the relative objectivity of science and religion

As I tried to make clear in a previous posts, I don't think either religion or science are dispositive over political matters. I am free to take into account, ignore, or dismiss whatever argument I want -- whether based on reason, religion, or science -- as largely irrelevant to political concerns about freedom and the constitution. Some religions say homosexuality and alcohol evil, while some scientists say smoking and alcohol (and "unsafe sex") are dangerous. These religious or scientific positions say what they say, but they should not be controlling over matters involving personal or constitutional freedom.

Now, bearing in mind that I don't think either religion or science should be allowed to dictate how I live my life, I'll say this about religious positions: they are in general less subject to change, and therefore are more predictable.

Science can be notoriously fickle, subject to change according to newly discovered information, and I am not convinced that scientific opinion is not influenced by public opinion, especially the opinions of political activists. (The same argument could also be made about religious opinions, but they're generally stuck with what's been previously written in religious sources such as the Bible or the Koran, and the arguments for change often involve interpretations or translations, historical perspectives, etc.)

A good example of how science is subject to political change is the dispute over mercury. Now, just because (as I've argued many times) I don't give a rat's ass about the shifting "scientific" claims about mercury in my teeth, that does not mean that others don't. These others would declare my mouth a health hazard:

Are your teeth toxic? The mercury in 'silver' fillings would be hazardous waste in a river----yet it's sitting in your mouth

A professional musician from Arlington Heights suffers from mysterious rashes and lip blisters. A dental hygienist in Hoffman Estates battles migraines. And a social worker in Prospect Heights is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

All three tried treating their ailments using a controversial method: by having dentists remove and replace their so-called "silver" amalgam tooth fillings, which contain about 50 percent mercury. And all three swear they experienced life-changing health improvements.

Their personal testimonies are part of what makes dental amalgam, the silver lining for hundreds of millions of American mouths, one of the most divisive issues in dentistry. Though it's one of the oldest materials in oral health care--used by people of all ages for the last 150 years--anti-mercury groups are pushing the startling message that mercury residing in the mouth can leach into the body and cause illness.

"I thought my career was over," said Arlington Heights' Matt Comerford, now a trumpet player with the Lyric Opera who was suffering from painful sores along his gums. He began investigating the metals in his mouth and eventually had nine silver fillings replaced with a mercury-free alter-native material. "Within a week [of having the amalgams replaced], everything healed," Comerford said. Amalgam, most dentists admit, is crude and ugly, but they say it's a valuable option because it's strong, durable and relatively cheap.

And studies have shown that there is insufficient evidence to link it to health problems (with the exception of allergic reactions), according to the American Dental Association and several federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Regardless, anti-mercury groups are appalled by the notion that the toxic element, which is considered a hazardous waste by the Environmental Protection Agency, is safe when it's packed inside a tooth. They argue that although it was once thought to be inert inside the mouth, studies now show that mercury can be emitted in minute amounts of vapor and absorbed by the patient through inhalation and ingestion.

There's a lot more, but I say screw 'em.

I'm sick of being told what to do (and what I should worry about) in the name of some external authority, be it science or religion or whatever. I consider being told what to do to be inherently political, and what I have seen in the little more than a half a century that I have been on this planet convinces me that the reasons are all subject to change.

I think much of science is inherently political, whether the proponents say so or not. Ice core data is a perfect example. We are told to believe the IPCC report because a "majority of scientists" support it. Yet dissenting scientists like Zbigniew Jaworowski maintain that ice core data are unreliable:

Dr. Jaworowski agrees that CO2 levels rose in the last half century. Starting in 1958, direct, real-time measurements of CO2 have been systematically taken at a state-of-the-art measuring station in Hawaii. These measurements, considered the world's most reliable, are a good basis for science by bodies like the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the agency that is co-ordinating the worldwide effort to stop global warming.

But the UN does not rely on direct real-time measurements for the period prior to 1958. "The IPCC relies on icecore data - on air that has been trapped for hundreds or thousands of years deep below the surface," Dr. Jaworowski explains. "These ice cores are a foundation of the global warming hypothesis, but the foundation is groundless - the IPCC has based its global-warming hypothesis on arbitrary assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false."

