Is climate change a ‘ruin’ problem?

by Judith Curry

So, is climate change a local or global threat?  Are we risking global ruin?

How to frame a response to the climate change problem requires deeper examination of the actual nature of the risk/threat.  A new paper by Nassim Taleb provides some food for thought.

The Precautionary Principle (with Application to Genetic Modification of Organisms)

Nassim Taleb, Rupert Read, Raphael Douady, Joseph Norman,Yaneer Bar-Yam

Abstract (excerpt).  The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it. PP is intended to deal with uncertainty and risk in cases where the absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge carries profound implications and in the presence of risks of “black swans”, unforeseen and unforeseable events of extreme consequence.

Introduction: We believe that the PP should be evoked only in extreme situations: when the potential harm is systemic (rather than localized) and the consequences can involve total irreversible ruin, such as the extinction of human beings or all life on the planet. The aim of this paper is to place the concept of precaution within a formal statistical and risk-analysis structure, grounding it in probability theory and the properties of complex systems. Our aim is to allow decision makers to discern which circumstances require the use of the PP and in which cases evoking the PP is inappropriate.

The complete manuscript can be downloaded [here].

This paper was quite controversial in the twit-o-sphere, owing to its conclusions about GMOs.  Here I focus on the general framework of Taleb’s argument, and how it might be used in the climate change debate.

Here are some excerpts:

Decision making and types of risk

Traditional decision-making strategies focus on the case where harm is localized and risk is easy to calculate from past data. Under these circumstances, cost-benefit analyses and mitigation techniques are appropriate. The potential harm from miscalculation is bounded.

On the other hand, the possibility of irreversible and widespread damage raises different questions about the nature of decision making and what risks can be reasonably taken. This is the domain of the PP.

The PP is intended to make decisions that ensure survival when statistical evidence is limited—because it has not had time to show up —by focusing on the adverse effects of “absence of evidence.”

The purpose of the PP is to avoid a certain class of what, in probability and insurance, is called “ruin” problems. A ruin problem is one where outcomes of risks have a non-zero probability of resulting in unrecoverable losses. The large majority of variations that occur within a system, even drastic ones, fundamentally differ from ruin problems: a system that achieves ruin cannot recover. As long as the instance is bounded, there may be some hope of reversing the misfortune. This is not the case when it is global.

Precautionary considerations are relevant much more broadly than to ruin problems. For example, there was a precautionary case against cigarettes long before there was an open-and-shut evidence-based case against them. Our point is that the PP is a decisive consideration for ruin problems, while in a broader context precaution is not decisive and can be balanced against other considerations.

PP is not risk management

We can identify three layers associated with strategies for dealing with uncertainty and risk.

  • The first layer is the PP which addresses cases that involve potential global harm, whether probabilities are uncertain or known and whether they are large or small.
  • The second is risk management which addresses the case of known probabilities of well-defined, bounded gains and losses.
  • The third is risk aversion or risk-seeking behavior, which reflects quite generally the role of personal preferences for individual risks when uncertainty is present.

JC comment:  global harm does not necessarily imply ‘ruin’ (see below).  Risk aversion seems the best characterization for proposed solutions to the climate change problem.

Ruin is forever

A way to formalize the ruin problem in terms of the destructive consequences of actions identifies harm as not about the amount of destruction, but rather a measure of the integrated level of destruction over the time it persists.Our focus here is on the case where destruction is complete for a system or an irreplaceable aspect of a system, a point that does not allow recovery.

JC comment: Should global warming be considered as a ‘ruin’ problem? Paul Ehrlich argues ‘yes’ [link]; color me unconvinced.  In many ways, the risk of climate change is an aggregate of the risks faced by individual regions.  The warming is not uniform over the globe, and with projected global warming, there are both ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ (see my  Testimony).  Another relevant question is whether a future ice age – occurring naturally –  would be considered as ‘ruin’?  The impacts of a future ice age are arguably more severe than doubling or even tripling CO2 (even if you believe IPCC projections).  Not to mention that CO2 warming would delay a future ice age.   I’m not really seeing AGW as a ‘ruin’ problem, i.e. a ‘catastrophe’.  And finally the issue of ‘recovery’ is a time-scale issue (what is ‘forever’?) – e.g. the ice sheets in an ice age will eventually retreat.   This whole issue of ‘ruin’ ties back to the issue of what actually constitutes ‘dangerous’ climate change.  See these previous posts on the issue of ‘dangerous’:

Scientific methods and the PP

The idea of precaution is the avoidance of adverse consequences. This is qualitatively different from the idea of evidentiary action (from statistics). In the case of the PP, evidence may come too late.

In an evidentiary approach to risk (relying on evidence-based methods), the existence of a risk or harm occurs when we experience that risk or harm. In the case of ruin, by the time evidence comes it will by definition be too late to avoid it. Nothing in the past may predict one fatal event. Thus standard evidence-based approaches cannot work.

More generally, evidentiary action is a framework based upon the quite reasonable expectation that we learn from experience. The idea of evidentiary action is embodied in the kind of learning from experience that is found in how people often react to disasters—after the fact. When a disaster occurs people prepare for the next one, but do not anticipate it in advance. For the case of ruin problems, such behavior guarantees extinction.

JC comment:  This clarifies the conflict between ‘lukewarmers’, who seem mainly data driven and don’t see danger (in favor of risk management), versus alarmists who argue for the PP to avoid possible catastrophe or ruin (as inferred from climate model simulations).

Distinguishing global and local risks

Since there are mathematical limitations to predictability of outcomes in a complex system, the central issue to determine is whether the threat of harm is local (hence globally benign) or carries global consequences. Scientific analysis can robustly determine whether a risk is systemic, i.e. by evaluating the connectivity of the system to propagation of harm, without determining the specifics of such a risk. If the consequences are systemic, the associated uncertainty of risks must be treated differently than if it is not. In such cases, precautionary action is not based on direct empirical evidence but on analytical approaches based upon the theoretical understanding of the nature of harm.  The essential question is whether or not global harm is possible or not. Theory enables generalizing from experience in order to apply it to new circumstances. In the case of the PP, the existence of a robust way to generalize is essential.

JC comment:  However, a systemic global risk does not necessarily imply ‘ruin.’  Climate models are the establishment’s tool for understanding the nature of the harm from atmospheric CO2.  Are climate models a robust way to project the future harm?  I would say no.  Using empirical evidence (e.g. in context of the energy balance models) would seem to be more robust.  Black swan events are still missed by both methods, which is why I have argued for alternative methods for scenario generation:

Fat tails and fragility

To figure out whether a given decision involves the risk of ruin and thus warrants the use of the PP, we must first understand the relevant underlying probabilistic structures. There are two classes of probability distributions of events: one in which events are accompanied by well behaved, mild variations (e.g. Gaussian or thin tails), and the other where small probabilities are associated with large variations that have no characteristic scale (e.g. power law or fat tails).

Given a series of events, in the case of thin tails the sum is proportional to the average, and in the case of fat tails a sum over them may be entirely dominated by a single one. In thin tailed domains harm comes from the collective effect of many, many events; no event alone can be consequential enough to affect the aggregate. In fat tailed domains of risk  harm comes from the largest single event.

JC comment:  Fat tail and thin tail risks is a good way of looking at extreme events.  I effectively adopted this approach in projecting future hurricane damage in Central America and the Carribbean [link].

Limitation of top-down engineering in complex environments

In considering the limitations of risk-taking, a key question is whether or not we can analyze the potential outcomes of interventions and, knowing them, identify the associated risks. Can’t we just “figure it out?” With such knowledge we can gain assurance that extreme problems such as global destruction will not arise. Planning fails due to the inability to anticipate the many conditions that will arise.

JC comment:  This relates to the problem of confusing a wicked problem with a tame problem, see these previous posts:

Precaution as policy

When there is a risk of ruin, obstructionism and policy inaction are important strategies, impeding the rapid headlong experimentation with global ruin by those with short-term, self-centered incentives and perspectives. Two approaches for policy action are well justified. In the first, actions that avoid the inherent sensitivity of the system to propagation of harm can be used to free the system to enable local decision-making and exploration with only local harm. This involves introducing boundaries, barriers and separations that inhibit propagation of shocks, preventing ruin for overly connected systems. In the second, where such boundaries don’t exist or cannot be introduced due to other effects, there is a need for actions that are adequately evaluated as to their global harm. Scientific analysis of such actions, meticulously validated, is needed to prevent small risks from causing ruin.

JC comment:  This is an argument for dealing with the risk via increasing resilience and anti-fragility.  For previous posts on this topic, see:

What is not justified, and dangerous, are actions that are intended to prevent harm by additional intervention. The reason is that indirect effects are likely to create precisely the risks that one is intending to avoid.

JC comment:  This is the key issue in the climate policy debate – is the ‘cure’ (i.e. CO2 emissions reduction and associated economic hardships) worse than the ‘disease’ (i.e. warmer temperatures)?  A few previous posts on this topic:

When existing risks are perceived as having the potential for ruin, it may be assumed that any preventive measure is justified. There are at least two problems with such a perspective. First, localized harm is often mistaken for ruin, and the PP is wrongly invoked where risk management techniques should be employed. When a risk is not systemic, overreaction will typically cause more harm than benefits, like undergoing dangerous surgery to remove a benign growth. Second, even if the threat of ruin is real, taking specific (positive) action in order to ward off the perceived threat may introduce new systemic risks. It is often wiser to reduce or remove activity that is generating or supporting the threat and allow natural variations to play out in localized ways.

Preventive action should be limited to correcting situations by removing threats via negativa in order to bring them back in line with a statistical structure that avoids ruin. It is often better to remove structure or allow natural variation to take place rather than to add something additional to the system.

JC comment:  in the climate change debate, I interpret this statement as arguing to increase resilience and anti-fragility.

When one takes the opposite approach, taking specific action designed to diminish some perceived threat, one is almost guaranteed to induce unforeseen consequences. Even when there appears to be a direct link from a specific action to a specific preventive outcome, the web of causality extends in complex ways with consequences that are far from the intended goal. These unintended consequences may generate new vulnerabilities or strengthen the harm one is hoping to diminish. Thus, when possible, limiting fragilizing dependencies is better than imposing additional structure that increases the fragility of the system as a whole.

JC comment:  In the climate policy debate, I regard this as arguing against new energy policy restrictions or engaging in geoengineering.

JC reflections

Putting this post together was very interesting for me, since Taleb’s paper integrates a lot of  things that I have been writing about, and this afforded me an opportunity to integrate them (not to mention read some of my old posts).

What does Taleb have to say about climate change?  Not much, although this statement does appear in the paper:

The more uncertain or skeptical one is of “scientific” models and projections, the higher the risk of ruin, which flies in the face of the argument of the style “skeptical of climate models”.  Hence skepticim about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies.

Ouch.  Perhaps Taleb should read my recent post:

A salient issue is that it is difficult to apply these concepts to individual risks without some understanding of the domain itself (this seems to be the source of the problems with Taleb’s conclusions re GMOs, which is admittedly an issue with many shades of gray).

I have attempted to apply Taleb’s ideas to the climate change problem (although I may be hampered by lack of expertise on the the topics that Taleb writes about).  The key insight that I feel that I have developed from this exercise is that urgent global CO2 mitigation is justified only if we are facing ruin, and can’t be justified by an economic cost-benefit argument.  The potential for adverse and unintended consequences are just too great.

This brings us back to ‘ruin’, ‘catastrophic’, and ‘dangerous’.  The AR5 WGII Report made an important step forward and clarifying this issue, my comments:

. . . the message that I am getting is there is a great deal of uncertainty in the attribution and future projections of climate change impacts, and that the threats on the timescale of the 21st century are not existential. The ‘message’ has shifted from documenting dire impacts, to finding solutions that integrate with broader societal challenges.

The global nature of CO2 forcing does not imply global risks;  the risks are local/regional, and the aggregation of these risks does not imply the potential for ruin.

The enshrinement of the Precautionary Principle into the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change represents a mismatch between the problem and the proposed solution; this is described at length in Rayner and Prin’s essay Wrong Trousers that was discussed in my post IPCC diagnosis: permanent paradigm paralysis.

The ideas of resilience and anti-fragility (e.g. adaptation) are much better suited to the climate change challenge, since benefits can be obtained now in the most vulnerable regions and vulnerability can be reduced to a broad range of threats. Further, the adaptation solution avoids the hubris of thinking we know what the future climate holds.

So does this imply we should do nothing about energy policy?  Well there are many other drivers for energy policy, such as human and ecosystem health, environmental quality, energy security, etc.  If climate change is NOT a ruin problem, we need to stop pretending that urgent action to reduce CO2 emissions is justified by anything other than naive reasoning and the role of personal and political preferences to address climate risk, in a way that increases global government control.

So is my reasoning correct? The bottom line is that I think much more attention needs to be given to this kind of meta-analysis and assessments of the risk from climate change, including speculation on the plausible worst case scenarios.

I will ping @nntaleb on twitter, to see if I can engage him in this discussion.

 

 

 

393 responses to “Is climate change a ‘ruin’ problem?

  1. daveandrews723

    I would describe alarmists generally as “know-it-alls” with a little Mesiah complex thrown in.

    • Bill Hooke brings us the concerns of a 17th century philosopher, Francis Bacon: “For it was from lust of power that the angels fell, from lust of knowledge that man fell; but of charity there can be no excess, neither did angel or man ever come in danger by it.” To Bacon’s view of the social contract between scientists and the rest of the world, we can compare the shameful academia-abetted climate politics of –e.g., Bangladesh:

      Focusing on global warming instead of child nutrition is quite frankly … almost immoral because it is so easy and cheap.” ~Bjørn Lomborg

    • Smarter than Taleb. Why of course. How could it be otherwise.

      Can’t wait for the book.

  2. The key insight that I feel that I have developed from this exercise is that global CO2 mitigation is justified only if we are facing ruin, and can’t be justified by an economic cost-benefit argument. The potential for adverse and unintended consequences are just too great.

    Wouldn’t that depend on the method(s) used?

    So does this imply we should do nothing about energy policy? Well there are many other drivers for energy policy, such as human and ecosystem health, environmental quality, energy security, etc. If climate change is NOT a ruin problem, we need to stop pretending that urgent action to reduce CO2 emissions is justified by anything other than naive reasoning and the role of personal and political preferences to address climate risk, in a way that increases global government control.

    The key word being “urgent”.

    • Agreed, key word is ‘urgent’. See also my recent post How urgent is urgent? https://judithcurry.com/2014/11/02/how-urgent-is-urgent/

      • For SLR on a multi-decadal time frame, not only does the urgency depend on the basin, but also specific locations within each basin. The threats are of a different nature. And the potential solutions vary widely, even on a regional basis. Even with the worst case scenario per IPCC, some locations could wait decades before the slightest threat occurs and then adaptability could be far simpler than other locations in the same region.

        The number of variables involved makes any broad policy response for SLR untenable as well as not cost effective.

    • In a thread below, JCH said:

      Poking the angry beast with a big stick = pumping tons and tons of ACO2 into the atmosphere.

      I found this analogy disturbing, because obviously wrong, and after a moment realized why: the “angry beast” is a figment of the imagination.. Probably.

      There are two issues with equating the dumping of massive fossil CO2 into the system with “[p]oking the angry beast with a big stick”. First, we have no evidence whatsoever that this process will really produce a risk of adverse response such as “the slowdown/shutdown of the AMOC.” We have proposed mechanisms, but the only actual case that has been proposed is related to the sudden dumping of huge amounts of melt-water into the North Atlantic from the breaking of ice dams via (originally) the St. Lawrence valley e.g. [e.g. Broecker et al. (1988)], or the Mackenzie Valley [Condrona and Winsor (2012)], “∼4,000 km northwest of the St. Lawrence outlet.

      The possibility of a similar pulse of meltwater from Greenland due to global warming can be raised by analogy, but given the differences in the path of that water, and the hypothetical nature of current model results [Liu et al. (2012)], it remains an anology.

      The second issue is whether a repetition of the Younger Dryas would really be a “ruin problem”? Given our current technology, would such an event really cause our civilization to crash?

      References:

      Broecker et al. (1988) The chronology of the last Deglaciation: Implications to the cause of the Younger Dryas Event by W. S. Broecker, M. Andree, W. Wolfli, H. Oeschger, G. Bonani, J. Kennett, and D. Peteet Paleoceanography Volume 3, Issue 1, pages 1–19, February 1988

      Condrona and Winsor (2012) Meltwater routing and the Younger Dryas by Alan Condrona,and Peter Winsor Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:19928–19933

      Liu et al. (2012) Younger Dryas cooling and the Greenland climate response to CO2 by hengyu Liu, Anders E. Carlson, Feng He, Esther C. Brady, Bette L. Otto-Bliesner, Bruce P. Briegleb, Mark Wehrenberg, Peter U. Clark, Shu Wu, Jun Cheng, Jiaxu Zhang, David Noone, and Jiang Zhu Proc Natl Acad Sci USA July 10, 2012 vol. 109 no. 28

      • Here’s JCH comment just before:

        Chef Hydro used to invoke abrupt climate change – the slowdown/shutdown of the AMOC. Poking sticks into the face of an angry beast.

        Nobody but me said a word.

        Now it’s suddenly impossible.

        Blame the Chef.

      • My link was referencing the whole (sub-)thread. Including that.

  3. So the Precautionary Principle should really be applied to the very expensive and near global effort to tackle climate change.

    • Karl Hallowell

      Or to itself. One of the key problems with the Precautionary Principle is its glaring self-inconsistency. One should look on it with great suspicion whenever it is claimed to be used impartially since its primary role is to obstruct that which the user of the Principle opposes.

      • Only when misapplied could it become self-inconsistent. The legitimacy of its use determines its validity.

      • Karl Hallowell

        Only when misapplied could it become self-inconsistent.

        I disagree. I doubt anyone can, much less has thoroughly evaluated the opportunity costs (which are by their nature extremely hard to evaluate) of using any of the variants of the Precautionary Principle (PP). So who knows what benefit is denied when the PP is applied? That right there gets deep into the unknown harms that the PP is supposed to mitigate. And in most applications of the PP, when you have the potential for great harm from doing a thing, like applying the PP, then you don’t do it.

        In addition to its self-inconsistency, there is more usual inconsistency. For example, it’s not hard to find instances where the PP applies to both a position and its negation, for example, rushing medical research to the public.

        Here, you have at least two great harms, the harm of people suffering and dying from rushed and poorly tested medical treatment versus the harm of people suffering and dying because those medical treatments (and a whole lot more down the pipeline) were obstructed even a little bit. So which one matters more. In today’s societies, it turns out the risks which are more likely to harm regulators’ careers, namely, the risks of experimental medical research are more important than the invisible opportunity costs of people not receiving medical treatments sooner which could save their lives.

        The legitimacy of its use determines its validity.

        I think the PP is inherently illegitimate. It doesn’t evaluate risk and uncertainty.

      • “It doesn’t evaluate risk and uncertainty.”

        And it never will, that is done beforehand, after which it may or may not have a legitimate reason for being applied.

        How widespread are the negative effects of the costs of addressing and tackling climate change?, and how widespread are the negative effects of a theoretical slight increase in forcing of the climate?

        See the problem already? the first issue is certain near globally, the second is not certain in magnitude, but certainly would be beneficial regionally. Take that to the bookies.

