Climate models and precautionary measures

by Judith Curry

Ergo, we should build down CO2 emissions, even regardless of what climate-models tell us. – Nassim Taleb

Nassim Taleb has posted an essay entitled Climate models and precautionary measures.  Its short, reproduced in its entirety below (in italics), interspersed with my comments:

THE POLICY DEBATE with respect to anthropogenic climate-change typically revolves around the accuracy of models. Those who contend that models make accurate predictions argue for specific policies to stem the foreseen damaging effects; those who doubt their accuracy cite a lack of reliable evidence of harm to warrant policy action.

JC comment:  Two recent essays of relevance here:

These two alternatives are not exhaustive. One can sidestep the “skepticism” of those who question existing climate-models, by framing risk in the most straightforward possible terms, at the global scale. That is, we should ask “what would the correct policy be if we had no reliable models?”

JC comment:  The issue of ‘no reliable models’ was addressed in Driving in the DarkLong-term strategies should be built not on “visions” of the future but instead on the premise that longer term predictions (that is, forecasts of situations years and decades out), however presently credible, will probably prove wrong. – Richard Danzig

We have only one planet. This fact radically constrains the kinds of risks that are appropriate to take at a large scale. Even a risk with a very low probability becomes unacceptable when it affects all of us – there is no reversing mistakes of that magnitude.

JC comment:  This returns us to my previous essay on Taleb’s work Is climate change a ‘ruin’ problem?    Excerpt:

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’:

Without any precise models, we can still reason that polluting or altering our environment significantly could put us in uncharted territory, with no statistical track- record and potentially large consequences. It is at the core of both scientific decision making and ancestral wisdom to take seriously absence of evidence when the consequences of an action can be large. And it is standard textbook decision theory that a policy should depend at least as much on uncertainty concerning the adverse consequences as it does on the known effects.

JC comment:  The precautionary principle simply isn’t a good fit for a complex, wicked problem that isn’t a ‘ruin’ problem.  From my post Permanent paradigm paralysis:

In their Wrong Trousers essay, Prins and Rayner argue that we have made the wrong cognitive choices in our attempts to define the problem of climate change, by relying on strategies that worked previously with ozone, sulphur emissions and nuclear bombs. While these issues may share some superficial similarities with the climate change problems, they are ‘tame’ problems (complicated, but with defined and achievable end-states), whereas climate change is ‘wicked’ (comprising open, complex and imperfectly understood systems). For wicked problems, effective policy requires profound integration of technical knowledge with understanding of social and natural systems. In a wicked problem, there is no end to causal chains in interacting open systems, and every wicked problem can be considered as a symptom of another problem; if we attempt to simplify the problem, we become risk becoming prisoners of our own assumptions.

Simply put, the current focus on CO2 emissions reductions risks having a massively expensive global solution that is more damaging to societies than the problem of climate change.

The precautionary principal is by no means the only decision analytic framework to use under conditions of deep uncertainty, see these previous posts:

Further, it has been shown that in any system fraught with opacity, harm is in the dose rather than in the nature of the offending substance: it increases nonlinearly to the quantities at stake. Everything fragile has such property. While some amount of pollution is inevitable, high quantities of any pollutant put us at a rapidly increasing risk of destabilizing the climate, a system that is integral to the biosphere. Ergo, we should build down CO2 emissions, even regardless of what climate-models tell us.

JC comment:  CO2 is not a pollutant like black carbon aerosol and mercury.  The direct effects of CO2 on humans and land ecosystems are not harmful; our understanding of possible harm from  ‘ocean acidification’ is in its infancy.  The alleged harm comes from model simulations under doubled CO2 concentrations of changes to regional temperature and precipitation, for which climate models are totally inadequate.  So exactly what is a ‘harmful dose’ of global atmospheric CO2 remains an outstanding question.

Regarding Taleb’s statement: Ergo, we should build down CO2 emissions, even regardless of what climate-models tell us.  See this previous post:  Why the decision to tackle global warming isn’t simple.

This leads to the following asymmetry in climate policy. The scale of the effect must be demonstrated to be large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.

JC comment:  I actually like this argument.  Recall my reasoning about burden of proof in the paper Nullifying the Climate Null Hypothesis.  The key point with respect to Taleb’s argument is that the scale of the effect has not been demonstrated to be harmful relative to the historical record of climate variability; allegations of harm are derived from simplified reasoning using climate models that are inadequate.  So there are two issues here – the magnitude of the climate response to doubling CO2, and the societal and ecosystem impacts of this climate response.  As per the IPCC WG2 report, any AGW impacts are very difficult to demonstrate, relative to natural climate variability, land use effects, population growth, etc.

It is the degree of opacity and uncertainty in a system, as well as asymmetry in effect, rather than specific model predictions, that should drive the precautionary measures. Push a complex system too far and it will not come back. The popular belief that uncertainty undermines the case for taking seriously the ’climate crisis’ that scientists tell us we face is the opposite of the truth. Properly understood, as driving the case for precaution, uncertainty radically underscores that case, and may even constitute it.

JC comment:  Regarding the argument that uncertainty increases the cases for action, I have addressed the flaws in this argument several times:

Depending on your decision analytic framework and what you assume about ignorance and uncertainty, you can come to either conclusion: uncertainty increases the need to act, or uncertainty decreases the need to act.

The case for uncertainty increasing the need for action rests on a fat tail argument.  See these previous posts for why I think the fat tail arguments regarding human caused climate change are not that useful:

JC reflections

I really like Taleb’s writings on risk (e.g. black swans, anti-fragile, fooled by randomness).  However, when he applies these ideas to complex issues such as climate change and GMOs, in my opinion his arguments fall way short.

Well, it was interesting going through all of my old posts that are relevant to the issues raised in Taleb’s essay.  I provide the links here for newcomers (and old-timers who have forgotten them), but also for academics such as Taleb trying to apply ideas about risk to the climate change problem – which is not a ‘tame’ problem.

 

226 responses to “Climate models and precautionary measures

  1. Well, even in the “do-nothing” scenario, the government is doing much to alter energy markets:

    https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22858.pdf

    What is the problem with boosting government investment in renewables and energy efficiency and reducing the funding for fossil and old (light water reactor) nuclear?

    The old-nuclear’s Price-Anderson Act is a huge subsidy. Without Price-Anderson there would be zero nuclear plants.

    So are you saying the government completely withdraw from any interference in energy markets and R&D?

    • What’s wrong with spending massive amounts of money on stuff of doubtful value and effectiveness? Kind of obvious, unless you have no trouble spending other people’s money.

      • Spending globs of money on things you don’t need kind of defines an increasing number of households. And, if you are part of the 1%, the latest Birken bag keeps many a trophy content.

      • If folks want to spend their own money for stuff, that is their prerogative. Kind of an unfathomable concept for the left.

    • “The old-nuclear’s Price-Anderson Act is a huge subsidy. Without Price-Anderson there would be zero nuclear plants.” Try telling that to the Chinese with their plans for 100 new plants in the next decade. Do you think the price structure for nuclear in the US (and maybe China) may be a bit skewed (maybe in opposite directions)?

    • I would have though that research should be concentrated on recovering and converting low grade energy sources better myself. Not try and magically subsidies it into existence like the old soviet model reflected into a modern mirror in capitalism.

    • ybutt,

      The old-nuclear’s Price-Anderson Act is a huge subsidy. Without Price-Anderson there would be zero nuclear plants.

      You’ve made that same false, baseless, assertion of your personal opinion on three threads so far, and it’s been refuted each time. That’s pretty dishonest, don’t you think?

    • “The old-nuclear’s Price-Anderson Act is a huge subsidy. Without Price-Anderson there would be zero nuclear plants.”

      Um, no. Prior to the Price-Anderson act, the law already provided a mechanism that limited liability. It’s called corporate law. All that would be needed is to create a separate corporation for the operation of each nuclear power plant. If there were a catastrophic accident, the company would be liquidated, and the total value of its assets used to (partially) pay the claimants. This is one of the main reasons our government recognizes corporations.

      The Price-Anderson Act imposed additional OBLIGATIONS on the operation of a nuclear power plant, including the obligation to buy the maximum amount of insurance available to help pay claimants in the event of a catastrophic accident. Furthermore, they are required to put up a bond (in effect) for ADDITIONAL money to finance the “Price-Anderson fund,” which pays claims in excess of those covered by the private insurance the plant-owners are required to purchase. The amount of that contribution was is well over $100MM per plant.

      So there is no subsidization. Not a dime. It’s all funded by the plants themselves, preventing them from enjoying the protection from large liabilities that is naturally available to anyone any any other line of business (except those where government has created a similar set of regulations). Now, given the potentially large scale of a nuclear catastrophe, that’s probably a fine policy choice. My taste is about as small government as anyone this side of Albert J. Nock, but I, for one, am ok with it. But to call it a “subsidy” is just wrong.

      • Here is link to a Congressional Research Service. See page 10 for a description of the Price-Anderson Act. The publication is somewhat dated but probably still represents the intent of the act. By the way, CRS is part of the Library of Congress and is Congress’ think tank. CRS works very hard to be nonpartisan, even to the point of having editors expressly charged with making sure publications are nonpartisan.

        http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/36307.pdf

      • Thanks, gjw2–I’m familiar with the source (I’m an attorney), but the pointer was convenient. From the report you linked:

        “Under Price-Anderson, the owners of commercial reactors must assume all liability for nuclear damages awarded to the public by the court system, and they must waive most of their legal defenses following a severe radioactive release (“extraordinary nuclear
        occurrence”).”

  2. Pingback: Climate models and precautionary measures | Enjeux énergies et environnement

  3. Taleb’s analysis has two large flaws.

    (1) He does not consider cost. How much should we spend to reduce this risk by how much? Neither cost nor risk are binary (spend/not spend, risk/no risk of catastrophe).

    (2) What about other risks? How much of world income should we spend to reduce risks? To name just one, how does climate change risk compare with risk of destroying the ocean through overfishing and pollution?

    Each risk has its partisans, usually blind to other risks — each insisting their causes is the one true risk that must be addressed — irrespective of the cost. The lack of an overall framework (or risk budget) reduces the debate about risk to a cacophony.

    The public is inundated with sermons by preachers of doom, who drone out the underlying sciences. The result, predictable by several psychological studies, is indifference — so that public policy addresses those that have the broadest intuitive appear or are best marketed.

    • FM, it’s a bit more complicated. We know that at some point we will need to transition away from fossil fuels. That may not happen this century, but almost certainly before the end of the next.

      What the Great Game is about is whether we should telescope the transition into the very near term.

      The climate conundrum is perhaps more easily (although not completely accurately) seen through a lens focused on which set of corporations will be profiting most from the $5.3 trillion the world spends on energy each year (a figure increasing by about 3% p.a.)

      Will it be G.E., Vesta, Solar City et al, or will the current giants be able to resist their attack for another generation or two? All the publicity goes to Exxon, Koch and Peabody, but their ranks are much larger and there are at least two sides, probably three.

      These groups are willing to go to (corporate) extremes to advantage their position, including lobbying, donations to sympathetic organizations, commissioning science and appealing to the public and their representatives via the media.

      That all the focus on corporate influence on climate messaging has been on the fossil fuel side of the argument is a clear media messaging win for the other sides.

      I really like Elon Musk and what he has done. But why is he a hero?

      • Thomas,

        Re: spending of the evil fossil fuel companies

        Perhaps your framing is correct. It is, however, quite devoid of factual foundation. Leftist activists (we need better labels for participants; perhaps hold a contest?) point to total conservative interest groups income & spending as if that were all devoted to climate change — and ignore the large spending by interest groups on the other side. It is just hand-waving and propaganda.

        In any case, that is IMO irrelevant to the cost-risk balancing necessary for us — as a nation and a species — to navigate the many dangers of the 21st century.

