, Stephen. The observations don’t support the catastrophic global warming hypothesis. Sorry. They just don’t. Saying it won’t make it so and gut feeling aren’t science.

      • Jim2 — You continue to twist my comments, putting me in the CAGW camp. Problem is, that’s not what I’m saying. An absolutely clear example is how I blasted Dr. Oppenheimer on his arguments of global famine after the release of the latest IPCC Report. What Dr. Oppenheimer never told his audience was his presentation of “ag facts” was totally dependent on the Models (especially regional models) being RIGHT as to magnitude and timing.

        For the gazzillionth time on my “personal” opinion: I believe that AGW is occurring. I don’t really have a clue on the magnitude or timing.

        I believe in the “basic science” that Dr. Molina, Dr. Ramanathan, and so many others talk about — (if I understand Mosher correctly, what he describes as the non-feedback loop).

        I go into mental meltdown trying to understand all these feedback or potential feedback loops.

      • You and others show read Conservative opinions from folks like Michael Gerson (Washington Post) and Rod Dreher (American Conservative magazine) which usually mirror what I’m saying.

      • If you focus on the data, your thinking should clear considerably.

      • I think (although I’m sure you’ll disagree) that my example of Alice Stewart is a good illustration. For over 25 years people said “the data doesn’t support your hypothesis”. In the end though, what Dr. Stewart believed was a clear footprint (causal link between X-rays in pregnant women and children’s cancers) turned out to be “right”.

        Science needs time to sort out the wicked issue of AGW — an approach using conservative principles I’ve talked about gives a path to provide the time needed.

  80. Captdallas — A big personal hero of mine is George H.W. Bush. His concept of “a thousand points of light” shows the path for Conservatives to address AGW in a constructive pro-active way.

    The problem is AGW has been “hijacked” by liberal ideology of top/down, command/control policy actions like carbon taxes or cap and trade.

    A conservative approach is bottom/up, de-centralized actions emphasizing voluntary actions (and policy initiatives which encourages voluntary actions).

    If I could be King of the World on AGW, I would make “energy efficiency” my battle-cry — and double, triple, what-ever, tax credits for the installation and use energy efficient products. I’d pay for it by eliminating things like tax credits to hedge fund managers (which sunk our economy).

    • Stephen, I agree, my main issue is the “national” policy/mandates limit regional/local progress. I believe in pointing people in the right direction and then let them figure out their best solutions. You can have a thousand points of light if you smother most of then.

      • That should be can’t, my spell checker don’t like southern some times.

      • This is why we need to elect a Republican President that can have mass appeal to all Americans by holding to conservative principles and bringing people together. There are always “lots of ways to skin a cat” as the saying goes.

        Liberals would be dumbfounded by a GOP call for policies stressing energy efficiency and “no regrets” areas that Ramanathan brings up (ground-level ozone, black carbon, methane, HFCs).

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Stephen Segrest dreams  “If I could be King of the World on AGW, I would make “energy efficiency” my battle-cry   and double, triple, what-ever, tax credits for the installation and use energy efficient products”

      Big Carbon special-interests — like Duke Energy and Koch Industries — (and their subsidized shell-organizations) would fight you tooth-and-nail using methods none-too-scrupulous.

      Question  What politically active North American corporation is the largest single holder of Canadian oil-sand mineral leases?

      Hint: four letters, starts with “K”.

      Conclusion  When mathematicians, scientists, and engineers “follow the money” … it leads to wholesale purchase of politicians via the willful pollution of Jeffersonian public discourse.

      Result  Wholesale rejection, accelerating in the 21st century, by mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, of denialist faux-conservatism.

      *EVERYONE* appreciates *THAT*, eh Climate Etc readers?

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    • Stephen: Tax credits and subsidies open the door to corruption; beware of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Amory Lovins has a reputation of vastly overestimating benefits and underestimating costs.

  81. Sacred Climate Cows chewing the ‘could’ again..

  82. At the extreme, regulations that impose substantial costs can even increase overall mortality.

    How many lives have been destroyed by Western academia’s facilitation of global warming pseudoscience and the politics of fear? More people were killed at Chappaquiddick than at Three Mile Island

  83. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    bdaabat asks “When was the last time you heard of someone ending up dead from pesticides residues on food?”

    bdaabat asks, science answers!