  4. I hope you succeed in getting Taleb involved Judy. His take on the climate debate I’ve always found puzzling. Before Climategate I was pretty unknown on climate blogs but was active on Bryan Appleyard’s blog – Bryan being one of the better science-and-culture journalists we have in London. (See for example A brief history of destruction, a devastating takedown of the more romantic aspects of the film The Theory of Everything recently.) Bryan put up with me banging on about climate but cited two of his greatest influences and friends as James Lovelock and Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Prior to November 2009 that was enough to make him fairly dismissive of a sceptical/lukewarmer view. Lovelock’s changed his tune significantly since then but, as I say, I don’t really get Taleb in this area, though I think he’s made important and good points on financial models. His framework on the PP looks very useful indeed.

    • Now that I see you’re in the UK in June (catching up with my CE backlog) how about trying for a meeting with all three in London? Taleb isn’t always around but seems to be some of the time. The political philosopher John Gray is the other guy Appleyard is close to, that I remember, and he’s London based too. Oh and Roger Scruton, who’s farming/philosophising in the countryside and is green in unpredictable ways! But those guys may be too far to stretch. I could send a private message to Bryan on Twitter on Taleb if interest was expressed. Such a get-together wouldn’t simply be preaching to the choir, that’s the point. Influencers. Knock a bit of sense into. That kind of thing :)

  5. Taleb is brilliant, and has done great work in finance. But this looks confused, assuming I correctly understand it.

    I assumed his article would conclude with a strong recommendation for funding Project Spaceguard — to detect and eventually defend against impacts from comets and asteroids. A mass extinction event is certain to occur. Our current systems meet his definition of making this a “ruin” event by not detecting this with sufficient warning to prevent it (excerpt in Hollywood’s fantasies).

    Also meeting his definition would be supervolancoes, from Yellowstone to Toba. While prevention is unlikely, vastly larger budgets for monitoring and research might provide sufficient time to prepare.

    How do these shockwave events fit in his schema, with their low probabilities of occurance in a generation — and long lead time requirements to take even modest preparations?

    • I agree, asteroid strikes and supevolcanoes are better examples of ‘ruin’ problems than GMOs and climate change.

      • How is a super volcano a problem? I think Taleb would see it as thin tail – 0.00014 percent.

      • David Springer

        High risk disaster scenarios:

        1) global pandemic

        Example: HIV becoming airborne

        2) solar coronal mass ejection

        Example: 1859 Carrington Event produced “northern lights” in southern Florida and melted copper wires acting as antennas such as telegraph lines. If that happened today it would take out the electrical grid of an entire continent with a time to repair measured in years because large transformers in the grid are built-to-order with lead times of months. These all get fried in a big CME. Western civilization would collapse. No electrical power means no hospitals, running water, flushing toilets, refrigerated food, oil refineries, etc. Food, fuel, and water becomes scare after a week then total collapse follows in a few months.

      • Prof Curry,

        Taking a step backwards, your comment reminds us that there are many “ruin” problems. Most of these are “shockwaves”, of high impact but low probability in any year. A policy of massive funding to these might increase our total risk exposure by defunding efforts against non-ruin risks, and even overall R&D and infrastructure investment.

        I don’t believe looking at these as individual problems provides a useful public policy perspective. Budgeting finite funds requires understanding the full range of needs, consumption, investment, and risk management.

        The current system is driven by sensationalism, as each risk has its advocates — blind to other risks — seeking attention by dramatizing and exaggerating their favorite doom scenario. Bad outcomes are guaranteed.

      • A supervolcano is not global, so there is a circuit breaker – thin tail.

      • David Springer

        Global warming is not a threat in higher latitudes. It’s a blessing. Grow oranges in Toronto and wheat in Siberia.

      • JCH,

        Super-volcanoes can cause mass extinctions, which Taleb specifically calls fat tails. The Toba event almost extinguished humanity. The Réunion hotspot (producing the Deccan Traps, qualifying if super-volcano is defined by volume ejected) was long a candidate for cause of the C-T event, and new evidence might make it so again. The Siberian Traps are a leading candidate for the Permian-Triassic extinction event.

      • Tom Billings

        Yes, as Dr. Gene Shoemaker noted for years before his death, the meteoroid strikes he studied indicated there were serious possibilities of ruin for our species in asteroid impacts. That’s part of the problem, as I found out in 1965. People want to not look at things which have solutions that would change their world so that math and engineering are *more* important. They too often want to look at things that will make actions *they* already can do more important.

        Thus, when I pointed out in 1965, in a class discussion, that Dr. Shoemaker’s work at Meteor Crater, and at the Nevada sites for nuclear excavation showed real evidence that huge impacts had already taken place, it evoked a strange sequence of questioning. First people wanted to know what chances were of far larger impacts. Then, when the only possible answer was that, essentially, no one had bothered to look, …yet, they accused me of just trying to scare them.

        These people want problems whose solution will put *them* on top, or at least on the inside, …not people who use techniques strange enough that they think of them as “tricks”, …and suspect they might be magic in the backs of their heads. The attraction of stopping GMO marketing, and of CO2 suppression, is that they can imagine this can all be done by people they believe think like themselves. That is important, because they can share in it, and feel included.

        The developing of technologies to station in Space the devices needed to nudge asteroids away from an Earth-bound trajectory is something they feel excluded from by its nature. By contrast, the campaigns to sort their garbage and compost their lawn clippings make them feel like they are participating in the great environmental campaign to save the Earth, and they resent opposition to something that makes them feel included. Maybe the software to help people find asteroids from the data becoming available now will rival that, for the younger generation?

        As for Super-Volcanoes, the true way to keep those from being “ruin” is Elon Musk’s dream of making humans a multi-planet species. That won’t put “people like us” in the driver’s seat, either, however. Is it bad, to note that this coincides with campaigns to subordinate groups doing science and technology already, to groups who want degrees, and the authority they give, but feel excluded from that?

      • Tom,

        Brilliant comment. You have my vote for Best of Thread. Thanks for posting it.

      • Agreed, superb comment Tom.

      • Planning Engineer

        Great sub-thread. I am troubled when I see the phrase “global harm” and my thoughts question what the time frame of relevance is as well as what portions of the globe are we concerned about. Similarly are we just worried about species diversity or do we have favored species? Toba was limiting for many “valued” mammalians and biodiversity. 63 million years ago the K/T event was disastrous for dinosaurs in particular and species diversity in general. Species diversity recovered (as did the plant) but dinosaurs not so much. Was even the K/T extent ion a “ruin” event? Maybe not for the planet on a global time scale. For certain species, genus, orders…, YES but for others it was a boon. Thinking globally is the catastrophic nature of the K/T event mitigated by the fact that the consequences were felt only for a near eye blink on a global time scale?

        I think “global” harm can only have meaning if 1) you’re blowing the planet apart beyond recovery, or 2) you have some set of favored species and life forms that you value above others (present and future).

        I don’t have any trouble recognizing humans as a “special” species. Nor do I have trouble extending that concern to many other unique and special species. On the other hand I don’t mind eradicating smallpox, various parasites nor would a lose a lot of sleep over the loss of a humdrum localized sub-species of beetle. it seems to me if you are going to talk about ruin short of global annihilation it has to be in relation to some particular life forms, some limited time frame or a combination of those two.

      • Planning Engineer,

        That’s a great point about the vagueness of “ruin”, without specifying magnitude of the damage or its duration. For most of us “civilization cannot rebuilt” is a workable definition of “ruin”, but some have wider vision. James Lovelock (the “Gaia” theory of planetary homeostasis), was asked about nuclear war …

        “… he replied that it would have have very very little effect. I said “But it could kill off every human!” He replied “Well, yes, it might do that; but I was thinking of effects on the general biosphere.”

        — From “Unclear Winter”by Charles Sheffield, published in New Destinties, Summer 1988

      • Thanks Editor of the Fabius Maximus.

        I think challenges to civilization ties well to a good good definition for ruin. However extremists seem to argue that there is some sore of “global harm” apart and distinct from the fate of humankind. T

        Generalized concerns for vague and undefined threats to the planet provide a fertile field for childish speculation as to a myriad of potential harms and these concerns can support grand unfounded prescriptions for a global cure (surely in the long run it will work). However if you better define what the primary and secondary concerns are, then you can begin an adult conversation which recognizes that no solution will be optimal but that you must consider various options with differing tradeoffs that should be debated in light of your identified concerns.

        I can understand the politics, but not the literal meaning when someone says “We have to act now to save the planet”. Would they agree we have to act now to save civilization?

      • apologies, no idea why this landed in spam

      • I offered an additional comment to Fabius and when it didn’t appear I figured I goofed up with the new verification system and retyped the same basic thing. Now it occurs to me it got sent to moderation. No need to post both responses, or leave this one there either if they show up.

      • PlanningEngineer,

        I hope your comment gets thru moderation. Your 1st comment gave the kind of “out of the box” perspective that would greatly help these discussions, which imo tend to get lost in the weeds.

      • Planning Engineer,

        I agree on all points. More specifically, in my experience people tend to grossly underestimate the resilience of civilization — believing that it’s a fragile flower that a brisk wind can blow away. The history of natural disasters and wars shows the incredible ability of people to rebuild after events that destroy much (or most) of their physical infrastructure and kill a quarter or even a third of the population.

        Only recently did such afflicted areas receive substantial amounts of outside aid. Throughout history people rebuilt on their own, so such local or regional disasters provide models of even a global disaster.

        Also, the Y2k “event” demonstrated people’s largely fallacious lack of confidence in the robustness and redundancy of the systems engineers have built for us. While the US went on a spending binge to upgrade, the emerging nations did a some patching — and things worked just fine on 1-1-2000.

        The doomsters’ fantasies about ruin from famine in the 1970s and peak oil in the early 2000’s are additional examples of underestimating civilization.

      • Editor Fabius – I’m with you as well on the tendency of doomsayers and catastrophists of all sorts to underestimate robustness. I wonder if there is some sort of basic belief structure uniting disaster thinking. Something like: “We the unworthy were created by god/society/earth and that we had better stay on the straight and narrow path or our creator(s) will unleash catastrophic doom and destruction upon us collectively for any disrespect or transgressions.”

        As poster Dr. Strangelove noted – there is a similarity between the precautionary principle and Pascal’s Wager. Both seek to cover our bases.

      • Dr. Strangelove

        “I agree, asteroid strikes and supevolcanoes are better examples of ‘ruin’ problems than GMOs and climate change.”

        Dr. Curry, I disagree. PP does not apply to asteroid impacts and supervolcanoes. PP applies in cases when the adverse effect is unknown or highly uncertain. PP “cures” this lack of knowledge by assuming the worst. It is unscientific because the assumption has no science basis. In asteroid impacts and supervolcanoes, we are sure of the catastrophic effect. The uncertainty lies on the probability of the event, not on its adverse effect.

        A better example of PP is consumption of suspected toxic substances. There may be no scientific evidence that they are toxic. But PP is invoked to prohibit their consumption on the premise that consumption exposes one to an unknown chance of harm while non-consumption offers zero chance of harm.

      • Flesh it out a little with your suspected toxic substance being otherwise encased in a mouth-watering piece of fruit or other curious new food. Hmmm, it seems we’ve been here before. And over and over and over.
        ============

      • Heh, why I’m skeptical. This thing here you call ‘consensus’ smells a little funny. You eat some first.

        Conversely: Here, eat this coal. I know, I know, but try it, you might like it.
        ==================

      • Oh, deer, sorry for the jerky. That’s an old, smoky venison joke, better left out of polite company, and elementary schools.
        =================

      • Dr. Strangelove

        Your coal candy is tasty but no thanks. PP does not apply to burning of fossil fuels. Non-use of fossil fuels present a potential harm that may be worse than the risk of use. So PP’s zero chance of harm is invalid.

    • JCH,

      “Taleb would see it as a thin-tail”

      Taleb uses a different schema in this paper. The difference is not probability of occurrence over a specified duration.

      “In thin tailed domains harm comes from the collective effect of many, many events; no event alone can be consequential enough to affect the aggregate. … In fat tailed domains of risk harm comes from the largest single event.”

      In section VI: “The variability associated with mass extinctions, however, indicates that there are fat tail events that can affect the global biosphere.”

  6. What I would like to see is how does this PP (and Talebs’s critic) work for known “risks” in the past. When humans began using spars, and more later arrows, there was a “risk” of overhunting. And global it was, being humans pretty global. The risk did materialize. Mega-fauna disappeared, and modern humans had to hunt smaller and smaller prey. And, worse; they had to bring the horrible neolithic with all that plant food.

    There are many more examples to work with. I like the washing machine. Big risk of contaminating the seas and rivers with its chemical waste. What about “discovering” America, and open the doors to so many infections in both worlds? There are endless situations where we could have used the precautionary principle. Do we regret not knowing the PP in the past? Should we have stayed in the Upper Paleolithic and forget about the washing machine?

    • You overlooked the discovery of fire. What would an Environmental Impact Report on fire look like?
      And the regulations: “You need to have a bucket of water next to every fire.” “We haven’t invented buckets yet.” “Then no fires allowed.”

  7. Maybe a first step along the way to preparing a PP plan would be to first better quantify the benefits of fossil fuels. It seems to me that one, if not the, primary driver of the true believers is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and there is a lot of arm waiving about all the environmental harm caused by them with little to no acknowledgement about the benefits. From a layman’s perspective, what I see is longer and healthier life spans of humans living in developed countries making the most use of fossil fuels. Maybe being able to control our own individual environments via HVAC systems that we command at will helps, maybe having cleaner hospital environments that directly benefit from fossil fuels help. Maybe the ability to plant and harvest vast swaths of land so that we can better feed a growing populace helps. There is a much longer list of these maybes that should be more fully understood before we delve into ways to mitigate purported damages caused by fossil fuels.

  8. CO2 emissions reduction and associated economic hardships

    Do we really know it would be a that hard to transition to a low carbon economy? If you do a real cost benefit analysis that compares using fossil fuels versus renewables I think you would see that difference is not that large at all. But since we can’t measure external costs, I guess we will never see that cost benefit analysis.

    • You’re living in a dream world, Joseph. If renewables so-called, made economic sense the government wouldn’t have to be subsidizing them.If you want to get rid of CO2 emissions, you have to go nuclear. Those are you choices.

      • The external costs o fossil fuels are not considered in the price of energy.

      • Joseph,

        Including the external costs of genuine pollutants doesn’t make renewables cheaper than fossil fuels. You are advocating for a complete dud when advocating for renewables.

      • Who will rid me of these troublesome externalities?
        =============

      • Joseph is another of those whose theme song is “I go la la, … la, la, la, la,la, la.” when you bring up facts.

        Joseph, solar is extremely unlikely to make an impact in power generation, other than with the potential to reduce demand. Utilities have also figured out the maximum percentage of wind generation they can realistically afford and still maintain system reliability. (The one I work for has the second largest wind generation capacity in the US.) And assuming automotive & battery technology reach the point that most cars built are electric, you still have to deal with two issues:

        1) All those electric cars are going to drive up demand

        2) Major sections of the transportation network will remain fossil fueled.

    • Joseph – by renewables, I am guessing you mean solar and wind. If that is the case, how are you going to mine the raw materials needed to manufacture solar panels/wind turbines, transport the materials to the manufacturing facility, transport the finished goods to the ultimate destination, and in the case of wind turbines, how are you going to power the machinery needed to erect them? I’ll assume for now that you expect the primary energy source for the manufacturing facility will be wind or solar, but what energy source do you want for times when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine? And, just for kicks, let’s look at the steel and iron required per Megawatt according to APLINE Gmbu, July 2014: Wind – 542.3 tons, Coal – 35.3 tons, and Natural Gas – 5.2 tons. That’s a lot of steel and iron per Mw, and in the case of Wind, you never know when you will get that Mw.

      • I believe what is going to happen is that the change will start primarily in the power generation sector and then once we have done that we can turn to electrifying our vehicles. I think improvements in energy efficiency are also key.

      • Find the fit for fickle physics,
        Power pops and runs and visits.
        ====================

    • Do we really know it would be a that hard to transition to a low carbon economy?

      It would depend on how it’s done, and with how much “urgency”. The cost of solar PV is coming down exponentially (with a growth rate of around 1/2 every 4-5 years), and it’s already at parity with other sources in certain situations.

      If it continues, and we’re willing to wait a few decades, it’ll happen from sheer economics.

      • AK,

        Your information is wrong. You haven’t included network costs, storage, etc. Renewables are unable to provide the electricity for a modern society. Simply looking at the costs of the installation is irrelevant. You have to consider the costs of the system.

      • Rube Goldberg improves on a lump of coal and a chip of uranium.
        ================

      • Your information is wrong. You haven’t included network costs, storage, etc.

        Anybody using present day values for those things is advancing a straw-man argument.

        Renewables are unable to provide the electricity for a modern society.

        Sheer argument by assertion, with nothing but straw-man arguments to back it up.

      • The cost is falling somewhat, but the efficiency is not. And it won’t be if we continue to reward companies that install what is available today rather than what could be available in 5 or 10 years.
        Unlike a laptop, solar installs last for 2 or 3 decades – which is why installing poor technology too hastily is a tremendous waste.

      • AK:

        Anybody using present day values for those things is advancing a straw-man argument.

        Renewables are unable to provide the electricity for a modern society.

        Sheer argument by assertion, with nothing but straw-man arguments to back it up.

        “Using present day values for those things” is not advancing a straw-man. There are physical and chemical limits to what can be done with energy and they are for the most part well understood. There may be breakthroughs in technology coming, but they must still occur within constraints, such as the Carnot cycle.

        I’d strongly recommend the YouTube lectures by Nate Lewis. IMO they offer the best explanation of the scale of energy to the layman. He also seems to have the best strategy for solar energy:

      • @Canman…

        “Using present day values for those things” is not advancing a straw-man.

        When the value is for “costs” of things like inverters, mechanical support, etc., yes it is. In fact, the same is true for storage such as battery (especially flow battery) technology, and especially true for more indirect methods such as power→fuel.

        Bring the cost of solar PV low enough, and the cost of solar/pumped hydro becomes essentially the cost of the hydro. And unlike regular hydro-power, you’re not limited to deep valleys (requiring deep, expensive dams), and good natural flows.

        As for support, new, unexpected advances come every day. For instance, floating solar power looks to dramatically lower the cost of mechanical support, once it starts to mature.

      • If solar were free we couldn’t run our global economy with it.

      • floating solar power looks to dramatically lower the cost of mechanical support, once it starts to mature.

        Really? Making these things seaworthy and resistant to corrosive saltwater will reduce cost?

      • Making these things seaworthy and resistant to corrosive saltwater will reduce cost?

        Make the outer layer(s) out of plastic. There’s a material that lasts a long time.

      • AK,

        Have you any idea how conflicted your response is. On one hand you want to ignore the fact that renewables are totally uneconomic now (except in trivially small applications), while arguing by assertion the future will be bright for renewables. Then you want to dismiss the ERoEI facts that renewables are unsustainable. I’ll remind you that it was the renewables advocates who were so keen on ERoEI until the evidence showed their cause was unsustainable.

        All your belief about future of renewables is argument by assertion.

      • The cost of manufacturing solar panels’ is coming down…unfortunately…the manufacturing costs of the the panels are no where near the total cost of an installed solar generating system complete with backup for when the sun doesn’t shine.

      • Here’s a thought for a “step along the road”:

        Lake Shasta/Shasta Dam has an area of more than 120 square kilometers (Km^2). Let’s assume that ~2/3 of that, 80 Km^2, is dedicated to floating solar PV. If we assume an average 25% capacity factor, and 20% conversion efficiency, with an average insolation of 1KWatt/square meter (m^2), that works out to 50 W/m^2, 50 MWatts/Km^2, a total of 4 GigaWatts (GW). And that’s average, not peak. (The peak capacity would be 16GW).

        That would add considerably to California’s electrical resources. Balancing the daily average of 4 GW would require about 4-5 meters change in depth. Of course, a substantial re-design of the downstream system (e.g. Keswick Dam/Lake, etc.) would be required.