Ice, the IPCC believes, precisely preserves the ancient air, allowing for a precise reconstruction of the ancient atmosphere. For this to be true, no component of the trapped air can escape from the ice. Neither can the ice ever become liquid. Neither can the various gases within air ever combine or separate.

This perfectly closed system, frozen in time, is a fantasy. "Liquid water is common in polar snow and ice, even at temperatures as low as -72C," Dr. Jaworowski explains, "and we also know that in cold water, CO2 is 70 times more soluble than nitrogen and 30 times more soluble than oxygen, guaranteeing that the proportions of the various gases that remain in the trapped, ancient air will change. Moreover, under the extreme pressure that deep ice is subjected to - 320 bars, or more than 300 times normal atmospheric pressure - high levels of CO2 get squeezed out of ancient air."

Because of these various properties in ancient air, one would expect that, over time, ice cores that started off with high levels of CO2 would become depleted of excess CO2, leaving a fairly uniform base level of CO2 behind. In fact, this is exactly what the ice cores show.

Do they or don't they?

The answer depends on your political position. Obviously, most "climate scientists" (and most world governments) have lined up in lockstep behind ice core reliability. But it just so happens that most of these scientists and governments are also lined up in favor of imposing government controls to "save the world." (And need I mention that many of these scientists are, by taking government money, in just as much of a conflict of interest as the scientists they accuse of working for Big Oil? And that many of these governments are tyrannical?)

I realize there are two sides to this dispute, but I think it's hopelessly political. Anthropogenic global warming advocates might say it isn't, but many of them are taking government money while advocating government controls. Call me a bigot, but I just don't trust scientists who take government money and then support more government controls. How could I feel confident that they might not ignore or discard data which didn't advance what they sought to prove? Because of some scientific notion of majority rule?

Earlier, a scientifically-oriented commenter touched on the conflict between science and the private sector earlier, but he only noted one side of it:

Given that the scientific societies are united behind the GW picture (and the scientific societies consist of the nerds who thought it was more fun to do science than to get rich doing mergers & acquisitions), whereas the GW-denying picture is promoted largely by free-market thinktanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, I think that you could get a hint as to the relative influence of ideology vs. empirical science going into these points of view.
While I'm not quite sure that I agree with the dichotomy between scientific "fun" and "getting rich doing mergers & acquisitions," I will say that if the free market is now an ideology, I'm inclined to go with free market non-control over than the ideology of ever-increasing science-based controls and limitations on human progress.

Unscientific freedom beats scientific control.

It is a political question.

Various public policy claims can be said to be based on "science," but what science? Whose science? (It was once considered "scientific" to sterilize human beings, and now certain activists demand that I sterilize my dog in the name of veterinary "science.") And whose religions? There are no more absolute scientific truths to be finally determined for once and for all than there are absolute religious truths to be determined once and for all. And even if there were, the political world (at least the political world in the United States) is not governed by external "truths"; it is government by the Constitution, which is there to prevent tyrannical abuses of power. To the extent there is any truth which will govern me or the reality of my life, I'll look for it there.

Science and religion are fine until (to paraphrase Jefferson) they threaten to break my leg or pick my pocket.

I consider my skepticism to be nothing more than an application of the Precauctionary Principle to scientific threats to freedom.

(But I don't need to be scientific about it.)

UPDATE: Saul of Tales of Modernity left a comment linking an interesting post with this insightful conclusion:

....unless we can agree upon the moral claims, scientific hypothesis and experimentation remains worthless.
Excellent! But I'd add that even when we agree on the moral claims, that's not necessarily dispositive of legal (especially constitutional) issues.

posted by Eric on 05.21.07 at 06:06 PM










Comments

Eric, if you prefer an anti-rational approach to politics, then I can't gainsay you. But if you prefer to dismiss rational arguments and simply insist "It's my opinion and that's final" then why have a comments section for your blog?

Froblyx   ·  May 21, 2007 6:17 PM

Eric,

The free market is not in itself an ideology. But the American Enterprise Institute was advertising for reputable scientists specifically to write papers to counter the IPCC report (the offer was $10,000 per paper; actually, they got no takers, although $10k is pretty decent money for an academic); and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are the folks that notoriously created the "Carbon Dioxide is Life" advert.

