by Judith Curry
QTIIPS stands for Quantitatively Trivial Impact + Intense Political Symbolism. – Keith Hennessey
Over the past week, I’ve read over a hundred articles related to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. I was vaguely wondering how to summarize my thoughts on all this in a blog post, when I spotted this from Bill Hooke’s blog Living On the Real World:
Hooke’s post also refers to this post by Keith Hennessey:
Excerpts from Hennessey’s post:
QTIIPS policy changes provoke fierce political battles over trivially small policy impacts. Passionate advocates on both sides ignore numbers and policy details while fighting endlessly about symbols.
A policy change is QTIIPS if:
- its direct measurable effects are quite small relative to the underlying policy problem to be solved;
- it is viewed both by supporters and opponents as a first step toward an end state that all agree would be quite a large change;
- supporters and opponents alike attach great significance to the direction of the change, as a precursor to possible future movement toward that quantitatively significant end goal; and
- a fierce political battle erupts over the symbolism of this directional shift. This political battle is often zero-sum, unresolvable, and endless.
The national leaders who supported Paris, including President Obama, had a political interest in overselling their policy accomplishment. Similarly, President Trump has a political interest in selling today’s move to his base as an enormous policy win, when to me it appears he is nullifying American participation in an agreement that on policy grounds was insignificant to begin with.
Climate change watch/warning
Bill Hooke makes an important argument in his Paris post using an analogy to hurricane warnings.
A quick aside: the reason that I have been so busy recently with few blog posts is owing to the start of the hurricane season, which is a very busy time for my company Climate Forecast Applications Network. Later this week, we will be issuing our first seasonal forecast for Atlantic hurricane activity — stay tuned.
Excerpts from Bill Hooke’s post:
[T]he Paris Climate Agreement mimics the approach of meteorologists, emergency managers, political and business leaders, and various publics to an approaching/developing hurricane.
At a hurricane’s earliest stages, no one knows whether its intensification and landfall will pose a real threat or not – and to whom. At the same time, there’s no wasted energy prematurely debating any of that, or getting emotional or top-down prescriptive about it. Instead, all participants at all levels and all locations individually begin making whatever initial preparations they feel appropriate in light of their own perceived vulnerability and options. At the same time, everyone engages in watch-and-warn.
And here’s the best part: the response is incremental. If the hurricane intensifies, the response develops commensurately. As the threat to a particular city or coastline rises, so do preparations. But where and if the threat diminishes, those preparing stand down. Rarely (especially as forecasts have improved) is the response inadequate or disproportionate.
Note that the key, the essential part, is also the inexpensive part: the watch and warn. It costs little to field the observations – the satellites and the radars, the surface in situinstruments, etc. to monitor conditions and their changes; to assimilate the data into variety of numerical models, to run these and form ensemble averages; to disseminate the findings. That’s true for both hurricanes and climate change. It’s essential that we not fly blind into this uncertain future.
One important addition has to be made in the climate-change version of this approach. When it comes to hurricanes, the world gets many occasions to practice: dozens each and every year, broadly scattered worldwide. By contrast, with respect to climate change, there hasn’t been the same opportunity for trial-and-error learning. That’s where research – not just on physical workings of the atmosphere and oceans but also on ecological processes and the social science of human response come in. That research is essential to effective risk reduction; it too is inexpensive.
Anticipating climate change? Responding commensurately? Without the drama? What’s not to like?
JC comments: While I really like the points Bill Hooke is making, I don’t see the Paris Agreement in watch and warn mode — it is about alarm, its already causing harm, and is implementing very expensive measures at the first ambiguous signs of harm.
There is certainly the possibility of substantial harm from AGW on the timescale of the 21st century, although this is arguably not a global ruin problem. We should be in ‘watch’ mode, sort of like the beginning of hurricane season, no individual storms in sight but we have reason to believe that something will happen. It’s essential that we not fly blind into this uncertain future.
Refocusing the solutions
Why is international policy focused on immediate, expensive changes to the global energy infrastructure using inadequate technologies, and a $100B climate fund that focuses on the blame game rather than addressing the real problems in the developing world?
The proponents of reducing CO2 as an urgent issue to be dealt with to ‘save the climate and the planet’ simply don’t walk the talk. They rack up the frequent flyer miles flying around to proseletize, while working to block nuclear power, natural gas pipelines and fracking, all of which reduce CO2 emissions. How urgent do they really think this problem is? Or is this simply political posturing?
Further, the angst over the $100B climate fund seems beyond ironic. See my previous posts:
Further, by tying a big chuck of global development aid to climate change, developing countries will not receive the help they need in dealing with their very real and urgent problems, e.g.
A better focus would be on working to ensure adequate food, water and energy, particularly in the developing world, and to reduce vulnerability to extreme weather events.
While I make no pretense at any particular wisdom in understanding complex geopolitics, the current trajectory of the Paris Climate Agreement is not going to change the Earth’s climate in any meaningful way.
We need to better understand the dynamics of climate of change and extreme weather events. And we need a broader solution space for dealing with weather and climate related vulnerabilities.
If given the choice between ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ energy, nearly everyone would prefer ‘clean’ provided that all other things are equal — energy security and reliability, and cost. Research and development into new technologies, and regional/local experiments with different mixes of energy technologies will result in improved energy solutions.
The challenge is to redirect the political angst over this issue into productive directions that increase the well being of humans and ecosystems.