        Given how poorly the public policy debate about climate change has been handled — 27 years with little progress but much polarization — I suspect we might as well rely on prayer, burning candles & incense, and serial innovation of every deity in humanity’s pantheon. Just as effective, faster, cheaper, easier, and quieter.

      • Thomas,

        “It is more complicated”

        I could write a thousand words, or ten thousand, and you could rightly give that rebuttal.

      • Unless you have a mouse in your pocket, there is no “we” here. Only individuals. You and me and every other person on the planet. You are free to choose your actions and I mine. If you are concerned about CO2 then by all means quit using fossil fuel. Ask others to do likewise. But if you have the idea that you can force me to pay for something I don’t see value in, or force me to not burn fossil fuels, you are sorely mistaken, it may force me to forcibly restrain you from so doing. Thankfully President Trump will neuter and downsize bloated federal government agencies and research budgets with climate religion top on the chopping block. Oh I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

      • David L. Hagen

        Warming Climate << Fuel Shortages
        The OPEC Oil “Crisis” of 1974 shows that the risks/costs of warming climate are insignificant compared to the drastic rapid impact of fuel shortages on an economy.
        For the catastrophic impact fuel shortages can have on unprepared fragile countries, see the collapse of North Korea’s economy following the loss of subsidized fuel from the USSR in 1990.
        Oil dropped ~ 60%. Food production plummeted about 78%.

        By contrast, CO2 is plant food with major agricultural benefits.

        See: Fuel and Famine: Rural Energy Crisis in the DPRK,/a>
        James H. Williams, David Von Hippel, and Peter Hayes
        The Nautilus Institute, 2000

      • rogerknights

        “the $5.3 trillion the world spends on energy each year (a figure increasing by about 3% p.a.)”

        How can it be increasing when the price of oil has fallen by 2/3?

      • TF2,
        You assume that if we spend the same amount of money on renewables, we will get and use energy from renewables. This is a false assumption. No matter how much you spend on renewables, most of our energy will come from other sources. Renewables aren’t capable of supplying our needs, no matter how much money you throw at them.

      • thomasfuller2, “We” could also transition into just using less energy. COP 22 could be held on the internet and you could write some really captivating stuff so people could curl up by a virtual fire and wile away the hours sipping virtual hot buttered rum.

        Or you could invest your butt off on what you think will be the winning green technology and make loads of money so Bernie can hate you :)

      • Perhaps the problem lies in the corporate/government relationship rather than analysis of risk. Folks seem averse to applying the precautionary principle to the massive expansion of unproven technologies that may waste resources, time and encourage false hopes. Cronyism has pushed solar and wind energy as viable alternatives to fossil fuels, yet neither of these “new” (actually not very new) options have been properly vetted before commercialization. There doesn’t appear to be any immediate danger using fossil fuels, and western nations, especially the United States, have made progress in reducing not only CO2 emissions, but also “real” pollution.

        This can be viewed with a medical analogy. First, folks use technologies that are available now to deal with issues that are happening now. At the same time, there is an on-going search for better medical interventions. The mistakes that have been made in this process have resulted from inadequate testing of new options and early adoption resulting in the cure being worse than the issue. I would contend that solar and wind fall into this category owing to unreliability and cost. Second, when the issue is poorly defined, as is global warming, it often is more functional to adopt the policy of “watchful waiting” before massive intervention.

        This doesn’t mean that government shouldn’t be involved in the search for options as the issue is further identified. It does imply that adoption/commercialization should be reserved for technologies/interventions that have been tested as to viability. If the climate was changing rapidly there may be a case for unproven intervention, Climate, however, is not changing rapidly, and there is no hurry to be in a hurry.

  4. “This leads to the following asymmetry in climate policy. The scale of the effect must be demonstrated to be large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.”

    To me this is an over simplification that assumes there is some low negative consequence “fix’ for the potential problem. So far, just the idea of a “fix” that is “necessarily” expensive has had more than enough negative consequences to justify something more than a warm and fuzzy logical sound bite. Just “demonizing” coal promoted more coal power plant build out than in all the history of political screw ups. It is a lot like threats of gun control massively increasing gun sales.

    I love science but scientists suck as politicians.

    • This is where the hyper politicization comes into play- the “fixes” and whether their costs are “high” is entirely dependent on the political world-view of the speaker.
      Most of the warm don’t consider the cost of ending growth (or capitalism in general) as too “high” but think building a nuclear power plant is just insanely to big of a potential “cost.”
      The luke warm, agnostics and deniers don’t think it would be too expensive to build lots of nukes, but think slowing or ending economic growth is too costly (and ending capitalism insane).
      Since the warm don’t have an actual alternative to fossil fuels, we’re really just waiting on them to accept nukes.

      • Nukes are being built all over the world. They’re only “too costly” in certain political environments.

      • aaron, “Nukes are being built all over the world. They’re only “too costly” in certain political environments.”

        When you use 60 year life instead of 40 years nuclear is competitive even after including cost of government insurance, decommissioning and waste processing (which the US cannot do anyway due to irrational fears).

      • In the 25 years since the Rio summit on global warming there have been precisely 2 new licenses for nukes in the U.S. – the country everyone decided had to do the most to reduce emissions. The first of those licenses was in 1996- i.e. the plant was built before the AGW concern. The second license was issued last October.
        This is how seriously we actually take AGW. People will believe AGW is a serious issue the very day the activists on the issue take it seriously. Hasn’t happened yet.

  5. Fruitful trip down Climate Etc. memory lane, thanks to NN Taleb for that!

  6. Interesting and useful post. If your policy decisions are predicated on two factors (risk and consequence) and both are subject to significant uncertainty and unknowns, then the precautionary principle makes little sense. The size of the consequence is always possibly infinite – as in how much should we spend to avoid being hit by a large asteroid? The whole discussion becomes meaningless: We do not know, what we do not know.

  7. Curious George

    “.. polluting or altering our environment significantly could put us in uncharted territory, with no statistical track- record and potentially large consequences.” What is a statistical track-record for an unpolluted future? An ice age? A paradise? I don’t pretend to know. Taleb does not say.

    There is a price of an action, as we have painfully learned in Iraq. There is also a price for an inaction, as we are painfully learning in Syria.

  8. “The scale of the effect must be demonstrated to be large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.”

    I’m surprised you like this. It is nonsense. The scale has not been demonstrated, moreover, the DIRECTION of the effect has not been demonstrated.

    CO2, by itself, has a pretty small and reasonably understood effect due to its low IR absorbance. It is only in multiplying this with the impact of water vapor (and other features) that makes an impact of any significance, even according to the most wildly alarmist AGW adherents.

    Water vapor at low concentrations is said to be a contributor to warming. But at higher concentrations water vapor no longer remains a gas, it condenses in many ways under various very complex conditions – vapor pressure, seeds (particulates), aerosols, other gases, pressure differences, cosmic rays, etc. Clouds reflect a lot more radiation into space during the day than they reflect back to earth at night. Hence, at some concentration water vapor becomes profoundly cooling. No model, to my knowledge, even attempts to portray the complex behavior of water. Until such model exists and has been well proven, we don’t even know the direction of the effect of CO2 since it does most of its ‘harm’ through its influence on water vapor.

    • Yup. My own guestimates (aka SWAGs) are about about half the modeled water vapor amplification. Observational reasons were given in my guest post deconstructing Monckton’s irreducibly simple equation (which wasn’t irreducibly simple, as I easily mathematically reduced it further to Lindzen’s simple Bode feedback model).
      A second supporting point. All GCMs have to parameterize convection, as is at least 1 order of magnitude smaller than finest model computational resolution. (see a guest post at WUWT for details, or essay Models all the way Down). So necessary parameterization cannot avoid the attribution anthro/natural problem. And there went the ball game, in terms of faulty assumptions. As the pause now shows.

  9. It is ironic that the Precautionary Principle is applied here to justify taking action. Usually, of course, the PP is applied to a course of action with uncertain (perhaps unknown) consequences. It would be just as appropriate (and probably more so) to apply it to CO2 reduction approaches. If it were, I doubt that any would survive.

  10. Taleb’s appeal to the precautionary principle (‘just in case there might be a black swan) ignores the realitymof economic opportunity costs. Big mistake.

    And, I do not like at all the argument logic of his last paragraph, that if the magnitude of possible harm is shown, the burden of proof shifts to those claiming isn’t so. There are two deeply imbedded flaws.
    First, it is not about ‘possible harm’. It is about its probability, times that harm–in economics/ business, the expected value. Turn around to gain rather than loss in a real simple example. Even if the Powerball prize is now $400 million, if the chance of winning is only 1/500 million, then the dollar you ‘invest’ in a Powerball number will lose on average $0.20. One $400 m winner versus 500m $1 losers. That fallacy is why states make money off of Lottos– embeds a clue on how to play Lotto smart. We sensibly don’t apply the precautionary principle to avoiding asteroid strikes.
    Second, his asserted possible harms have NOT been demonstrated to be even possible. The models have multiply failed–18 year pause, missing hot spot,… Nearer term predictions have failed–Arctic ice, extreme weather… Corals and phytoplankton are showing biological adaptability. Terrestrial biomass is greening. Each and every possible black swan tipping point has been debunked–ice sheet collapse and SLR, ocean acidification, …
    So his attempt to shift the burden of proof by assertion fails on the facts.

    • My feelings as well, but you have put it far more elegantly and persuasively.

    • ristvan,

      Nicely said, especially the analogy to asteroid impacts. The public policy discussion about shockwaves is largely emotional. The one that has the greatest appeal to our feelings and imagination wins the big bucks!

      Meanwhile many vital ocean ecosystems are on track to almost certain destruction from overfishing and pollution. But no big lobby for “save the oceans”, so we pretty much ignore the problem.

    • Agree with you Rud.

      This is a fatally flawed statement: “The scale of the effect must be demonstrated to be large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.”

      It is flawed because there is a huge cost in destroying the accumulated equity which allows society to produce the same amount of energy with 1/150th the manpower (coal vs solar). As for wind power, there is also enormous cost to mine and refine megatons of steel and copper and rare-earth minerals, excavate, crush and spread megatons of rock along new roadways slashed along once pristine ridges, produce megatons of concrete foundations, cast and machine thousands of huge powerheads, create tons of epoxy and carbon fiber and layup thousands of 50 meter composite propeller blades, and erect thousands of noisy and unsightly mechanical monsters in landscapes previously natural or pastoral. There are huge costs to string these together with thousands of miles of copper transmission lines and control the grid with millions of active devices. There will forever be a huge cost to support the millions of moving parts and to guard the far-flung network of hardware and software components from the ravages of the elements, thieves, saboteurs and hackers.

      All for systems not proven capable of replacing the systems currently in place, at any reasonable cost. If there is a burden of proof, it should be upon those who intend to destroy and replace the power grid we already have. So far that proof-of-concept is sorely lacking because there are still gaping holes (think storage/buffering) in the proposed renewables-driven grid of the future.

    • Indeed Rud, two words to blow that silly precautionary principle out of the water: asteroid strike.

  11. Once again we see the “consenus” scientists attempting to define policy or policy choices.

    Listen carefully: “We are the experts, trust us” cuts both ways – if you are a scientist, then your job is to quantify the problem. Period. Costs can and should be estimated by accountants etc. Policies should be suggested by those expert in doing so and chosen by those expert in making such choices. If, as a scientist, you believe that there has been insufficient action, then this is likely because you have failed to provide the required information about the problem, or because those experts who judge risk or do cost/benefit work have different priorities to you – priorities that are informed by their own expertise, and which concern areas in which you have no expertise at all.
    So by all means lobby for what policies you think are appropriate, but realise that your lobbying counts no more than anyone elses, regardless how expert you may be, simply because there are other factors of which you may be unaware – let alone expert in – that also play a role in the choices that are made.

  12. ‘…the scale of the effect has not been demonstrated to be harmful relative to the historical record of climate variability;’

    Indeed.

    ‘allegations of harm are derived from simplified reasoning using climate models that are inadequate.’