        But wait! There’s more! Much of that energy is intermittent, but could well be applied to pumping sea-water to an elevation suitable for use by the existing water distribution system. Current desalination technology requires around 2.5-3.5 KiloWattHours (KWH)/m^3 of water. That’s around the same amount needed for “importing a similar amount of water into Southern California”.

        Let’s say 10 KJoules/m^3 (roughly equivalent), if 1/2 that excess generating capacity (above) is used for desalination, say an average of 2 GW times 31557600 seconds per year = ~6.3 Trillion cubic meters of water each year.

        That’s a lot of water.

        And the capital expense for desalination is coming down dramatically:

        We’ve all heard of desalination technology before, but the sticking point—as it always is with new technology—is cost. Desalination has never been economical on a commercial scale before. Until now, the price of desalinated water projects has hovered around $8 a barrel, but the Dutch version comes in at around $1.50-$2.00 per barrel, or approximately $1,100-$1,350 per acre-foot of water.

        Additionally, whereas your typical desalination plant returns only about 35% of the water, Saltech technology can return 97%–and this is a key factor in the economics and environmentally positive attributes of the technology.

        Of course, like everything these days, it’s been over-hyped:

        Salttech DyVaR Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) water processing technology was developed in the Netherlands by Salttech and was launched first by Texas-based STW Resources in July last year in Mentone, Texas, in the Permian Basin. The Salttech desalination system is now providing the residents of Mentone with more drinking water than they could have ever hoped for.

        All 19 of them.

        But even when you allow for the hype, it looks like dramatic progress.

      • For perspective, California used 296,628 GWHours in 2013, which divided by 8765.76 hours/year yields an average of ~33.84 GW.

      • Per SEIA

        There are now over 17,500 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity operating in the U.S., enough to power more than 3.5 million average American homes.

        So fully (2/3, leaving the rest for recreation) using the potential of Lake Shasta could about double the installed capacity, without the need for any other storage technology.

        And there’s ten times the potential with Hoover Dam/Lake Mead. It wouldn’t be necessary, at first, to provide low-side catchment for storage to entirely balance this energy. Instead, with new, cheaper, desalination technology referenced above, the generating capacity could simply be applied to creating fresh water from sea water (“Sea of Cortez”), and pumping it to areas in the Imperial Valley. Both of these processes could simply be intermittent, dependent on supply from solar.

      • I’ve been looking into another possibility: the Salton Sea. With an area of around 890 Km^2, it has plenty of room for floating solar PV, assuming that its high salt content wouldn’t add too much to the cost of the panels or support structures. And it’s a ready source of salt water for desalination.

        But the Salton Sea is a mess, environmentally:

        The Salton Sea is the latest battle in the American water wars, and without drastic action, in a matter of years it will fall — and bring Southern California down with it.

        Now the Sea lies in watery limbo: far from the paradise it once was, but not yet in total collapse. Enormously expensive fixes are laughed out of Sacramento, which has enough problems keeping schools open. Countless solutions, both for full and partial restorations, still bounce around the Imperial Valley. Huge desalination plants along the Sea’s shorelines; two pipelines down to the Gulf of California to ferry bad water out and good water in; construction of berms to cut the Sea down to a more manageable size. Each has a dedicated league of supporters — and an even more dedicated league of opponents.

        Whatever the fix, it will require water, and the solution will mean dueling with San Diego and Los Angeles for every drop. It’s a battle for which the Salton Sea is woefully equipped.

        Odd, and disappointing to find Wired signing on to this type of negativity.

        But while looking around, I found something far more positive: The Great Mexicali Energy and Shipping Canal by Roger Arnold.

        The Salton sea presently covers an area of 974 km2, at an elevation of 70 meters below sea level. An inflow of sea water sufficient to raise the lake level by one meter could generate some 200 gigawatt-hours of electricity. That’s a gigawatt of continuous output for 8.3 days for each meter of lake surface rise — enough to supply the seasonal difference in daily average for over 10 gigawatts of peak solar power.

        He started out by criticizing a proposal in an article on the Potential for Seasonal Energy Storage

        After Harry’s article, I commented that “It would need a diameter of at least 100 feet (for a pipe or tunnel) to move enough water over that distance to generate 10 gigawatts”. That was the minimum scale I felt would be needed to justify such a megaproject. But even at that scale, the capital cost of such an enormous water tunnel would make the stored energy prohibitively expensive.

        But then he stepped back and looked at the bigger picture:

        The conclusion I reached, surprisingly, is that in fact it could be — if it’s done right.

        What does “done right” mean, and where was I wrong when I previously scoffed at the idea? It wasn’t in my “guestimate” of a 100 foot diameter for a water tunnel. That was actually a little optimistic. To carry sea water for 185 km. with sufficient flow and head to generate 10 gigawatts at the end, a tunnel would need to be more like 50 meters in diameter! Even if it were technically feasible to build such a gigantic water tunnel — which I rather doubt — the cost would be orders of magnitude too high to pay off. So how do I conclude that the project could be feasible?

        There are a number of considerations, but they start from the fact that the project does not require a tunnel! Instead, it would employ a large sea-level canal for 98% of the distance between the two bodies of water. The desert region above sea level that the canal would traverse consists almost entirely of young alluvial deposits from the Colorado River delta. The course is flat and barely 30 meters in elevation at its highest. Cutting a sea-level canal through that terrain would be a large but not otherwise challenging civil engineering project.

        Using an open canal rather than a buried tunnel changes the mode of operation for the pumped energy storage system in ways that make it more efficient. I’ll explain about that shortly. But more importantly, it enables the system to serve additional functions that enhance its economic and social value. In fact, energy storage might ultimately be among the least of its functions. The system would also serve for:

        •     large scale tidal power generation for northern Mexico;

        •     a major shipping canal for both international and regional traffic

        •     infrastructure for economic development in the Mexicali region and the Imperial Valley; and

        •     ecological enhancement of Salton Sea and lower Colorado River environs.

        Large-scale tidal power generation is enabled by the unusually large tidal swings at the northern end of the Gulf of California. The typical tidal variation at the Colorado River delta is around 7 meters, with two cycles daily.

        Overall, it’s a very well-thought-out article. While most of the canal would be at sea-level, it would be easy to build access to areas with substantially higher areas suitable for “turkey nest” dams, for balancing the daily requirements of solar power. And the surface of the Salton sea could probably be used for floating solar (assuming the salt problem is solved), which could reduce much or most of the cost of support structures.

        The magnitudes involved are at the same scale as California’s current power usage.

    • Craig Loehle

      The external costs of burning coal for example have largely been accounted for by the environmental regulations for both mining and burning the coal except for the exaggerated costs due to climate change. Compare the pollution in China with the US–that difference in air quality has a cost that consists of scrubbers on the stacks (etc) and which is folded into the cost of electricity.

    • Joseph,

      Do the calculations yourself. The cost is huge for even a small amount of renewables, and to replace fossil fuels or even 505 of them is impossible. One reason is they are not sustainable: http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/08/22/catch-22-of-energy-storage/

      • “sustainable”
        Which was the reason for all this hyperventilating in the first place.

      • Peter Lang –
        From your link:

        “Several recent analyses of the inputs to our energy systems indicate that, against expectations, energy storage cannot solve the problem of intermittency of wind or solar power. Not for reasons of technical performance, cost, or storage capacity, but for something more intractable: there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.”

        Somehow this reminds me of a person prior to the Industrial Revolution saying that large factories were impossible because there wouldn’t be enough room for the horses that would needed to provide the power.

  9. Pingback: Climate Change And The Precautionary Principle | Transterrestrial Musings

  10. “This is the key issue in the climate policy debate – is the ‘cure’ (i.e. CO2 emissions reduction and associated economic hardships) worse than the ‘disease’ (i.e. warmer temperatures)?”

    I agree with this wholeheartedly, and have said so on many occasions to my liberal friends. They genuinely do not understand mostly because they don’t want to understand, that measures sufficient to lower Co2 emissions meaningfully carry a cost, for some a devastating cost.

  11. Precautionary Principle is a pure political lever.

    We need to take (or stop) action in direction A because we have no idea what will happen either way but we chose to believe that doing so will be beneficial while not doing so will be harmful and we can produce any amount of material to support that idea.

    Used the same way for any of global scares that passed or are passing us so far, including but not limited to vaccination, aluminium pots, nuclear energy, CFCs, LHC, GMOs and Climate Change.

    The same Precautionary Principle can be used to support action towards A and action against A, it’s just about which side will be able to convince larger or more influential mass of population. And the means of convincing are usually irrelevant – aiming at herd emotions pays off much more than aiming at rational evaluation of scientific research.

    And I should have posted this video long ago:

    • “Precautionary Principle is a pure political lever.”

      Agree, It has always amazed me how large a scaffold can be erected around absolutely nothing. When I was younger I was intimidated and always thought there was something inside. Now that I’m old and contrary I know better.

      We have no idea what’s going to happen with climate. Our climate models tell us the story only of billions of non-independent non stochastic integration and modelling errors of size epsilon summed over (million/epsilon) time steps.

      Risk assessment build around climate studies are an empty scaffold (IMO).

      And agree with the video. Our collective brain since the internet has simply become a mob.

      • I do understand not everyone has the luxury of thinking this way and that politicians have to play the game…..

  12. Here is a little selected light reading (I hope all the references are still there):

    Sunstein, Cass R. Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (Review). 8th ed. Vol. 15. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/lpbr/subpages/reviews/sunstein805.htm

    ———. Sunstein, Cass R. Beyond The Precautionary Principle. Working Paper #38. Public Law and Legal Theory. University of Chicago, January 2003. http://www.law.uchicago.edu/files/files/38.crs_.precautionary.pl-lt.pdf

    ———. Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005

    Sunstein, Cass, and Timur Kuran. “Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation.” Research. Social Science Research Network, October 7, 2007. http://www.law.uchicago.edu/files/files/364.pdf

    Ravetz, Ph.D., Jerome. “The Post-Normal Science of Precaution.” Futures 36, no. 3 (2004): 347–57

    Wikipedia contributors. “Cass Sunstein.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, November 11, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cass_Sunstein&oldid=633369599

    Anonymous. “Paralyzing Precaution Principle.” Opinion. Paralyzing Precaution Principle, 2010. http://paralyzingprecautionprinciple.com/index.html

    Pooh. “Precautions_PostNormalScience_And_Cooling.pdf.” Pooh, March 29, 2012. http://solarcycle24com.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=gotopost&board=globalwarming&thread=1948&post=80698

    • I suggest that any problem for which we should undertake “Precautionary Solutions” should discuss the Consequences of the proposed “Precautionary Solutions”. Then we discuss “Precautionary Solutions” to the Consequences. (“Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.)

    • thanks for these links

      • Dear Dr. Curry,
        I can email you a bibliography of ~40 more items on the PP if you want them. Too many for this post.

    • Cass R. Sunstein, Samantha Powers’ husband and former head of Obama’s White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, promotes global wealth redistribution for climate change justice:
      http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-02-09/stopping-climate-change-will-mean-everyone-has-to-pay

      This is the guy who proposed in 2008 that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites that promote conspiracy theories—such as the theory that government is paying covert agents to infiltrate online groups.

      • I believe 2008-2009 was close to the time that Dr. Sunstein became “Climate Czar” for Obama. He eventually quit. (Don’t have time to find the exact dates.) No, I respect Dr. Sunstein for avoiding denigration and wild claims. For a liberal interested in government regulation, he was reasonably even-handed, esp. about PP.

      • You’re entitled to your opinion regarding my obligation to pay for global efforts to stop climate change , Pooh. But for those who don’t believe “everyone has to pay” to ditch fossil fuels, Sunstein appears no more “reasonably even-handed” than his military-interventionist wife.

        He does not seem to understand that the “great fleas” he thinks should be the sustenance for all the little fleas will eventually be sucked dry. Perhaps that’s because he thinks of himself as manager of the flea circus:

        “Once we know that people are human and there’s some Homer Simpson in them, then there’s a lot that can be done to manipulate them.”

  13. Sounds like Indhur Golkany’s take on PP is a bit more pragmatic!

      • Turbulent Eddie: as I mentioned earlier,
        here is a post on RF at the surface and why RF is probably 4.1 W/m^2

        If the change in the radiative balance at the tropopause is about 4 W/m^2, and the change in radiative balance at the surface is about 1 W/m^2, how much can the surface warm?

      • Ya – seems to imply a top down migration of energy when most of the energy cascade is upward.

        One more post to share soon.

      • Matthew,

        One last post which finally addresses the main point I wanted to share.

        It is How Radiative Forcing Decreases Static Stability.

        The gist is this.
        If you look at radiative forcing by height and consider the upper & lower troposphere:

        You find that the forcing for the upper troposphere is much less ( nearly zero ), while almost all of the the RF at the tropopause is realized by the lower troposphere:

        If you do the same thing for an atmosphere that’s warmed and humidified ( as the gcms model ), then not only is the relative relationship pertain, but the upper troposphere experiences a net loss. That is the upper troposphere becomes more radiative meaning greater exchange is more likely and that exchange makes earth more emissive:

        With that, I’ll end stalk mode.

      • Turbulent Eddie, as stalking goes, that is pretty good. From the second link:
        The Radiative Forcing from increased CO2 appears to reduce static stability of the troposphere which implies a greater convective transport of energy from lower troposphere to upper troposphere.

        The effect of warming and/or humidifying the troposphere appears to make the upper troposphere more effective at radiating energy to space.

        Have those results been published? They certainly put a constraint on how much surface warming can occur in response to a change in radiative forcing. Can you quantify the constraint?

      • Matthew,

        Really, all I’ve done is use a fixed atmosphere to look at the radiative differences, including the presumed large scale change. I haven’t seen any papers examine this, but there are many, of course, which examine the gcm outputs which calculate the radiative changes on a dynamic atmosphere.
        The dynamics are chaotic, though – do they also miss important transfers in some way?

        The failure of the hot spot and other features indicates failure somewhere in the convective transfers. Of course, there is a contradiction: increased convection means increased heating (and humidifying) of the upper troposphere. But increased heating and humidifying of the upper troposphere means increased radiative cooling of the upper troposphere, which in turn, means increased convection!

        The problems are likely that the area of most significant convection, the ITCZ, is very small, while the large air masses either side of the ITCZ are stable, and can accomodate a large reduction in static stability before actually becoming unstable. And most of the convection, even in the ITCZ is ‘conditionally unstable’, meaning it’s dependent on the general circulation.

        In any event, I believe, as you have written, that convective response is not being properly reflected in the gcms ( not a surprise given non-linearity and parameterization ) and that is the reason temperature trends are less than modeled.

      • Isn’t this a mechanism by which water vapour could be a negative feedback, not even needing the supercharging potential of clouds with albedo?
        ========

      • Isn’t this a mechanism by which water vapour could be a negative feedback, not even needing the supercharging potential of clouds with albedo?

        Sure seems that way, or more specifically
        water vapor imposes a surplus of net radiance in the lower troposphere and
        water vapor imposes a deficit of net radiance in the upper troposphere.
        And the implied convective exchange would appear to regulate the ultimate emission to space.

        Difficult to assess, but certainly a limit on positive feedback if not actually a net negative feedback.

      • Turbulent Eddie, I downloaded the papers cited in the links where you present your work. It looks to me like some older work and approaches are being neglected in favor of fascination with GCMs, and could fruitfully be cited, updated, and expanded.

  14. michael hart

    Certainly not a local problem. The UK Met Office promised us a Mediterranean climate. A government that could deliver that would get itself re-elected in a twinkling of the eye.

    • Michael

      I wrote this compilation of numerous examples of climate change over the last four hundred years

      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/11/01/a-short-anthology-of-changing-climate/

      So when Judith says changing climate she presumably means the latest manifestation, one of many. Remarkable? Scary? Concerning?

      Only if you believe computer models. The temperature has been generally rising for over 300 years. It did the same from around 850Ad. It was followed by a turbulent period of highly variable climate including severe cold. Let’s hope that is not our fate.

      As for the Met office, their reports prompted a series of govt funded seminars aimed at businesses to inform them how to adapt to our coming Mediterranean climate. That was especially relevant to nearby Torquay which likes to style itself as the English Riviera.

      The nearest we had to a Mediterranean climate Here was in the bronze age and MWP where nearby dartmoor has the ruins of buildings and farms at heights it would not be possible to farm today.

      Tonyb

  15. Hence skepticim about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies.

    Precautionary against what: catastrophic cooling? catastrophic warming? catastrophic kleptocracy? catastrophic neglect of flood control and irrigation infrastructure?

    In what way does he account for the fact that the models are running hot?

  16. So after CAGW we now have RAWG. LOL.
    Arrhenius and Callendar believed in BAGW (Beneficial Anthopogenic Global Warming).

  17. The roots of this are in the environmental viewpoints from the 1960s and 1970s where the environment is portrayed as a fragile perfection, where change is bad and always potentially catastrophic. A more modern reading of the environment would be as dynamic balance of competitive forces where change is a constant challenge. Environmental resilience – like recovery after forest fires, or recovery of corals – seems much stronger than people expect. More discussion of environmental resilience would be very welcome.

    • “A more modern reading of the environment would be as dynamic balance of competitive forces where change is a constant challenge.” Just like the rest of life, in fact. Nothing extraordinary here.

      • You’d think it is obvious, but much environmentalist thinking is rooted in ideas of fragile perfection. For instance the following from the seminal work Blueprint for Survival (Goldsmith and Allen) published in the Ecologist 1972:

        “There must be an optimum value to to every variable in term of which the [eco] system is described. When each variable has its correct value, then the system described can be regarded as having its correct structure. This means that there is no value that can be increases or reduced indefinitely without bringing about the system’s eventual breakdown.”

        This is a common perspective from 1970s environmental movements and still seems to be deeply embedded in current environmentalist perspectives – hence the PP. It may even exist at the root of the split between AGW and skeptic viewpoints.

      • Goldsmith also wrote ‘5000 days to save the planet’. That was in 1990

        http://www.theecologist.info/page38.html

        Since then we have had numerous doomsayers from Lovelock to our own ex Prime Minister Gordon Brown all proclaiming we have days months or a few years to save the planet.

        Perhaps Sam D is correct in his analysis and the environmentalists are correct that if it wasn’t for those pesky 7 Billion Humans the world would be perfect. Anything less than the conditions of the Garden of Eden is perhaps considered to be undesirable .

        However, the world still keeps on turning and Natures Armageddon refuses to follow the environmentalists script.

        tonyb

      • The price of residence in the Garden of Eden was willful ignorance. I don’t think those who’ve “got to find a way back” would be happy there.

      • It is as if the rivers were still on fire. No recognition of the progress that has been made in the last 45 years. The same tedious enemies.

  18. The more uncertain or skeptical one is of “scientific” models and projections, the higher the risk of ruin, which flies in the face of the argument of the style “skeptical of climate models”. Hence skepticim about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies.

    So, the more likely it is that they don’t know what they are talking, the more we should take their advice. This is totally wrong. A proper response to this would put me in moderation.

  19. Very apt to see Ehrlich – how long can one be so wrong? And still scare up ‘believers’?

    Population Bomb? It sure looks like capitalism and economic development are the cure.

    Resource scarcity? Didn’t that losing wager teach anyone? Yep – capitalism.

    Then the shift to global warming as a scare. But guess what?
    Economically developed nations are the ones decreasing CO2:

    Wonderful irony that Ehrlich and his ilk would actually worsen the problems they claim to worry about.

    As for climate change, the path of development, with lesser developed nations rapidly using and following use and technology from the developed world, it appears to take us to a peak in CO2 emissions this century.