    Methoxychlor Pesticide
    Linked To Ovarian Disease
    and Obesity 3 Generations Later

    Methoxychlor, also known as Chemform, Methoxo, Metox or Moxie, was invented in 1948 and became popular in the 1970s after DDT was banned.

    It was used on crops, ornamental plants, livestock and pets. It is still used in many countries around the world it was banned in the U.S. in 2003 due to concerns about toxicity and disruption of endocrine systems.

    Methoxychlor was found to behave like the hormone estrogen and affect the reproductive system.

    “What your great-grandmother was exposed to during pregnancy, like the pesticide methoxychlor, may promote a dramatic increase in your susceptibility to develop disease, and you will pass this on to your grandchildren in the absence of any continued exposures,” says Michael Skinner, Washington State University professor and founder of its Center for Reproductive Biology.

    — for details see
    Pesticide Methoxychlor Promotes
    the Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance
    of Adult-Onset Disease through the Female Germline

    Conclusion  For the partial protection to a whole generations of mothers and children, that the EPA and FDA’s prudent regulations have foresightedly provided, the readers of Climate Etc are grateful to you, Precautionary Principle!

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    • “Methoxychlor, also known as Chemform, Methoxo, Metox or Moxie, was invented in 1948 and became popular in the 1970s after DDT was banned.”

      Love it. Y’all can’t keep your themes straight. According to Joshua and Michael DDT was never banned.
      But, of course, it was banned and the ban caused people to scramble to use something they didn’t use before. So the precautionary principle caused Methoxychlor victims before it saved them. And FAN applauds the FDA.

    • ==> “Joshua and Michael DDT was never banned.”

      If you’d like to argue the facts from direct evidence, I’m game. The mistaken notion that DDT was “banned’ is not exclusive to hippie-punchers.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Thank you, Jeffn, for encouraging Climate Etc readers to seek further scientific information regarding the Precautionary Principle.

      A good starting-point is the EPA web page Persistent Organic Pollutants: A Global Issue, A Global Response

      Studies have linked POPs exposures to declines, diseases, or abnormalities in a number of wildlife species, including certain kinds of fish, birds, and mammals.

      Wildlife also can act as sentinels for human health: abnormalities or declines detected in wildlife populations can sound an early warning bell for people.

      In people, reproductive, developmental, behavioral, neurologic, endocrine, and immunologic adverse health effects have been linked to POPs. Because POPs have been linked to reproductive impairments, men and women of child-bearing age may also be [especially] at risk.

      — advanced reading
      The intersection of neurotoxicology
      and endocrine disruption


      The influence of endocrine disruptors
      on growth and development of children

      Conclusion  Ongoing scientific advances continue to strongly affirm the wisdom of the Precautionary Principle, as applied in the 1960s-90s in regard to persistent organic pollutants and persistent endocrine disruptors.

      *THAT’S* obvious to *EVERYONE* nowadays — except denialist ideologues — eh Climate Etc readers?

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    • @ Fran: I can tell you read the study by the way you quoted from it so selectively. Perhaps you can explain to others that may not have read the study how the test “subjects” experiences translate to usual human exposures? Perhaps you can then look at the doses used in the study and translate that dose information into usual human exposure experience?

      Your conclusion is not supported by the evidence.

      Once again, when was the last time you heard of someone ending up dead from pesticide residues in food. Then look at outbreaks of deaths secondary to “organic” farming practices that have actually killed real people. Applying the precautionary principle, one must conclude that organic farming is more harmful to people than traditional high intensity farming practices.


    • Perfect! Once again we have multiple sources examining the impact of a ban imposed using the precautionary principle. We have findings that the ban had a significant negative impact- in this case prompting the use of a pesticide that may have been worse.
      And Joshua denies the ban and claims hippie punching while FAN swears the whole thing is the result “short-sighted market fundamentalism” and prof that we need more government intervention imposing more bans using the precautionary principle.
      Let me guess, you’re constantly amazed that just 20% or fewer of Americans self-identify as liberal or progressive. If you guys could ever own your mistakes and learn from them, you’d be a force to be reckoned with instead of a farce to be ridiculed.

  84. Matthew R Marler

    a fan of *MORE* discourse: “What your great-grandmother was exposed to during pregnancy, like the pesticide methoxychlor, may promote a dramatic increase in your susceptibility to develop disease, and you will pass this on to your grandchildren in the absence of any continued exposures,” says Michael Skinner, Washington State University professor and founder of its Center for Reproductive Biology.