    I think it’s worse than that. The concept of catastrophe or ‘ruin’ comes from emotive responses, which cumulatively amplify and, via a raft of bias mechanisms, have drowned out reason regarding the true nature of the issue and its associated uncertainties.

    The consensus on catastrophe was not manufactured from the models, the models were manufactured by the consensus, though largely in good faith because deep bias is not self-perceived.

    • Curious George

      Never underestimate W.R.Hearst’s legacy – only the sensational sells newspapers. I have never set my foot in his fake castle. But catastrophic predictions continue to sell; look at careers of John Holdren and Paul Ehrlich. It does not matter how many times you lose – ultimately you win. Life is a strange casino, indeed.

    • AW2012, yup. Totally agree. Had previously been looking at this through an inverse prism. Now, TY, understand it both ways. Science-Belief and Belief-Science. Science both times meant as ‘climate science’.
      Only took one psych course in college, but you sure do make sense. Even to some of us a fair bit slower on the ‘soft’ stuff.

      • Thanks Rud. I have a degree in physics, but due to my interests wandering elsewhere for decades, I’ve rusted up in that domain and am very slow on the ‘hard’ stuff these days. So I’ve always found your posts very helpful on some daunting (to me) topics, such as energy storage for instance.

      • Well, I have had on those grid posts some very capable help, aka Planning Engineer. Who in real life is an EE from a top school whose transmission grid career depends on being right on this stuff. 24/7. Which makes his concerns (another of his solo posts here coming soon, I am reliably informed) very real.

      • Blowing Smoke
        solid book … esp like the section on quantifying available oil.

  13. David Wojick

    Sounds like Pascal’s wager to me (and the fallacy thereof).

  14. Editor…

    ” He does not consider cost.”

    As this was your #1 I would have hoped that you expanded on this issue:

    Opportunity Lost Cost. When you spend massively now on attempting to mitigate climate change, spending money for solutions that will not completely resolve catastrophic climate change, you don’t have the money to address the issue when it is breaking down your front door sometime in the future. You are “house poor” when you need a new roof. When your mortgage is now “under water”, i.e., owing more on your mortgage than you can sell your house for, you are stuck; stuck praying there is not a rainy or snowy day.

    There is another way of course, pay as you go. Pay for those issues that arise as the climate changes. Keep sufficient money in reserve for that “rainy day” that you know, or the models tell you that will arise in the near and long term future. The investment of those funds are “diversified” like a portfolio. Namely investing a portion in research that may look promising although it really is a “flyer”. Invest in basic research that provides information that might be useful as in climate variability. Invest in a surveillance system that alerts to you to changes happening right now: AND validating those changes.

    My advice is to pay for what you can afford: the Cadillac Escalade can get you to the grocery story just as easily as the Ford Focus. When you buy groceries, staples come first and the occasional treat comes at the end. Budget to what income you have coming in and not to what you would like your lifestyle to become.

    It seems to me that the greenies always speak to having everybody spending on the exotic and unwilling to live with the affordable.

  15. Well… The 7 GT of carbon that went to the environment last year indicates that we are feeding something with our CO2 and it is starving.

    Since more CO2 is beneficial and 42% of man’s food comes from past emissions why should, or would, sensible people reduce CO2 emissions?

    There isn’t a good reason to stop increasing CO2 until we see the mild crop yield impacts that the IPCC has “low confidence” in.

  16. The other aspect in this kind of an analysis that is lacking is that we are dealing with future events and our understanding of those events is not static in time. They are gradually evolving risks with any tipping points not regard as likely this century. Meanwhile we are increasing our knowledge of the effects of GHG as time passes, and we need to consider the net value of that information against the net costs of delay.

    Precaution argues to stop doing something now (at potentially high real cost) in return for a possible future benefit, based on a potentially high and unknown cost.

    But in fact that isn’t the only policy option we have. Rather the alternative policy option that we should evaluate precaution against is to do what looks reasonable now (without precaution); delay the drastic curtailment of what we think might be having the adverse impact (even though it might be justified by precaution); and use the time to see what happens to our assessment of the decision risk (referred to as seeing if we have a Real Option).

    Ignoring real options in assessing the high sunk cost of curtailment shows a lack of sophistication in public decision making.

    This probably occurs because the techniques are largely confined to private investment decisions and are studied in management schools. However there is a body of literature around applying these techniques to climate decision making – a quick search the other day turned up “MEDIATION Technical Policy Briefing Notes on Decision Support Methods for Climate Change Adaptation, Note 4 Real Options Analysis” (http://mediation-project.eu/output/technical-policy-briefing-notes), and there are a number of research groups addressing this area.

    The overall conclusion, perhaps not surprisingly, is that investment now in radical mitigation performs poorly as a public policy option.

    Precaution gives poor public policy decisions when the dynamic element is ignored.

  17. We will always have more CO2 in our lungs than outside our lungs, so clearly it is not a pollutant. Looking at the economics, it is a fact that more CO2 in the air is better for plants and that is better for humans. Add in the importance cheap electrification (the greatest invention since writing) and the dubious likelihood of AGW and the obvious choice is “burn baby, burn”.

  18. maksimovich1

    It is at the core of both scientific decision making and ancestral wisdom to take seriously absence of evidence when the consequences of an action can be large. And it is standard textbook decision theory that a policy should depend at least as much on uncertainty concerning the adverse consequences as it does on the known effects.

    This introduces dogma and belief which John Cleese argues against.

  19. “Even a risk with a very low probability becomes unacceptable when it affects all of us…”

    Okay. Lets see how America commie liberal views the precautionary principle:

    ““We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

    yields

    “We have to resist it with all of our souls, all of our might, and all of our intellect,” he said, “not only for what’s at stake in terms of lives of Muslims, but also because of what it says about the reality of what it means to be an American.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/20/muslim-americans-outrage-donald-trump-ben-carson

    Conclusion:
    The American left does NOT accept the precautionary principle.

    The Lvaik article in a nutshell:
    Free speech should be protected at all costs unless I decide the speaker is incorrect.

    I’m on hypocrisy overload here.

    • Well, the more basic problem is the precautionary principle doesn’t kick in until you have proven there is a problem.

      The February studies (22 PPM = 0.2 W/m2) would indicate an ECS < 1.5°C.

      The common estimates for peak CO2 based on fuel availability is 460 PPM

      The Eemian was at least 3°C warmer.

      The common estimates for CO2 fertilization were 50% for the 20th century. The CSIRO study indicated 1982-2010 growth increased 11%. That CO2 is benefiting the planet is incontrovertible (that more food is beneficial is incontrovertible for most people except the extreme left and some in the environmental movement).

      The precautionary principle requires us to do nothing until we have proven that there is a problem so serious, that we have to yank food out of people's mouths.

      And given the available evidence there isn't even a problem. We have to get warmer than the Eemian before the argument "it is too warm" begins to make a lick of sense. And you can't get there with 22 PPM = 0.2 W/m2 and 460 PPM.

      • “And given the available evidence there isn’t even a problem.”

        Yes, I completely agree.

        On the other hand, 3000 deaths at the WTC, 160 in Paris and some 20 in California sort of proves there is a problem with Islamic terrorism.

        And yet.

        The left finds Trump’s suggestions of halting Muslim immigration offensive, proving that they have a double standard in advocating the precautionary principle for climate change since they obviously do not accept it in the case of Islamic terrorism.

        Which should not be surprising since the entire premise of the left (at least the new left) is lies, based on the revolutionary logic of Marx, which states that the only and ultimate morality is the betterment of the cause. All truth is assumed to be the result of the material capitalist oppressors.

      • “And given the available evidence there isn’t even a problem”

        Climate models achieve 100% error by 2 or 3 months. Or a year. Not exactly how long, but once errors begin to accumulate and a few unstable regimes are passed, the result holds.

        So, coin toss or climate model. Both provide the same information, which is zero.

        The myth is that somehow climate models hold on to some information. In fact the output of a climate model is the complex interaction of integration errors, which are highly correlated and absolutely, completely NOT independent.

        One may as well turn their TV to a station they don’t get and count the white pixels in the snow.

      • Nickels, the basic problem is the models are composed of approximately 100-200 km squares that are 1-3 km thick. Further the long term climate models are said to use around a 3 hour update interval.

        The physics doesn’t work accurately under those conditions (I invite any correction or comment on the above.) Being familiar with digital/analog simulators I find difficult to believe anyone puts weight on the output of these models.

      • “Nickels, the basic problem is the models are composed of approximately 100-200 km squares that are 1-3 km thick. Further the long term climate models are said to use around a 3 hour update interval.”

        Yes, glad you see this. Even if the model was perfect (which it is not) the integration error (what the poor resolution introduces) of the discretization introduces error that soon swamps the entire solution. Generally this error only grows linearly, but with chaotic models the ‘mixing’ property essentially guarantees that given any outcome (choose one), there is an arbitrarily close initial condition (to the one you want to use) that gives the desired result.

        My PhD thesis studied this. I created a method that helped understand the error introduced by uncertainty in model parameters.
        I had sarcastic visions of creating a more useful tool for scientists that would basically realized this, i.e. let the scientist decide what the outcome of the model SHOULD be (being sarcastic here) and then my tool would find the parameter values (near reasonable ones) that realized this. haha.
        For chaotic models this is always possible.

      • Basically,
        ‘stretch and fold’,
        ‘stretch and fold’,
        etc
        etc

      • And given the available evidence there isn’t even a problem.

        PA, I find it interesting that you think that you have such a good grasp of all the relevant evidence that you can come to that conclusion with such certainty. See my position is that I am not absolutely sure it will be bad for us but I do think it could be bad depending on what we do.

      • nickels | January 8, 2016 at 1:09 pm |
        Basically,
        ‘stretch and fold’,
        ‘stretch and fold’,
        etc
        etc

        At a high level the models are curve generating engines and it may be possible to develop a routine to generate the parameters needed to match an arbitrary trend curve. Thus saving the scientists considerable time that they are currently spending trying to achieve an arbitrary result and allowing them move on to other tasks.

        Is this the point you are getting at?

      • PA, I find it interesting that you think that you have such a good grasp of all the relevant evidence that you can come to that conclusion with such certainty. See my position is that I am not absolutely sure it will be bad for us but I do think it could be bad depending on what we do.

        Joseph, can you identify, clearly, what harms/risks/problems you believe there are?
        And if these harms are not observed presently, why you believe they might occur by 2100?

  20.  
    Whaaaaatt…….????

    ”Support for climate science (a rather small backwater field) has increased from about $500 million per year to about $9 billion.” ~Richard Lindzen

     

    ‘Nuff Said!

  21. The Transcontinental Railroad was way over cost and riddled with government corruption and a huge bond scandal yet it was the modernization of the US. Going from fossil fuels to nuclear energy is surely worth any risk and corruption. Safe Nuclear energy is worth it regardless of easy fossil free energy need that competes as a supply demand model. Nuclear will replace that need and probably be much more cost effective in the end. Fossil products should be saved for plastics and other materials. Nuclear is the only option.

  22. That is, we should ask “what would the correct policy be if we had no reliable models?”

    Easy, look at data for the past ten thousand years and project that forward and totally ignore the models that are not reliable.

  23. I think that Andy West (in an uncharacteristically brief comment) nails the problems with Taleb’s argument.

    Judith’s comment:

    “The key point with respect to Taleb’s argument is that the scale of the effect has not been demonstrated to be harmful relative to the historical record of climate variability; allegations of harm are derived from simplified reasoning using climate models that are inadequate.”

    is key.

    However, as long as the “learned societies” keep promoting the notion that real harm is just around the corner unless we do something, the policy makers will take the easy way out and hang their penchant for developing unsavory policies on the scientists.

