Thursday, February 10, 2011

Good point but....

I agree that Sarah Palin was treated unfairly by the mainstream media and that violent rhetoric was flying on both sides, but that is entirely different than the nation's most popular "news" station encouraging their employees to promote exaggerations or flat-out falsehoods to the public. Fox News is a large part of the public discourse, whether we like it or not, and its constant distortions of the truth, whether regarding death panels, the "hoax" that is climate change, or the Muslim Caliphate trying to take over the Middle East, are worse for public discourse than one cable news week worth of criticism towards a figure that seems to seek attention from and to thrive off of controversy. The media blaming Sarah Palin for the Tuscon violence is now mostly over, but Fox is still poisoning the public debate on important policy issues every day. I would consider that a gaping difference between these two instances of biased media that illustrates how much more dangerous Fox News is.

Further, no one accused Palin of murder, they just argued that she created an atmosphere that could have promoted the violence in Tuscon. Those are two very different things.

On another note, even if you don't believe in the accuracy of an anonymous Fox News insider, this link discusses some recently leaked Fox memos that help make a similar argument.


Megan said...

NY Times is also a huge media outlet. They failed for three months to report the biggest climate change scandal the world has ever seen, and when they finally did report it the headline was in support of the scientists. CNN failed to report it as well. Many main stream media outlets have failed to report the extreme rascism and violent attitudes portrayed at recent Common Cause rally, while continually trying to portray the Tea Party as rascist with absolutely no proof. I believe there are attempts to mislead the public on both sides, the only difference being that liberal news sources have been accepted as "mainstream". Also, even if media outlets were not accusing Palin of murder, mentioning Sarah Palin's rhetoric after discussing the recent shootings is certainly an attempt to mislead viewers. Palin's rhetoric and the Tucson shootings are completely unrelated and should not have been discussed simultaneously.

PBM said...

Firstly, the reason they were discussed together was because Gabby Giffords had previously said in an interview that she was worried about violent rhetoric. Again, I don't agree with with the connection but I think it was too much for CNN, MSNBC and other media outlets to ignore in their hunt for ratings. Secondly, CNN and other supposedly left-wing sources did report on "climategate" when it happened and here is proof:

Thirdly, that scandal ended up not being a scandal at all and the scientists involved have all been vindicated by numerous independent panels. See here: . Also, a brief glance at the Common Cause wikipedia page shows that the racist comments were an isolated incident. I don't believe that the entire tea party is racist but it is absurd to say that there is no proof of the Tea Party being racist. I have heard people scream in my ear that Obama is a muslim, and seen posters at rallies that depict Obama as an African witch doctor. There are also instances of Tea Partiers yelling the N-word and gay slurs at Democratic members of Congress. See here:
The article covers the dispute by both sides over whether it actually happened, but I believe 4 serving members of Congress over Andrew Breitbart and Bill O'Reilly, neither of whom were actually there.

Megan said...

The article you attached is from the Washington Post not NY Times. Also it is from a month after the Climategate scandal took place. Regardless of whether or not "climategate" had any real scientific bearings, it shows scientists who wish to rid the scientific community of skeptics. I choose to interpret this very straightforward e-mail myself than have an "expert" interpret it for me.

“This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that–take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…What do others think?”

The New York Times and other media sources' coverage of this are puzzling to me.

I admit you are correct that there is proof that some tea party activists are racist. I was wrong. The actual Tea Party movement, however, has nothing to do with race, and it has continually been reported as a rascist party. I do not think that Common Cause is a rascist group either, but I feel that if news sources are going to use random individuals to prove that an entire group is racist then I think it ought to be done for both sides.

PBM said...