    “may promote” is certainly hard to refute. then again, it is the same as “may not promote”.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Matthew R Marler asserts [utterly wrongly and denialistically] “‘may promote’ is the same as ‘may not promote’.”

      Matthew R Marler, please appreciate that pretty much *EVERYONE* — except ideology-driven non-rational denialists — evaluates the weight of scientific evidence as strongly supporting ‘may promote’, for multiple overlapping reasons that multiple independent articles the scientific literature set forth plainly

      Pesticide Methoxychlor Promotes
      the Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance
      of Adult-Onset Disease
      through the Female Germline

      Exposure of a gestating female (F0 generation) [to methoxychlor] also exposes the F1 generation fetus and germline within the fetus that will generate the F2 generation, such that the F3 generation progeny is the first transgenerational generation with no potential exposure.

      The critical window of exposure for the germline is during fetal gonadal sex determination when epigenetic reprogramming in the primordial germ cell undergoes a DNA demethylation and remethylation.

      The environmental insults promote an apparent permanent alteration in the germline epigenome (DNA methylation) that escapes epigenetic reprogramming after fertilization, similar to an imprinted gene.

      A number of previous studies have shown environmental toxicants including the fungicide vinclozolin, plastics (bisphenol A and phthalates), pesticide (DEET and permethrin), dioxin, hydrocarbons (jet fuel), and dichlorordiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) promote the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult onset disease and sperm epimutations.

      — Further Information —
      Epigenetic transgenerational actions
      of endocrine disruptors and male fertility.


      Epigenetics and environmental chemicals
      (in Current Opinions in Pediatrics).

      Conclusion  Thank you Precautionary Principle … for shielding families, mothers, and infants from the harmful medical consequences of short-sighted market-fundamentalism!

      Acknowledgements  Thank you Matthew R Marler, for directing the attention of Climate Etc readers to this marvelously instructive example of market-failure remediated by prudent EPA and FDA regulation.

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  85. We need to convince the Chinese to use the precautionary principle. This should weaken them, cause political unrest and allow a proper revolution to kick the communist party out of power.

  86. Craig Loehle

    The precautionary principle is like the heckler’s veto: that if anyone is upset by something, that thing should not occur. One or a few people objecting are all it takes, for example, for a speaker invited to a university to get canceled. Some nitwit thinks that the English teacher using the word “niggardly” (old English for unwilling to spend his money) has something to do with race and that is all it takes for the prof to get in trouble. A 8 yr old kid points his finger and says “bang” and gets expelled because someone got upset.
    This applies to environmental and climate change issues as follows: some people insist they are being poisoned by herbicides and somehow someone is supposed to prove (to people immune to statistics) that they are not. Some people (Al Gore, you there?) are convinced that the world will be destroyed by climate change and the sceptics must somehow PROVE that this is false. It is truly incredible how a few people who are afraid insist that their view of the future must be obeyed. Remember the Club of Rome and Paul Ehrlich? They insisted that the world was doomed from overpopulation and really really wanted everyone to obey them.

    • I’ve observed before that the doomsayers and worriers are those who fear life, with its change and uncertainty, rather than embrace it, with its beauty and opportunity.

      • I go by the philosophy that life is hard and then you die.

        That way, a hard life is expected and nothing to get upset about. And if your life happens to be not so hard, you have reason to be joyous. I doubt there is a person here who does not lack cause to be joyous, even though some apparently believe joy should be selectedly assigned.

  87. ‘… ECHA has identified 144 chemicals or chemical groups as SVHC candidates for authorization, with many more chemicals being evaluated for this designation, including approximately 1,350 chemicals known or likely to be carcinogens, mutagens, or chemicals toxic to reproductive systems; persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals (PBTs); or very persistent and very bioaccumulative chemicals (vPvBs)…

    Carrots and oxygen are probably not implicated – and it is a bit of a stretch to draw a comparison to climate change.

    There have however been 2 or 3 good comments – Indur M. Goklany stands out. The only thing to be added – as Stephen Segrest suggests – is that fast mitigation emerges from rational development and growth strategies. Address all of the issues of emissions, land use, agricultural emissions, environmental conservation and not the far than less than 50% that is carbon dioxide emissions. Address carbon dioxide emissions through energy innovation.