    • John Carpenter

      Yeah, this is the key point. If there were no models projecting future possible outcomes, there would really be no climate change discussions. No one would be able to characterize current extreme weather events as consistent with possible future weather prediction of a changed climate because there would be and could be no predictions. That is to say, any prediction would be complete baseless speculation. Today, everything we think we know about how the climate may change due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere is based on a model. Everything!!!! The current observable record does not purport impending catastrophe or danger in and of itself. In the absence of a model there is nothing to indicate that anything about our climate is necessarily amiss. In fact, the only way a model-less prediction could be made would be to assume a cyclical pattern (which is still a type of model) where we might expect cooling to be around the bend.

      Go figure how the precautionary principle could be applied in that case.

      • John Carpenter –

        ==> “If there were no models projecting future possible outcomes, there would really be no climate change discussions. “No one would be able to characterize current extreme weather events as consistent with possible future weather prediction of a changed climate because there would be and could be no predictions. ”

        I don’t understand why you say that. People would say that the basic physics of the GHE suggest that there is a risk of high-impact changes to our climate system. Models not needed, just the basic physics.

        ==> “That is to say, any prediction would be complete baseless speculation.”

        Not true. It would be speculation based on the basic physics, energy balance, etc.

        ==> ” Today, everything we think we know about how the climate may change due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere is based on a model. Everything!!!! “

        Despite the use of four exclamation points, I can’t agree (see above).

        ==> “The current observable record does not purport impending catastrophe or danger in and of itself. “

        It does, along with the basic physics of the GHE, suggest risk. Are you building a CAGW strawman there, John?

        ==> In the absence of a model there is nothing to indicate that anything about our climate is necessarily amiss. “

        Necessarily? Sure, there ares some who argue that our climate is “necessarily” amiss, but that is not the typical scientific argument being made.

        ==> “In fact, the only way a model-less prediction could be made would be to assume a cyclical pattern (which is still a type of model) where we might expect cooling to be around the bend.”

        Do you need a model to quantify the physics of the GHE? Well, to some degree, sure. We don’t understand, basically, anything without constructing a model (at least a mental model). But there could be reason to theorize risk as the result of quantifying past patterns along with the theorized influence of identifiable factors, such as solar input and the GHE.

        ==> “Go figure how the precautionary principle could be applied in that case.”

        In the case of no model? You would apply the principle that without models, there is reason to develop policies that recognize risk.

      • John Carpenter

        Jo$hua, The GHE is just another model. Basic to complex physics equations are models used to explain how things work as well as to predict. Basic to complex chemical equations are models of how materials interact. Energy balance is just another model. Simple models become more complex as you consider more variables. Simple models become more complex when you start correcting for inconsistencies or anomalies. So when I talk about models, I am including models we use all the time to describe our physical world. Like I said, without models it’s hard to predict or explain anything. Maybe you find this is taking what Taleb says to an extreme, but the GHE is just another model. Certainly GCM’s incorporate the GHE along with lots of other model representations and let them interact with each other in a complex way. But simple models can predict general trends almost as well and to the same magnitude as the complex ones, but likely without the same level of accuracy. Nevertheless they are all models. No prediction of where a ball will land given a starting trajectory to where the temperature will land given a starting trajectory can be made without a model representation. Simple.

        So with that in mind, just looking at the observable data, how could you predict anything without a model representation of some sort? What I find wrong about Talebs premise is where do you draw the line between one model representation and another? Why are GCM’s the only types of models Teleb decided in their absence we would still need to apply the precautionary principle? Why only consider the complex models when talking about ‘models’? When is a model too complex or not representational enough? What information are we trying to get out of the model? What is we want to quantify from the model? Just understanding the GHE alone does not, IMO, tell us anything about what kind of danger we may or may not be in. The GHE based on CO2 alone does not get you to dangerous. The Arrhenius model is too simple for policy making tasks, is not accurate enough and only gives you temperature information. GCM’s are far more complex and return much more information than just temperature, so then you wonder are they really getting all the interactions and representations correct? When compared to the observable record, the overall conclusion is most run too hot. So accuracy is again questioned. So are they up to the policy making task?

        “THE POLICY DEBATE with respect to anthropogenic climate-change typically revolves around the accuracy of models. Those who contend that models make accurate predictions argue for specific policies to stem the foreseen damaging effects; those who doubt their accuracy cite a lack of reliable evidence of harm to warrant policy action.”

        What level of models is he speaking of? Which models are the accurate ones? What are we using to measure the accuracy?

        “These two alternatives are not exhaustive. One can sidestep the “skepticism” of those who question existing climate-models, by framing risk in the most straightforward possible terms, at the global scale. That is, we should ask “what would the correct policy be if we had no reliable models?”

        ‘No reliable models’ takes us from the the most complex GCM all the way back to simple Arrhenius model of GHE. So if we don’t have any model… go back to my original comment and read again.

        Besides, you don’t understand the science anyway…. so why do you question my authority on the matter? :0)

      • ==> “Jo$hua, The GHE is just another model. Basic to complex physics equations are models used to explain how things work as well as to predict. Basic to complex chemical equations are models of how materials interact. Energy balance is just another model. Simple models become more complex as you consider more variables. Simple models become more complex when you start correcting for inconsistencies or anomalies. So when I talk about models, I am including models we use all the time to describe our physical world.

        Well, like I said, basically all of our reasoning employs modeling. So yes, without any modeling, there is little reason to to anything, let alone employ the precautionary principle. But unlike you, my sense is that Taleb was referring to the potential implications of climate models being erroneous w/r/t the need to address risk (regardless of that potential).

        ==> ” Maybe you find this is taking what Taleb says to an extreme…”

        Well. In a word….yes. Kind of seemed to me a bit like the ol’ rediction ad absurdum….

        ==> ” What I find wrong about Talebs premise is where do you draw the line between one model representation and another? “

        Well, a fine question…but given the large amount of focus on potential for error in climate modeling from “skeptics” who claim that they don’t doubt the physics of the GHE (a claim that I find logically inconsistent with the arguments that many of those same folks put forth), I don’t really think that it’s so much important for Taleb to clarify that distinction as it is for the “skeptics” who argue policy on the basis of potential error in GCMs to make that distinction.

        ==> “Why are GCM’s the only types of models Teleb decided in their absence we would still need to apply the precautionary principle?”

        My guess is because of the “skeptics” who leverage the potential for error in GCM’s to be a foundational plank in policy development even as they argue (by virtue of an appeal to consensus, ironically), that dismissal of the GHE is not meaningfully influential on the policy debate.

        ==> ” Why only consider the complex models when talking about ‘models’? “

        In my answer above, I think I’ve addressed that question and much of what follows.

        ==> ” Just understanding the GHE alone does not, IMO, tell us anything about what kind of danger we may or may not be in. “

        Again, this seems to me to suggest the CAGW strawman. The GHE doesn’t tell us exactly what of what danger we may be facing,, but it suggests the potential of risk, which in turn is presented as a rationale for employing the precautionary principle.

        ==> “The GHE based on CO2 alone does not get you to dangerous.”

        It gets us to the risk of danger… which suggests investigating the implications of a precautionary response.

        ==> ” When compared to the observable record, the overall conclusion is most run too hot. “

        Well, not being inclined to an appeal to your authority, I will note that there are “expert” sources that disagree with that assessment of yours. But either way, now you are going back to pointing to the potential for error in the modeling whereas Taleb is saying that in the real world, we can’t allow that potential to derail our policy evaluation process, because the potential for risk exists irrespective of the potential for error in climate modeling.

        Now you might see that as a way of duckng the potential error in climate modeling (a frequent refrain from “skeptics”)….well, OK, maybe so. But such an accusation would have to be proven with evidence of a sort I see lacking (unless one tends towards conspiratorial thinking)….

        ==> ““THE POLICY DEBATE with respect to anthropogenic climate-change typically revolves around the accuracy of models. Those who contend that models make accurate predictions argue for specific policies to stem the foreseen damaging effects;…”

        I don’t think that is inclusive enough to be accurate. Some think that their potential for accuracy provides a rationale for policies to address potential risk. Not everyone on the “realist” side says that they are necessarily accurate so as to make accurate predictions without the inclusion of confidence intervals. I am unpersuaded by arguments from the “skeptics” side that fail to acknowledge that the vast majority of the “realist” science comes in the context of confidence intervals and ranges of probabilities…

        ==> ” those who doubt their accuracy cite a lack of reliable evidence of harm to warrant policy action.”

        Right. And unfortunately, they do so without acknowledging the probabilistic foundation of the modeling outputs.

        ==> “Besides, you don’t understand the science anyway…. so why do you question my authority on the matter? :0) “

        I never let not understanding what I’m talking about prevent me from expressing my opinions. :-)

      • John,

        Why do you humor the putz?

        It must be central to who you are Josh. Dishonest BS pours forth as if from a broken spigot.

        “People would say…”

        What people Josh?

        ” .. suggest there is a risk”

        Wormy wiggle words Josh.

        “Models not needed, just basic physics.”

        Ignoring the fact your knowledge of physics does not extend past spelling it, you are making a false claim. It IS the models and only the models which support high impact.

        Your first paragraph is pure Josh. Plain, unsupported garbage.

      • John Carpenter

        Josh-ua,

        An important component of addressing a potential risk is estimating or quantifying the level of risk involved. Obviously very low risk activities do not merit much time wrt to taking precautions. Estimating or quantifying the level of risk wrt atmospheric CO2 concentrations and their effect on the climate will require some sort of model to do so. In the absence of a ‘reliable’ model, how do you do that? Simply knowing CO2 can warm the planet via GHE may indicate a potential risk, but then everything we do could be argued to have a potential risk. The estimation has to come from some sort of model otherwise it is only speculation. Is the simplest model of the GHE capable of framing an estimate of a potential risk? Sure. Is it reliable? Not too sure. So it really isn’t reduction ad absurdum to challenge what is a reliable model in this case since that is at the very premise of the argument. That ‘reliable’ model (whichever one that is) is going to be used to estimate the risk potential to see if we should consider being precautionary about how much CO2 we put in the atmosphere. Otherwise it is speculation.

        I acknowledge I have a bias of not liking the precautionary principle. That does not mean I don’t take precautions in my own life and in business. By nature of being somewhat conservative, I take precautions all the time. I become biased against precautionary measures when they provide no utility, remove utility or are not pragmatic. I happen to believe that with the knowledge we have about AGW, there is merit to taking some precautions. But again, the level of precautions needed have to be based on the level of danger involved or, if you wish to avoid the CAGW fallacy, the potential for risk (of harm). Because precautionary measures for avoiding further AGW involve removing materials that have utility (fossil fuels) or may be less than pragmatic at this time (renewable energy sources via solar or wind) my bias shows up. Getting everyone to agree on what the potential for risk (of harm) is… is the tough nut to crack. In the absence of (reliable) models to help quantify, it just becomes more speculation. Not a good way to make good policy decisions IMO.

      • John Carpenter –

        ==> “An important component of addressing a potential risk is estimating or quantifying the level of risk involved. “

        Right, as a matter of probabilities. An expectation of precise quantification works as a rhetorical device, but it doesn’t work for evaluating policy development to address risk in the face of uncertainty.

        ==> “Obviously very low risk activities do not merit much time wrt to taking precautions. Estimating or quantifying the level of risk wrt atmospheric CO2 concentrations and their effect on the climate will require some sort of model to do so.”

        Well, I don’t reject the argument that the GHE, in itself, suggests risk. We are adding energy to the climate system, which has the potential to change the climate system, which presents potential risks.

        The important question, IMO, relate to the comparative risks and benefits of addressing that potential…and the problem there is that there is a ton o’ uncertainty in evaluating the risks and benefits because to do so you have to measure and quantify externalities (both negative and positive)…

        ==> “In the absence of a ‘reliable’ model, how do you do that? “

        (1) with difficulty and (2) with a recognition that the best you can do is determine an uncertain range of probabilities. IMO, the next step, then, is to work through stakeholder dialog to differentiate positions from interests, and then to work towards finding and building upon common interests. But the context is too polarized for that to take place, and instead what we have is people adopting scorched Earth zero sum gain methodologies to battle over positions. One such methodology is, IMO, to say that we can’t develop policies because we’re relying on imperfect models. The first problem with that is the unrealistic notion of perfecdt modeling (even as people turn right around, and with complete uncertainty, rely on imperfect economic modeling to pronounce mitigation as being “too expensive”). Another is ignoring the basic physics of the GHE, which imply that we’re creating potential risk by adding energy to the climate system.