    Also, with the perspective that for the next 100,000 years the land dominated Northern Hemisphere will receive most of the solar radiation, the present warming is more or less irrelevant.

    Time to rent a clue.

  20. Craig Loehle

    A proper analysis would apply the PP to the remedy of the perceived risk, not just to the risk. It is common to pretend that solutions to environmental problems have no cost. In the recent EPA proposed power plant rules, the costs were largely ignored, but sharply limiting coal burning could have huge costs and even derail the economy. This question is before the Supreme Court right now. Britain is facing the threat of blackouts as old power plants are closed due to EU directive. Other classic PP cases are the stonewalling of golden rice and the DDT bans. Green groups even discourage people in Africa from GMOs and from getting vaccinated.
    The already existing policy of US gov and World Bank to discourage investments in traditional power plants in Africa (among others) due to climate change is not free but imposes costs on people we don’t see who can’t command editorial space in our newspapers. If I lived in Africa and knew the reason I could not have electricity was because of greenpeace I’d be pretty pissed.

    • The already existing policy of US gov and World Bank to discourage investments in traditional power plants in Africa (among others) due to climate change is not free but imposes costs on people we don’t see who can’t command editorial space in our newspapers. If I lived in Africa and knew the reason I could not have electricity was because of greenpeace I’d be pretty pissed.

      The cruel irony being Africa is the last undeveloped continent meaning it has the most poverty, least efficiency, highest birth rate, and greatest CO2 emissions per GDP. Some with obese craniums can’t seem to conceive that economic development with fossil fuels is the best way to become economically developed and use less fossil fuel.

      And also have stable population, education, reduced infant mortality, reduced human suffering and increased quality of life.

  21. I say to the CAGW crowd show me the data that supports your theory either through a change in atmospheric processes as called for by your theory or the data itself showing how this period of change in the climate is something that has never ever happened before and to this degree in such a short period of time.

    The answer is you have nothing you can show to support your theory. Not one single atmospheric process and not one single piece of data.

    Until that changes all AGW theory is , is talk with nothing to back it up with.

  22. It would seem that a rational analysis along PP lines would require solid knowledge in at least these areas:

    Potential climate change:
    Natural variations expected within time scales and probabilities assigned
    Man-made drivers and the deltas associated with each and likely combinations, with time-scales and probabilities assigned

    The impacts brought upon by changes in climate and the associated costs:
    Delta in damages due to storms, heat, sea-level rise, etc
    Positive effects of increased warmth, humidity, and CO2 on people and food production

    An understanding of the various schemes for avoiding or accommodating to man-caused change:
    The costs of and effects of applying known technologies for generating power with reduced CO2 output
    The costs of and effects of applying known technologies for reducing the need for human-generated power.
    The costs of and effects of using known technologies to sequester CO2 directly or indirectly
    The costs of and effects of using known technologies to alter coastal developments if sea-levels change in ways not associated with natural climate variation
    The probability that experience or new technologies will enable improvements in the above 4 areas, and some way to quantify the probabilities and improvements.
    The probability of discovering new disruptive technologies, such as variations in nuclear power or LENR.

    I have seen a few recent studies which suggest that folks who have concerns about our knowledge in the first two general areas (improperly labeled skeptics) are at least as educated in climate and physical sciences as those who believe that science has a good understanding of those issues.

    As a person with an engineering background, I see huge costs and risks in trying to avoid atmospheric CO2.. It is my sense that those with engineering backgrounds tend to see those risks and costs as more daunting than would the general population. I would be curious to see some data which relates education and avocation to concerns about the cost of PP.

    • Sci guy 54, I’m an engineer and I don’t see a viable pathway to carry out a switch. To be honest, I’m more focused on a potential energy crisis caused by oil and natural gas shortages.

      I realize it sounds a bit odd at the current time, but I just can’t see where the heck we can find all those fossil fuels we see in the cognoscenti’s “business as usual” case.

      I also think unilateral cuts are a bit futile if the climate sensitivity is as high as some claim. I just saw Mexico’s goal submission to the UN, their goal is to barely increase emissions by 2030. If all third world nations plan to keep on growing or barely hold steady then their emissions will blow a huge hole in the “carbon budget”.

    • There is no “probability” of finding LENR energy.
      It is happening.

      Tohoku universitu, afeter Missouri University and TTU jump in public.
      http://www.lenr-forum.com/forum/index.php/Thread/1260-LENR-at-Tohoku-University-by-Yasuhiro-Iwamura/
      ICCF got the hig patronage of the office of italian priminister…

      Indian Academy of science through Current Science peer reviewed journal (real peer review, where nuclear physicist get first very negative, then skeptical, then intrigued, then supporter)
      http://www.currentscience.ac.in/php/feat.php?feature=Special%20Section:%20Low%20Energy%20Nuclear%20Reactions&featid=10094

      of course like on climate or ID there is a gang of oligarch who try to keep the myth alive…

      The good thing with LENR is that we can make machine that prove it real.
      when you could build a machine that work with non-anthropogenic-climate-change , people will embrace that… I’m sorry Ms Curry, climate will stay pseudoscience forever as no engineer can make a machine that exploit it.

      • Andrew Russell

        LENR? AKA “cold fusion”. And Mizzu is involved? What a condrum, considering the famous saying, “I’m from Missouri. Show me!”

        When cold fusion products are commercially available, I will believe it. Not before then. (I was born in Missouri)

  23. Since Taleb actually has written

    • Skepticism about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies in the presence of ruin. It is incoherent to doubt the mean while reducing the variance.

    This post appears to have missed his point

    In thin-tailed domains, an increase in uncertainty changes the probability of ruin by several orders of magnitude, but the effect remains small: from say 10−40 to 10−30 is not quite worrisome. In fat-tailed domains, the effect is sizeable as we start with a substantially higher probability of ruin (which is typically underestimated).

    Typical of luckwarmers.

    • Craig Loehle

      This is incoherent, Eli. This is saying that the worse the model is, the more we should radically alter our whole economy. Is that what you would do? This is the same logic as saying if there is any chance at all that vaccines cause autism, we should put up with polio, measles, pertussis…a case where the cure is surely worse than the disease. I am a big fan of Taleb’s writing, but I think he’s got it wrong here.

      • You put your finger on the Taleb’s problem. He assumes the possible existence of a single black swan. It doesn’t take a genius to see that in any random walk with a single “ruin condition”, that is where you are going to end up.

        What if we extend his model to make it more accurately reflect the real world ? Instead of a black swan, there is a whole flock of them roosting all over the solution space. Many cures are far worse than the disease. Maybe we avoid the inconvenience of climate change effects and instead get the horrors of authoritarianism, economic collapse or bloody revolution. You have avoided one “ruin” condition only to fall prey to another and likely far worse “ruin condition”. Knowing history, I know where my priors are and what I fear.

      • No, he assumes there are black swans who are black cats (unlike the luck warmers Taleb is a bit of a pessimist and assumes there are more bad surprises than good ones.)

      • Craig, it would be good if you paid a visit to reality. First, the risk from vaccinations was well characterized so there was no debate as to the percentage of bad outcomes, they were very small compared to the number of deaths avoided, so, unlike climate change, the risks for anyone being vaccinated were exceptionally small.

        Second it was recognized that a small number of people would be seriously adversely affected and a no fault compensations mechanism was set up to recompense them, aka the vaccine court

        Third, whether you have figured it out or not we have radically restructured our economy in the last 15 years. It’s called the INTERNET.

      • > This is saying that the worse the model is, the more we should radically alter our whole economy.

        Where? All it says that the less you think what you know is certain, the more precaution you make. Anyone who has ever driven a car in a snowstorm should get what Taleb says immediately. Which may prove that Canadian economists don’t drive cars during winter:

        The main idea of The Black Swan was understood by :

        100% of Firemen
        99.9% of skin-in-the-game risk-takers and businesspersons
        85% of common readers
        80% of hard scientists (except some complexity artists)
        65% of psychologists (except Harvard psychologists)
        60% of traders
        25% of U.K. journalists
        15% of money managers who manage money of others
        1.5% of “Risk professionals”
        1% of U.S. journalists

        and

        0% of economists (or perhaps, to be fair, .5%)

        https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8nhAlfIk3QIUUthSzJqUnRPbDg/edit

        Conflating uncertainty with ignorance is seldom a good idea.

      • Given the central failures of GCMs on the low side, it appears far more likely the the tail event we’ll see is the low one.

      • Whodda thunk that the dark prince was a luck warmer?

      • He assumes the system is made more fragile when opposite is more likely true.

    • Looks to me like we need to research geoengineering to have a fast solution if you are right. I don’t see the Chinese, the Indians, or just about anybody else in the third world stopping their emissions. And I don’t think a 28 month delay in reaching a given temperature will make any difference.

      • I don’t see the Chinese, the Indians, or just about anybody else in the third world stopping their emissions.

        Not stopping, of course, but I have no doubt Chinese are going to have decreasing emissions very soon. It’s baked into the cake with both demographics as well as continued efficiency.

        India probably will have increasing emissions for a while, because they have both a growing population and a high economic potential. At least for India, while they will have increased transportation and air conditioning energy demands, their low latitude means they won’t use as much for heating and lighting.

        After a generation, India too will begin declining CO2 emissions.

      • After a generation? This means the proposals to take urgent action are meaningless. I got the feeling you guys are wearing blinkers and never bother to check what happens with this or that proposal. The arm waving and the dream states are starting to get a bit tiresome. And the 21st century doesn’t have any business as usual.

      • Here’s Exxon’s take:

        To be sure, they credit OECD carbon dioxide restrictions but efficiency, natural gas and aging are what have led the slowdowns to date.

        Declining emissions but increasing removal rate mean significant slowdown in forcing ahead.

      • Fernando, heard the same nonsense about how the Indians and Chinese were going to break the Montreal Protocols. It was about as true then as your nonsense now.

      • Eddie: so ExxonMobil”s prediction is that emissions will be a lot higher in 2040. Since you didn’t provide the source I can’t critique their graph. I can however suggest you try to estimate the atmospheric concentration which results from the EM forecast, then use your wits to estimate the temperature anomaly around say 2075. I prepared my estimate, estimated the anomaly, and concluded all this bitching and clenching your jaws leads to a 0.5 degree C difference 100 years from now, and I used the “establishment” sensitivity.

        The message to you, Eli, and the other members of the climate wonkocracy is to have a spreadsheet handy, load the emissions, estimate the concentrations, and then estimate the temperatures. I do it, it’s not that hard. And when you do it, make sure you don’t assume an endless supply of fossil fuels, nor a world economy able to pay the prices they will fetch when the supply runs short.

        And if you don’t think its about to start running short ask yourselves what are Shell and Exxon doing in the Arctic. The Chuckchi and Kara seas will remain remote and ice infested in winter, and that oil is going to cost a bundle. And if those two large sharks think the price will justify those projects it means they see what I see: we are about to run out of enough oil to keep you guys warm and wearing polyester suits.

      • Fernando:

        Here is Exxon’s 2015 Energy Outlook

        Falling CO2 emissions coming to a planet near you.

      • Turbulent, I read exxons outlook. They provide no detail or logic to justify their figures. I believe we are running out of oils and gas. Exxon doesn’t say much that’s auditable in their public access publications. My estimates show there’s no way we can ever reach the so called business as usual case (the rcp8.5).

        But my suggestion stands. You got a pretty fancy spreadsheet (I read your blog), why don’t you try writing a paper with your guess at the temperatures using exxon’s emissions curve? Or try using BPs reserves annual book?

    • No doubt, the models are wrong, on the high side :

      MODEL: IPCC5 (RCP8.5): 4.2C/century
      MODEL: IPCC4 Warming High: 4.0C/century
      MODEL: Hansen A: 3.2C/century ( since 1979 )
      MODEL: Hansen B: 2.8C/century ( since 1979 )
      MODEL: IPCC4 next few decades: 2.0C/century
      MODEL: Hansen C: 1.9C/century ( since 1979 )
      MODEL: IPCC4 Warming Low: 1.8C/century
      ———————————————————————
      Observed: NASA GISS: ~1.6C/century ( since 1979 )
      Observed: NCDC: ~1.5C/century ( since 1979 )
      Observed: UAH MSU LT: ~1.4C/century (since 1979 )
      Observed: RSS MSU LT: ~1.3C/century (since 1979 )
      Observed: RATPAC 850 millibars: ~1.3C/century
      Observed: RATPAC 500 millibars: ~1.2C/century
      MODEL: IPCC5 (RCP2.6): 1.0C/century
      Observed: RATPAC 300 millibars: ~1.0C/century
      Observed: RSS MSU MT: ~0.8C/century (since 1979 )
      Observed: UAH MSU MT: ~0.5C/century (since 1979 )

      I can point to reasons why trends should even be declining:
      decelerated forcing rates and decelerating CO2 emissions.
      No reason to believe in increasing rates.

      Perhaps the greatest tail risk should be embarrassment of modelers.

    • David Wojick

      People do not reason probabilistically so this is all beside the point. Reasoning predates probability math by eons. In human reasoning there is a threshold of risk,such that anything that is sufficiently unlikely is simply not acted upon. This is necessary because there are innumerable unlikely risks, far too many for acton.

      If someone said they could not stand up lest they fall down we would correctly judge them to be nuts. For skeptics, ruin or climate catastrophe falls into this category of ignorable risk.

      • That’s right, David. I spent a lot of time in the risk business, and I was taught not to play if the big win probabilities were too low to quantify properly, or if the people making the risk estimate had a poor track record. In this case playing involves plunking dozens of trillion dollars to get an extremely low probability win. I’m afraid mr Taleb has the game setting bassackwards.

      • “People do not reason probabilistically”

        Yes they do – all the time. Brains judge the chances of success/failure from their networks of neurons so that around about 2/3 of the time people are perfectly safe driving their cars, crossing the road, climbing the hill, swimming in the sea, etc.

    • Craig Loehle

      Eli: let me be more clear. There is an epidemic of autism. Someone claims their model is that it is caused by vaccines. By Taleb’s logic (and yours) the more uncertain we are about this tail the more action we should take.
      Let’s take another example. People go blind and die from vitamin A deficiency. Golden rice already exists (unlike the imaginary carbon-free energy or efficient batteries) but the claim of a possible harm is keeping it out of the hands (and mouths) of real people, today, not 100 years from now. This is the PP.
      In the climate arena, I have concluded that the models of alarm are grossly mistaken. Why should I take any action?

      • > Why should I take any action?

        Mr. T is too big not to.

      • John Carpenter

        “Mr. T is too big not to.”

        Actually Mr. T is not so big at 5′ 10″ … maybe 11″ with the mohawk. He is really just kinda average. This nick is suboptimal for what you want it to do for you, IMO.

      • I don’t believe average ClimateBall players can knock Rocky Balboa, John. Mr. T did. You don’t beat Mr. T by doing nothing.

        Mr. T is not that ignorant.

      • Craig, you really need better analogies. Some squeegee guy claims something or other and the nut freedom act means you have to agree with him? As to golden rice, you really should blame Patrick Moore and Bjorn Lomborg who were big shots in Greenpeace, why without them Golden Rice would be used everywhere.

        Wanna try again?

      • Compelling examples. I wonder what the fat-tailers would do if they actually had to snatch that bowl of golden rice from a chid’s hands.

      • Give them a Vitamin A pill for example? Just to be clear Eli has nothing against Golden Rice, it’s a fine idea sort of like nuclear fusion power but there are difficulties with implementation. You not only need rice with a lot of vitamin A, but the rice has to taste like what locals are used to farming and eating and have the same amount of other nutrients. As Eli said, there are issues

        Which means, pretty much, if there is an environmental advantage to any GMO, it is going to spread into the wild in about the time needed to grow up for college. So if we want to introduce something new, it had damn well better be something we want our grandbunnies to live with. Not saying that there are not such things (maybe Golden Rice, for example), but we better be prepared and ready for the spread.

    • I’m sure people get sick of this, but evidently the harebrained need repetition:

      MODEL: IPCC5 (RCP8.5): 4.2C/century
      MODEL: IPCC4 Warming High: 4.0C/century
      MODEL: Hansen A: 3.2C/century ( since 1979 )
      MODEL: Hansen B: 2.8C/century ( since 1979 )
      MODEL: IPCC4 next few decades: 2.0C/century
      MODEL: Hansen C: 1.9C/century ( since 1979 )
      MODEL: IPCC4 Warming Low: 1.8C/century
      ———————————————————————
      Observed: NASA GISS: ~1.6C/century ( since 1979 )
      Observed: NCDC: ~1.5C/century ( since 1979 )
      Observed: UAH MSU LT: ~1.4C/century (since 1979 )
      Observed: RSS MSU LT: ~1.3C/century (since 1979 )
      Observed: RATPAC 850 millibars: ~1.3C/century
      Observed: RATPAC 500 millibars: ~1.2C/century
      MODEL: IPCC5 (RCP2.6): 1.0C/century
      Observed: RATPAC 300 millibars: ~1.0C/century
      Observed: RSS MSU MT: ~0.8C/century (since 1979 )
      Observed: UAH MSU MT: ~0.5C/century (since 1979 )

      • Hi Eddie. By your numbers, the GISS trend is running at 80% of the model mean. If models are inherently over-estimating warming by 25% this would lower the median equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) estimate from +3.0C to +2.4C. OTOH, if models are under-estimating the amount of radiation imbalance being sunk into the deep ocean (for example), then ECS may be essentially unchanged. Neither scenario is cause for cheer.

      • Well, if heat is actually being lost in the deep ocean, it will emerge very slowly, in accordance with the millenial scale deep ocean circulation, so it is effectively negligible.

        There is good reason to believe it is not being lost to the deep ocean, however.
        The reason is that the average temperature of the ocean is much lower than the average temperature of the surface atmosphere. If mixing really was taking place, wouldn’t the eons of mixing achieve comparable temperature?
        But the oceans are colder because the ocean more readily collects cold water ( because it sinks ) and doesn’t collect warm waters ( because they float ):

        There has been a lot of false exaggeration about impacts, even with more moderate warming. The low rates compound the falsity of those exaggerations.

      • Two issues. Many posters (Dr Curry included) make the point that “if heat is actually being lost in the deep ocean, it will emerge very slowly”. Agreed, but this sidesteps a critical issue. Under this scenario, the radiation imbalance remains and crucially, will deliver its energy load to the surface going forward. The respite to surface temperature increase would only continue if the postulated excess-deep-heat-burial-process is a permanent feature of the system. This is the point where my internal uncertainty monster goes into overdrive. If we are unsure of the mechanism, how could we know if it will continue indefinitely?

        To your other point – you are skeptical that any such deep heat burial mechanism is present in the first place. Fair enough. Both of us would well heed the wide waste of space between plausibility and reality. But even should your view prevail, this still leaves a central ECS estimate of 2.4C – once again, to my eyes, no cause for comfort at all.

  24. ‘ruin’ – just more word games.

    Next post, please.

    Andrew

  25. Since the slack term “climate change” can mean whatever you like, I guess the rest of the argument can consist of…whatever you like! Climate is nothing but change, so whistle Dixie or shovel statistics…it doesn’t matter.

    Amazing, after all the bile-tinged water that’s gone under the bridge for two solid decades, still no precise term for whatever it is we are supposed to “tackle”. Now, how could that be? It’s like people just want a climate industry, old guard, new guard, hot or lukewarm. Pick a side, niggle the other side…but don’t cruel the game itself.

    Incidentally, if I move to the tropics and find my roof isn’t pinned I won’t read a treatise on risk. I’ll pin the roof.