    The distinction is not between doing nothing and doing something but between the failure or Kyoto style approaches and pragmatic success

  88. Greenhouse analogy busted: Debunked experiment proves Al Gore does not know his gas from a hole in a bottle! (Climate change in a shoebox: Right result, wrong physics)

  89. There is not a person on this Planet that knows “exactly” what’s going on (impact and timing) with GHGs & aerosols. Science needs time to (hopefully) sort this out. One sure shouldn’t be surprised this may take 20 years or more.

    Conservatives can provide the time science needs by taking back the AGW debate that has been hijacked by Liberals, through:

    1. A major new commitment to energy efficiency (including technology R&D).
    2. Fast mitigation with methane, black carbon, HFCs, ground-level ozone (Dr. Ramanathan’s approach.
    3. New trade agreements with Developing Countries where we (a) lift the export ban and sell the heck out of LNG to them; (b) give them “favorite” trade status in our markets for their products; (c) “IF” they commit to a high energy efficiency economy using high technology U.S. products and services (yes, including coal with gasification IGCCs).

    The American Public will “buy in” to something like this based on conservative principles rather than the Liberal approaches of carbon taxes.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Stephen Segrest, yah forgot to list a truly conservative objective: protect solar rights of families!

      No solar, please — we’re Florida

      There are many ways that solar is blocked in the South: some states ban or restrict leasing arrangements or power purchase agreements (PPAs), which are popular among people who don’t have several thousand dollars lying around to install their own panels.

      South Carolina Energy & Gas blocked a PPA that would have installed 80 solar panels on local schools and churches.

      Other states add taxes or fees for the use of solar arrays.

      Sustaining the present-day’s green energy grow-rate of 25%/year, over the next 30 years, will mean the utter demise of Big Carbon.

      Conclusion  It’s time for committed conservatives to demand that their political parties and pundits finally “get clean” of addiction to Duke Energy and Koch Industries selfish short-sighted special-interest moneys.

      When will conservatism make up its mind to “get clean”?

      The world wonders. Voters especially!

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  90. A final plea against jargon and the unnecessary “academisation” of the commonplace.

    If I’m crossing the road, do I need to go through the philosophical hoops of “applying the precautionary principle”, or do I just need to look for approaching traffic? And if decide to do a dash when the road looks fairly clear and I’m late for urgent work…do I congratulate myself on “applying the proactionary principle”?

    If I make the roof from my house retractable to let in more sun, do I need to get ready for rain and other falling objects? Or do I need to reflect first on the theory of “unintended consequences”.

    And do I then start to consider the precautionary principle, the proactionary principle and the law of unintended consequences as opposed schools of thought, each with a million possible analogies in its favour? Surely I can understand about crossing the road and keeping a roof on my house at the same time. And chew gum.

    Why are we dressing up the old, obvious and commonplace as some sort of intellectual revolution or breakthrough for the collective psyche?

    • Cui bono, moso? (Hollow laughter.)

    • Oh Moso – you do stuff things up comprehensively. I suppose it comes from growing woody weeds in Australia’s golden triangle. You should try coming north of the border sometime to get a more cosmopolitan outlook.

      Some practical experience building high tech projects might provide some much needed consciousness expansion.

      Something like this perhaps -http://www.instructables.com/id/Build-A-Fusion-Reactor/

      Or this one – try to spot how the precautionary principle applies.

    • Academic make-work, moso. Not everyone is inclined to be a doer like you, especially if they can be paid better for pontificating (I do it for free). But don’t take RE’s comment as an invitation for you to build your own backyard nuclear reactor, just keep burning the bamboo waste.

    • Oh Michael,

      There is a difference between a Hail Mary.

      And sticking the landing.

    • Some of the neuroscience folks claim that your brain is actually computing something like expected utilities and comparing them–most definitely not applying the precautionary principle–when you make non-routine decisions. Of course this is supposed to happen very fast and way outside of conscious monitoring. As far as we know, our neurons are deciding by playing massively parallel games of Pachesi.

  91. Instead of companies doing the studies, let the EU do them. They’ll probably be ready to give up on that after a month without chemicals.

  92. What was the name of that principle again?
    From the article:

    India is ranked fifth in the world with 7 percent of the world’s coal reserves. Yet, its current coal output of about 566 million tons (mt) falls woefully short of the domestic demand, which, in 2013-14 was over 720 mt, and was growing steadily. India’s annual coal output is far behind its neighbor China’s and Australia, because its coal import bill has doubled in the past five years.