My bad on the post, I thought you were generalizing about mainstream media, not just NYTimes. I also agree that the tea party is not based on race and that it is often misrepresented because of the actions of potentially racist individuals that are part of the group.
On climategate, I also agree that the scientists were not nice or open to skeptics, but I think there are two reasons for that. First, that it has been revealed that many skeptics have received large amounts of funding from oil companies and other fossil fuel interests. Example:
Second, and somewhat intertwined with the first, is that I think these scientists are alarmed by what is happening to the earth and don't want their legitimate research to be corrupted by illegitimate scientists. I'm not trying to start any other battle here, but as Democrats repeatedly pointed out during the hearing I was at the other day, Republicans could not find one piece of peer-reviewed science that doubted anthropogenic global warming.
If I was a climatologist seeing the type of flooding and extreme weather events occurring in Pakistan, Australia, Russia, California, and elsewhere, I would wouldn't want my research to be taken lightly because of what fossil fuel funded scientists are saying on TV. That being said, I'm glad you said that climategate has no bearing on the scientific evidence of global warming. However, returning to my original post, Fox News continues, on an almost daily basis, to use the supposed scandal as proof that global warming does not exist. That is and will continue to be my biggest problem with the organization.

Megan said...

I apologize I just could not help responding to this. I really do not wish to have an argument about global warming, but just as skeptics receive grants from oil and coal companies, leading global warming scientists receive huge grants from environmental agencies. Also, although climategate did not have any large scientific bearings, it did show a reluctance of global warming scientists to peer review. Although I see a very large amount of evidence for man made global warming, and believe in it I do not think anything has necessarily been proven yet (look at the very same scientists involved in climategate predictions from ten years ago about what would be happening present day), and I think calling all skeptics "illegitimate scientists" is not appropriate. There are plenty of brilliant scientists who do not believe in manmade global warming. Isn't science all about skepticism and dialougue? Trying to ruin skeptics reputations in order to encourage mass conformity to a belief is not science. How many people who believe in global warming have actually looked at the research? Anyway my main point was that the media skews information on both sides, and it is called freedom of speech. It is our job to interpret the information that we are receiving. I understand if you do not want to get into an argument about global warming. I do not particularly either. I just could not help but share my views.

PBM said...

Science grants, emphasized as grants given by national and international scientific academies, are thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to the millions that skeptics are paid by fossil fuel interests. There is also a huge conflict of interest when scientists are paid by companies that make money from emitting CO2 compared with national science academies whose sole purpose is observing science for the well-being of their respective nations. I also understand freedom of speech and that people should dissect information on their own to parse out their beliefs. The problem with this and Fox News is that Fox News is very insulated and Fox News viewers are particularly loyal to the station (I have seen a study on this second point, but can't seem to find it right now). For example, the Washington Post, or CNN could have a completely legitimate story on climate change, or the aforementioned racist tea partiers, and it would either not be mentioned or be completely dismissed by Fox as being an attack by the mainstream media. That is where my previous article comes in (see here: ) When people don't just have different beliefs, but are making their assumptions on important policy issues on a different set of facts, more bitter partisanship is bred, and people (like the ones I talk to on the phone every day) start to believe that the other side is actually trying to destroy the country. This doesn't mean I think Fox should be censored, and I believe whole-heartedly in freedom of speech, but news should be an honest presentation of the facts or both sides of an issue, not a purely partisan means of attacking the other side (whether it be Fox or MSNBC.) Fox can say whatever it wants, but it shouldn't be labeled as news and it shouldn't promote itself as "fair and balanced" when it clearly is not.

ND said...

I would like to talk about climate change.

I do not agree that it is our job to interpret climate data. Our job as informed citizens is to be skeptical of the information we receive. That means considering every reasoned (read: scientifically legitimate) argument available presented to us by experts: climatologists. By my estimation, none of the major media outlets deliver reasoned arguments--a different story for another day (just think "BREAKING NEWS").

Given our level of education on climate science (assumed to be minimal), we would be foolish to think that we have the tools to analyze complex climatological data. For the same reason, it is irresponsible of Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews to attempt climate analysis. Snow in VA does not disprove climate change and hot weather in CO does not prove climate change. I know this because scientists tell me it is true. So, to understand climate science, let's look to the scientists.