These folks are thinking with their economic principles FIRST, and their science as an after thought.

As proposed earlier: What you decide to do after you know the facts have to do with your philosophy (speaking broadly). Finding out the facts should be the territory of science, evidence and reasoning. They are separate issues, and they need to be kept separate.

Neal J. King   ·  May 21, 2007 6:35 PM

Given that the scientific societies are united behind the GW picture (and the scientific societies consist of the nerds who thought the nerd with the nerdiest friends was automatically right), whereas the GW-denying picture is promoted largely by free-market thinktanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and these thinktanks consist of nerds who thought that there couldn't be a winner if there was no way to measure the score), I think that you could get a hint as to the relative influence of ideology vs. empirical science going into these points of view.

Phelps   ·  May 21, 2007 6:42 PM

Comments are there because I believe in letting people say whatever they want.

I consider much of what has passed for science over the years to be fickle, and skepticism to be a very rational response. However, I oppose government controls no matter what I might think about the particular science.

If you think that's irrational, fine. I think it's prudent.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 21, 2007 6:50 PM

"I realize there are two sides to this dispute, but I think it's hopelessly political. Anthropogenic global warming advocates might say it isn't, but many of them are taking government money while advocating government controls. Call me a bigot, but I just don't trust scientists who take government money and then support more government controls. How could I feel confident that they might not ignore or discard data which didn't advance what they sought to prove? Because of some scientific notion of majority rule?"

Scientists are much more motivated by the hope of fame & glory than by money. If they cared much about money, virtually any physical scientist could double his salary by working as a programmer - and they can all program.

What gets them going is the selfish hope of getting a scoop. And that doesn't come from blindly toeing the majority line.

Every scientist would love to be a revolutionary, to be the guy that comes up with the wild idea that happens to be true. They only "fall into line" with other folks when they're forced to do so by the evidence and the logic.

Neal J. King   ·  May 21, 2007 6:55 PM

Eric,

You may be interested in a post I made a few days ago, "Science and Aristotle."

The relevant part:

"... it is clear that public policy cannot be driven by science alone, because science in itself says nothing about value. When we enact public policy, we do so on the basis of some moral claim, for which science can support or negate the affects of. More simply, science can inform us as to the best course of action if we are to satisfy a value we already have, but is completely ineffectual in itself. The study of changeable qua changeable (being the science with which our principal concern rests) may inform us that carcinogens are harmful to the human body, but the possible applications of such a fact in public policy are synthetic derivations of our moral claims."

Of course, this idea has been bouncing around for over two thousand years.

Saul   ·  May 21, 2007 8:51 PM

Just thought of an analogy that might clear things up:

What if you’re working at a job, and the boss says “I’ve got a deal for you”, “You can come in every day and I’ll give you X dollars” Or: “You could not come in every day and I’ll give you X dollars.” The question is: who is going to come in? Only the person who would do it whether or not money was ever involved.

Science is never this goal-directed. It can never be "the thing that we want in itself," and because of that, it can never actually drive ideology. It can only support or negate existing ideological claims.

Saul   ·  May 21, 2007 8:56 PM

Saul, I heartily agree with your basic point that moral values and science are completely separate. That doesn't make science irrelevant or useless, as Eric seems to suggest. It means that science is what permits us to translate our moral decisions into reality. Do we want to spend X dollars now to avoid having to spend Y dollars later? Science can give us estimates of X and Y. It can't tell us whether we want to make that trade-off.

Eric, I'm disappointed with your rejection of science. Perhaps you had a really nasty science teacher at some point in your education. In any case, I shake my head in sadness that rationalism gets such short shrift with you.

Froblyx   ·  May 22, 2007 12:33 AM

I don't even understand why this is an issue of note. The Milken Institute Review (a free-market publication written by economists) believes in AGW, and have estimated that the cost imposed from a negative externality tax should be about eight cents a gallon (based on the IPCC's climate models), or less than one-fifth of what we pay in federal tax on gas.

Considering that less than half of all federal gas tax money goes to road building, and the rest purportedly goes to other areas that enrich our nation, we already have, in effect, a policy on global warming which a free-market AGW believer should support (and then some).