        ==> “Simply knowing CO2 can warm the planet via GHE may indicate a potential risk, but then everything we do could be argued to have a potential risk.”

        Right. That is the reality of the policy-development context. Nothing we can do will change that, and ducking that reality by either ignoring the potential risk in all directions or by ignoring uncertainty (through certain predictions of economic doom or even net cost from mitigation won’t change that context even though it makes people feel better about themselves and enables them to feel justified in their demonization of those who have a different perspective.

        ==> ” The estimation has to come from some sort of model otherwise it is only speculation. “

        It is unrealistic, IMO, to expect some way forward that isn’t based on speculation. What’s the problem, IMO, is that people want to “deny” the speculative nature of their arguments.

        ==> “Is the simplest model of the GHE capable of framing an estimate of a potential risk? Sure. Is it reliable? Not too sure. ”

        What are you sure of?

        ==> “So it really isn’t reduction ad absurdum to challenge what is a reliable model in this case since that is at the very premise of the argument. “

        I’m not suggesting that challenging what is and isn’t reliable is a fallacy, but that extending Taleb’s argument from climate models to the basic physics of the GHE is.

        ==> “That ‘reliable’ model (whichever one that is) is going to be used to estimate the risk potential to see if we should consider being precautionary about how much CO2 we put in the atmosphere. Otherwise it is speculation.”

        So you wouldn’t even consider it?

        ==> “I acknowledge I have a bias of not liking the precautionary principle. That does not mean I don’t take precautions in my own life and in business. By nature of being somewhat conservative, I take precautions all the time. I become biased against precautionary measures when they provide no utility, remove utility or are not pragmatic.”

        But the basic problem remains…we can only speculate…so does that mean that we should rule out the precautionary principle, and simply accept any potential for “fat tails” of risk, when we can’t even quantify the costs and benefits or mitigation?

        ==> ” it just becomes more speculation. Not a good way to make good policy decisions IMO…”

        What is your suggested alternative given the scale of the uncertainties?

        IMO, Taleb has the basics right. You have to consider the magnitude of the risk along with the probabilities. Does the risk of high damage function, low probabilities risk justify exercising the precautionary principle? I think sometimes. But the problem is that if you can’t disentangle the policy evaluation from the identity struggles, all you get is sameosameo, and you never actually get down to a real policy evaluation.

  24. The scale of the effect must be demonstrated to be large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.

    Well then, if we accept the above precept, (devoid of costs) it is imperative that we cease any and all agricultural practices immediately and return to a hunter gatherer existence. This includes subsistence as well as so-called organic farming. A reduction in human population by 95-99% is also probably required.

    Where’s a Pielke when you need one?

    • More evidence of a wicked solution
      than a demonstrated wicked problem.
      Abandon cheap energy, free markets,
      democracy to a machievellian ‘Great
      Leap Forward’ central authority, then
      you’ll have a wicked problem, a machine
      from hell like the chimera,phantasmagoria
      -driven European Union. Go Greece, go
      Spain et AL. Another subsidy for you and
      you and you, maintaining the vision.

    • The scale of the effect must be demonstrated to be large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.

      1. The scale of the effect must be demonstrated to be large enough to have impact
      Jury is out on this. 22 PPM = 0.2 W/m2 is only empirical evidence we have and that arguably not a significant impact – since something else drove all the unaccounted warming..

      2. Once this is shown, and it has been
      Didn’t you read #1? It hasn’t been proven.

      3. the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.
      This is backwards. Humans breathe out 40,000 PPM. Plants breathe it in. If CO2 or methane were lethal, people in general and farmers in particular would have died off a long time ago. Given that for 90% of the planets history the CO2 level was 30,000 PPM and that the vast majority of the last 100 million years the CO2 level was higher, claims of harm would have to be proven with empirical evidence.

      The argument that increasing a plant nutrient that historically has been at higher levels is harmful is absurd on its face. Plants are clearly growing faster and that is benefiting mankind. Plants were starving for CO2 before man came along.

  25. I don’t think you have to confirm there is a problem before doing something about it. As Dr. Curry says, there will be losers and winners with anthropogenic climate change and ocean acidifcation. Because most everyone here will agree ECS is about 1C or higher, we know we are affecting climate. We cannot prove there will be more losers or winners with imperfect models.

    What we do know (with ECS > or =1 C) is that we are messing with a non-linear system and leading ourselves into uncharted territory. It behooves us to minimize raising non-linear uncertainties on our planet.

    Even in the “let’s do nothing everything is cool” scenario, the government is ALREADY doing much to alter energy markets:

    https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22858.pdf

    What is the problem with boosting government investment in renewables and energy efficiency and reducing the funding for fossil and old (light water reactor) nuclear?

    The old-nuclear’s Price-Anderson Act is a huge subsidy. Without Price-Anderson insurance premium bailouts there would be zero nuclear plants.

    If you don’t want to do anything about anthropogenic climate change you have to explain why you’re chill with the current status-quo that messes intensely with free markets?

    • Curious George

      The climate is a nonlinear system. It has never been charted. Whatever we do or don’t do, we are in an uncharted territory. That’s where the life develops.

    • 1. Since the system is badly understood we could be making things better not worse. Assuming we are making things worse (at least with CO2) has no foundation. We do know we are getting more food and the little animals are eating better.

      2. Current renewables are a dead end technology. Giving money to China for expensive energy is silly.

      3. I do sadly agree about light water reactors, not a big fan – but they are better than renewables. Small modular reactors and a cut in regulations to make deployment cheaper would be wise.

      4. The old-nuclear’s Price-Anderson Act is a huge subsidy.
      This is only true if nuclear was dangerous. How much has insurance actually paid out? More civilians died in the back seat of Ted Kennedy’s car .etc. etc.

    • ybutt,

      The old-nuclear’s Price-Anderson Act is a huge subsidy. Without Price-Anderson insurance premium bailouts there would be zero nuclear plants.

      Why do you write a disingenuous, dishonest comment, on another thread, get shown you were wrong, ignore the response / not respond, then repeat it again on another thread? That is a sign of intellectual dishonesty.

      This comment is disingenuous. Price-Anderson Act is NOT a huge subsidy. It’s a huge, unfair, imposts on nuclear power. Ask yourself, what other electricity technologies have to pay damages for the health effects and fatalities they cayuse? And remember that the costs of nuclear accidents are orders of magnitude greater per fatality than annoy other industry. Why do you think that might be. eh?. Hint: its due to irrational public paranoia caused by 50 years of anti-nuke scaremongering.

      Only nuclear would survive if all technologies had to pay for the fatalities they cause. To understand this let’s estimate how much should society subsidise nuclear, or penalize other electricity generators, to compensate equally so all technologies pay for the fatalities they cause? Viewed another way, how much would we need to subsidise nuclear to reward the comparatively higher safety of nuclear power?

      The answer from my quick, back of an envelope calculation is we’d should subsidise nuclear by $140/MWh to substitute for coal-fired generation and $37/MWh to substitute for gas fired generation in the USA. Much higher in other countries. With those subsidies, nuclear would certainly be “too cheap to meter”; but since the subsidies would exceed the cost of production of nuclear power, we’d need to meter consumption in order to pay the consumers around $50/MWh to consume the power! :)

      Inputs used for the estimate:

      1. Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) in USA = $9.4 million (2015, https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/VSL2015_0.pdf )

      2. Fatalities per TWh (Source Forbes http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/06/deaths-by-energy-source-in-forbes.html )

      Coal electricity – world avg = 60 (50% of electricity)
      Coal electricity- China = 90
      Coal – U.S. = 15 (44% U.S. electricity)
      Natural Gas = 4 (20% global electricity)
      Solar (rooftop) = 0.44 (0.2% global electricity)
      Wind = 0.15 (1.6% global electricity)
      Hydro – global average = 1.4 (15% global electricity)
      Nuclear – global average = 0.09 (12% global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)

      3. USA TWh per technology in 2014 (source EIA) https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1

      Coal = 1,581,710
      Natural gas = 1,126,609
      Nuclear = 797,166
      Hydro = 259,367
      Solar = 17,691
      Other renewables = 261,522

      Results:

      If each technology was required to pay insurance or compensation for the annual cost of fatalities caused by that technology, the amounts they would have to pay per MWh are:

      Technology $/MWh
      Coal 141
      Natural gas 38
      Hydro 13
      Solar 4
      Nuclear 1

      Or, if each industry is not penalized, society should subsidise nuclear $140/MWh to substitute for coal and 37/MWh to substitute for natural gas generation.

      I wonder if you will display the personal, professional, and intellectual integrity to accept you are wrong on this point and admit it here. I wonder …. Will he??? Let’s see.

    • ” Because most everyone here will agree ECS is about 1C or higher”

      Based on the fallacious assumption that we have to deal with the full load radiative transfer of CO2. We don’t.

      Only about half the load. Call it ECS .5 in round numbers.

      • I do go with actual data and not model output. ECS is most likely zero plus or minus some small number that will never be determined. Earth temperature is regulated and CO2 never was and never will be an important player. It snows more when it is warm and oceans are thawed, it snows less when it is cold and oceans are frozen. This keeps temperatures bounded and this keeps sea levels bounded.

    • Before cutting the subsidy, we should cut the reason for the subsidy.

  26. the precautionary principle say “don’t change horses mid-stream”.

    fossil fuels have created modern society. who says the alternative will be better? Pol-pot proved pretty conclusively the alternative will go badly.

    • precautionary principle If something works, keep doing it.

      Burning Fossil Fuels has made life wonderful for billions of people.
      Keep burning Fossil Fuels until something else proves better and cheaper.

  27. A reduction in human population by 95-99% is also probably required.
    ======================
    low cost energy is what allows us to pack millions of people into a hundred square miles of city. the land itself could only grow enough food for a few thousand. without efficient transportation everyone else would starve within a few months. once people get hungry enough, the family pet will be renamed “Dinner”.

  28. From the IPCC’s own figures, the next 50 years of warming will be a net benefit. It is only after that time, as warming increases that the net costs turn negative.

    However, during the 100 years of the industrial revolution we have build an enormously valuable infrastructure that we could no have done without fossil fuels. And depending on real interest rates, the harmful effects of global warming can never catch up due to the effects of compound interest. Here is a quick chart I did using the IPCC AR5 figures:

  29. I find it difficult to respect Taleb.

    “the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.

    The burden of proof of absence of monsters under the bed is on those who would deny it.

    No difference.

    • I am unaware of any evidence of harm from warming or CO2 at the current time.

      When someone demonstrates some actual harm perhaps we can revisit the issue. Without evidence of a problem it isn’t evident how serious the problem is or even if there is one.

    • no greater fears than imagined ones
      imagining fears is profitable
      and good busy work for the comfortable
      so here we are

  30. Had the pleasure of a lot of out and about this yuletide season. Spent lots of time listening to the youth, adults in their 20s and young 30s. Ah to be young.

    Much of politics can be summed as a backlash to the extremes of the previous administration. Obama sunk his teeth in CAGW because their was a backlash to war. The youth I met often describe a sense of it doesn’t matter if CAGW is real, the unintended consequence is that less funding went to the military thus reducing our warlike trend. None of them want to fight for oil.

    Just putting it out there. This is on their mind and if you forgot the above age groups were key to electing the current president.

    Obviously the science is out to lunch and this is purely a political adventure. Will their be a backlash to this CAGW fiasco ? What is the extreme of this administration that will define the backlash of the next wave ?