What do they say? Here's where FOX is irresponsible. As Peter says, there is no peer reviewed science that denies anthropogenic climate change. (Let's use the term climate change instead of global warming --GW as a term misrepresents the science.) This is not to say that all of those supporting anthropogenic climate change (ACC) theory have done so in an ethical and scientifically sound manner. But there is no legitimate evidence to the contrary of ACC.

Let us also hold climate change science to the same standard we hold the rest of science. Let me give an example. With the exception of a few fringe religious groups, Americans believe that antibiotics clear the body of infections. In my experience, they do. However, there are legitimate scientists, in wider company than anthropogenic climate change deniers, who deny the efficacy of antibiotics. While I do not have the scientific knowledge to reconcile this disparity, I know that I still go to the doctor for antibiotics. In fact, that is what all reasonable people do. Why is it that we question ACC but not antibiotics? Probably has something to do with the political interests and money at risk. As discerning citizens, we should ignore the small minority denying ACC and embrace the majority.

Let me give another example that I hope proves our responsibility to accept ACC science. Recently, there was a decision by those who set regulations for breast cancer care to change significantly the treatment process. Under the past treatment process, there was always a chance that that treatment was ineffective. It's the nature of cutting edge science. But most people did not let that stop them from acting on the best available science. No, scientists published their findings and people sifted through those findings, with their doctors' help, to arrive at a treatment regimen. If we hold climate science to the same standard that we hold most other scientific findings, those of us not trained in climatology should believe in and act on the science available.

(To those who would deny mitigating action on the grounds of price and social impact, need I do more than mention the monetary and social (Obamacare) costs of cancer?)

I agree with both of you to the extent that climate science has been politicized by nearly all media outlets. While we should never try to analyze climate by ourselves, we should sift through the findings presented by those expert on the matter (again, not to be found on cable). The conclusion is a simple one. And please, let's hold climate science to the same standards we hold all other science. The presence of a few dissenters or the possibility that the science is not quite right is not so widely considered in any other field.

TJE said...

PBM said...

I like that article Professor and think it makes some good points on extreme weather. I would, however, like to see more of a mention of extreme high temperatures, not just major weather events. I also think the preparedness argument makes sense in developed countries like ours, but poses an entirely more significant problem to less developed and third-world countries, whose security problems could potentially affect us.

Megan said...

In response to Nat and Peter: I disagree with both of you on many points. To say that only one side is politically motivated is nonsense. To try to make that point that global warming dissenters are corrupt because they take grants (referred to as “science grants” just as Government and environmentalist grants to scientists who believe in global warming are) from coal and oil companies is also nonsense. Many on the left seem to think that the scientists who support global warming are infallible gods, while skeptics are corrupt idiots. This puzzles me. Which side is the one with the scandal? I would also like to note that

The argument that there is no peer-reviewed piece of literature to disprove global warming also puzzles me. While Climategate may have not have had any significant scientific bearings, it did show us one thing: the attempt to monopolize all climate research on the side of global warming , and the reluctance to peer review dissenters by some of the top global warming scientists in the world. Because of Climategate, I think people should be very skeptical to accept a broad scientific consensus as actual proof that warming exists (Also just wanted to note that most of the ‘independent reviews’ that cleared the scientists had significant ties to the scientists involved). But way more importantly, show me the peer reviewed piece of literature that proves global warming. When trying to prove a scientific phenomenom, I think it is laughable to point out the fact that there is no evidence against the phenomenom as some sort of proof that the phenomenom exists. As I have stated earlier, I do skeptically believe in manmade global warming, but I continue to believe that there is not conclusive proof that global warming exists.