So, why should anyone fight so hard for or against? Except on the grounds of the science, which, frankly, no one here can understand, who could care?

Frankly, the idea that the debate can be purely rational given the money (whether we are talking about pure greed or research grants), ideology, political pressure, and the public attention involved, is simply stupid.

Huge numbers of Americans believe cutting off our demand for oil would end terrorism (see, Thomas Friedman). Most academics live in cities with lots of traffic, many ride bikes, and, in my experience, are just generally the most anti-car folks in America. Many are disgusted by the concept of the free market because of its disorganized nature (ironic, considering that they can understand and believe in evolution). Many are extremely left-wing environmentalists. Want to get famous? Claim we'll all be burned to death in a hundred years, and make sure you have a PhD. At the least, you'll get on the nightly news.

But, apparently, if you believe in AGW (as I do, I should note), you have to believe these things have literally no impact on people. Oh, no. Academics (people I should know: both of my parents were of that type, as are most of my friends today) are perfect, without fault, saints who only seek virtue and truth. Good grief.

Jon Thompson   ·  May 22, 2007 2:51 AM

Eric, with that said, while I understand your hesitancy to jump on board given the popular notion of what believing in AGW would mean, I just don't think it is right. That is, as I've stated, I suspect the costs of global warming to be, on balance, minute, and, in any case, given that there are now many scientists who don't want to break your legs who believe in AGW, the science should be given a fair shake. As well, while the motives should be questioned when we are talking about people compiling data and supposedly searching for truth, we should try and separate that from the conclusions, when possible.

That's my two cents. I'd honestly like to hear your thoughts. In case I haven't said so lately (I think it has been a few months...) I respect you, and your opinion, greatly.

Jon Thompson   ·  May 22, 2007 2:52 AM

Sorry froblyx,eric is not rejecting science.

What he is saying I think is that science can't be moral,and has and probably will continue to shift faster than religion which is based on long established tradtions that are by their very nature moral.

Science can be used to make decisions,but science that is colored by the "moral" feelings of the scientist is biased. A scientist can not take his feelings toward his product and call that science. His x and y are too weighted that way,and only show what he set out to prove,not the bare facts of what he found.

Apparently you did not read Eric's update

....unless we can agree upon the moral claims, scientific hypothesis and experimentation remains worthless.

More importantly his main point is that we have a constitutional form of government, where neither the "moral" claims of science nor religion are supposed to be the final arbitrator.

Science should deal with facts,religion should deal with morals,and our form of government should deal with protecting it's citizens,but not from themselves.

flicka47   ·  May 22, 2007 2:57 AM

When it comes to understanding the science, you have two real choices: Either trust the scientific establishments (NASA, NOAA, NCAR, USGS) to do what we pay them to do, or to dig into oneself and try to swim the complex waters of sifting evidence and arguing the logic.

Forming one's opinion just from what is in the papers or on websites is leaving yourself vulnerable to persuasion by journalists, who may or may not have agendas of their own.

But if you're going to try the swimming on your own, be prepared to recognize that it's not as easy as it looks. There is a reason that it takes years of graduate school to become a professional scientist.

Neal J. King   ·  May 22, 2007 5:12 AM

Science is a human enterprise and humans make mistakes. We have bad ideas, we come to the wrong conclusions, we ignore evience we don't like in favor of evidence that agrees with us. It is a process of starts and stops, and frequent backtracking. It can't help but be messy.

We are limited in our abilities and limited in our understanding. We can't help but be limited. Because we are limited we are going to get things wrong. The best we can do is acknowledge our mistakes when we learn about them, and correct them where we can.

Do you know what a scientific theory is? A scientific theory is the best description of a phenomeon we can produce based on what we know of the phenomenon. We learn more of a phenomenon we can improve our description of it. Sometimes we learn that our description, our theory, is wrong and we have to come up with a better description. Einstein's theories of General and Special Relativity didn't replace Newtonian Mechanics, they supplemented and corrected Isaac Newton's work. With a bit of research you can find many other examples of where this supplementation and correction occured.