  31. If Prof. Taleb can diagnose global risks on the basis of what someone told him about climate models, then I can diagnose Prof. Taleb on the basis of this single essay. He appears to be suffering from a serious case of Ivory Tower disease.

  32. Thank you, Professor Curry, for your excellent analysis of Nasdim Taleb’s paper. The most rational course of action for the scientific community at present is to correct errors about which there is NO DEBATE.

    This would encourage leaders of the scientific community and their flock of 97% consensus followers to address the precise experimental observations they now ignore, while ignoring uncertainties in values of global temperatures.

  33. Nassim Taleb’s climate model precautionary measures, restated –e.g.,

    Ergo, we should continue to push the hoax and scare tactics of global warming alarmism, even regardless of what reason and common sense tell us.

  34. We have only one planet. This fact radically constrains the kinds of risks that are appropriate to take at a large scale. Even a risk with a very low probability becomes unacceptable when it affects all of us – there is no reversing mistakes of that magnitude.

    We do not need to put fixes in place that cause more risk than the tiny things that most likely will happen that they are trying to fix.

  35. Pingback: The Lukewarmer's Way

  36. The population and per capita emission trajectories put us at 700+ ppm by 2100 and still climbing rapidly at that time. So the relevant question is, do we think that is OK, or should we be doing something to mitigate that, and stabilizing CO2 levels to something rather lower? The idea of a wicked problem makes it even more wicked and messier, think tipping points and domino effects, by the time 700 ppm is hit, so that argument points strongly towards mitigation. However, it turns out that even moderate mitigation spread over decades can stabilize us below 500 ppm, which would be a much better situation by any measure. The choice between sub-500 ppm and stable or 700 ppm and rising at 2100 seems to be a stark one. The do-nothing “skeptics” are implicitly choosing the latter course because it only becomes less preventable with more delay. There is no free lunch. We are in a situation where any route forwards has costs, but there is a choice whether these are unending or limited.

    • Yeah, Jim, unless we are going to stop economic growth, we are going to need more energy from some source and if we use mostly fossil fuels to provide that new energy demand, I think that energy per capita emissions can only go up.

    • More CO2 is better than less CO2.

      There is no actual data that shows any problem with temperature or sea level.

      The only tipping points are that when it gets warm, it melts oceans, that increases snowfall, that replenishes ice on land, that halts warming and, after a few hundred years of warmer, it does get cooler.

      • Most “skeptics” are afraid of stating their argument that way because it makes them look kind of crazy, but they need to own it, because that is what they are saying.

      • In the climate debate it is crazy to use actual data rather than flawed model output, but this is what I do.

  37. Thank you for the responses above regarding old-nuclear.

    The point is that without a government system to backstop insurance there would be no nuclear industry now. You can quibble all you want about fatalities from other sources but the public cares about payout in accidents — that is what insurance is for. So Lang’s arguments are disingenuous.

    Also, Price-Anderson subsidies to old-nuclear not only stop renewables from succeeding, but also stops new-nuclear from having breathing space in the market. Because the market is not currently free.

    If everyone is happy with the status-quo and do not want to make any changes due to non-linear uncertainties that we cause via CO2 (even at ECS=1), please explain why we should have *this* particular set of subsidies, or R&D favoritism:

    https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22858.pdf

    and not some other?

    What is that everyone loves about the present biases in the government’s interference in Energy markets?

    • ybutt,

      “What is that everyone loves about the present biases in the government’s interference in Energy markets?”

      The lights are on.

    • ybutt:

      This may have been pointed out before but Price-Anderson is a government-imposed requirement that nuclear power fund its own insurance premiums. The first $12+ billion in insurance claims are to be paid directly by the private nuclear sector and any remainder is most likely to be paid off by increased charges to the same companies.

      So the actual annual subsidy to the nuclear industry under Price-Anderson is zero dollars.

      • I see this differently. You have a group of investors in nuke who want their investment insured. You have a group of investors in the insurance industry who were unwilling to sell the nuke boys what they wanted… at any price that was viable. And then you had this group of government boys who wanted there to be a nuke dream. So they bridged from what the insurance boys were willing to provide to what the nuke boys required to make their investment. It has nothing to do with the safety record other than the one they have had has allowed the nuke industry to hobble along through the decades. If there is a huge accident, it all likely ends, and the costs to the taxpayer will be enormous.

      • The benefit from nuclear powered electricity is more enormous.

      • JCH:

        According to Wikipedia, the Three Mile Island meltdown cost nuke generators $71 million under Price-Anderson. Compare that to the Wall Street Meltdown that led to the TARP bailout of $430 billion along the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bailouts (another $187 billion).

        Though to fairly compare all cases, it should be noted that most (perhaps all?) of the TARP and bailout money has been repaid to the government, with interest.

    • And without government backed insurance on wealthy folks seaside mansions, there wouldn’t be billions of dollars in damage every time a storm comes along. Maybe they shouldn’t build there in the first place. Or maybe the insurance industry is driving many of these decisions.

      • yeah! like those rich suckers in New York, New Jersey, New Orleans :)

      • Richard: The US flood insurance program dos not cover seaside properties, only those on rivers and creeks. Moreover the price can be relatively high. I know of a property that was basically rendered unsaleable when they rezoned the flood insurance requirements, because the premiums were more than the mortgage would be. Do you know anything about this program? It is burdensome and expensive.

  38. 30,000 people die each year in traffic accidents in the US. Many hundreds of thousands more suffer both short and long term injuries.

    Surely we must ban all driving?

    Driving for the last 100 years has certainly accounted for more deaths than any supposed global warming, climate change, climate weirding, climate disruption (or whatever it’s called this week).

    Right?

    Let’s child proof the world, based on the precautionary principle.

    • That’s a valid argument. But even now there is govt favoritism in energy markets and R&D.

      Why not reexamine the set of subsidies?

      • As a Libertarian (and someone who still foolishly believes in the antiquated notion of property rights) I say let’s ban all subsidies.

        And, as an Architect who has help a multi-billion dollar client get 100,000’s in subsidies for implementing “green” technologies in their building program, I can tell you that it’s a scam.

      • Great — so you are advocating to changes in the Energy market that would disallow old-nuclear as that is propped up by the Price-Anderson Act. I don’t disagree with you btw.

    • This is 1 in 10,000 per person per year, which is actually a low risk by most people’s standards, and this is achieved through a lot of regulation, so we might use that as an example of a mitigation success story.

      • Jim D, would you care to substantiate that assertion?

      • It comes from the numbers given and the US population. 30,000 per year and 300 million. You can calculate it.

      • I meant, substantiate your assertion(s) that it’s achieved through a lot of regulation, and that it’s an example of a mitigation success story.

      • Seatbelts, speed limits, DUI penalties.other enforcements – these are all mitigation efforts that have brought traffic deaths to a low level compared to, for example, countries or times with less of these measures. It works.

      • The speed comment is indefensible. Improvements in traffic fatalities came to a halt during the initial 5 years of the double nickel and didn’t drop until the next technology improvement.

        Major parts of the interstates should be autobahns with little or no limit.

      • How about in built-up zones?

      • Safer cars, safer roads. better medical care, etc.
        With the possible exception of DUI, legislation and enforcement have had little or no effect.
        Unless of course you have very good evidence to the contrary

      • Seatbelts, air bags, crash tests, are legislated requirements on new cars in most places now, and these rules have helped safety.

      • Little yimmy is correct, on this rare occasion.
        Improvements in car design and engineering has had something to do with it, but government regulation has reduced the risk and rate of occurrence of fatal traffic accidents. That is a mitigation success story. However, it has nothing to do with ACO2. Try to stay on topic, yimmy.

      • Common theme: mitigation is for safety, while adaptation is just cleaning up accidents.

    • Or, you can compare the likely number of deaths to how many we would have if we were still all using horses because of a fear of fossil fuels.

  39. My first thought about 2/3’s of the way in is that Taleb needs to stick to his area of expertise.

    • Taleb has spoken harshly about experts and
      their proneness ter overlook, or fergit, their failed
      predictions … Perhaps he has fergotten his prior
      aversion

      • bts – True. Funny that Taleb is now an expert on experts. I loved Black Swan, but Taleb has gone off the rails. He couldn’t tell the difference between a modest and malleable Mormon and a rabid and rigid Community Organizer and now here we are.

  40. rogerknights

    “Ergo, we should build down CO2 emissions, even regardless of what climate-models tell us. – Nassim Taleb”

    “Who’s “we”, white man?”
    —The Rest of the World

  41. “THE POLICY DEBATE with respect to anthropogenic climate-change typically revolves around the accuracy of models. Those who contend that models make accurate predictions argue for specific policies to stem the foreseen damaging effects; those who doubt their accuracy cite a lack of reliable evidence of harm to warrant policy action.”

    The problem is we have two types of models – models about the effect of GHG and models about the effects of the effect. Taleb is saying even if the first models are inaccurate we must act as if the second models are accurate but only in so far as they predict negative consequences. If we assume the effect of GHG is significant (even though we don’t know) then we should only look at the predicted negative consequences of the second models as a guide to our actions.

    Where else should we apply this argument?

    Any large-scale policy actions we take to address GHG could also have large-scale negative effects. We can’t predict exactly what the effects could be but no problem we have a handy rule – we should stop the actions to address climate change because they could have large scale negative consequences. After all, we don’t know, do we?

    • That is well-put.

      However, if you are happy with the status-quo and do not want to make any changes please explain why we should have *this* particular set of subsidies, or R&D favoritism via the govt:

      https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22858.pdf

      and not some other?

      What is that you like about the present biases in the government’s interference in Energy markets?

      Either you like the current interference of the govt in Energy markets (and presumably have some scientific reasons for it), or else you don’t and implicitly support changes to what the govt should do in energy markets.

      Which of the above is it and why?

      • One of the issues with looking at US government subsidies is that they don’t tell the whole story. Oil subsidies are used to maintain supply which help keep the value of the dollar somewhat stable when oil prices are stable. Between the recession and high oil prices the dollar lost close to 50% of its value. On the other hand, solar subsidy failures hardly dented the economy. So you have R&D investment that may or may not pay off and production tax incentives that have more complex purposes. So if you kill oil “subsidies” you would likely kill the economy that when healthy subsidies renewable R&D.

        If you drop the categories, energy efficiency applies to all energy sources and energy uses. Nuclear efficiency in the form of up-rates and reduced refueling downtime produced more usable energy than all of solar and wind combined with no new plants being built. Solar and wind subsidies though artificially reduce energy cost making nuclear less competitive which is a bit counter productive. We don’t even have enough information to really estimate the life of renewable sources versus nuclear that have a useful life of over 60 years. Since the future is a bit hard to predict, a diverse mix of energy options tends to be the way to go. Nuclear sets the reliable energy source cost baseline. Right now nuclear is around 5 cents a kWh wholesale and has a reliable 85% capacity factor.

        Synfuel subsidies are need more for energy security than actual production. If less than friendly oil exporting nations get their panties in a wad, the price point of synfuels keeps them honest. Affordable energy with stable pricing keeps everything working.

      • Examining cumulative subsidies since 1948, even if done sincerely and with no grinding of axes, is not examining the status quo.

      • ybutt

        I didn’t say I was happy with the status quo only that I don’t like Taleb’s argument.

        I don’t think there is a intellectual shortcut that allows us to jump directly to a decision for drastic action on climate change because “it’s the planet” which is what Taleb seems to be saying.

        I think current science justifies some action. Future science may justify more action. I would prefer modest taxes to incentivize efficiency and innovation rather than direct subsidy. We can use the money for a lot of things like paying down the debt, rebuilding the infrastructure, and saving social security. We won’t regret the innovation and efficiency gains, which may in the long run lead to more economic growth rather than less as we might expect from taxes.

  42. Posts like today’s are polarizing into a black/white paradigm unless the conditions of gray (if any) are addressed — and illustrations of actions that could be taken.

    In several Congressional hearings, Dr. Curry has become very irritated when Democrats have charged her with a label of “do nothing“.