I see your analogy with antibiotics to be very flawed. Reasonable people do not use antibiotics because “science tells them to”. We use antibiotics because we have seen antibiotics save the lives of the people we know and ourselves over and over again. We are not blindly following science, but following what we have actually seen in practice. Also, does the government force us to use antibiotics? It does not. Do people try to manipulate us into using antibiotics? They do not. The use of antibiotics has significantly less political effects than global warming. How many deaths have been linked to disease? How many deaths can we link to global warming? Climatologist predictions have been proven wrong over and over again, while antibiotics have proven to work over and over again. I find this analogy to be very weak.

Finally, although there is much argument about the severity of global warming, the effect men actually have on the environment, and the effects that reducing carbon emmisions will actually have on the environment, there is little disagreement that political action will put us at an economic disadvantage with countries like China and India.

Sorry for my long response. I want to let you guys know that I take nothing personally and enjoy debating about these issues.

Megan said...

I also just wanted to say that I do not believe we have a responsibility to accept anything. We have a responsibility to be absolutely sure before we make political changes that have huge economic impacts.

PBM said...

We already are putting ourselves at an economic disadvantage with China, India and Europe who all recognize that renewable energy is the future while half our country, or at least half our politicians, don't even believe in climate change let alone do they want to do anything about it. On the grants issue, I stand by my former point. If you look back when doctors said smoking caused diseases, tobacco companies funded doctors to take their side and argue that smoking did not cause disease. I got lost on the antibiotics argument, but this is a clear parallel to the current situation on climate change. Further, in science, there is never "proof" of anything, only theories and hypotheses. On climate change, there is overwhelming evidence that the earth is warming and that it is because of the amount of CO2 we put in the atmosphere. If anything, it is happening faster than scientists have previously predicted. While scientists did make some ridiculous claims in the past 10 years like that the Himalayan Glaciers would have melted by now, that doesn't mean that they aren't going to melt ever. It will be disastrous no matter when it happens. The "right" has turned this into a political issue rather than a scientific one by trying to paint climate change as some sort of religion where we pray to the science gods of climate change and are not willing to take anything else seriously. A decent percentage of conservatives don't believe in evolution, which at this point is fairly undeniable, so how much of a stretch is it for them to dismiss a problem like climate change, whose solutions require a fundamentally altered mentality and economy, And lets not talk about the scandal as if it takes credibility away from anyone when we already cleared that point up. The skeptic side is plagued with scandals too, but you wouldn't know that by watching Fox News or just consuming right-wing media. Even if there is just a 50% chance that climate change will be as devastating as scientists believe it will be (and the percent chance is far higher than that), anything we could do would have more benefits than cost in the long term. Sorry again for the long post, but I get frustrated having to repeat the same arguments when I think we naturally disagree on some things, but all believe that our nation needs to do something to address the problem. I lament that this purely scientific matter has become a part of public debate. 97% of climatologists believe that global warming exists. It is sad that I can't say the same about even half the members of our current Congress.

Megan said...

TJE said...

Good discussion. The climategate leaks suggests that at least some scientists came to see themselves as advocates. I also think that for a variety of reasons, including funding, many also exaggerated science's grasp of the complexities of both climate and climate change. I have read some scientists recently who argue that the current modeling does not really capture the complexities and uncertainties of climate. AEI's Steven Hayward made an interesting argument when he spoke at Hamilton: By putting all its eggs in the basket of global warming and perhaps oversimplifying the science in the service of advocacy (An Inconvenient Truth), environmentalists would up with nothing and neglected other important issues like species extinction. I'm with Lomborg and Nordhaus and Shellenberger on this one.

Megan said...

PBM said...

For the first link: Yes, climatologists get money from governments. Governments' purpose is to watch out for the welfare of its citizens. Fossil fuel interests purpose is to profit off of producing C02. If this is about politicized news, again we already cleared that up, and I am not going to change my belief that Fox News is the most politicized news out there bordering on propaganda. The mainstream media is politicized as well and I find it disturbing that it did not report on Michael Mann's stimulus funds, but in the broad scheme of things, it turned out to be nothing. He was vindicated by the many panels that were investigating him. It still should have been investigated by the media, but I don't find this one instance as offensive or dangerous as Fox's continued dismissal of studies, news, facts and polls that don't accommodate their conservative narrative.