Our current distrust of science is not going to change until scientists accept the fact we need to learn how science really works, with all it's flaws and inconsistencies and restarts. And we start to accept that science is going to say things about us and our world we're not going to like, and accept that what science says about us and our world is right.

We are as we are and all our denial isn't going to change a thing. Nor shall our denial change the fact the world is as it is. Accepting that things are as they are is the first step to making our world better for us, and to making us better.

We have always been responsible for what we are and what we do, it's time we started acting like it.

Alan Kellogg   ·  May 22, 2007 5:42 AM

Alan, I believe that you made a typo in this sentence:

"Our current distrust of science is not going to change until scientists people? accept the fact we need to learn how science really works,"

The change I suggest seems more consistent with your overall tenor.

Jon, we are in violent semi-agreement. Yes, science and morality are completely independent of each other. The point you seem to deny is that decisions about the real world require a combination of both science and moral philosophy: the science tells us what the real world is, and the moral philosophy determines what we want to do about it. I cannot understand why you and Eric refuse to acknowledge this simple and obvious truth. Eric goes even further with the statement that flicka47 pointed out for emphasis:

"....unless we can agree upon the moral claims, scientific hypothesis and experimentation remains worthless."

No, the truth isn't made worthless by our inability to agree on moral philosophy. It remains truth and remains ready to guide our decisions when we do come to agreement on moral issues.

Flicka47, you repeat the error with this statement:

"More importantly his main point is that we have a constitutional form of government, where neither the "moral" claims of science nor religion are supposed to be the final arbitrator."

But the whole point that you yourself argued earlier was that

"science can't be moral"

So what gives?

You and Eric also observe that science shifts faster than religion. That's the result of learning. As we learn more and more about reality, we improve our description of it. Would you have it any other way?

The claim about science and religion shifting once again reveals that you and Eric just don't accept the notion that science and moral philosophy are independent. Religion is a moral philosophy; science concerns reality; the two are independent. So your comparisons between the two are meaningless.

I am pleased that Jon is turning the discussion towards actual policy options. However, I'm skeptical of the claim that raising the Federal gas tax by eight cents per gallon will reduce CO2 emissions sufficiently to ward off global warming. Is this your meaning, or did you mean that the eight cents per gallon would generate enough income to pay for the imposed costs of global warming?

Lastly, your grand generalizations about scientists as a group can only arise from a profound misunderstanding of how science operates. Scientists are acutely aware of the danger of groupthink, so they have developed a system to counter the tendency towards groupthink. Neal and I have explained that system several times now, and I'll be happy to explain it again if you wish, but the emotional tenor of your comments on this matter suggest that I'd be wasting my time. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Froblyx   ·  May 22, 2007 10:30 AM

Frob,

"However, I'm skeptical of the claim that raising the Federal gas tax by eight cents per gallon will reduce CO2 emissions sufficiently to ward off global warming."

I meant precisely what I said, something you'd understand if you had actually understood what you were talking about when you appropriated the language of free market economics to discuss policy proposals. However, your statement, "ward off global warming," clearly shows you don't.

Eight cents a gallon is the value of current warming damage plus the discounted value of future damage (rough estimate shows that the value of warming damage a hundred years from now, from that value, would be several trillion dollars worldwide, and almost a trillion just in the US, which seems in line with most estimates I've seen). The point is not (and never is) to stop pollution; only to force consumers of polluting industries to pay for the total cost of production, as in, the cost to the supplier plus the cost to society.

The three major sources of manmade CO2 are point sources, electricity generation, and agriculture. While there is some disagreement about the exact role each plays, it is a good approximation to say that each are responsible for a third of the AGW pie. Because we are talking about relatively small values in terms of the change in price, the demand curves for each can be considered straight lines.

For agriculture, we have a great deal of price inelasticity. We find the same thing for electricity (it seems people want to eat and read at night about the same amount even if prices rise by 20%). Only with point sources (cars, primary fuel being gasoline) do we have a long term price elasticity close to one (about 0.8, if I recall correctly).

Considering that the federal gas tax is about forty cents a gallon and that a bit less than half goes to highway development (we ignore this section as it is simply an extremely inefficient form of usage fee for driving on the roads), a bit more than half, or, say, almost twenty-four cents, is taken and not use for any driving purposes (and this is the floor; each state also has some gas tax and most of those don't go to road-building either).