    • A great many people prefer to continue waging metaphorical war than actually resolve it. It gives them something to believe in, something that allows them to believe their lives are useful, not empty. Ive had first-hand experience of this when my local Council threatened to close down the local swimming pool

      This is one underlying reason that the Green Blob has grown so incredibly large so fast. How many small groups have formed in order to “raise awareness” ? [Note that none of the individuals in these groups actually disconnect themselves from the power grids, or stop flying to awareness meetings, or …]

      • Note how the gross assumption – referred to more or less interchangeably in the one paragraph as global warming, climate change and AGW – is allowed through. Only then do we get all the analysis. Skeps are invited to discuss the nuances of something they might otherwise reject. (It’s still just a “something” because, after decades, nobody wants to give it a clear name and definition.)

      • It’s the perfect liberal cause. Anything can be blamed on it and calls for any action du jour can be made and sold by a compliant msm, the green mobblob, gollywood,etc.

  26. Very apropos topic as no one has ever been killed by an average global temperature of 15°C, which is a made-up number.

    • Are you sure you know today’s average surface temperature? I understand the climate models are initialized with very wide ranging values? This tells me the actual temperature at any point in time is a bit of an unknown.

      • Apparently, NASA knows.

      • Yeah, I supppose NASA knows. Which makes me wonder why the climate models don’t match the “actual” temperatures. Those are non isothermal models, have to account for water vapor, precipitation, clouds, and yet the temperatures dont match the data? What gives?

      • @ Wagathon

        “Apparently, NASA knows.”

        And HAS known, with great precision, since 1880.

        Otherwise, what was the statistical justification for the recent headlines announcing that 2014 was the warmest year ever, with records going back to 1880, and had ‘shattered’ the previous record —–by a few hundredths of a degree?

      • I wonder if NASA also predicted the fates of Challenger and Columbia. Wasn’t that supposed to be in their wheelhouse. Sorry about the baseball analogy, but I am an American and it is springtime.

      • Bob, I suppose NASA knows. But I do wonder why the models have such variable average initial temperature conditions.

      • @ Fernando Leanme

        “Bob, I suppose NASA knows. But I do wonder why the models have such variable average initial temperature conditions.”

        My actual point was that anyone, in particular, any scientist, who claims that they can list the years since 1880 in rank order of ‘Annual Temperature of the Earth’, with a precision that would statistically justify declaring one of them, ANY one of them, as the ‘warmest’ by a few hundredths of a degree is lying through their teeth. They are not mistaken. They know and any honest scientist knows that we do not have nor have we EVER had a worldwide temperature data collection system with sufficient accuracy and precision to justify publishing the ‘Annual Temperature of the Earth’ with hundredths of a degree resolution. A scientist of any stripe who declares with a straight face that they know the annual temperature of the earth for each year since 1880 with hundredths of a degree precision and can place them in rank order……is lying.

      • I’d rephrase from “known to hundredths of a degree” to any degree. The reality is that we don’t have anything beyond a rough estimate of the global average temperature.

  27. John Vonderlin

    Dr. Curry,
    This sentence of yours is an expression for one of the concepts I most like to ruminate about: The Law of Unintended Consequences: “These unintended consequences may generate new vulnerabilities or strengthen the harm one is hoping to diminish.” To bring it out of the realm of the theoretical, I’d like to rip it from the headlines, so to speak, by mentioning that there are 150 human beings pulverized in the Alps that sadly illustrate the importance of this issue.
    After 9/11, in response to a danger, hijackers entering the cabin and crashing the plane, the cabin was turned into a fortress. A fortress that apparently allowed a co-pilot to lock out the pilot and take 149 innocents on his demented suicide run. Perhaps, he could have accomplished his evil goal without these precautions, but they certainly made it a lot easier and surer.
    Now the response of having a flight attendant enter the cabin when one of the pilots leaves is offered as a solution. When a suicidal flight attendant (probably less psychologically stable on average than pilots) disables the only remaining pilot, (caustic in eyes?) locks the door and uses the skills they picked up off the Internet to crash the plane, we’ll go looking for another solution. And another. And another.
    I may be overly optimistic, but I thought the passengers’ actions with Flight 93 solved the problem to a great extent. Lulled into inaction by numerous previous hijacked flights to Havana, everybody was told to relax if hijacked. “You’ll have a great story to tell the grandkids.” With 9/11 seared into our consciousness it’s now “Let it roll.” Most of us would rather die fighting on our feet, than whimpering in our seats, box cutters or not. Who knows maybe facial razor scars will become sexy, showing the Law of Unintended Consequences cuts both ways.

    • … just by trying to reduce burning fossil fuels–doesn’t mean you’ve got rid of the risk. Merely means you are taking different kinds of risk. They could be worse. It could very well be that the welfare of the planet would be damaged by reducing carbon dioxide. We just don’t know. ~Freeman Dyson

    • JV

      You got that right bro … those unintended consequences. I don’t know about other people, but when I fly I do look around me to see who’s who. If someone starts misbehaving the problem will be trying to peel all the other passengers off of him.

    • I agree – Flight 93 was the end of “airliner as weapon” in the West (I say “West” because of possible cultural differences in other places).

      A pack, not a herd.

    • “When a suicidal flight attendant (probably less psychologically stable on average than pilots)….”

      This would have been a good time for anonymity in commenting.

      I would advise against taking any trips involving air travel in the near future, if there is the slightest chance that the stewards and stewardesses of the airline you choose are interested in the climate debate.

    • And the problem was not the door. It was the psychologically unfit co-pilot behind it. The family members of the passengers may own Lufthansa before it is over.

  28. risk management versus PP to avoid possible catastrophe or ruin.

    I could leave the house and play golf today.
    risk of meteorite hitting me at home [stationary target] v 5 K trip to GC.
    Risk of being struck by lightning*, golf ball [low] or car accident [very windy road, trees close to road and a poorly used train line. etc.

    Black Swan events occur. A close friend was out riding a pushbike with friends, flat tire to change, well off road, near a bend, 20 cars an hour, clear visibility, yellow top, middle of day.
    A car missed the bend and took her out instantly, missing her 3 companions.
    I still regret a decision not to go riding that day, as if it might have made a difference.

    People have a right to make their own decisions, fear and greed are major drivers and we run in herds.
    AGW fear mongers are also fearful lest we forget. It is hard to watch people make decisions on fear rather than logic but it is understandable. Fright and flight only lasts so long and when the sky does not fall logic returns. Perhaps not in our lifetime.

    * have been struck by lightning x1 on a golf course but not by a golf ball

    • Other than a meteor strike, “black swan” events may unfold over hundred’s of years and in any event there may be nothing to be done but live or die –e.g.,

      Megadroughts lasting a century or two are known to have occurred in what is now California over the last 3,500 years. Droughts of similar severity have also been implicated in the downfall of the empire of the Maya in Central America a millennium ago; the Akkadian empire (the world’s first) in Mesopotamia 4,200 years ago (that drought lasted 300 years) and several pre-Inca cultures in South America. ~William. Stevens, “Persistent and Severe, Drought Strikes Again,” NYT, April 25, 2000

      • Nassim Taleb obviously disagrees. He appears to hate Krugman. He appears to like Hayek. He appears to be a libertarian. He obviously is not driven by models as he despises them. He clearly completely disagrees with you. Because he can do math, and most can’t. “Most likely yes” means your answer on a systemic threat to the globe is more than zero, which means a rational person does not make that bet – according Taleb. If you F up, he’ll write another best seller.

      • … let’s not be suckers. The problem is much more complicated than it seems to the casual, mechanistic user who picked it up in graduate school. Statistics can fool you. In fact it is fooling your government right now. ~Nassim Taleb

    • Is the probability that global warming will be devastating in its global consequence so low, so vanishingly small, that it can safely be ignored?

      Now put you agenda hat on and say no so we can move on.

      • What devastation do you have in mind?

      • Is the probability that global warming will be devastating in its global consequence so low, so vanishingly small, that it can safely be ignored?

        Probably. But what time-frame? Are you talking about 2 meters of sea-level rise by 2100? That’s barely a threat. Just a spur to adaptation.

      • The global devastation that is possible. If you can quantify the odds of it, let’s see the numbers.

      • What global devastation? What scenarios are you talking about?

      • We know that temperature rise isn’t decastaing because it has happened so frequentlty in our evolutionary past.

        We know that humans are adaptable to a wide range of climates because most of our evolution took place in a tropical climate (Africa) but when we ( homo habilis through homo sapiens ) got the chance to spread out to all the continents, we did.

        And we know that at the time of the ‘cradle of civilization’ earth’s climate ( as modeled by temperature variation ) was more extreme, but not necessarily significant to life forms:

        Summer 6,000 years ago compared to today ( lower left ):

        Winter 6,000 years ago compared to today ( lower left ):

      • So you are saying the possibility of global ruin in a complex, chaotic, non-linear dynamic climate system is zero.

        My gawd you guys are smart.

      • JCH you are starting to play the man and not the ball. We “smart” guys are just resting our case on the climate trend over the past 10,000 years. What alarmists seem to be saying is that the trend over the past 200 years will end up as the ruin of our planet to match Venus, notwithstanding significant differences between the two planets waterwise. The clue JCH, is water and water vapour and clouds and condensation and precipitation. They all contribute to the ultimate feedback mechanisms that have kept climate trending between remarkably stable bounds for ever so long now. The climate models are woefully inadequate in this area.

      • So you are saying the possibility of global ruin in a complex, chaotic, non-linear dynamic climate system is zero.

        Fortunately, global average temperature isn’t a term in any of the equations of motion of the atmosphere.

      • No hat, but the answer to your question JCH is “Yes, most likely.”

    • angech2014

      I’m sorry about your friend – that is a shocking loss.

      It is amazing the big bet we make everyday that the person coming the other way with a closing speed of 90 mph won’t cross the yellow line. Sometimes they do…

  29. Can a more complete understanding of the PreCautionary Principle be achieved by looking at it in reverse?

    Let us say that a perfect solution – complete harmony with nature, or huge personal wealth that guarantees individual actualization and security – lies in the “fat tail”. In the reverse PP, should we be risking all of today’s resources to attain this end?

    The PreCautionary Principle should have a positive corollary. We avoid one side while we seek to attain the other. Both have outcomes of “known” qualities that come with poorly defined probabilities and costs, i.e. risks.

  30. On the basis of Paul Ehrlich’s horrible record for doom-
    saying you’d hafta’ give him a miss. And Philiip Tetlock’s
    study of prediction records of ‘experts,’ is a timely reminder
    re risk management where risks are uncertain and action
    costly $$$$$$$, thereby weakening economies and making
    them less adaptable to black swans. Fergit ‘climate change’
    it’s what nature does, call it what you mean, ‘global warming,’
    plants love it … ‘ summer time and the livin’ is easy.’

    Seems Nassim Taleb reference to climate and models is
    out of kilter with his arguments in ‘The Black Swan’ and
    ‘Antifragile’ eg Ch 10 of AF on naive intervention and on
    iatrogenics, ‘ first do no harm’ which he advocates not just
    in medicine but in political science , economics and other
    domains as well.. Ref p 113 -115.

    • ‘Should global warming be considered a ‘ruin ‘ problem?
      Paul Ehrlich says ‘Yes.’

      … To a hammer everything looks like a hammer. To a
      doomsayer everything looks like the full catastrophe.

    • I’m betting Paul Erlich is not going to become a commodities trader.

      Of course, the supply of hubris is infinite.

    • Serfs and blue-collar wonderers have to wonder about Mr. Taleb. Why did he try to push that libertarian boulder up Mt. Election? Was he unable to see that fat-tail risk of an Obama win? Now the boulder is at the bottom of the mountain again. Could we end up with the greatest commodity traitor of all time as the global cop? What will happen to all the emails? Even brilliant humans are still just, uh, human.

    • Here’s an old proverb for skeptics:

      “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”

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

    there used to be squadrons of B52s aloft 24/7 365 filled with nukes ready to turn toward the USSR at a moments notice
    20 minutes from the end of the world
    now that’s what I call ‘ruin’
    swear to Gaia, folk don’t know when they got it good

  32. Excellent contribution to the debate, Judith, I hope you get to talk to Taleb. Faustino

  33. This is about translating commonplaces and familiar saws into academic language to make it seem like something deep is being said or something is being analysed. Nothing got said or analysed, just a lot of obvious stuff got recast into awful academese. And we will be left with the same problems we had before, with some intellectual paralysis added as we scratch our heads fussing over the taxonomy of a particular problem.

    “Robustly”…brrrr.

  34. > This clarifies the conflict between [the position according to which we] don’t see danger (in favor of risk management), versus [the position according to which] the PP to avoid possible catastrophe or ruin (as inferred from climate model simulations)

    Mr. T seems to have changed position out of sudden.

    • Climate model simulations are jest that, s-i-m-u-l-at-i-o-n-s

      • > s-i-m-u-l-at-i-o-n-s

        One way to justify a true belief is to produce a simulation of it, perhaps just like the Denizens’ inner serf:

        A ‘simulation’ theory of cognitive function can be based on three assumptions about brain function. First, behaviour can be simulated by activating motor structures, as during an overt action but suppressing its execution. Second, perception can be simulated by internal activation of sensory cortex, as during normal perception of external stimuli. Third, both overt and covert actions can elicit perceptual simulation of their normal consequences. A large body of evidence supports these assumptions. It is argued that the simulation approach can explain the relations between motor, sensory and cognitive functions and the appearance of an inner world.

        http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/u/ahyvarin/teaching/niseminar4/Hesslow_Simulation.pdf

        ***

        Sometimes, artificial simulations can beat natural ones:

        On July 15, 1979, a backgammon computer program beat the World Backgammon Champion in a match to 7 points. This is the first time a world champion in a recognized intellectual activity has been defeated by a man-made entity. This paper examines the scientific issues involved in constructing the program, an analysis of its performance, and the scientific significance of the win. We also present our SNAC method of constructing evaluation functions.

        http://www.bkgm.com/articles/Berliner/BackgammonProgramBeatsWorldChamp/

        ***

        Some may even argue that the world itself is a simulation:

        This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

        http://www.simulation-argument.com/

    • […] possible catastrophe or ruin (as inferred from climate model simulations)

      AFAIK the “climate model simulations” don’t offer anything supporting the inference of “possible catastrophe or ruin”. Nothing more than challenging situations, with plenty of time to meet the challenge.

      In fact, if it wasn’t for my own understanding of complexity theory, as applied to such things as climate, I would be against any action on fossil carbon. As it is, I’m all in favor of any policy that doesn’t have too high a cost.*

      Such as much larger subsidies for R&D in appropriate technology.

      But a substantial rise in the price of energy is, IMO, too high a cost.

      * Because of the risks of sudden “state” changes due to the non-linear nature of the system. Not just climate, but the general ecosystem as well.

      • > [T]he “climate model simulations” don’t offer anything supporting the inference of “possible catastrophe or ruin”.

        That’s not their job, but the insurance industry’s:

        By multiplying its climate risk financing capacity for sovereigns and subsovereigns, along side a team dedicated to advising national and regional governments on how to better manage disaster risk, Swiss Re affirms the urgency of climate risk based on external and proprietary studies. The good news is that up to 65% of climate risks can be averted through conscious risk management and cost effective resilience measures.

        http://www.swissre.com/rethinking/climate_and_natural_disaster_risk/Swiss_Re_at_UN_Climate_Summit.html

        The main problem here is that knowledge is proprietary.

      • Why should an insurance company price in the risk (into its premiums) of a global catastrophe that would result in the insurance company itself no longer existing? If it happened, they wouldn’t be there to pay out anyway.

      • > If it happened, they wouldn’t be there to pay out anyway.

        Some in the Netherlands are bracing themselves nevertheless:

        Damage from weather-related events is expected to increase in the future due to socio-economic growth that increases exposure to natural disasters and anticipated climate change. This paper studies the long-term impacts of climate change and land-use planning on flood risk, with a particular focus on flood risk insurance in the Netherlands. This study estimates the full probability distributions of flood damage under four different scenarios of climate change and socio-economic development for the year 2040. Subsequently, the risk-based (re)insurance premiums for flood coverage are estimated for each of the 53 dyke-ring areas in the Netherlands, using a method that takes into account the insurer’s risk aversion to covering uncertain catastrophe risk. On the basis of the results, we can draw four main lessons. First, extreme climate change with a high sea level rise has a higher impact on flood (re)insurance premiums compared with future socio-economic development. Second, (re)insuring large flood losses may become very expensive in the future. Third, a public–private insurance system in which the government acts as a risk-neutral reinsurer of last resort, accompanied by comprehensive adaptation and risk reduction measures, could be a good solution for making flood risk insurance available at an affordable price. Fourth, given the projected increase in flood risk, it is especially important that flood insurance contributes to climate change adaptation.

        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-014-0736-3

  35. My question today is “framed toward Developed Countries (like the U.S., Germany) and not Developing Countries (which many don’t even have access to electricity).

    In Developed Countries, what if a macro view of including total environmental/human health concerns is taken in policy actions?

    Instead of just CO2 and temperatures, what if the paradigm also includes things like mercury, smog, particulates, ozone depletion?

    For example, the EPA (forced by the Courts) is requesting comments to reduce ozone pollution to a range of 60 to 70 parts per billion, from 75 ppb. This Reg is 60 ppb in the E.U. and 62 ppb in Canada. Each ratchet down (e.g., 70, 65, 62, 60) has uncertainty to the cost/health benefits (e.g., asthma).

    But this uncertainty only deals with smog. What if this issue was approached in a holistic way including smog and AGW?

    As a stand alone issue, maybe the uncertainty only justifies smog Regs at 75 ppb. By combining smog and AGW, maybe the justification is 60 ppb.

    The concept of approaching AGW from a pollution standpoint is from Dr. Ramanathan and called “Fast Mitigation”.

    • Stephen Segrest,

      In Developed Countries, what if a macro view of including total environmental/human health concerns is taken in policy actions?

      Instead of just CO2 and temperatures, what if the paradigm also includes things like mercury, smog, particulates, ozone depletion?

      No matter how you look at it one an economically rational approach will succeed over the long term. The first think to recognise is that if you advocate to raise the cost of energy you have next to no chance of sustained success. Therefore, you need to approach this from a different direction. Remove the impediments that are preventing clean, low emissions energy sources from being cheaper than the higher polluting technologies. Just tackle this rationally without your ideologically driven beliefs, and you can help to make progress.

      Abandon your advocacy for renewable energy. it’s a distraction and delaying progress. It has only a negligibly small role to play.

      By the way, if you are not familiar with the external costs of electricity generation technologies, spend some time researching ExternE: http://www.externe.info/externe_d7/

      For example see the table on bottom of p13 here: http://ec.europa.eu/research/energy/pdf/externe_en.pdf

      The estimated cost of externalities ($/MWh) for genuine pollutants is about:
      coal: $10
      Gas: $5
      Hydro: $0.6
      PV: $6
      nuclear: $2.50
      Wind: $1.20

    • @ Stephen Segrest

      “For example, the EPA (forced by the Courts) is requesting comments to reduce ozone pollution to a range of 60 to 70 parts per billion, from 75 ppb. This Reg is 60 ppb in the E.U. and 62 ppb in Canada. Each ratchet down (e.g., 70, 65, 62, 60) has uncertainty to the cost/health benefits (e.g., asthma).”

      Forced by the courts?

      The EPA and the greens (but I repeat myself) want to pass a regulation that has zero chance of congressional approval.