Not sure what the Al Gore post has to do with anything. He is not a scientist, just someone passionate about the issue who thought he could become its spokesman with An Inconvenient Truth. Further, his decisions were made because of political motivations and he was absolutely not the only politician to have those motivations. This article is leading the reader to believe that without Al Gore's support, ethanol would not have become what it is today, which I seriously doubt.

On Professor Eismeier's points, I agree and disagree. I think that the scientists do think they have more of a grasp on climate complexities than they really do. That is something that probably needs more research (not sure if this will happen in US though because House GOP is trying to cut NASA's research budget.) Thinking about the possible complexities though, makes it scarier, to me at least, that our mass production of CO2 is changing the climate at all. For environmentalists, I think they have botched some serious opportunities to advocate for other important issues. However, I think they believe global warming is the most important issue because to could one, create a multitude of new environmental problems, and two, exacerbate the existing ones. I don't know if that's how the heads of environmental groups are thinking, but that's certainly how I envision things.

ND said...

Professor, your first post confirms my inclination to use the scientific term: climate change. I do agree that weather phenomena have been politicized and the term global warming is deceptive.

Megan, the peer reviewed science is called the IPCC (inter governmental panel on climate change). It is easy to find online.

Professor (and Megan), I will point out the Lomborg believes in human caused climate change. He and Hayward suggest that mitigation is not worth our economic resource. This is why I think it is important to separate the science from the politics. What is happening and what will happen is one thing. How we should react is another. While I am more sympathetic to the this second debate, I have no sympathy for the first (for reasons I have enumerated). While some fringe scientists have politicized the issue--on both sides--this is not a reason to ignore the majority of scientists who have conducted legitimate research. Again, IPCC.

Corn ethanol, by the way, is and always has been a horrible idea. Those educated on the matter have always thought so.

PBM said...

Last thing from me for now; let's not put up links on their own. Without any frame of reference, it's hard to decide what point the article is trying to convey.

Megan said...

I attached the article about Al Gore to show an example of a huge mistake the Government made in mandating something without fully understanding it. I disagree that there has always been a consensus that it is a bad idea.

I am aware of IPCC. I was not asking for studies in support of man made global warming. I was asking for the proof. The point I was trying to make was that we should not disregard skeptics as illegitimate scientists, and believe the matter to be closed- not that nobody should believe in global warming in the face of a large amount of supporting studies.

I agree with Professor Eismeier's argument, and I do not see how my argument is not in line with his. We should not take political action until we fully understand global warming to its fullest.

PBM said...

Part of the problem with that is that science has shown that temperatures lag behind CO2 levels. You can take some other things away from that, like that we are already very far down the path towards warming, but I think that's why people should be in more of a rush to produce potential solutions to the problem.

Also, on corn ethanol, the information has always been available that energy input is the same or more then output energy from the fuel. This alone should have taken it off the table politically, but the corn lobby has a strong hold on Washington. This helped build a consensus in Washington that goes completely against common sense, but I don't believe that this consensus reached people who actually knew about corn ethanol's energy input to output ratio.

... said...

From a scientific perspective, there is a consensus on climate change. The IPCC represents that. The existence of fringe skeptics does not detract from that consensus.

There is a pretty universal consensus that smoking causes lung cancer. Still there are 'research institutes' that receive 'scientific grants' from the tobacco industry, which 'independently conclude' that smoking tobacco does not cause cancer. The problem with industry funded research is that the researchers have an incentive to support the industry's interests. If they don't, they lose funding. Industry funded research is not independent, and as such, is largely biased and unreliable.

In science, you don't prove anything. You can talk about correlation and causation. And you can demonstrate the relationship between different factors. Scientists can no more prove the force of gravity than they can climate change.