What this means is that you have one source being taxed at three times the "proper" rate, from a Pigovian standpoint. This alone would be sufficient (in terms of reducing CO2) if the source being taxed were roughly equal in production (it is) to the other two, and if it were roughly equal to the other two in terms of price elasticity; but, it isn't. Gasoline is much more price elastic than the other two sources. While this is not economically efficient, it suggests that, if anything, we are imposing a greater reduction in CO2 already than a perfectly adjusted carbon tax would.

So, frankly, while we could always attain greater efficiency, we are already curbing emissions as much as perfect efficiency would suggest we should.

Now, you may decide to ignore the scientists (and they are scientists; they study the effects of exogenous and endogenous forces on economic statistics), but that would make you a wee bit hypocritical, in my book.

Jon Thompson   ·  May 22, 2007 1:32 PM

Now, you may decide to ignore the scientists (and they are scientists; they study the effects of exogenous and endogenous forces on economic statistics), but that would make you a wee bit hypocritical, in my book.

Put your guns away, I have a great deal of respect for economics and economists.

I meant precisely what I said, something you'd understand if you had actually understood what you were talking about when you appropriated the language of free market economics to discuss policy proposals. However, your statement, "ward off global warming," clearly shows you don't.

Testy, aren't we? Your original statement was ambiguous; a negative externality tax should take into account all the costs of the activity being taxed, but some people cast that net widely, and some cast it narrowly. It depends upon how much value to assign to a variety of factors, some of whose quantification is highly subjective. Normally this problem is addressed by simply stating the basis for calculating the externality, but I don't have that information.

So I went over the Milken Institute website to find the material you referred to and was unsuccessful. Could you provide me with a link to the material on the eight cent tax?

Froblyx   ·  May 22, 2007 2:11 PM

Jon Thompson,

Unlike Froblyx, I do not have the greatest respect for economics and economists.

I am thinking specifically of the argument by Lomborg, whom you would seem to be quoting, that a simple discount factor reduces the significance of GW a great deal, on the grounds that this pays for future damage.

The problem is that even if you save up all this money, and let it grow at compound interest rates comparable to your discount factor, the problem arises: Where do you buy a new planet? From what galactic pet store do you buy the species to replace the 20% or so that are expected to disappear without descendants?

The net-present-value perspective has some use, but I don't believe it's a framework broad enough to handle irreplaceable items. And, as far as we know now, the planet is irreplaceable.

Neal J. King   ·  May 22, 2007 7:17 PM

Good lord, Neal, don't blame Lomborg on the economists! He's definitely not one of them! He uses their ideas just as badly as he uses ideas from the hard sciences.

Froblyx   ·  May 22, 2007 7:26 PM

OK.

No discussion of ice core data.

No discussion of China. Which has just surpassed the USA in CO2 production and whose rate of increase of CO2 production is much larger than the USAs (it would have to be to surpass the USA's production). They have 1/6th the energy efficiency per $ of GDP that the USA has.

No mention of rising German resistance to their CO2 tax scheme. I notice none of the brilliant commenters here have done much commenting on the German resistance to the current CO2 taxes post I did. Let alone further increases that have been proposed. In fact they claim that the tax is reducing their ability to replace inefficient plants with more efficient ones. Now there is an externality for you.

And this is supposed to be a real world discussion?

It is one thing to get people to buy into AGW. It is quite something else to get them to pay for it.

Evidently, the people involved have looked at the discounted cost of CO2 reductions and have decided that it is not 1% or even .1%. It is much closer to .01% and may in fact be zero.

Now in the real world, if the solar scientists are correct and we are headed for a .5% decline in solar output over the next 150 years the correct tax may be negative. i.e. we should be paying the electrical industry to burn more coal and France with its 70% nuclear electrical production may be totally out of step with what is required.

So frob, how about that solar science. Should we accept it or reject it? And if we accept it, what is to be done?

M. Simon   ·  May 23, 2007 5:54 AM

Neal,

Who is going to pay for the disappearance of the dinosaurs?