    One mitigation effort that Dr. Curry has written favorably about is “Fast Mitigation” (methane, black carbon, HFCs, smog). As I understand it, this action would fit into a grey area defined by “No/Low Regrets”. But, “No/Low Regrets” to whom????

    There are numerous other initiatives coming out of COP21 that could be considered “No/Low Risk” such as the French proposal to increase soil carbon levels 0.4% per year.

    Question: Is there any paradigm that both skeptics and warmers could agree on with associated mitigation actions?

    • Whatever it is, it must be driven by *some* rationale.

      What I would say is all scientists involved in this issue can agree that at a minimum ECS is around 0.9C — it may be higher.

      So we are messing with the climate, at *some* level.

      I’d also say that perturbing our home-Earth system is unwise, as the system is non-linear. So minimizing CO2 emission, even if ECS is “just” 0.9 C is sensible, as long as the societal downsides are small.

      What are the downsides of conservation, energy-efficiency and renewables that many here seem to knee-jerk opposed to?

      If one doesn’t like government subsidies then we also need to abolish the Price-Anderson Act without which there would be no nuclear industry at all.

      So everyone, even the “do nothing” crowd are at the table with their own implicit biases that the status-quo is just fine.

      • If you assume that some of the past warming was caused by manmade CO2, you can come up with an ECS of 0.9

        If you study the Roman and Medieval warm cycles and determine that the natural causes of those warm cycles are still in place and most likely are causing this “same warm cycle” then you can come up with and ECS of 0.0 plus or minus some tiny amount.

        Our messing with the climate most likely does not extend to temperature or sea level.

      • I think sensitivity could be as high as 1.2, it is probably close to 1, but lower. I think 0 is as likely as 1.2.

    • David Springer

      “Question: Is there any paradigm that both skeptics and warmers could agree on with associated mitigation actions?”

      Doubtful. It’s a religion to warmers. People don’t change their religious beliefs to suit the wants of non-members. Imagine American Atheists asking Christians if they could compromise by not believing Christ died on the cross and was resurrected but rather he was just a man with good intentions and ideas on how to live in peace and harmony.

      Warmists, for the most part, are anti-humanists. They aren’t concerned about global warming they are concerned about how cheap abundant energy is an enabler for the expansion of civilization and population growth. That’s why most of them are not on-board with nuclear energy, fast-mitigation that doesn’t involve limits on fossil fuel consumption, and so forth. The goal is to reduce the human presence on the planet.

      • So, Daviid, are the “warmist” scientists like the high priests or prophets? Are they on board with this political population reduction goal? Or are they actually concerned about climate change?

      • David Springer

        Joseph | January 6, 2016 at 2:07 pm |

        “So, Daviid, are the “warmist” scientists like the high priests or prophets?”

        In any cult there are leaders and followers. Global warming “science” is no different.

        “Are they on board with this political population reduction goal?”

        Maybe start reading up on it. Start here:

        http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/from-7-billion-people-to-500-million-people-the-sick-population-control-agenda-of-the-global-elite

        “Or are they actually concerned about climate change?”

        No. I already said that. Climate change is a stalking horse for sustainable development and sustainable development is politically correct phrase for population control.

        Thanks for asking.

    • Sometimes doing nothing is safer than pulling the trigger. Usually, those than can’t tell which is which get deselected from the gene pool. Just sayin..

    • In several Congressional hearings, Dr. Curry has become very irritated when Democrats have charged her with a label of “do nothing“.

      I’m a “do less than nothing” sort of person. I would slap a surtax on renewables for the loss of CO2 and an excise tax to transfer the full cost of “smart grid” all $1/2 trillion of it onto renewables.

      Methane has a 9 year lifetime, doing anything about methane is silly. Killing off cows and termites just to please environmentalists is unwise and something I would vigorously oppose.

      I really want to hit 500 PPM of CO2 and despair that we can’t achieve it without government intervention. Since any subsidy of renewable energy is flushing good money after previous good money, we should transfer renewable subsidies to fossil fuel and set hitting 500 PPM as a national goal.

      What I would say is all scientists involved in this issue can agree that at a minimum ECS is around 0.9C — it may be higher.

      Surprisingly, I agree. Your viewpoint seems to be within the error bounds of available data.

  43. stevefitzpatrick

    Nassim Taleb’s argument is superficial, reflects little understanding of the technical issues involved, and completely misses the importance (and even the existence!) of many empirical estimates of sensitivity. There is indeed great uncertainty in climate model projections of future warming; he gets this much right. There is also uncertainty in empirical estimates of warming (eg Lewis & Curry 2014, and many others), of course, but that uncertainty is relatively lower; the best estimate value for sensitivity is lower and the extreme tail of the probability distribution is not so ‘fat’.

    The crucial difference between model and empirical estimates is that the path to reduced uncertainty for empirical estimates is straightforward: better measured values for aerosol effects (direct and indirect) and better measured values for heat accumulation, mostly in the global oceans. Models will remain for the foreseeable future too coarse in resolution to address small scale behaviors (like clouds) which contribute most of the uncertainty to the model estimates. Argo has already greatly reduced the uncertainty in ocean heat uptake. An expanded (and deeper diving) Argo type system would essentially eliminate uncertainty in heat uptake at very modest cost. An updated “Glory Mission” satellite or two (to replace the satellite destroyed in a failed launch some years ago) would greatly reduce uncertainty in aerosol influence. With a narrowed empirical estimate (and no ‘fat tail’!), making reasonable public energy policy choices for the next few decades would be much simpler.

    In the long run, fossil fuels will no longer be humankind’s primary energy source, if only due to the finite quantity available. The global warming argument is ultimately only about what will motivate the transition to different primary energy sources, what the alternatives will be, when that transition will happen, and how much it will cost. Will it be alarm or reason? Will it be over the next 40 years or the next 100 years? Will it be normal economic evolution, or disruptive and damaging? Taleb addresses none of these important questions.

  44. You can’t tell what will happen. It’s too complicated to even start to be a science.

    Since there is an infinite number of fantasizable disasters, the proper risk for any of them is zero.

    Therefore the precautionary principle actually says do nothing.

    It saves you from wasting resources.

    • David Springer

      What we know will happen is economically recoverable natural gas, coal, and oil will run out. Therefore public funding of R&D for alternative energy sources is not a waste of resources but rather a vital necessity for future generations. Otherwise I agree.

      • They’ll never run out. As they get scarcer, the price goes up, and substitution kicks in, leaving always some left.

      • “What we know will happen…”

        Maybe, but the past tells us otherwise. Remember, the first economically collected fossil fuel was on the ground. In fact, the beasties fell into it. Things change.

      • David Springer

        economically recoverable

        Economically recoverable means it costs more to recover it than it does to use an alternative. We should seek the best alternatives starting now.

    • How does it differ from: risk/reward? Besides being longer.

      • It’s a reductio ad absurdum of the precautionary argument. If you respond to this fanatisized disaster, you have to justify not also responding to all the other fantasized disasters.

      • The absurdum pov matters if you cling to the concept that logic defines the discussion. The more I talk to the young adults late teens to mid 30s, the more I understand that the brave new energy future is a backlash response to wars they want nothing to do with. In their minds, money spent on chasing new energy is far better spent than money diverted to military tendencies.

        They’ve already succeeded when the money doesn’t got to the military.

  45. “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34

    It’s about time that some that are engaged in AGW, both governments, scientific bodies and individuals should get a grip, and sort out priorities. There are very real issues present now that need addressing rather than spending vast amount of resources on speculation about what may-or-may not happen. We have vast numbers of homeless people, or living in favela’s that need dealing with. It matters not one jot if in a hundred years the earth burns to a crisp, or the earth turns once again into a giant snowball, if the population in the meantime, has died of starvation, dehydration, or disease.

    Jessica Budds (2009) Urbanisation: social and environmental inequalities in cities. Open University.

    “The importance of climate change should not overshadow the fact that an estimated 1 billion people (that’s one sixth of the world’s population) live in informal settlements across Africa, Asia and Latin America (UN-HABITAT, 2003a). They mostly lack basic infrastructure and services, such as clean drinking water sanitation, and are thus exposed to more significant but lower-profile environmental health risks, meaning that easily curable diseases like respiratory infections and diarrhoea become major sources of illness and death.”

    • Rob,

      …favelas…

      I’ve seen first-hand the sem terras living outdoors across the road from the tree plantations and the cardboard invasoes in the strips of land between freeway onramps. They need everything – a place to live out of the weather, jobs, food, medical care, clean water, sanitation, and personal safety. They have nothing.

      Btw, compared to the above, the favelas are not so bad. The worst aspect of life in a favela is the rampant, deadly crime.

  46. Taleb has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Fooled by Randomness and Black Swan each landed on my bookshelf shortly after publication. A 2006 Financial Times article on probabilities co-authored by Benoit Mandelbrot is still bookmarked on my computer.
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/5372968a-ba82-11da-980d-0000779e2340.html#axzz3wTZ7aYuO

    It is a shame Taleb has wandered into a subject which is not in his area of expertise. Hubris, perhaps. Or maybe he has been trapped in an echo chamber.

  47. By rejecting Taleb’s arguments, those arguing for doing nothing (“business as usual”) are in effect arguing for massive subsidies to renewables, fossil, nuclear and energy efficiency — because that is what the government is doing now.

    • business as usual isn’t static it is dynamic, it adjusts to the current situation. Most of the warmist BAU coal and nuclear estimates were based on old technology which real business as usual phases out and replaces with more efficient technology.

      • What would you like to do (if anything) in response to ECS >~ 0.9C

        If you would like to do nothing, what is your rationale for supporting the current slew of govt subsidies?

      • First thing I would like to do is clear up the nuclear waste processing mess. Most of it isn’t waste it is fuel. Second I would like to stimulate more synfuel production which can be augmented with various feed stocks to different levels of greeness. Third is stimulate more biowaste utilization not for the energy but to clean up our growing mess. Fourth would be getting back to land conservation and wetland restoration which has multiple benefits.

        No one knows what technology will win or even if there will be a winner, you just have to wait and see.

  48. Judith – why isn’t the Precautionary Principle applicable to itself? If the danger of economic damage with extreme decarbonization, the loss of life in poor countries due to inadequate, cheap energy (leading to pollution from all those Indian and Chinese coal plants) that they build to avoid solar and wind (no imported nuclear electricity) is likely to highly likely, shouldn’t the tables be turned? Shouldn’t extreme decarbonization be a threat to back off?

    Low probability/frequency events have the same “value” in risk assessment as high probability/low frequency events. Should they not be treated similarly?

    • With all the education mills working overtime around the world how is it possible that we parse everything to death? Pascal, presented the ‘True Bet’. Read the Word, checklist, run the experiment, stay the course. The promise is you will make contact. Next…

  49. The math behind this argument is the same as that behind the argument that everyone should accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. If (western) Christianity is correct, the cost of not doing so is infinite, times a finite probability that it is correct; this infinitely outweighs the modest cost of doing so. All one has to do to intellectually bully people into complying is to sufficiently magnify the horrors of the unobserved and unobservable Hell.

    What I wonder is how many of the people peddling this tripe appreciate their own sophistry for what it is, and how many of them are genuinely too caught up in their religious fervor to do so.

    • Interesting you note this, since the precautionary principle stems from the progressive German Socialist ideology, which, according to Von Mises, rests on the foundations of Hegel’s (and others) rationalization of Christianity, which, in turn, rests on the tradition of the Essenes, the first communists.

    • We all have a role in this Age of Grace. Remember as well that promises were made to Hagar, first. The world moves along right on time. Read the program about what lies ahead. Even so…
      Or catch a movie, it is up to each of us.

  50. A question, perhaps a bit off topic. The issue of the almost certain decline of fossil fuels as a major energy source, sometime in the near (100-200 year?) future has been mentioned on this thread. But doesn’t the current existence of a number of non-fossil fuel dependent energy sources (nuclear especially, but also hydropower, biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal) mean that we already know we can manage a transition away from fossil fuels, even if no entirely new energy source is invented?