Climatology is notoriously complicated. You have to build complex based on thousands of variables (each with imprecise observations), all of which are interwoven in intricate and still unknown ways. Take the Lorentz attractor--a differential equation, based on three interrelated meteorological variables. Quite quickly, the equation becomes chaotic. The behavior of the model has extreme sensitivity to initial conditions. Although short-term behavior may be predicted between separate simulations, behavior in the model will quickly diverge if initial conditions are not identical. That's why it's outlandish when O'Reilly thinks he has any credibility in declaring snow in April proves climate change wrong.

The point I'm trying to make is that it's ridiculous to talk about models that have been proved wrong or criticize science that can't predict exactly what conditions will be like five years down the road. The truth is that in the scientific community a consensus has been reached that man made pollution is radically altering our climate. We have become dependent on these dirty sources of energy and furthermore, this nonrenewable resources will eventually run out.

The only political question is, will America become an economic leader in the mushrooming industry of green energy? Or will we cede the future to countries like China and India that will not pass up an opportunity to become economic leaders in the 21st century?

Megan said...

Many skeptics admit that global warming exists, and that CO2 alters the environment. They question the current model and the direness of the situation. I was simply arguing that we should not accept the current model and consider it a closed matter.

In my opinion, in the face of huge unemployment, we should not be focusing on something that could potentially hurt our economy even more when we have no idea what a small decrease in CO2 outputs will actually have on the environment.

TJE said...

I'm with Megan on this one. If the "consensus" is that the climate may be changing and that human behavior has something to do with that change but we are incapable of modeling the system with any degree of accuracy, I'm not ready to sign up for regulatory schemes that would significantly reduce economic growth.

Patrick_Landers said...

I figured I'd add my two cents to this blog post. Generally, I'm with Megan and Professor Eismeier on this debate.
I believe that climate change is occurring, that the actions of humans are an important factor underlying this, and that the science generally supports these conclusions.
However, I think people overestimate the certainty of the underlying science for climate change. We are attempting to analyze a vast system consisting of many factors using a small data set. The last hundred years or so of relatively reliable data is a fraction of the world's modern environmental history, which we use models to estimate. While I believe those models are the best science has to offer us at this time, I'd point out how volatile those models' outputs are not only to the underlying data, assumptions made, and the actual math used! The math is not as simple as 1+1=2. You are trying to tease out incredibly complex relationships and causality, which can mean that if you analyze the same thing 100 times over you'll often get the right result, but sometimes you'll get false ones. I'm trying to express an idea from statistics succinctly, sorry. I guess I'd just say that statistics and probability tells us that sometimes even using perfect data and methodology, you will sometimes get conflicting results and that some of them will be false. The science underlying climate change isn't at the same level as something like chemistry were you can repeat the same experiment over and over while changing one variable each time. That scientific method will allow you to get results were you can conclude with as close to absolute certainty as possible that something is true. The science of climate change just isn't that good yet for a variety of reasons I previously mentioned (and others I ignored or am not aware of). It's not something I hold against it- it's just a fact about the state of the science and level of knowledge we currently possess. The science is not even as good as the double-blind studies we see in medicine with antibiotics. I'm sure you guys are all informed enough on this issue to have looked at this (and I know it's just one small piece of evidence), but have you even conceptually tried to understand how we can study global warming? How do you measure something like that? How do you take a representative sample of the earth, since we can't measure with exacting detail from everywhere? How do we distribute those sensors? How do we extrapolate their results to cover the entire globe? How do weight those individual sensors (since some go up and some go down, the aggregate movement would be a poor predictor)? How do we control for changing man-made conditions around the sensors which affect it's data collecting but may or may not be relevant to studying climate change? How do we model past world temperatures since we only have good date for a tiny fraction of time? These are all difficult questions where scientists have good ideas and try their best, but assumptions still need to be made and data constraints still create problems.

Patrick_Landers said...