Personally I'm a believer in evolution. Climate has been changing for 100s of millions of years. Species go extinct as ecological niches change and new species arise.

If that is not good enough there will come a time in the next 100 to 200 years where we can make new species at will. Problem solved. In the mean time we can keep copies of the DNA of species that go extinct and bring them back when we are able. If a suitable ecological niche arises.

There is no possible way we can make the earth stay the same as it ever was. Because te earth itself is not the same as it ever was.

M. Simon   ·  May 23, 2007 6:02 AM

I haven't studied Lumborg. I have only read excerpts.

However, he has one point totally correct. The EVOLUTION of technology will have us off carbon based fuels in the 2065 to 2100 time frame.

Assuming we don't cripple the world's economy in some misguided attempt to rush things along.

However, I'm all for some well guided efforts. Like more research into the possibility of fusion power and more specifically aneutronic fusion.

M. Simon   ·  May 23, 2007 6:10 AM

M. Simon;

Ice core problems: Please succintly state them.

China: China is big and growing, but as far as I recall, the U.S. is still ahead, and is expected to stay ahead in C-O2 production until 2009: http://earthtrends.wri.org/updates/node/110:
"Carbon dioxide emissions from China might pass those from the United States as early as 2009, according to the World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2006, released earlier this month [November 2006] by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris." It bothers me that you make a lot of claims without giving references.

German resistance: This is surprising? Germans have industries too, and they also don't want to change their energy-production methods. Was anyone claiming that Germans or Europeans were environmental saints? I wasn't.

Solar Science: You've attempted to make that case on another thread, which is where I'll address it. To summarize here: You're basing your expectation on what is actually just a speculation and a counterfactual statement. Most solar scientists do not expect a 0.5% increase in the next 150 years. But I'll discuss that on the appropriate thread.

The thread is at: http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/2007/05/the_solar_conve.html

So my point of view is, Accept the solar science. But first make sure that it says what you think it says. Hint: It doesn't.

Neal J. King   ·  May 23, 2007 5:01 PM

M. Simon:

Paying for the Dinosaurs: I'm not sure what joke you're trying to make. If there are serious agricultural problems due to GW, as the IPCC predicts, there will be real costs and real problems. If new farmland is needed in the right places, where do you create those "right places"? Money doesn't solve everything.

Species go extinct: The issue is not the extinction of an individual species, because what normally happens is that a population of critters has a gene pool that "shifts" until after a million years it looks like something else. But if you look at the whole Earth during that process, you would expect to see a roughly constant degree of genetic diversity. On the other hand, when the asteroid hit 65 Million years ago, the diversity of critters went way down, because many critters died out without leaving any descendants. There was no gene-pool shift, it went to zero. Many zoologists think that is in-progress right now, and GW is one important (though not unique) factor. See for example: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37214 ; but I've seen many articles on this subject over the past years.

"We'll be able to make new species at will":
- An important issue about species that have evolved is that they have "solved" problems that we haven't thought of. The species that we manage to "create" will be the "solutions" to problems that we HAVE thought of. There's a big difference.
- I wonder that you have such trust in the technology of biology, while you have such distrust in the science of physics and chemistry. It sounds like you're taking refuge in science fiction.

Keeping the Earth the same:
It is not a matter of trying to keep it unchanged, but of avoiding to put it to so much fast change that it's damaged in important ways. The fact that your great-grandmother's antique furniture will someday turn to dust is no reason to burn it for firewood today. It is still worth taking care of your car today even though in 50 years it will no longer work.

Neal J. King   ·  May 23, 2007 5:18 PM

M. Simon,

on Lomborg
I haven't yet read Lomborg's book, I've just seen excerpts on webpages. So I don't know his argument that we will be off carbon-based fuels in 2100.

However, I'm inclined to doubt that it will happen without some societal pressure. Oil and gas will run out, I think, in a few decades; but there is enough coal to last for hundreds of years. I don't think it will be sufficient to wait until we run out of carbon-based fuels. I believe it will be necessary to either develop a combustion method that doesn't generate C-O2 or to forego usage of these fuels.

I'm not against fusion energy production, but I don't see any sign that there's a plausible timeframe for practical power production using that approach. Last I heard, everytime they solve a problem, a bigger problem shows up.