      They funnel money to some green organizations or collude with green organizations and arrange for the greens to sue the EPA to implement the desired policy. The suit heard before a ‘green’ judge. After all the dust settles, the EPA is ‘forced by the Courts’ to implement the desired policy and congress is left holding the bag. They can’t even cut off funding, because any bill that cuts off funding will be vetoed and the veto sustained. See the ‘suit’ that resulted in CO2, a gas ESSENTIAL to all life on earth, being declared a hazardous pollutant and therefore subject to MANDATORY regulation by the EPA for an example.

      The tactic is so common that it has become known as ‘sue and settle’.

      I thought you may have heard of it but based on your comment I suppose not.

  36. We believe that the PP should be evoked only in extreme situations: when the potential harm is systemic (rather than localized) and the consequences can involve total irreversible ruin, such as the extinction of human beings or all life on the planet.

    Which is to say never. Extinction of all life on the planet? Asteroids haven’t done it, so my estimate of the probability of that happening before the sun dies is zero. Extinction of human beings? Probability of all out nuclear war, sooner or later, pretty high, maybe even inevitable. Yet, some groups somewhere will survive and carry on. Not life as we know it, but life as we have known it.

    The worst cases of “ruin” are the end of life as we know it.
    Pity we have to end life as we know it in order to save life as we know it. /sarc

    The four horsemen of the apocalypse are disease, famine, war, and a black swan.

  37. You know what a “ruin” problem is? Watching your child die of cancer; watching your child die of measles exacerbated by malnutrition; watching your child die of malaria endemic in your area; watching you sister coughing her lungs out from tuberculosis.

    Shall I go on? No, no need to.

    The “ruin” problems in the world are regional and impactful and they need not be; but they remain. Because? Grandiose ideologies dominate real world people, perpetuated by insular people, both emotionally and intellectually.

    Can I say this? I Hate, denying people the resources and energy for their own self betterment.

    I can’t really say out loud how I feel about the people, the insular people who objectify, codify, and marginalize people who have little power to change their own lives. I can’t say out loud how I feel about people manufacturing hockey sticks that re-inforces a political behavior that is so anti-human. I can’t say how I feel about leadership in science and politics who manipulate others and the science for agendas that has no remorse.

    I can’t say….

  38. Judith Curry, can you detail the extent of your expertise in ecosystems science?

      • Beththeserf, that’s the thing.

        Many people think that they can extrapolate well based on their knowledge but it takes real expertise in a particular area, using the tools of that discipline, to be able to make informed projections.

        I’ve spent close to 20 years in ecological research, including Masters and PhD but not including my undergrad degree, and if there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate it’s how exquisitely sensitive to climate are most ecosystems. And like it or not humans depend on functioning Holocene ecosystems.

        Another thing I appreciate is how subtle the changes in ecosystems often are with respect to the perspective of the lifetimes of city-bound Western humans, who mostly have no grasp whatsoever of the progress of exponential or sigmoid trajectories even when they’re occurring right under their noses.

        That a lot of people won’t have the slightest clue about what it is to which I am referring is kind of my point.

      • Change sustains, but ‘sustainable’ is unchangeable. Have some resilient silliness.
        ===============

      • Ah, Bernard J, still arguing from authority, are we?

        What on earth did the planet do before the Holocene? Amazing that anything survived, isn’t it?

        If we want functioning ecosystems, we should focus on not polluting them,not over-hunting or over-fishing them, not introducing alien species to them and not slicing up their habitats.

        Those are the present pressures. If we do not stop those there will be no biome left by the time climate change starts to make an impact, sometime in the (fairly near) future.

        For someone with 20 years of experience, you do seem to be determined to put the cart before the horse.

      • Bernard,

        I have 20 years of involvement in science education using mainly ecology based learning programs and one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is how ecosystems are constantly changing. The forests in MT Hood NF are different now than they were 1000 years ago and a 1000 years from now are likely to be very different from what they are now. Anyone who believes that ecosystems can or should be frozen in time, at one particular state are not very good at ecology.

      • Both thomaswfuller2 and timg56 conflate past changes changes over evolutionary time spans with the changes that are wrought by essentially stochastic and short-term processes such as human caused climate change.

        I have never said, whether above or on any other forum, than change does not occur in ecosystems or in species themselves or that ecosystems should be “frozen in time”, which is simply a poor attempt at verballing me. I’m a biologist and it is a trivially obvious fact that species and systems change with the progress of evolution and with usual environmental alteration. The issue is that the changes that humans are inflicting on the planet are of such a magnitude that evolution does not procede without significant disruption/destruction to the functioning of component ecosystems and the continuation of many species.

        The planetary warming that we have initiated is at least an order of magnitude greater in its rate of increase than any to which global ecosystems have been subjected over hundreds of thousands and indeed millions of years. Possible several orders of magnitude greater. In this the contemporary warming event is more like a supervulcanism event or an asteroid strike, and ecosystems don’t “adapt” to such so much as recover. Phenotypic plasticity can only resolve a small portion of the adaptive processes required to maintain continuance of current function and/or survival, and genotypic change of the sort that permits successful response does not occur systemically on the scale of time indicated for human caused climate change.

        It’s telling that people here are trying to gloss over the differences. I know that one’s ideology can get in the way, but this should not be an obstacle to understanding that the way ecosystems respond to, say Milanchovitch cycles is different to how they respond to more extreme events. To point this out to people who do not appear to grok the issue is not arguing from authority.

        And if words such as “exponential” or “sigmoid” are inappropriate for a site such as this… well, let’s just say that I’m hardly surprised. Especially if their actual significances are not properly understood.

    • Bernard J., we should, as a general rule, try to avoid sounding too wonkish. What you wrote would have sounded better if you wrote “folks, we are gonna eat or fry most critters in short order if we don’t stop….(fill in your own words, but please avoid using the word exponential). And use !! to express your sense of panic.

  39. johnvonderlin

    I wonder if antibiotics would be allowed under the Precautionary Principle as outlined in this paper? With 30+ years of GMO research I have yet to see a demonstrable effect that would rate any more than a yawn. Antibiotics on the other hand, have spawned a number of problems, as well as setting us up for potentially much worse ones in the future.
    First there is the Super Bug problem. Antibiotic usage has selected for pathogens that are not only resistant to antibiotics, but in many cases, to the body’s natural defenses. Those Super Bugs have spread all across the world and new ones seem to be doing so more rapidly thanks to air travel and the increased inter-connectivity of our planet. Still, anybody want to be the first to withhold treatment and watch their child die of an easily combatted infection to avoid the potential fat tail of possible future damage to our species? Write a peer-reviewed paper justifying it so I and my friends will know who to visit with our pitchforks and torches.
    Secondly, when the doctors save your children with the usage of antibiotics aren’t they interfering with natural selection, the crux of evolution? If your child survives a serious bacterial disease only through the usage of antibiotics they may pass both the predisposition for contracting that disease and a poor response to it if contracted on to your grandchildren. Are you so selfish that you want our species to allow genetic weaklings to survive just so you can have progeny? I certainly hope so.
    Personally the only weaklings I want weeded out of our gene line are the crazed Cassandras, the paranoid naysayers, the nattering nabobs of negativism, the perfectionist nitpickers, the fear-based worry warts, the attention-seeking alarmists, and the agenda-driven catastrophists who think the Precautionary Principle engenders good policies to follow in determining the future of our species.

    • > Personally the only weaklings I want weeded out of our gene line are the crazed Cassandras, the paranoid naysayers, the nattering nabobs of negativism, the perfectionist nitpickers, the fear-based worry warts, the attention-seeking alarmists, and the agenda-driven catastrophists who think the Precautionary Principle engenders good policies to follow in determining the future of our species.

      The poetry of hate.

    • Penicillin, the first (commonly used) antibiotic, is highly toxic.

    • “…agenda-driven catastrophists who think the Precautionary Principle engenders good policies to follow in determining the future of our species.”

      Yes.

      Climate change is not a science issue, it’s a political issue.

    • Under the precautionary principle we would not allow gaslines to be run to every home and building, as the potential exists for leaks and explosions.

      Under the precautionary principle we might never of heard of Bayer, since asperin would not be allowed on the market today.

  40. Willard,

    As opposed to . . . .?

    I assume you love them all. Good for you!

  41. Taleb says it correctly, “It is incoherent to doubt the mean while reducing the variance.” Skeptics may not realize that this is what they are doing by saying that not only is the IPCC central sensitivity estimate too high, but the error bars are narrowed so much, and in no justifiable way, as to hardly even include the IPCC central estimate. This only comes across as a rather arrogant and too certain “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude, and does not inspire confidence that a debate is wanted.

    • No there is a different issue in play: structural uncertainty. Getting rid of methodological errors in the case of sensitivity is reducing both the variance and the mean. However confidence is not high in the result owing to structural uncertainty in how we are approaching the problem

      • You again, miss what Taleb is saying. If we have low confidence in the result, we have to have even lower confidence in the range.

      • No, you fail to understand the difference between statistical uncertainty and doubt/ignorance/structural uncertainty.

      • I don’t think anyone has found a way of reducing the variance while also shifting the mean. Some may think their own method does, but other equals see the flaws in the assumptions and think it doesn’t. It then just becomes one more subjective opinion not to be weighted above that of the other 90% of the work in the field that puts the mean in different places. People are very inclined to give their own work more weight, but that doesn’t mean everyone is right. As for “structural uncertainty”, I don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t seem like forcing the climate more and more into structural uncertainty is a good thing, so we should stop while we can to avoid that.

      • No structural uncertainty is related to the basic assumptions in your model. See this previous post
        https://judithcurry.com/2014/06/25/model-structural-uncertainty-are-gcms-the-best-tools/

      • You don’t need a model to see that uncertainties increase in proportion to the forcing change. Tipping points become more likely, unprecedented events and extremes of various kinds become more likely. The range of things that can happen is broadened. The safest route is to minimize the uncertainty by controlling the forcing change in such a way that the climate is stabilized once again. Allowing the forcing to change at 4 W/m2 per century is rushing headlong into unknown territory. It just looks reckless about the consequences.

      • This is a good example where statistical uncertainty arises due to the domain and its PDF never being properly postulated. IMO sensitivity is a vector, not a single estimate and the error bands would appear to vary depending on the state of the forcings and with other changes in initial conditions affecting the trajectory of climate.

      • You don’t need a model to see that uncertainties are independent of the forcing change. Tipping points become less/more likely, unprecedented events and extremes of various kinds become less likely, with rare exception, more normal-temperate weather becomes more likely. The range of things that can happen is unchanged. The safest route is to minimize the uncertainty by controlling the forcing change in such a way that the temperate climate zones expand.

      • I remember Bart Verheggen kind of downplaying the whole idea of tipping points. Which tipping points are left on the table to bargain over?

      • > See this previous post.

        I don’t see much more than a definition coming from another place:

        Apart from the issue of the fidelity of the numerical solutions to the physical equations, there is yet another uncertainty. This is model structural uncertainty, which is described in a paragraph from my Uncertainty Monster paper:

        https://judithcurry.com/2014/06/25/model-structural-uncertainty-are-gcms-the-best-tools/

        There is not much more than that paragraph in the Monster paper, which provides more a bestiary of aphorisms and factoids against the IPCC’s way of doing things than an argument showing how structural uncertainty should impact risk management. More to the point, I don’t see any difference between structural uncertainty and epistemic (and perhaps even ontic) uncertainty, which is what I believe the target of Taleb’s argument. Judy’s argument against Taleb’s is therefore tough to follow in at least two senses.

        Mr. T might be starting to distance himself from FUD.

      • Which tipping points are left on the table to bargain over?

        The problem with “tipping points” is that they’re inherently unknown unknowns. You can’t talk about one until ex post facto.

      • AK, I’ve read science fiction descriptions of a thousand potential threats to our civilization–which of them are possible due to climate change? Venus? Mars? The Moon? (The hurlting moons of Barsoom?) Desert? Waterworld? Mad Max? Soylent Green? Silent Running? On The Beach? The Road? On The Road? Two For The Road? (Audrey…) When Worlds Collide? After Worlds Collide? The 74th Annual Hunger Games? Divergent? The Book of… no… I don’t want to say his name…

        How about climate change that renders GMOs toxic and creates a mutant strain of vaccines that cause autism?

      • “The safest route is to minimize the uncertainty by controlling the forcing change in such a way that the climate is stabilized once again”

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

        “Gaia hypothesis”

        “The theory that nature is permanently in balance has been largely discredited,”

        Its only true while watching the matrix

        In terms of a chaotic dynamical systems there is no reason to assume any type of equilibrium. Multiple equilibrium perhaps, but always competing.

        “structural uncertainty”– modelling of clouds methinks? For instance the recent discussion of hemispheric symmetry and the inability of GCM’s to reproduce. Hence the completely wrong energy balance because the likely primary negative feedback is totally off….

      • What Jim D said.

        Peter raises an important point, the problem with it being that in an n dimensional space the effort needed to compute the surface scales exponentially with the number of dimensions. Of course, part of the answer is that if one of the forcings (dimensions) dominates you can get a useful (almost wrote good) approximation, e.g. the greenhouse gas control knob.

      • The energy imbalance remained the same.

      • You don’t need a model to see that uncertainties increase in proportion to the forcing change. Tipping points become more likely, unprecedented events and extremes of various kinds become more likely. The range of things that can happen is broadened. The safest route is to minimize the uncertainty by controlling the forcing change in such a way that the climate is stabilized once again. Allowing the forcing to change at 4 W/m2 per century is rushing headlong into unknown territory. It just looks reckless about the consequences.

        Well, I can’t question your education, because you’ve obviously been to a creative writing course.

      • Kinda’ fun watching Jim D –

        “No, Doctor Curry, I don’t understand. But I’ll comment anyway.”

        And then Eli says he is with Jim D…

      • AK, I’ve read science fiction descriptions of a thousand potential threats to our civilization–which of them are possible due to climate change?

        Snowball Earth?

    • Is there any indication Taleb has spent any time looking GCMs? He’s usually attacking this:

      https://www.math.washington.edu/~burke/crs/408/fin-proj/mark1.pdf

    • It seems that 72% of Americans favor an international climate treaty. I think that this shows that being precautionary is a natural reflex when faced with change. It’s just being conservative on climate. Less change is better.
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/30/us-climate-agreement_n_6972434.html

      • Also from this article “I think what this shows is that that messaging we’re getting from Republicans is not driven by their constituents, it’s driven by the fundraising they have to do to stay in office,” said Coequyt. “This sets up a real challenge for candidates who don’t want to be for an agreement. They’re going to have to basically take unpopular positions.” Yes, a sentiment I have expressed on this site just a few days ago.

      • JimD, kind of raises the question on where those merchants of doom are spending their money, if that’s all they get for it.

      • Andy Revkin blanched in 2008 when Al Gore bragged that he had Three Hundred Million Dollars, that’s $300,000,000 for the numerate, from internet and anonymous donors, to spend on his propaganda campaign.
        ====================

      • Jim D,

        It seems that 72% of Americans favor an international climate treaty.

        If that is true all it proves is that they are gullible and don’t learn from past mistakes. We tried that before with Kyoto and it was a failure, as many wise people said it would be. Regulation and top down won’t work. What’s needed is to deregulate, allow competition, innovation, free trade, et. Allow markets do what they do.

      • You live in a little left-wing fantasy world, jimmy “huffpo” dee. There is not going to be an international climate treaty that will significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Period.

        “The Benenson Strategy Group conducted the polling for the environmental organizations Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, and surveyed 1,000 expected voters.”

        Joel Benenson is an Obama toadie. Serious polling organizations, without an axe to grind, consistently report results that indicate the folks are not scared of “climate change” and it doesn’t register among their major worries.

        The Senate will not approve a climate treaty designed by the rest of the world to screw the U.S., just like they would not approve Kyoto. So a treaty is out. Obama will have to do some BS feel-good “agreement”, on his own.

        You are just annoying people here with this huffpo crap, jimmy. Stop the foolishness. You ain’t gonna get any drastic mitigation. If you really want to save the world from CO2, spend your time fighting the lefty anti-nuclear hysteria.

    • “It is incoherent to doubt the mean while reducing the variance.”

      The trouble is, you’re not looking at the mean of observations which are all trending less than the mean of models.

      It’s not surprising that the models overstate warming.

      When a political institution such as the IPCC tries to use a real physical principle such as global warming of course the results will be exaggerated to justify the political goals.

  42. Dr. Curry wrote;

    “So, is climate change a local or global threat? Are we risking global ruin?”

    Well, since we can barely detect the alleged “change” and it seems to be well within the historical records I think rather than risking “global ruin” we are in fact likely to run into complete boredom with the whole topic. That might be a wee problem for the fear mongers, I have little sympathy, cry wolf often enough and see what happens when you really need assistance.

    It appears the only place that global ruin might happen is in the climate science communities computers…… Everybody else seems to be coping OK with the vagaries of the weather in their particular location on the globe.

    I did upgrade to a battery powered snow blower this winter (I hate dealing with liquid gasoline, electricity has no smell) so ruin was avoided for another winter.

    Stop taking all this “Gloom and Doom” stuff so seriously, few things are ever as wonderful or dismal as they first appear.

    Cheers, KevinK.

  43. Thanks Judith for an interesting post. Your comments brought out the relevance of the quotes and made it much easier to understand. I would have missed much of the relevance if not for your comments throughout.

    A bit off topic, but this statement has relevance for mitigation and energy policy:

    It is often wiser to reduce or remove activity that is generating or supporting the threat and allow natural variations to play out in localized ways.

    This is what I’ve been advocating for 25 years. If we want to cut global GHG emissions fastest and we want to get the benefits of cheaper, cleaner, safer, secure and reliable electricity, we need to REDUCE or REMOVE the regulatory impediments past governments in the developed countries have imposed on nuclear power. Doing so can facilitate innovation and competition leading to cost reductions and accelerating rate of rollout of nuclear power. The emphasis must be on removing regulatory impediments, not adding more.

  44. The global nature of CO2 forcing does not imply global risks; the risks are local/regional, and the aggregation of these risks does not imply the potential for ruin.

    Wouldn’t it be true to say that the risks of serious impacts from climate change would increase if we abandoned mitigation efforts and continued BAU indefinitely?

    • Also those regions most at risk are the poorest. Evaluations of cost-benefit using GDP downplay these people, each African being only worth about 2% of a westerner on a per capita GDP basis. The World Bank whose mission it is to reduce global poverty see climate change as a major factor opposing them in their mission, and have several reports on the adverse effects of a warmer world on these people. Those who care about world poverty would do well to listen to the World Bank as well as the UNDP.

      • Even some USA can win:

        Commercial insurers can use publicly available information to determine if government-set premium rates are mispriced, and in turn extract economic rents via the federally mandated Standard Reinsurance Agreement. By ceding underpriced policies in El Niño and La Niña years, we find that private insurance companies can reduce paid indemnities by 10–15% on average.

        http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/agec.12154/full

        Denizens could make money out of this

      • Yeah, JimD, pity we can’t help them build fossil fuel power plants to give them a boost out of poverty. Cuz Greenpeace knows where we live and has put the fix in on U.S. government aid.

        Let ’em eat cake.

      • A century ago, the highest paid worker in the oil patch drove the nitroglycerin wagon. Heart stopping work place violence.
        =============

      • Given that fossil fuel plants have major fuel costs that continue for the life of the plant and that fossil fuel plants are not the cheapest power source for most of the people in the developing world, no, it is not a good thing that the developed world does not push more coal plants onto the poor countries. Sort of like Tom Lehrer put it

        Comes a fellow everyone knows.
        It’s the old coal peddler,
        Spreading joy wherever he goes.
        Every evening you will find him,
        Around the developing world.
        It’s the old coal peddler
        Doing well by doing good.

        He gives the poor free samples,
        Because he knows full well
        That today’s young innocent faces
        Will be tomorrow’s clientele.