    Among the first steps in the possible coal reforms is allowing foreign firms to operate some of India’s coal mines, especially those currently under the state-run Coal India. This, feel many analysts, is an attempt to break the monopoly of Coal India in coal procurement.

    Goyal also said that the government had approved 15 projects for Coal India, with a total combined annual capacity of 136 million tons, for the five-year plan period of 2012-2017.

    Like many other projects in India, its coal mining projects are caught in the deadly tangle of pending environmental clearances, land deals gone sour, lack of other government clearances and more. One example that highlights this: Of the 10 coal blocks allotted between 2008 and 2013 in the Indian province of Chhattisgarh, none have started production yet.


  93. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    bdaabat requests “Perhaps you can explain how test “subjects” experiences translate to usual human exposures [of pesticides]?”

    It is a pleasure to respond to your request for scientific information, bdaabat!

    Most Climate Etc readers — with the exception of ideology-driven denialists — appreciate that citizens and their families are involuntary participants in a poorly controlled multigenerational “study” being conducted upon the general population by selfishly short-sighted and/or willfully ignorant chemical-manufacturing corporations.

    The results of these studies are mighty sobering:

    The increasing prevalence
    of reported diagnoses
    of childhood psychiatric disorders:
    a descriptive multinational comparison.

    “We observe an increase in age-specific prevalence for reported diagnoses of all four disorders across birth-year cohorts in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and (for Autism Spectrum Disorder) Western Australia. Our results highlight the increase in the last 20 years in the number of children and families in contact with health care systems for diagnosis and services for an array of childhood neuropsychiatric disorders


    Neurobehavioural effects
    of developmental toxicity

    Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence.

    In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants-manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

    We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered.

    To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.

    To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.

    bdaabat, on behalf of the tens of millions of families who live with childhood neurobehavioural disorders, please accept this appreciation of your sustained interest in regard to preventing these devastating global-scale failures of market fundamentalism.

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    • Ah Ha, now we know why Bill Gates is so heavily invested in chemical and drug industries: population control. That must be why with DDT they only use vector control and IRS (indoor residual spraying). That and the similarity to estrogen and a suspicion that it causes fertilization problems in both men and women and low birth weights; but that they can’t quite prove it. Ah it’s all coming together now. That and vaccines to control third world population growth makes a nice cocktail all in the name of humanity. Ah what a guy!
      hmm whats gmo crop ready for roundup all about? 23 million to monsanto from bill and melinda foundation. Whats that all about? Saving humanity through chemical engineering. Hitler was clueless. Your on the right track Fan but you better be careful they might think your a right wing conspiracy theory nut job.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Ordvic, what part of untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development was distressing to you?

      Strict market-fundamentalists and/or chemical-harm denialists and/or hired industry-lobbyists might perhaps be upset … few others, eh Climate Etc readers?

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    • Sorry Fan. What you have responded to is very different from the one that I asked. I asked you to explain your initial presented evidence. In your response, you linked to two different studies instead of answering the direct questions about the original study that you posted. You didn’t share that the previous study wasn’t applicable at all because it was an animal study…yet, you selectively quoted from it to hide that information. Now, you bring up two different studies when you were asked to provide evidence to support your conclusion. The above studies don’t do that either. They show increases in diagnoses, but provide no evidence for why those diagnoses are increasing. They assume that increasing incidence of neurobehavioral disorders is due to “chemical” exposure, but that’s not exactly science.

      It’s really simple to stick with the facts. Fan, you’ve demonstrated to me that you are uninterested in an honest and straightforward discussion of the issues. Once again, your conclusions are not supported by your evidence.


      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        bdaabat , what are the implications of three incontestable facts?

        • In all animals tested, certain classes of chemicals are harmful to brain development, and

        • The molecular mechanisms of this harmful action are universal in vertebrate biology, and

        • Humans are vertebrate animals.

        bdaabat, why is the implication untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development distressing to you?

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      • Fan: so, it seems you are suggesting that rats and humans are the same. That’s a big negative good buddy!