In the meantime, the closest working fusion reactor seems to be the Sun.

Neal J. King   ·  May 23, 2007 5:25 PM

Neal,

Wow.

"The problem is that even if you save up all this money"

First error. The point is not to save the money, but to properly put the cost on the consumer of polluting products, and divert those resources to other areas that don't pollute as much. There is a reason for this; the idea that you can banish all bad things from the universe for a set cost is...not well represented by reality. Therefore, in the real world, we make a set of cost-benefit decisions to properly allocate resources. Negative externality taxes seek to apportion the costs to meet society's, not save the money in a magic locker somewhere.

", and let it grow at compound interest rates comparable to your discount factor,"

Continuation of the above fallacy.

"the problem arises: Where do you buy a new planet? From what galactic pet store do you buy the species to replace the 20% or so that are expected to disappear without descendants?"

Alarmist much? Jesus, this is the kind of silly. Show me where the IPCC has said that. Show me where anyone who is not known for being an environmental doomsayer for decades has said that. The truth is, the IPCC have estimated costs in the trillions of dollars worldwide for GW in 100 years (out of a world economy estimated at well over a hundred trillion dollars). If you have a better source which estimates something worse than that, be my guest, point it out.

But you look like a hypocrite going on about how great and perfect scientists are and then saying they've got it all wrong when you disagree with them.

Froblyx,

Sorry, it was print, last year, cover article, Do we need a gas tax?, or something along those lines. I'll see if I can find it in the library over the weekend.

And, frankly, I'm testy because it really seems as though, on the one hand, people are saying we have to respect the experts, and on the other, when they say something that you disagree with on, as far as I can see, an emotional level, fuck them.

Neal thinks we NEED a painful, serious shift in energy consumption, and if the experts disagree, they are wrong.

Jon Thompson   ·  May 24, 2007 1:19 AM

Jon Thomson,

- My point about saving the money was aimed at the net-present-value (NPV) approach promoted by Lomborg, which evaluates (and therefore values) environmental damage as if it were a sequence of monthly bills, to be considered as a lump sum. It makes for an easy calculation, but my point is that it doesn't capture the real impact of environmental damage.

- My impression is that you are talking about the effect of a carbon tax. I'm not against that, but it has nothing to do with what I'm discussing. Are you at all familiar with Lomborg's approach?

- wrt biodiversity: I've seen a few articles concerning the IPCC's statements in the last 3 months. This one is an article that discusses the 2007 report, but doesn't point out the location in the article specifically: http://timeforchange.org/effects-of-global-warming-ipcc-draft

I'll quote from it:
"The draft summary urges mankind to act quickly. But even rigorous measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases can only mitigate and by no means prevent severe effects on our environment. Among the most important consequences of global warming are:
...
...
* Reduction of the biological diversity on Earth: 20 to 30 percent of all species are expected to be extinguished. This will have severe consequences on the respective food chains."

I'll have to look at the IPCC report to find the specific statements made. It's about 1000 pages long, so I haven't had a chance to go through it yet. But here is an older IPCC document that discusses, possibly less quantitatively, the implications: http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/biodiv/pdf/bio_eng.pdf

- In general, I think most scientists do an honorable job of trying to understand the world. However, when a study or proposition made surprises me, I try to understand how the proponent has come to that result, and also to see if other scientists agree. I have pointed out these cases in which an analysis has seemed faulty to me; and in which cases other scientists have pointed out flaws. I think that's legitimate.

I'm not asking you to trust in my expertise, as I'm not claiming any. I am asking that you think about the logic of what I am saying, verify the facts that I quote (if I know that people will want specific facts, I try to provide links), and evaluate on that basis.

Neal J. King   ·  May 24, 2007 5:31 AM

And, frankly, I'm testy because it really seems as though, on the one hand, people are saying we have to respect the experts, and on the other, when they say something that you disagree with on, as far as I can see, an emotional level, fuck them.

I certainly have made no such statements, and Neal has explained his meaning clearly, and his meaning is not at all what you describe. "Just the facts, ma'am."

Froblyx   ·  May 24, 2007 10:36 AM

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