Those who believe in climate change need to keep that in mind and not take a holier-than-thou attitude about climate change- which encourages the suppression of conflicting evidence and inflation of supporting evidence. There are valid critiques of the certainty of man-made climate change. This means that even if I disagree with them, I accept that there may be intelligent people who go beyond questioning the quality of evidence, but actually question whether anthropogenic climate change (ACC)is actually even happening.
It's more of the tone of the debate that I question, and I wonder if climate change believers would more effectively argue their points if they were more open and tolerant.
Next point, I think it would be naive to assume that scientists backed by government funding and agencies are disinterested actors whose personal views have little or no impact on their research or results. While I am strongly suspicious of oil-backed climate research, that doesn't mean I'd trust everything said by the IPCC.
Now moving onto policy responses. Megan brings up a good point when she weighs the definite short-term costs of tackling ACC (during a bleak short-term economic outlook no less) with the speculated long-term benefits of investing in clean energy. There is some theoretical balancing point here, which we will obviously never know. The point to take away is that there are valid arguments against massively investing in all green energy possibilities in the near future- we need to be smart about it and not blindly assume that any green energy investment is a smart one to take given our nation's limitations.
Lastly, I wanted to point out that many actions we could take against climate change would, without compensating policies, put a disproportionate share of the economic costs of these changes on the bottom and middle socioeconomic segments. This is a problem because these groups have seen their living standards stagnate for the past few decades, but also because our current slow growth may be related to a shortage of aggregate demand (this is what Obama's economic advisers argue). If there is a shortage of aggregate demand, than we'd want economic prosperity to flow to these groups that are essential to generating demand- not be limited by the short-term economic burdens of climate change-focused policies.
In conclusion, there is some inherent uncertainty to the evidence for ACC. Accordingly; people should be tolerant of other views. We should exactingly examine evidence from all sides, taking into consideration their inherent biases.
When addressing ACC, we need to be smart in how much we do in the short-term. Not everything will be cost-effective in the long-run, there are limits to our country's ability to address these problems, and our current economic recovery is fragile which is creating real hardship for many. We also need to make sure what policies we enact aren't blunt instruments that are extremely regressive in their application of economic costs.
However, I do think we should be doing a lot when it comes to addressing climate-change because it will likely prove necessary (as ACC turns out to be real), and also because it can serve as a medium and long-term generator of economic growth and worldwide prosperity.

PBM said...

I agree with most of what Patrick said, but want to put some of our argument in the current political perspective. First, I wish that the current political discourse was as rational as our conversation is here. Many Republicans who formerly believed that climate change was a national threat (not naming any names), now maintain that it is not happening, not our responsibility to fix, or unfixable (or some combination of the three). These same Republicans want to cut renewable energy subsidies while leaving fossil fuel subsidies largely intact. No matter how you view climate change, robust investment in renewable energy is in our environmental and economic self-interest. The nascent fossil fuel and auto industries enjoyed hearty government support a hundred years ago, and still do in many cases today. Why shouldn't renewable energy enjoy the same government support? Policy options that would have been costly to our economy during a recession namely cap and trade (side note: any bill that would have made it to Obama's desk would have given decades of free carbon permits to utilities, manufacturers, etc. that would have, on paper, dampened the system's negative economic impacts) are dead now, which brings me to my next point.

So far, the EPA's GHG regulations are extremely moderate, potentially bordering on business friendly. While these regulations will ramp up over the next 5 to 10 years, right now they apply only to new or largely expanded power producing facilities by making them more efficient so that any CO2 produced is used to create energy. Further, studies have shown that these measures have the potential to create 1.5 million construction and maintenance jobs ( While there will definitely be some jobs lost because of these regulations, they will potentially end in net job creation. I think it is reckless for Republicans to try to strip the EPA's authority on GHG under the false pretense that Congress will create legislation to address the issue, while at the same time trying to defund renewable energy r & d.

ND said...

Patrick, while science does overwhelmingly suggest anthropogenic climate change, you, Megan and Prof Eismeier are correct to point out the inability of climate modeling to predict exactly the outcome of climate change. This is a point I readily concede. But consequences still range from bad to very bad.