        However if you really do believe rats are are a good model for assessment of “chemicals” that could be indicative of possible human toxicity, then you will need to remove a bunch of stuff from your diet. Like, coffee (contains acetaldehyde, benzadehyde, benzene, benzofuran, benzo(a)pyrene, caffeic acid, catechol, ethanol, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, limonene, styrene, toluene and xylene… all of which test positive on rodent carcinogen tests). Forget drinking beer or wine or any other adult beverage that contains ethanol. No more apples (caffeic acid), lettuce (caffeic acid), oranges (d-limonene), black pepper (d-limonene), mushrooms (hydrazines), no cinnamon (coumarin), carrots (aniline), bread (furfural), celery (caffeic acid, 8-methoxypsoralen), plums and pears (caffeic acid), brown mustard (allyl isocyanate). Sorry, no chlorinated tap water either (bromodichloromethane), or mango (d-limonen), no parsnips (8-methoxypsoralen) any toasted bread product (urethane), no parsley (8-methoxypsoralen), no cocoa (alpha-methylbenzyl alcohol), no burgers either (2-amino-3-methylimidazoquinoline, 2 amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo-pyridine (PhIP). That’s just a partial list.

        You’ve also carefully ignored that I asked that you demonstrate dead people from exposure to pesticide residues. You haven’t been able to do so. Meanwhile, the German E. coli outbreak in “organic” sprouts killed at least 50 people and sickened 10s of thousands of people throughout Europe. Then there’s the 2013 outbreak of hepatitis A that occurred with “organic” pomegranite seeds. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/Outbreaks/2013/A1b-03-31/ that sickened 118 people.
        Clearly precaution is needed when considering your food choices. To be safe, better stick with modern, conventional methods of food production, and don’t assume that rodents are a good model for human toxicity. :D


      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        bdaabat posts “[bizarre rant redacted]”

        Climate Etc readers are invited to verify for themselves &mdash: with the assistance of the EPA/FDA “dirty dozen” list &mdash: that precisely *NONE* of bdaabat’s examples are persistent and/or chlorinated/fluorinated and/or approved food additives.

        Are animals (like mice and monkeys) people? One thing’s for sure: mammalian DNA replication-and-repair and epigenetic regulation mechanisms are chemically *IDENTICAL* to human replication-and-repair and epigenetic regulation mechanisms.

        Corollary  When an environmentally persistent chemical is demonstrably harmful to mice-and-monkey DNA/brain function, then the Precautionary Principle &mdash: plus plain common sense &mdash: militates *AGAINST* force-feeding that chemical to the world’s children.

        Conclusion  We can all be fervently grateful that market fundamentalists and/or libertarian extremists are *NOT* in charge of regulating food-and-drug safety.

        *THAT’S* sound science, ordinary parental common-sense, sound environmental ethics, and time-honored medical ethics too, eh Climate Etc readers?

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      • No Fan: you once again have failed… this time in both reading and basic science. The substances I listed are not additives. They are PART of the food items listed. If they are rodent carcinogens at low enough doses found in food (grown using whatever method you choose… traditional high intensity vs. “organic” farming methods), they are rodent carcinogens. Which means, applying the standards you seem to be espousing means that you won’t be able to eat very much food. Good luck with that! It also shows that applying tests of potential carcinogenicity based on rodent model to assessment of potential for human harm is fraught with challenges.

        Life is made of chemicals. It doesn’t matter if they are derived from a lab or created along with the universe. That some people fear chemicals created by humans but don’t fear chemicals found in nature really demonstrates that those people don’t understand science and don’t understand biology.

        Also, please read and learn before commenting. There are VAST differences in animal responses to toxicants compared to humans. It is not true that mammalian DNA repair mechanisms are identical in all mammals. In fact, it’s not even true that different species of the same animal have identical DNA repair mechanisms! Lab rats and lab mice are much more adept at developing tumors than are wild type rats or wild type mice. You’re just making stuff up.

        And you still haven’t dealt with all of those dead and injured people from “organically” grown food.


      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        bdaabat posts [bizarrely] “Life is made of chemicals. It doesn’t matter if they are derived from a lab or created along with the universe.”

        bdaabat, it appears that you don’t know much — and apparently haven’t much interest in learning — about the crucial chemical roles of chlorination / fluorination / bromination in the high-temperature (nonbiological) industrial synthesis of Persistent Organic Pollutants, do yah bdaabat?

        Conclusion Affirmed  We can all be fervently grateful that willfully ignorant market fundamentalists and/or libertarian extremists are *NOT* in charge of regulating food-and-drug safety.