    • Yes and no. Nuclear solves electricity, which generated mostly from coal and natural gas. But 75% of petroleum is used for liquid transporation fuels. Electricification is a partial substitute for autos, but not trucks or airplanes or construction/ag/ forestry. And EVEN IF the KiOR biomass to syncrude process worked (it has failed at scale so far), there is not enough global biomass to replace half of what is presently pumped daily. Essay Bugs, Roots, and Biofuels in Blowing Smoke does the math for you. Essay Salvation by Swamp covers the two problems with gmo algae or cyanobacteria. Doesn’t scale sufficiently.

    • David Wojick

      I see no point in speculating about a 100 to 200 year “near future.” What difference can the answer possibly make?

  51. Clarification: I’m asking if we need to be in a panic about the transition away from fossil fuels. Do we need a massive investment in new R&D, or can we just plan an orderly transition, over many decades, first implementing the best alternatives that we know. And even if we don’t learn much new in the next 200 years, could we supply the world with power with currently available technologies?

    • Never panic. But petroleum starts to really pinch by about 2025. Read the energy portion of Blowing Smoke for details. The necessary adjustments will be disruptive both socially and economically well before 2050. In the US, even if all cars are hybrids, long haul truck vanishes in favor of intermodal, KiOR biofuel process can be made to work. Last chapter of Gaia’s Limits does the math.
      The only possible ray of sunshine is Siluria’s new catalysts, for as long as there is sufficient natural gas feedstock. So far, the pilot test on ethylene synthesis is working. But Siluria’s EtF catalysts are still in the lab.

      • Your book points to 2020 as the beginning of the squeeze.
        Am I correct in assuming that you think the current price is a steal if your timeframe is 10 years ?

      • David Wojick

        I am not buying your ten year “really pinch” forecast (or you books), but what about coal as a feedstock? Also nuclear can be used for transportation, witness Navy nukes.

      • There are also a couple of companies supplying natural gas for trucks. This keeps gaining momentum.

        https://www.cleanenergyfuels.com/

        On the subject of WTI price, I predict it won’t get above $70 this year. No bets since this is subject to so many different forces.

      • I just looked at the WTI historical chart back to the fifties. I could make a worst case low of about $10. If we go that way it should be a slow road.

      • David Springer

        David Wojick | January 6, 2016 at 2:18 pm |

        “I am not buying your ten year “really pinch” forecast (or you books), but what about coal as a feedstock? Also nuclear can be used for transportation, witness Navy nukes.”

        I’m not buying them either. Alternatives become economically viable at certain crude oil $/bbl price points. CTL (coal to liquid) becomes viable @ $80/bbl.

        KiOR went belly up in 2014. RIP. Using biomass as feedstock is the wrong approach whether it’s wood chips or corn. The problem is those feedstocks require arable land and fresh water and there isn’t enough arable land and fresh water.

        Joule/Algenol approach can be made to work. They use non-arable land and brackish water to do direct conversion of sunlight + co2 into ethanol and diesel. Genetically engineered photosynthetic bacteria do the heavy lifting. These promise to be cheaper than oil ever was or coal ever can be.

        http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2015/07/06/making-hydrocarbon-fuels-directly-from-co2-and-sunlight/

      • David Springer

        Ironically direct conversion of sunlight and CO2 into ethanol and diesel rests on the cost of sequestering CO2 i.e. pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and concentrating it to optimize photosynthesis efficiency. This kills two birds with one stone if one believes atmospheric CO2 is a bad thing. Personally I believe that atmospheric CO2 will soon become a valuable commodity as a carbon source for manufacturing everything from fuel to furniture. Mark my words; eventually we will need international laws to restrict how much CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere rather than laws regulating how much may be added. The height of irony brought to you by near-sighted environmentalist whack jobs and other academic technophobes with neither the balls nor the vision to embrace a vibrant future for humanity. A pox on them all.

      • David, I agree. Needing to keep CO2 levels up is more likely scenario than warming causing bad weather.

    • Science will tell us what we need to know.

      http://herongyang.com/2016/

      After all we evolved from monkeys they say.

  52. Important to remember that Taleb is a full time intellectual. He is thus convincing much of the time, but wrong most of the time.

  53. Intellectuals are born wrong. Economists train for it. One’s nature, the other’s nurture.

    Btw, what happened to Super Nino? I’m on hols at the beach and Eastern Oz is awash.

    Ah, the climatariat…it’s so ripe for a good squashing in ’16. Let’s do it.

  54. My take from what I have read is the risks of severe consequences go up in proportion to the time it takes to get to zero emissions. If we do nothing or very little to reduce emissions, the risks will be much higher than if we decide to reduce emissions now and set a targets to get to zero emissions.

  55. David Springer

    The global economy collapsing is a potential consequence of making energy more expensive. Would you call that a “severe” consequence? Greater or lesser than the imagined consequences of business as usual CO2 emission?

    Abundant fossil fuel is the goose that lays the golden eggs. Don’t kill that goose until you have a replacement lined up. Global economic collapse will not benefit R&D funding for alternative energy supplies.

    • Economies are managed to stop them collapsing, and any action undertaken could be slowly phased in, monitored and reversed if it was found to be causing harm.

      The economy having such a fragile dependency on fossil fuel is all the more reason to introduce carbon taxes so that these finite hydrocarbon resources are rationed, giving more time for technology specialists to invent a replacement.

      • and/or increase R&D, which you suggested above.

      • The economy is dependent on cheap energy so taxes and rationing (two very different things) would hurt, not help. We also have replacements, if and when we need them, which we presently do not.

      • Dave is right about the economy and energy. Especially now, we blew our wad on stimulus. James Hamilton estimated the fed could operate profitably until about sometime in 2017 several years ago. That was before QE3. The Fed did have some windfall profit from TARP, but if they are willing to operate at a loss, I doubt they will for long.

        Why do you think we had to end the Iran embargo? I think it was largely because Europe needed the oil to keep economic stress from causing civil unrest. That and to help the incumbent politicians during an election year.

  56. Rationally, the precautionary principle would prevent anyone from setting foot on an aircraft. The question is, is accepting risk to yourself different from accepting risk to civilization? For a radical solipsist the answer is no. Why would it be different for anybody else?

  57. Pingback: Precautionary measures | …and Then There's Physics

  58. David Springer

    Taleb et all in the opening paragraphs write:

    While some amount of pollution is inevitable,high quantities of any pollutant put us at a rapidly increasing risk of destabilizing the climate, a system that is integral to the biosphere. Ergo, we should build down CO2 emissions, even regardless of what climate-models tell us.

    There is a fallacy in this. The rest of the paper is built upon this fallacy so there’s no need to go further into it.

    The fallacy: “high quantities of any pollutant put us at a rapidly increasing risk of destabilizing the climate”

    The climate is already unstable. It is known to oscillate between glacial and interglacial epics. It is currently in an interglacial epic and the length of the time it has been in an interglacial is already above the average length. This implies the climate should be nearing a tipping point where it descends into a cold glacial epic.

    Taking this into account the “pollutant” in question is one that is believed to cause a warmer overall climate. Moreover the warming is observed to be spatially asymmetric with more warming in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere hence we observe diminished Arctic sea ice and a retreating Greenland ice sheet.

    Egro, we should not build down CO2 as it risks cooling the planet and accelerating the global climate toward a tipping point into a new glacial epic.

    Moreover there are easily observed enormous benefits of abundant, affordable energy from fossil fuels. Living standards rise and lifespans lengthen to a growing population in direct proportion to fossil fuel consumption the world over. The earth is seen greening through CO2 fertilization of the atmosphere. The asymmetrical warming delivers it to the coldest regional climates extending growing seasons and reducing the need for winter heating fuel. The only observed adverse consequence for all this benefit is a modest incremental increase in the rate of sea level rise which. Ocean “acidification” has not been shown to have any net adverse effects nor has there been any demonstration that disruptive severe weather events have increased in either frequency or severity.

    In conclusion there’s very little to not like about abundant affordable energy from fossil fuels and great peril in implementing any rash policies to slow or stop CO2 emission.

    • I’m not sure we have even separated out what bit of ocean acidification may be from internal variability (ocean circulation and variation in biological activity in the deep ocean/ocean floor).

    • No he’s correct. The more we elevate CO2 the greater the chance of destabilizing the climate.

      You can’t prove what the dead limits are. You’d have to be omnipotent to claim that we won’t hit an ocean acidification, or ecosystem catastrophe due to moving the climate out of ranges life is adapted to.

      • There is no scientific basis for your very strong claims. They are simply the usual alarmist speculation.

      • The risk of injury due to showering is quite high. I think I’ll start there.

      • How would we move outside of the range life has adapted to?

        I doubt we could if we tried.

      • David.

        “There is no scientific basis for your very strong claims.”

        I think that’s too strong a claim. The models, for all their limitations, give a strong basis for saying at at some level of forcings the climate effects will be horrific.

        The RCPs used in AR5 illustrate this clearly. They take a level of forcing, develop a scenario that generates it, and the GCM’s project the climate effects. RCP8.5 produces nightmarish effects, as shown by a score or more of studies. Even if they are half right, it is something to avoid.

        On the other hand, the conditions that produce a 8.5 forcing seem unlikely. Very unlikely. See the details here…

        http://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/07/13/coal-climate-apocalypse-87192/

  59. David Wojick

    As a technical point, Taleb does not use the term “precautionary principle,” and I do not think he is invoking it, even though many comments seem to think he is. The precautionary principle says that something new should not be done until it is shown to be safe. Taleb is talking about reducing something old, namely CO2 emissions, not doing something new.

    His field is probabilistic decision theory and as I mentioned above he is basically offering a Pascal’s wager argument. His claim is that we should stop doing something because it might be very dangerous. This is the opposite of the precautionary principle.

    The point these Pascalian arguments miss is that there are innumerable low-to-no probability, high impact possibilities. If we acted on all of them life would be impossible. Thus there is necessarily a threshold of probability beneath which no action is justified.

    • Can you list some of these immunerable low-to-no probability, high impact possibilities? I would like to compare them to the scale and effective inertial irreversibility of changes to the climate.

      • All the different possible large asteroid strikes, pandemics, wars, financial collapses, Richter 8+ earthquakes, tsunamis and mega-volcanic eruptions, just to begin with. I am sure people can think of others.

        I think you mean possible in principle, but highly unlikely, changes to climate. That is the present topic. I did not know that climate was an inertial system, or are you being metaphorical?

  60. Average mean CO2 level increased last year by 3ppm, the highest annual increase on record.

    At what rate does CO2 have to climb to take the threat seriously?

    5ppm? 15ppm?

    Or is the argument that if we be 100% sure what will happen therefore there is no threat (safety in blindness theory)?

    • And that’s after more people in more countries have done more to reduce emissions.
      Where do you suggest we go from here?

    • There is almost no record and 3 ppm is not much more than some previous increases. Since I do not think the CO2 increase is a threat, there is no specific increase rate that I would take seriously. Nor is there any reason to think that the rates you name are even possible. No blindness here, just science. You do not seem to understand the issue here, raised by Taleb, which is how seriously we should take very low probability possibilities? The answer is not at all.

    • It need to see some adverse impact first.

      We had an unusually harsh winter and followed by an el Nino. We should expect reduced uptake. CO2 increase fluctuates, unrelated to emissions, and only small linear trend seems to end up staying in the atmosphere.

  61. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #208 | Watts Up With That?

  62. The silliness here is that Taleb presents no constraints on what can be conjectured to have large-scale runaway bad effect. He should watch some high school or college debaters, who specialize in finding potentially horrendous world-killing consequences (e.g. nuclear war) via some intermediate stress (e.g. causing a world depression) via some too-drastic policy move (e.g. coerced rapid reductions in fossil fuel use).