        If Tom were serious he would be working to provide solar and wind power to the poor countries. High capital cost, low running costs, on balance a much healthier thing.

    • I don’t think BAU means what you think it means, Joseph. BAU means panicked stretching for innovation to stay half a step ahead of the competition. Which is why energy efficiency keeps improving and we find a way to make a 150 year old technology like fracking actually productive.

      It’s freezing business at a status quo that will kill us.

      • Which is why everyone in the developing world who can afford it has a standby generator and why millions are dying from air pollution in the cities. +1.000.000 or more

      • David Springer

        Despite drama queens declaring millions are dying of air pollution in developing world the benefits derived from affordable energy result in greatly increased life spans.

        Life’s full of tradeoffs, bunny boy. The take home lesson here is the downside of air pollution is far outweighed by the benefits derived by the process which creates the pollution.

        Write that down and then hop along home. Thanks.

      • Dear David, Eli is an old bunny and remembers growing up in a city where everyone heated with coal. It was no bundle of joy. Oh yes, you might like to talk to Chai Jing

      • David Springer

        There was a coal burning furnace in the cellar when I was a kid. Eli should think about survival risk of coal furnace vs. no furnace at all. Dumb bunny.
        .

      • In-laws burn wood pellets today. So?

  45. johnvonderlin

    Willard,
    Why thank you for your cogent comment. You’ll be glad to know that in my hyperbolic finishing rant I was only expressing a desire that negheads choose not to reproduce as the preferred way to weed them from our species. Obviously, with the potential dangers of STDs and pregnancy, let alone the possibility their children would grow up to murder them in their sleep, most will use the Precautionary Principle and be celibate until the Grim Reaper ends their pointless lives. Fortunately, nothing ventured, nothing gained applies to procreation as well as progress.

    • Most of them already reproduced when they get these ideas, JohnV. You’d need to bet on their Malthusean memes to hinder their kids’ genes to propagate. Alternatively, you could build a commenting racket like this and ask them to terminate themselves with their children:

      You need to write 135 comments about this, and don’t be shy about how you express yourself. Write whatever you want, just stick the word Obama in there a lot and then cover it over with profanities.” In the assignment, there’s always a conclusion you’ve got to make, it’s already written, that Obama is a black monkey who doesn’t know anything about culture.

      http://www.rferl.mobi/a/how-to-guide-russian-trolling-trolls/26919999.html

      Your task force may not all have your zest and gusto, but it could become as efficient as you.

      • johnvonderlin

        Willard,
        The atavistic suspicion or rejection of new things, whether it be technologies, cultural modalities or strangers, is apparently hard-wired into our primate brains. While these fearful feelings may have been useful in the brutish era of early primate evolution, it’s past time to overcome them, as any Progressive should know. The Precautionary Principle just seems like weak intellectual cover to justify those deep-seated fears of change. Worse, those that embrace its imprisonment insist that those of us who want and are willing to accept changes, improvements, and sometimes risky progress, should do as they say and forego them. Misery may love company, but it’s not going to happen. We’re not going to throw our cell phones away just because some bad science shows brain cancers may theoretically increase minutely with heavy usage. We are not going to abandon industrial civilization and all its wonderful benefits because GIGO computer models imagine CO2 to be the ruin of our planet. We aren’t going to let millions starve while chasing the will o’ wisp purity of sustainable organic farming. Modernity is here to stay, get used to it Osama clones.
        We will not accept the need to prove no possible harm can ever result from something we do before we do it. That’s the spiritual and intellectual constipation of somebody not ready to deal with the vagaries of life. The trembling fuss budgets that wish to saddle civilization with these ridiculous fear-based chains need to get out of the road if they can’t lend a hand.

  46. Black swan events are still missed by both methods…
    Since a black swan event is an event that “comes as a surprise,” intuitively it seems that black swan events can’t be caught. Do they not fall into the category of things we don’t know we don’t know. You can always make a list of possibilities but that is not the same as an event you could catch or assign a probability to.

  47. Judith –

    Interesting statements:

    ==> “JC comment: This is an argument for dealing with the risk via increasing resilience and anti-fragility.”

    and

    ==> “JC comment: in the climate change debate, I interpret this statement as arguing to increase resilience and anti-fragility.”

    ———————————————————————-

    Because they reveal your confirmation bias. , Taleb discusses reliance and anti-fragility as being very different concepts from each other – yet you seem to be treating them as if they’re synonymous.

    What does “anti-fragility” really mean in the context of climate change? You, of course, ague that it means increasing resilience. No shocker there. But Taleb indicates that anti-fragility is does not mean “robustness” in the face of change.

    So what would Taleb say about the implications of anti-fragility in the context of climate change? He describes an anti-fragile system as one that benefits from stress.

    Perhaps rather than just reflexively using Taleb to confirm your bias, you could explain how your preferred approach to energy policies would actually address the concept of anti-fragility – by building a system that increases in strength through stresses caused by variability in the climate.

    • Speaking of revealing bias, here’s Joshua again.

      Too bad about confusing resilience with reliance and offering your own interpretation of Taleb.

      Another concept relevant both to the topic here and your own contributions–learning the value of failing gracefully.

      • Hi Tom.

        How are you, my friend?

        Judith promotes “resilience” (based on a facile notion of adaptation as somehow being mutually exclusive with mitigation). Taleb writes that anti-fragility is decidedly not reslience. Judith twists Taleb’s promotion of anti-fragility to reinforce her activism about resilience. Sameolsameol.

        Judith doesn’t use what other people write to test her beliefs. She twists what other people write and lays it over her own beliefs in such a way that what they write could only confirm her beliefs. It is anti-skepticism.

        An anti-fragile system is one that grows stronger with stresses. I have no idea how that might play out in policies related to climate change. How do we create policies where we would be strengthened by climatic stresses? It’s an interesting concept – but one that is beyond my pay grade.

        Judith’s facile process of confirmation bias is interesting in a sense. It’s interesting to see just how powerful the tendency towards confirmation bias is – even among smart and knowledgeable people. But it’s still sameolsameol – as is the sameolsameol of her “denizens” disinterest in looking at what Judith writes with skeptical due diligence.

      • It is amazing to me that you can write of confirmation bias with a straight face, Joshua. You have been confirming your own bias regarding our hostess ever since you appeared in the comments here. If she pronounced on the blueness of sky or darkness of night you would find a way to twist what she says into your own one-note Johnny criticism.

        At least over at ATTP, where you sort of let your hair down a bit more than perhaps you should, given the image you so carefully cultivate here, you talk about more than one thing.

        Tell me on what planet you think Judith Curry, upon first exposure to Taleb’s convoluted explanation of anti-fragility, is obliged to do more than mention it?

        Your constant gibes at Judith seem… fragile.

      • He describes an anti-fragile system as one that benefits from stress.

        An anti-fragile system is one that grows stronger with stresses. I have no idea how that might play out in policies related to climate change.

        Really? I suspect you do, but in case I’m wrong:

        One system with a proven record of “benefit[ing] from stress” is free-market capitalism. Alternatives such as crony/cartel capitalism, “socialism” (whatever that means), command economies, etc. tend to respond in a more rigid, fragile way to stress, especially when unexpected (in detail).

        In an emergency situation, such a system will tend to become unified in will without the need for externally imposed behavioral constraints. It will also give maximum credit, and status, to people who can solve real world problems at the expense of social manipulation.

        Such a situation is, of course, anathema to those who prefer social manipulation.

        All IMO, of course.

      • It’s actually quite simple. Resilience is the ability to deal with a bad situation, anti-fragility is building a system that never gets into a bad situation. Quite different things.

        Eli will also point out that adaptation to a rapidly changing situation is futile because the target is moving faster than the system can respond.

      • David Springer

        Stupid generalization. Control surfaces on an aircraft adapt to rapidly changing conditions to safely transition from aircraft to wheeled vehicle.

        Snowplows adapt highways to rapidly changing weather.

        Furnaces adapt interior air temperature to rapidly changing temperatures.

        Sweeping generalizations make morons out of academics.

        Thanks for playing.

        .

      • “the playbook is the same”

        One can always find parallels if that’s your thing. One or two might even be valid. However, I see no important practical parallels between industry funded tobacco-cancer denial, and disorganized, citizen-centric CAGW skepticism.

      • It has been said conciseness is one attribute of good writing. If Josh were to pare down his statement to just the comments that are accurate, he would be very concise and possibly be considered a good writer:

        “I have no idea how that might play out in policies related to climate change. …. ” – but one that is beyond my pay grade.”

    • It will also give maximum credit, and status, to people who can solve real world problems at the expense of social manipulation

      The “free market” doesn’t solve problems they sell products and services to make profits. I guess how to build something worth buying is a form of a problem though.

      • On the other hand, look at all those drugs brought to market which did not solve problems. Oh wait,

      • But that’s not the purpose of a free market entity. There has to be some form of demand before they will help solve a problem.

      • You left out my previous sentence.

        In an emergency situation, such a system will tend to become unified in will without the need for externally imposed behavioral constraints.

        Emergencies produce new demands.

      • Speaking of social manipulation:

        We face lots of uncertainties, and it’s hard to think about what to do when life is uncertain. If I can come back to the case of smoking and cancer, it’s uncertain if a particular person will get cancer when they smoke/strong>. Some people do and some people don’t. But you know that the odds are against you, the odds are heavily in favor of the fact that you’re going to get sicker earlier and in a more serious way.

        I think that’s the way I think about climate change. Of course we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen. We can’t see all the ramifications, but they don’t look favorable on the whole. I mean, there are some pretty frightening ones. So I think the uncertainties would make us say, “Well, let’s pay a little insurance premium to slow things down.”

        http://www.salon.com/2013/10/30/william_nordhaus_smoking_can_teach_us_about_climate_change/

        Even if Denizens disregard estimating the cost the false negative market, reinsurers won’t.

      • Joe

        That is the beauty of capitalism. It seems to solve problems like poverty without even thinking about it. It probably could do it with its hands tied behind its back. It’s magic.

      • No need to put these hands behind any back, Kid — they’re invisible.

      • So I think the uncertainties would make us say, “Well, let’s pay a little insurance premium to slow things down.”

        Fully consistent with my position WRT encouraging development of fossil carbon-neutral energy.

      • The first part I wanted to emphasize:

        [Nordhaus] It’s uncertain if a particular person will get cancer when they smoke.

        [AK] We have no evidence whatsoever that this process will really produce a risk of adverse response such as […]

        Insurance underwrites virtually every transaction in advanced economies. More water means more floods, and water-based damage is already the most expensive risk in Canada. Adverse responses against climatic events are pervasive. To claim that we have no evidence of risk amounts to play the same smoke and mirror game the tobacco industry played. The playbook is the same.

      • Wil

        I know, it is such a simple concept. I have never understood why Liberals have such a hard time with it. Maybe it is the subtlety. They seem to think national wealth drops from the sky, a gift from Tinker Bell, The Tooth Fairy and Elf on the Shelf.

      • “That is the beauty of capitalism. It seems to solve problems like poverty without even thinking about it. It probably could do it with its hands tied behind its back. It’s magic.”

        lol.

      • > I have never understood why Liberals have such a hard time with it.

        More so considering they invented it.

        Perhaps a conceptual sleight of invisible hands?

  48. OT
    I use an Apple computer and recently updated my Maverick OS. Since then my computer has been unstable. It took me 45 minutes to post my previous comment, had to reset my computer twice as well as reset Safari. Anyone else having similar problems?

  49. “In an evidentiary approach to risk (relying on evidence-based methods), the existence of a risk or harm occurs when we experience that risk or harm.”

    Huh??? Things are muddled in the quoted statement. A risk is there regardless of outcome. We are subject to risks. We experience outcomes. Also how can risks be experienced in the present when they are conceptually tied to future events? On the other hand, harm is a generalized effect, i.e., outcome that can be experienced.

    • mwgrant I agree that the concepts of risk and harm seem conflated. Risk is in the future whilst harm is in the present and can be experienced, as you have said.

      • I read it this way. In the present there is no evidence of what the risk actually is. It’s not harm until it is experienced. He thinks the future cannot be predicted.

      • JCH thank you for your comment. I believe that future risk are generally the extrapolation of harm that has been observed or experienced in the past. The point I think that is being made by Taleb is that in the absence of any evidence of harm being experienced, no possible prediction of future risk can be made. Risk is an assessment of known phenomena only.

      • JCH. The point here is the language has to be sharp. Conflating risk and harm, an adverse effect, is a careless but common misstep that occurs, leading to on-going confusion in discussion. Risk is a functionally composite concept that incorporates effect. Risk requires precise expression so that one does not have to ‘read it this way’.
        —-
        Peter–‘conflating’…that’s the word I needed. Thanks.

      • And when there is more than one alternative presenting no evidence of harm the PP could have a problem–a lack of clarity. Maybe the wrong questions are being asked?

      • Upthread I commented on the problem of statistical uncertainty in the face of the domain of climate and its PDF not being properly postulated. Hence if the future trajectory of climate is not known and there being no evidence of harm in the present anthropene, then any assessment of future risk are purely speculative and forms a poor basis for policy.

      • Peter – then why is he invoking the PP?

      • The use of PP was being proposed on the assumed effect of climate models JCH.

        The extract that we are looking at is reproduced here.

        “Scientific methods and the PP

        The idea of precaution is the avoidance of adverse consequences. This is qualitatively different from the idea of evidentiary action (from statistics). In the case of the PP, evidence may come too late.

        In an evidentiary approach to risk (relying on evidence-based methods), the existence of a risk or harm occurs when we experience that risk or harm. In the case of ruin, by the time evidence comes it will by definition be too late to avoid it. Nothing in the past may predict one fatal event. Thus standard evidence-based approaches cannot work.

        More generally, evidentiary action is a framework based upon the quite reasonable expectation that we learn from experience. The idea of evidentiary action is embodied in the kind of learning from experience that is found in how people often react to disasters—after the fact. When a disaster occurs people prepare for the next one, but do not anticipate it in advance. For the case of ruin problems, such behavior guarantees extinction.

        JC comment: This clarifies the conflict between ‘lukewarmers’, who seem mainly data driven and don’t see danger (in favor of risk management), versus alarmists who argue for the PP to avoid possible catastrophe or ruin (as inferred from climate model simulations).

      • Well, then I agree with myself!

        Taleb is an expert on the left tail. I doubt he gives a flip about climate models.

      • (2) Taleb is dismissive of prediction and models (explicitly in finance and econometrics, and implicitly almost everywhere). For instance, [p. 138] Why on earth do we predict so much? Worse, even, and more interesting: why don’t we talk about our record in predicting? Why don’t we see how we (almost) always miss the big events? I call this the scandal of prediction. And [p. 267] In the absence of a feedback mechanism [not making decisions on the basis of data] you look at models and think they confirm reality. He’s right; people want forecasts in economics, and so economists give forecasts, even knowing they’re not particularly accurate. Also, the culture of academic research in numerous disciplines encourages theoretical modeling which is never seriously compared with data.

        (3) Taleb is scathing about stock prediction models based on Brownian motion (Black-Scholes and variants) and of the whole idea of measuring risk by standard deviation: [p. 232] You cannot use one single measure for randomness called standard deviation (and call it “risk”); you cannot expect a simple answer to characterize uncertainty. And [p. 278] if you read a mutual fund prospectus, or a description of a hedge fund’s exposure, odds are that it will supply you ……. with some quantitative summary claiming to measure “risk”. That measure will be based on one of the above buzzwords [sigma, variance, standard deviation, correlation, R square, Sharpe ratio] derived from the bell curve and its kin …….. If there is a problem, they can claim that they relied on standard scientific method. …

      • (3) Taleb is scathing about stock prediction models based on Brownian motion (Black-Scholes and variants) and of the whole idea of measuring risk by standard deviation: [p. 232] You cannot use one single measure for randomness called standard deviation (and call it “risk”)…

        The standard deviation might be employed as a metric for uncertainty [subject to conceptual constraints] but it does not set the scale of a risk–that is the role of the effect.

        The standard deviations and even PDFs are not essential to characterizing risks. We make many decision working with risk that are qualitatively characterized. Risk is a functionally composite concept that also incorporates uncertainty but not necessarily quantitatively, i.e., we qualitatively assess risks. In some way we try to arrive at scale and uncertainty. Also one can not preclude the interaction between the two. Clearly approximations often define the rigor du jour.

        Note: All of this and I haven’t even gotten how ‘ignorance’ might be incorporated. I’ve said it before: I think that there is considerable practical experience available to the climate policy world in the study of medical decision-making–particularly in the case of limitations of approaches.

    • A problem is that ‘no action’ (a default of no policy?) is also an action. We have a problem with multifinality–here an unknown cause or causes leading to multiple outcomes. ‘No action’ can not be discriminated any better than other alternatives and does not seem to enjoy unique status from the perspective of making an optimal decision. Is the status quo always the best policy? There are other possibly helpful tools not dependent on pdfs. Or even a simple prior/observation/updating pdf(s) scheme may have more appeal than ‘status quo’. And of course–there is the fact that there are timelines [uncertain/unknown] that constrain any decision making.

      But in my heart…to me it looks like nothing really matters except the politics.

      • To be clear I do not think that the precautionary principle is useful in anything except toy problems. The principle is to decision making as Alexander’s sword was to the Gordian knot. It is a bold action and that is its appeal.

      • Chef Hydro used to invoke abrupt climate change – the slowdown/shutdown of the AMOC. Poking sticks into the face of an angry beast.

        Nobody but me said a word.

        Now it’s suddenly impossible.

      • I agree with the Chief on climate being subject to sudden shifts JCH but there is not much that humans can do about this except to be as adaptable as possible, like the Nederlands in relation to living below sea level. However, this adaptability in Western economies would IMO be damaged if decarbonisation policies were adopted under PP.

      • Poking the angry beast with a big stick = pumping tons and tons of ACO2 into the atmosphere.

      • ACO2 is no different from natural CO2 and there is borehole evidence that much higher levels of CO2 had existed in the past, from volcanic activity, wildfires and other temperature spikes generated by solar fluctuations and tectonic plate movements affecting the ocean currents etc.

        So if you believe that PP should be invoked here and that decarbonisation is urgently needed, your POV is respected but is not likely to prevail, simply because there is insufficient hard evidence to convince policy makers of Western countries to do anything that will harm their economies.

      • Peter, those were not necessarily good times for mammals.

      • “Peter, those were not necessarily good times for mammals.?

        I’ve heard of dangling participles…is that a dangling comment? Help me Eli–complete the thought.

      • If you lived then you would be dead.

      • That’s all? So just what would be the cause? So far not much of a thought–no legs showing.

      • First, it’s not my view; it’s the viewpoint of Nassim Taleb, about whom one can read wildly varying opinions.

        Where is the evidence the past perfectly predicts the future of a nonlinear, complex, dynamical, and chaotic system?

  50. “So, is climate change a local or global threat? Are we risking global ruin?”
    Short answer, no. Proxy evidence is clear that there is enormous regional variation. As Europe grooved in the MWP, The Anasazi and Mississippian cultures in North America Waned. As the tropical Atlantic warmed out of the last glaciation, the tropical Pacific cooled.

    We don’t understand this stuff.

  51. Dr. Strangelove

    The Precautionary Principle is unscientific. It imagines extreme catastrophes to justify action or inaction for a risk of unknown or small probability. This is essentially the Pascal’s Wager where an infinite gain or loss is used to justify a belief of the metaphysical where no scientific evidence is available. It is a logical fallacy. PP is simply a political tool to attain a political goal.