        *THAT’S* sound science, ordinary parental common-sense, and time-honored medical ethics too, eh Climate Etc readers?

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    • fan,

      since they say humans only utilize 10% of their brain capacity, no big deal. There is lots of surplus to kill off before one gets to critical functions.

  94. Serious reactions to vaccinations occur. Should we ban them? Health effects of DDT have not been directly detected – malaria results in millions of deaths. Should we ban it? Mercury, lead, asbestos – are all seriously debilitating if ingested. Should we find alternatives – and where there are no cost-effective alternatives learn to manage risk?

    The EU REACH programs exists to identify serious threats – to avoid where possible and where not possible to manage risk.

    This is not a market failure but the evolution towards a truly global civilization in a relatively short time. The goal is a high growth and high energy future. To allow that to be subverted by fringe extremists would be the true market failure.

  95. William McClenney

    “The most common articulation of the precautionary principle is the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, a consensus document drafted and adopted by a group of environmental activists and academics in January 1998. The statement defined the precautionary principle thus:

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

    2. “In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

    3. “The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”


    So here is my take on the Precautionary Principle and Climate Change. Note this “take” assumes, for the purposes of discussion, that CO2 is the heathen devil gas it is made out to be.

    (1) There were 24 Dansgaard-Oeschger oscillations between this interglacial, the Holocene, the interglacial in which all of human civilization has occurred, and the last one, the Eemian. D-O oscillations average 1,500 years (1,470 is also frequently quoted), and have the same characteristic sawtooth temperature shape that the major ice-age/interglacials do, a sudden, dramatic, reliable, and seemingly unavoidable rise of between 8-10C on average, taking from only a few years to mere decades, then a shaky period of warmth (less than interglacial warmth), followed by a steep descent back into ice age conditions. Each D-O oscillation is slightly colder than the previous one through about seven oscillations; then there is an especially long, cold interval, followed by an especially large, abrupt warming up to 16C (a Bond cycle). During the latter parts of the especially cold intervals, armadas of icebergs are rafted across the North Atlantic (Heinrich events), their passage recorded reliably by the deep ocean sediment cores which capture the telltale signature of these events in dropstones and detritus melted out of them.

    Sole, Turiel and Llebot writing in Physics Letters A (366 [2007] 184–189) identified three classes of D-O oscillations in the Greenland GISP2 ice cores A (brief), B (medium) and C (long), reflecting the speed at which the warming relaxes back to the cold glacial state:

    “In this work ice-core CO2 time evolution in the period going from 20 to 60 kyr BP [15] has been qualitatively compared to our temperature cycles, according to the class they belong to. It can be observed in Fig. 6 that class A cycles are completely unrelated to changes in CO2 concentration. We have observed some correlation between B and C cycles and CO2 concentration, but of the opposite sign to the one expected: maxima in atmospheric CO2 concentration tend to correspond to the middle part or the end the cooling period. The role of CO2 in the oscillation phenomena seems to be more related to extend the duration of the cooling phase than to trigger warming. This could explain why cycles not coincident in time with maxima of CO2 (A cycles) rapidly decay back to the cold state.”

    “The possible explanation as to why we are still in an interglacial relates to the early anthropogenic hypothesis of Ruddiman (2003, 2005). According to that hypothesis, the anomalous increase of CO2 and CH4 concentrations in the atmosphere as observed in mid- to late Holocene ice-cores results from anthropogenic deforestation and rice irrigation, which started in the early Neolithic at 8000 and 5000 yr BP, respectively. Ruddiman proposes that these early human greenhouse gas emissions prevented the inception of an overdue glacial that otherwise would have already started.”
    conclude Muller and Pross (2007) http://folk.uib.no/abo007/share/papers/eemian_and_lgi/mueller_pross07.qsr.pdf

    Happy to go to any depth of discussion anyone wishes to have on these issues, but boiled down to just 1 excerpt from just 2 papers we are informed that CO2 was not the agent provocateur of any of the DO warmings, but acted to ameliorate the drop back to glacial conditions. More ominously, we also have it that the possible reason we are still in an interglacial is for that very same reason.