A few small points, then a big one.

Small--what science is not inherently biased by its funding base? Think medicine, oceanography, space exploration... Indeed, if scientists weren't biased, how would they decide what to study? But there is a significant difference between studying what is beneficial to your cause and fictionalizing your research. Again, let's hold climate change to the same standards we hold the rest of science. Perhaps research funded by the Sierra club has an inherent bias, but reasearch funded by the NSF under GW is likely as real as it gets.

Small--Patrick, if we are to take a humanitarian's perspective, we should embrace climate change science for all it is worth. The most accurate studies that we have predict future drought and mass famine in much of the third world. If these predictions are wrong, from a humanitarian's perspective, so be it. Deciding what to do with research is a legitimate political/economic question. Deciding the science is not.

Small--Patrick, my intent is not not to demonize those few who dissent, nor should that be the intent of any other debater. If they have done honest and intelligent research, it should be considered by the scientific community. However, there is no reason for those of us without scientific training to use this minority research as an argument against anthropogenic climate change. This is not a 60-40 issue. The agreement, based on separate, aggregated studies, is nearly unanimous (accounting for those few legitimate dissenters).

Big (because I believe this is a more productive argument for us to have)--assumptions:
climate change is real
climate change is human caused
humans can mitigate climate change (degree unknown)

What is the worst that will happen if we fund renewables, develop mass transit, encourage efficiency, etc.?

As Peter points out, the rest of the world has jumped on this bandwagon. But perhaps they are all wrong. Perhaps Lomborg's estimates are correct, that the risks of climate change have been over hyped. What do they lose? Well, now they have cheap energy sources, they have robust infrastructure, and efficient technology. It is called investment, and to those of you enamored of the private sector, as I am, know well that the key to successful business is investment.

There are costs that come with this innovation. It is a fact. But there are also jobs to be created. It is happening in China. And in the long term, as Patrick suggests, the economic payout is real.

Let me also ask a question. At what point in American history has the government not invested in innovation? America rose economically in the 1800's with a continental railroad system, government funded. The US government enabled the auto industry with funding for oil r&d. American scientists harnessed nuclear fission with government funding. And to Mr. Gore's chagrin, the internet is an invention of the US taxpayer. Government did not stifle innovation in these cases--it created innovation.

This is not a political issue. The funding of these projects is perhaps, but government led innovation has historically been championed by both parties. It is certain that America would not be in the position it is today without government investment.

At the very worst, climate change turns out to be a blip on the radar. America will have created a new market for its workers and executives. That's as patriotic as it gets. There are upfront costs, but we can yes can predict the payoffs of investment.

TJE said...

ND, you may be underestimating the cost of regulation. A loss of 1-2 percent in world growth would mean a great loss in the welfare of millions of people. I understand that Europe is already retreating on its 'commitment."

ND said...

1-2% economic reduction would be a great loss--I suppose I am questioning the reality of 1-2%. Government reductions in oil subsidies rerouted to alternatives would go a long way in creating new jobs with 0 budget impact. While it is likely that oil companies would pass some of the cost to consumers, profits will help to adsorb the loss in funding. A lot of this depends on elasticity, for which estimates are all over the map.

Many European countries are indeed retreating, but many Asian countries are not. American clean energy jobs are moving to China and India daily and Chinese domestic companies are growing to be some of the largest in the world. To be sure, some of these firms (especially PV) face demand problems, but that is largely a result of China's low consumption rates.

Research to improve efficiency for existing technology is also important and efficiency measures have some of the shortest payoffs of any "green tech." In fact, many efficiency upgrades--water, insulation, mechanical--have payoffs of less than a year.

Megan said...

I am not against investment. I think mandates and regulation are the problem.

TJE said...

I would eliminate all energy subsidies, provide federal funds for transformative energy r&d, and impose a gasoline tax that would increase 20 cents a year for the next 20 years.

ND said...

Prof. Eismeier, we are on the exact same page.