  52. – the global local dichotomy:
    People use to live locally so some won’t find much consolation in the fact that they are only locally ruined while in other places people will have it better.
    This may work in China but not in US/Europe with its putting high value on the individual.
    People facing their local ruin may decide to visit those people in the better places, perhaps taking the one or other AK47 along.
    The better places won’t stay untouched by the problem, the fallout may ruin them too.

    -this dichotomy is only valid for spatially uncoupled systems. Here you live in a Gaussian world without fat tails.

    – the more systems are coupled the more the distribution of outcomes becomes fat tailed. (since resources are ultimately limited people are always engaged in minority games. If the players are acting independently you get Gaussian outcomes, the more they are coupled the fatter the tails become.
    The fewer the resources per person there are, the stronger they are coupled (think of locally ruined people coming to and predating on you)).

  53. Taleb worship is an interesting phenomenon. Confined however to those who have not picked up a finance journal in the past thirty odd years. True, ‘black swan’ was catchy – its only predecessor was ‘peso event’ which hardly has the same ring.

    It also requires not having read any (Alan) Greenspan. He often mused on what might be called black swans. Indeed, it is a line of argument that Fed fear of a big black swan (Russian default, SE Asia financial crisis) on the Hudson in September 1998 set us on the road to 2007-8. That would be the two interest rate cuts when the US economy was already operating at full capacity. So, fear of black swans can be harmful too!

    Miaow.

    • FOAS, ” So, fear of black swans can be harmful too!”

      Right. Global action can be as bad or worse than global inaction. Local, not so much. What is interesting is this comment. “The more uncertain or skeptical one is of “scientific” models and projections, the higher the risk of ruin, which flies in the face of the argument of the style “skeptical of climate models”. Hence skepticim (sic) about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies.”

      Replace skeptical with belief and you have the same warning only the precautionary policies could be the greater risk. The middle ground is hedging.

    • “So, fear of black swans can be harmful too!°

      so true. We spend much effort trying to prevent the last black swan – but the next one – you never see it coming.

      Fortify the cabin door.

    • Try googling Long Term Capital

  54. -“If climate change is NOT a ruin problem, we need to stop pretending that urgent action to reduce CO2 emissions is justified by anything other than naive reasoning … ” (JC) :
    If you want to defragilize the world you have to reduce anything that might link regions together. In the context of climate there are probably more than one possibly relevant issues. (co2, deforestation, soil erosion, resource depletion …). This will not happen. You can only try to reduce these things as much as possible (considering tradeoffs of cause, this is a truly wicked problem!!).

    -Resilience is often confused (though actually in some sense identical with (second order say)) with stability (sounds more intellectual?). Stabilizing a system generally tends to make it more fragile. Therefore the preference for negative interventions (which doesn’t mean doing nothing but taking something artificially stabilizing away (e.g. and including using more resources up for stabilizing a population than are regenerating)).

    – we don’t know whether there are fat tails in the climate issue and if there are how fat they are. In such a situation it’s actually impossible to make a categorical statement (“we need to stop pretending that… “) about something like a best policy or worst policy that should be excluded. You will never know for sure.

  55. – PP is not very well defined because what will ruin you (locally) totally is alway a “global” issue for you and you will tend to be in favor of PP if affected by impending total ruin even if it won’t ruin the hole globe.

    • If you want to ruin your little island, or even your continent, I think Taleb will give you the keys.

  56. Not sure what you wanted to say, but in todays globalized world the problems we’re talking about may not stay local (see previous post).

    • He gives several examples. One is nuclear power. There are risks. They can be managed. They’re not systemic. If you want, you can play with matches and reactor cores all day long.

      • I’ve read Talebs article (or an earlier version) some time ago.
        Nuclear reactors aren’t coupled by themselves.
        Localised climate caused env. deterioration also not by itself.
        But the people living there are mobile and may have weapons and maybe are not prepared to bear the whole burden. If the burdens are shared somehow with other regions global coupling will increase.
        Think of self organized criticality. The whole thing may become more fragile.
        Wouldn’t have been a problem 1000y ago. (may carry on later)

      • – PP is not very well defined…

        The master said in
        http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/FatTails.html :

        pp. 282/3:
        “PP is intended to deal with uncertainty and
        risk in cases where the absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge carries profound implications and in the presence of risks of “black swans”, unforeseen and unforeseable events of extreme consequence.”

        p.5:
        “Fallacy 1.1 (Observer dependence).
        It is fallacious to argue whether a given event “is a black swan” without asking “for whom?” (the Black Swan for the turkey is not one for the butcher).”

        But O.K. on p. 282 also:
        “The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally) …”
        which suggests it is about “the public domain”. The words in brackets may have been only examples. What is “the public domain”?
        Perhaps it isn’t that clear in the scripture itself.

      • It’s not human extinction. It’s hard to define the level of damage to civilization as we know it that he has in mind.

  57. Sérgio Mendes

    Ten years ago Al Gore said that in ten years we would live in an extreme climate, if nothing was done. Nothing was done and we humans are good. The IPCC has confirmed it does not know why the Antarctic ice is growing and has said it can not claim that hurricanes are a result of global warming. The world food production is growing. I honestly do not understand what they want to protect us.

    • Sergio, you ask:

      ‘I honestly do not understand what they want to protect us from’

      To slightly modify Mencken

      ‘The whole aim of practical climactivism is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of predicted climohobgoblins, all of them theoretical, imaginary or of little practical consequence. And all sufficiently far in the future as to be incapable of observational demonstration.’

      • Why bother modifying Mencken – just take what he said straight with no chaser:

        Mencken always considered himself a Southerner and from his father he had inherited a strong sympathy for the Confederacy. The Old Confederacy, Mencken felt, was a land “with men of delicate fancy, urbane instinct and aristocratic manner — in brief, superior men. It was there, above all, that some attention was given to the art of living — a certain noble spaciousness was in the ancient southern scheme of things.” …In his words, the Union victory was “a victory of what we now call Babbitts over what used to be called gentlemen.” But Mencken makes this caveat; “I am not arguing here, of course, that the whole Confederate army was composed of gentlemen; on the contrary, it was chiefly made up, like the Federal army, of innocent and unwashed peasants, and not a few of them got into its corps of officers. But the impulse behind it, as everyone knows, was essentially aristocratic, and that aristocratic impulse would have fashioned the Confederacy if the fortunes of war had run the other way.”

        Nothing quite like “the words of Mencken” to speak truth to the powers that be. You know. On behalf of the “unwashed peasants” in the name of preserving that “certain noble spaciousness” of people who owned slaves.

      • And along comes Josh taking advantage of an opportunity to imply that folks who doubt climate caused doom are racist bast@rds at heart who yearn for the good old days when slavery was legal.

      • @joshua

        It is possible that somewhere in your endless verbiage there lurks a bon mot worth preserving and even quoting.

        But doing so would not imply agreement with all the other dross that you spout like an uncontrolled waterfall of dreck.

        Capiche?

      • tim –

        And along comes Josh taking advantage of an opportunity to imply that folks who doubt climate caused doom are racist bast@rds at heart who yearn for the good old days when slavery was legal.

        You misunderstand. My point was that Mencken is not someone that I’d look to as a source for quotes. If you think that someone who admired that certain noble spaciousness of slave-owners had the kind of wisdom that you think inspirational – quote away.

      • Joshua is shackled by a very one-dimensional view of Mencken. One of my favorites of his are his dispatches from the Progressive Party National Convention in 1948.
        ====================

      • ==> “Joshua is shackled by a very one-dimensional view of Mencke

        Lol! Quite the opposite. What I’m saying is that you should look at the full range of what he said before you start cherry-picking quotes as some kind of guidance for the modern age.

      • Joshua would throw the language out with the library mopwater.
        =================

      • If Joshua read the full range of what is written on any subject, he wouldn’t be posting here, he would still be reading. Goose, gander, etc.

    • I hope today’s alarmists have learned from Al’s strategic error. I’m sure he thought 10 years was a long time. In reality, it proved to be too short and predictions of catastrophe are being falsified every day.

      The new alarmist forecasts should be
      so far into the future that anyone having read them will be dead or so old they have lost their memory.

  58. Meh, I said it long ago: Apply the Precautionary Principle to the Precautionary Principle. There, that’ll keep everybody busy.
    ==================

  59. Well… if we talk about changes in agriculture, in farming, climate change could ruin agriculture. F.e. did you know that wheat yields are going to fall by 6% each time the temperature on the planet increases by one degree Celsius? There are many interesting articles about this problem, like http://blog.pulawy.com/en/climate-change-poses-a-threat-to-wheat/

    • H’mm

      I doubt a 6% fall in yield of one particular crop would ‘ruin agriculture’. In UK, for example, wheat yields have increased over 200% from 1960 to 2014 (2.5 tons per hectare to 6.5) at a time when we’re alleged to have warmed by approx.1C

      Your supposed ‘ruination’ would be hardly detectable in the noise of the signal.

      • Hard red winter demands liebensraum.
        =============

      • The difference between now and the 1960s is that there are no storehouses of grain to get us through a bad year. Transportation has taken its place.

      • David Springer

        Your fat aSS alone would get you through several bad years.

      • Silly Rabett,

        When stored large quantities of grain will be lost to spoilage. In fact more than half of all food produced globally is lost to spoilage and waste.

    • Emily, a gentle chide. Your reference is a blog asserting experts say. I found the underling Asseng et.al. 2014 paper in Nature Climate Change. The abstract suffices. 20 different wheat yield models, that did not agree with each other and with increasing divergence at higher temperatures. So the ensemble average used. A computer modeled rather than experimental greenhouse result. And an illogical one from a farmers perspective.

      Some facts to allay your fears. Virtually all wheat planted globally is some variation on Borlaugs dwarfed rust resistent varieties (‘Green Revolution’ of the 1950’s and 60’s). The are two basic sorts, winter (planted in fall, harvested late spring) and spring (planted spring, harvested fall). There are thousands of cultivars of each type/subtype adapted to local growing conditions. The Punjab climate is not Kansas is not Saskatchewan. For example, there are 14 spring wheat cultivars grown in Afghanistan because of the varied terrain.
      Now any change in climate (temperature, anthesis timing, rainfall) can be fully compensated by planting some more suitable cultivar. Computer models assuming that won’t happen are blind to farming adaptation. And BTW, cereals including wheat are mainly susceptible to high temperatures many degrees above seasonal anthesis regional averages, only during anethsis (a period of 2-3 weeks), and only if there is also drought at that time. This stuff gets tested in greenhouses. It is what seed companies do. It is what farmers do every year when they save part of their best yielding field’s wheat to plant the next year.

    • Emily should get out more. Then she might be aware that last year several nations experienced recrod crop yields for a variety of grains and legumes. Or that global food production has grown at the same time arable land under cultivation has decreased.

  60. Anyone know Dr. Curry’s upcoming TV schedule?

  61. “Is Climate Change a ‘ruin’ problem?”

    The question assumes, as an axiom, that for which there is to date no empirical evidence: that Climate Change is A problem.

    The application of the ‘Precautionary Principle’, as advocated by the Climate Experts, also assumes, as an axiom, that not only is Climate Change a ruinous problem, but that they have identified the CAUSE of the problem to be ACO2. It FURTHER assumes, as an axiom, that by invoking the Precautionary to justify the drastic curtailment or elimination of ACO2 the problem of Climate Change, the sole evidence of which exists in the output of models which have exhibited NO skill in predicting CURRENT climate, will BE mitigated AND that the impact on society of curtailing or eliminating ACO2 will be preferable to the impact of the so far imaginary ‘Climate Change’.

    To answer your question: I absolutely consider ‘Climate Change’ to be a ‘ruin’ problem. Not because of any impact on the Climate, however defined, of ACO2, but because of the political actions that are being taken, ostensibly to MITIGATE Climate Change, using what so far amounts to ex cathedra proclamations of impending ACO2 driven disaster as justification. THOSE are ‘ruinous’ and the rate of ruin appears to be increasing exponentially.

  62. Here is an article from yesterday suggesting that climate change — in this case, the change that occurred from 16,000 to 3,000 years ago — is a “ruin” problem:

    http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Ancient-global-warming-a-warning-for-modern-era-6169077.php

    First half of first sentence in article: “An ancient episode of global warming swiftly destroyed the balance of life in the world’s oceans…”

    Gosh, why didn’t someone tell me before now that the balance of life in the world’s oceans was destroyed when we came out of the last ice age? I’m just horrified I didn’t know this!

    Of course, nothing like that actually happened. What happened is that a core off Santa Barbara showed that in one specific spot in the ocean, the local currents became low oxygen, and a number of creatures (sand dollars, clams, sea snails, etc.) disappeared for a few thousand years and then recovered.

    Alarmism like this is what causes people to become cynical about the motivation, honesty, knowledge, and trustworthiness of environmental reporters, and of mainstream media in general.

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

    it’s funny that in spite of the facts…
    Global temp plateau for 18 years
    no increase in weather destructiveness or frequency
    arctic ice not quite disappearing
    Manhattan still above water
    children experiencing snow
    deep ocean heat still hiding
    and the growing disinterest of the public

    the rhetoric grows ever more hyperbolic
    we must now save ourselves from ‘ruin’
    and skeptics must be driven from the public square
    and the Kochs should keep their dirty tainted money
    (oh well, I’m not much of an opera fan anyway)

    looks to me like Hail Mary plays by a loosing team
    will it go out with a bang or a slow fizz?

    the alarmist need to do a bit of soul searching…
    what if the world isn’t coming to an end?
    is it possible that Mankind is not the first and final error of evolution?

  64. David Springer

    No one misses Steven Mosher yet. The tone and dialog are greatly improved.

    Cool experiment. Hope he stays gone.

  65. There is a philosophical problem here:
    How can you identify an unknown risk as a ruin problem?

    For all I know the mere act of tying my shoelaces might result in the destruction of the known universe. Or it might save it.

    The PP is an absolute triumph of arrogance and egotism over sound logic.
    Dressed up as humility in the face of Nature.

    I reckon this analysis is cat belling of the first order. All very well to talk about ruin problems, but who will tell me what is a ruin problem? Who will bell the cat?

    • Like putting your sock on the wrong foot will blow up the house.
      ================

      • I think, though, that conceiving a ‘ruin’ helps focus the mind on the differences between things, and the distinctions which are, better, are becoming, important.

        Gotta be some survival value in it. There is in most any little thing.
        ==============

  66. Precautionary Principle? There’s ol’ adaptable naychure
    bringing together the genes of different individuals, trading
    genes- 2 eyes, 2 legs-or four or even more – 2 arms or
    flippers, lungs, kidneys et-cet-era, et-cet-era, etcetera.
    Skin colouring, hair colouring, eye colouring fer different
    climate extremes, diversity, adaptability ter the fuchure
    unknowns.

    Consensus gate-keeping? Walls? Digging in ? Tsk!

  67. As always, the Precautionary Principle is a pair of logical fallacies wrapped up to make the whole package SEEM like its rational. But in the end it breaks down to “In the absence of an appeal to authority…prove the negative.”

  68. Many, if not most, skeptics are applying a Precautionary Principle too. They see economic ruin from any attempt to reduce fossil fuel use, and this fear drives them to a need to leave the energy and fuel sector alone as a precaution. It is economic doomsaying that is counter to actual estimated costs by actual economists. However, they don’t let the numbers get in their way, being quite a motivated group of people.

    • Totally untrue. And I’m pretty sure you know it.

      • Which part is untrue? That many skeptics think that any mitigation policy is too expensive? Have you not been reading what is posted here? That is their number one argument against mitigation. It’s a wrong argument, but it doesn’t stop them. If they admitted it was doable, it would be a slippery slope for them and their beloved fossil fuel companies, because mitigation is the common-sense policy.

      • I’d say “many” isn’t true, much less “most”. Not, at least, as far as:

        They see economic ruin from any attempt to reduce fossil fuel use, and this fear drives them to a need to leave the energy and fuel sector alone as a precaution.

        I think most skeptics see a high risk of “economic ruin” from extreme, urgent, interference that impacts energy prices. (I certainly do.) But most of the arguments I get against the longer-term, lower-impact solutions I propose are on the order of “It won’t work and isn’t necessary anyway.”

        Which, I’ll grant you, seems like denial to me, but not the same as (in effect) “most skeptics think any efforts to reduce fosssil fuel use will result in disaster.”

      • We see very few skeptics promoting any reductions in emission rates, and mostly they are actively against it. The cost is their stated issue. If there was no cost, mitigation would be easily feasible, and there would be no reason left not to do it. I say it is their “stated” issue, but for many it is a jobs program and they want to keep the fossil fuel business alive for as long as they can for reasons known only to themselves.

  69. Not sure if anyone is paying att to this thread any more, but a very relevant article by Martin Weitzman
    How does climate stack up against other worst case scenarios?
    http://ensia.com/voices/how-does-climate-stack-up-against-other-worst-case-scenarios/

    • Paying attention! (Belatedly.) The sensible thing for the vast majority of the world’s population is to get on with the tasks of daily living, as honestly and harmoniously as you can, and hope that the catastrophists have little influence on policy while they compare the minutiae of potential long-term, unknown, alternative disasters.

    • I posted this comment on the thread you linked to:

      [The quotes didn’t show in my previous attempt, so I’ll repost the comment:]

      “For climate, go back a bit over 3 million years to find today’s concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and sea levels up to 20 meters (66 feet) higher than today.”

      I see no persuasive evidence life on Earth is threatened by a return to climates of 3 million years ago. In fact, the evidence shows that life thrives when the planet is warmer and struggles when colder. Sea level rise of 20 m over centuries is not a concern. It’s trivial. More than outweighed by the benefits of a more productive planet.

      The problem is that the climate catastrophists have failed to make their case. 25 years of massive funding for climate science and they still have not been able to provide the most basic level of information needed for rational policy analysis, such as:

      • time to the next abrupt climate change event

      • direction of the next abrupt climate change (to warming or cooling)

      • duration of next abrupt climate change event

      • magnitude of the total change

      • rate of change

      • damage function

      “In Climate Shock, we zero in on eventual average global warming of 6°C (11°F) as the final cutoff few would doubt represents a true planetary catastrophe. Higher temperatures are beyond anyone’s grasp.”

      Why would 6 C in many centuries from now mean the end of life in Earth? How do you know? Wasn’t the planet more than 6 C warmer than now in past times and didn’t life thrive then? Why are higher temperatures beyond anyone’s grasp if they’ve occurred on Earth before and life thrived in those periods?

      “The best scientists working on biotechnology seem to be much less concerned about the dangers of “Frankenfoods” and GMOs than the general public. The reverse holds true for climate change.”

      I’d argue they are practicing science. However, I am not persuaded the climate establishment is practicing science.

      I’d put an alternative interpretation on the reason scientists have moved on to looking at geoengineering. I’d suggest that they are deeply scared and true believers in catastrophic climate change because they have joined the latest cult. Group think, massive government funding, self-interest and herd mentality has caused climate science to move from science to a cult belief. Cult members lose the capacity to do rational analysis.

      • My comment on the Martin Weitzman article has been deleted.

      • Peter, perhaps you were going to say that he demeans his profession as an economist with wild claims of 6C temp rises and attendant (very distant) disaster, which is more in the realm of Nostradamus, as a basis for serious current policy.

  70. The “ruin” at risk on a global level is that of critical scientific thinking.

  71. A lone sailor whose yacht was dis-masted and overturned in the North Atlantic in January (cold stormy weather I suspect) has been picked up after spending 66 days on the upturned hull, surviving on raw fish and seawater. He looks in pretty good shape to me.

    But we are so unadaptable that a 2C temperature rise over time will spell ruin?

  72. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #175 | Watts Up With That?

  73. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #175 | I World New

  74. Pingback: Things I thought were obvious – part 2 | …and Then There's Physics