    If the proposed activity is to reduce the “climate security blanket” of CO2 in the late Holocene atmosphere, does it strike anyone else that this might be removal of the only speedbump yet proposed to the climatic “madhouse” known as glacial inception? In the retired North American Nomenclature, the last glacial was known as the Wisconsin ice age, primarily because of where the terminal moraine ground to a halt. Canadians, far northern Europeans, you should be worried here. I keep wondering why it wouldn’t be considered grounds for mental incompetence to actually want to chance tipping ourselves into an already overdue glacial.

    (2) In this instance, it’s complicated. Or maybe not. The IPCC is chartered to assess the anthropogenic impacts on climate change. “When we live” is not in their purview. Apparently we aren’t supposed to know that 7 of the last 8 warmings to interglacial levels each lasted about half a precession cycle. This, the IPCC and most alarmists, dismiss with Loutre and Berger’s 2003 model results showing the Holocene may have another 50,000 years to run its course. What they do not tell you is that by at least 2005 that had been completely debunked by Lisiecki and Raymo’s landmark paper http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2004PA001071/full .

    The question here is who is responsible for the “undersight” that limits most everyone’s view of this debate to some kind of infinite Holocene perturbed ostensibly and primarily by anthropogenic GHG emissions?

    That is the complication.

    If one were say in the middle of the Holocene Epoch, instead of in year 11,717, it might make some sense to get all hot and bothered about GHGs. But the precession cycle varies between 19-23kyrs, and we are at the 23kyr part now, making 11,500 half and 11,717 about half. Get it?

    This necessarily places the onus on the proposer of the activity of CO2/GHG reduction to prove that the law of unintended consequences will not be invoked and tip us into the next ~85-90kyr ice age.

    Because this can’t be had both ways, sorry.

    (3) Uh, Houston? We have been having a lot of trouble with those “open, informed and democratic” bits. Open got narrowed in the IPCC’s charter to looking at just anthropogenic effects and conveniently fixed in time to Loutre and Berger’s 2003 model teaser, so as to dismiss “when we live” from view. And informed? Well that depends on whether or not you were even aware of the other, almost exclusively scholarly debate, that’s been raging in the literature:

    In 2009 Crucifix and Rougier http://arxiv.org/pdf/0906.3625.pdf sum this up nicely:

    “We will illustrate our case with reference to a debate currently taking place in the circle of Quaternary climate scientists. The climate history of the past few million years is characterised by repeated transitions between `cold’ (glacial) and `warm’ (interglacial) climates. The first modern men were hunting mammoth during the last glacial era. This era culminated around 20,000 years ago [3] and then declined rapidly. By 9,000 years ago climate was close to the modern one. The current interglacial, called the Holocene, should now be coming to an end, when compared to previous interglacials, yet clearly it is not. The debate is about when to expect the next glacial inception, setting aside human activities, which may well have perturbed natural cycles.”


    “Investigating the processes that led to the end of the last interglacial period is relevant for understanding how our ongoing interglacial will end, which has been a matter of much debate…..”

    “The onset of the LEAP occurred within less than two decades, demonstrating the existence of a sharp threshold, which must be near 416 Wm2, which is the 65oN July insolation for 118 kyr BP (ref. 9). This value is only slightly below today’s value of 428 Wm2. Insolation will remain at this level slightly above the inception for the next 4,000 years before it then increases again.”


    Which consequentially brings us to the “No Action” scenario. If we do nothing about anthropogenic emissions/AGW/etc. we may very well risk extending the Holocene ourselves, if we can “keep it up” for the next ~4,000 years or so.

    I really hate to burst anyone’s bubble here, but this really cannot be had both ways.

    If GHGs can get us over the next ~4,000 years of glacial inception risk, then why are we having this discussion at all?

    If GHGs can’t vault us across the next ~4,000 years of glacial inception risk, then why are we having this discussion at all?




    • ==> “This necessarily places the onus on the proposer of the activity of CO2/GHG reduction to prove that the law of unintended consequences will not be invoked…”

      Yes. That is the standard that should be used. No policies of any kind, unless it can be proven that there will be no unintended consequences.

  96. William McClenney

    A Precautionary Tale: 4 hours in moderation…..

    Is that a record?

  97. William McClenney

    Would 5 hours in moderation be a record (now)?

  98. When I initially commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added
    I get 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be an easy method you are able
    to remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!

    • rogerknights

      It under WordPress’s control. You can navigate (I forget how) to a list of their list of your notifications and turn them off selectively. WP’s recent new release is acting crazy in several ways–perhaps it will settle down soon.