An important step to take before we spend a trillion dollars to save the planet from global warming

There will be many benefits of ClimateGate, the liberation of emails and documents from the UK Climate Research Unit. One of them might be the professional handling of the global temperature datasets, one of the great scandals of climate science. As described in this comment by Ross McKitrick, posted at Climate Audit on 12 August 2009.

I have often used the analogy of national Consumer Price Indexes to illustrate the ridiculous situation of the “Global Temperature” data. Each country has large professional staffs at their Stat agencies working on the monthly CPI using international protocols, using transparent methods, with independent academics looking over their shoulders weighing the various aggregation methodologies (e.g. Paasche, Laspeyres, Fisher, Tornqvist etc index number formulae), and with historical archiving rules that allow backward revisions periodically if needed.

It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a far cry from the f**king gong show we’re seeing here. The reason CPI data, GDP data, etc. are handled professionally is that a range of policies (such as money supply control, pension indexing, intergovernmental transfers) etc depend on the numbers; also some labour contracts include CPI-based escalator clauses. In other words the numbers matter.

By contrast the Global Temperature numbers are coming from a bunch of disorganized academics chipping away at it periodically in their spare time. GISS numbers are handled (on Gavin’s admission) by a single half-time staffer, and the CRU says they’re stumped trying to find their original files back into the 70s and 80s, as well as the agreements under which they obtained the data and which to this day they invoke to prevent independent scrutiny.

I take Steve’s point that these issues are not sufficient to change one’s views on any particular policy which could be shown on other grounds to be desirable or otherwise. And this is not the thread (or the site) to debate policy. But bear in mind that the G8 Summit recently issued an undertaking to prevent the Global Temperature from going up by 2C compared to pre-industrial times, and the Copenhagen Agreement will probably contain similar language. That ‘2C’ number refers, in all likelihood, to a few digits that Phil Jones publishes in his spare time using data from files he has lost, etc. etc.

If that kind of quality control is good enough for the purposes of G8 agreements and international protocols, then let’s not waste so much money running national statistical agencies to produce numbers that are used for such trivialities as central bank policy, national pensions and labour contracts. We’ll just ask some professors to cobble together a monthly number in their spare time, we’ll let them do historical revisions any time they want without notice or external scrutiny, and we’ll promise them that nobody will ever check their work.

And if the CRU staff want to plead that we are being too harsh on them because they “did the best they could” with such limited means and minuscule staffs, etc, fine. I’ll be the first to join in such a defence: the minute they put a big red disclaimer on their data products saying “Warning: These numbers are offered on an as-is basis and should not be used for any important public purposes.” But they can’t have it both ways, claiming their data products are good enough for policy purposes, while also claiming they cannot be expected to meet the quality expectations that apply to the other data series we use for policy purposes.

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4 thoughts on “An important step to take before we spend a trillion dollars to save the planet from global warming”

  1. How do you argue with clarity? Still, it does not matter whether the science is right or wrong because the scientists are not the ones writing policy. After reading about Patchy’s new novel, I have decided to replace the word ‘robust’ with ‘voluptuous’. If the enviros really wanted to spend money wisely, could they?

  2. This doesn’t make even the remotest sense. Essentially every proposal by the people concerned about the overwhelmingly valid science on global warming boils down to making us oil-independent and more energy efficient. Whether it’s Stewart Brand arguing that we need to build more nuclear power plants or engineers designing hybrid cars, either way the money that’s being spent on “global warming,” as you call it, is money America would spend anyway to wean itself off its fatal oil addiction that puts us in thrall to the islamic fundamentalist dictatorships of the middle east.

    Seriously…what’s our choice here? Instead of spending a trillion dollars to build efficient new hybrid cars, electric cars and charging stations, nuclear power plants, more energy-efficient homes, what’s our other option? Piss even more money down a rathole so we can invade even more middle eastern countries and fight losing wars in third world hellholes, all to protect America’s crazy and unnecessary oil addiction? That’s an alternative? Burn even more fossil fuels so we can give those islamic fundamentalist dictatorships even more leverage over our economy? That’s a plan?

    Every dime of that trillion dollars is going to be spent making America more energy efficient and oil-independent anyway. I don’t get it. What’s the problem? You like our presidents groveling and bowing before Saudi kings?
    FM reply: In what sense is this a reply to McKitrick’s common-sense proposal? It read like a religous tract, a 16th century papist outraged at the heresy of Martin Luter. If so, Amen or whatever.

    BTW, the point is that we have many urgent needs. Clean energy is one of them, but hardly (as you imply) the most urgent or potentially damaging. And you ignore the primary reponse of the AGW doomsters, which is regulation of emmissions and “cap and trade”. Both are likely to have deleterious side-effects. After all, if Hansen is correct that we have only 4 years to save the planet (now only 3), then the generational-long conversion to clean energy is irrelevant.

  3. I find it fascinating that despite more than 200 years of solid and independently verifiable data indicating that evolution through natural selection is occurring throughout all lineages of life (Plants, Animals, Bacteria/Viruses)on Earth, Evolution still remains a controversial topic.

    Where as in climate science, a field we are just beginning to brush the surface of and understand with new technologies and modeling systems, we have groups who are convinced without the slightest doubt that we must spend trillions of dollars on restructuring the world’s economies and to regulate CO2 release like its a toxic substance. Never mind that CO2 is a required product for all photosynthesis to occur. Especially without any mention of the impact water vapor has in regulating the global climate, which is estimated at >90%.

    While I was undergrad at CSUF, the Professor of Biology, an active contributor to the UN IPCC Panel for the North Eastern Pacific region, hammered us with the IPCC models projecting the rises in both global and ocean temperatures, which by now have not occurred. I was always struck by how confident the academics were with their modeling systems, even as they instructed us at lower division level classes that scientific theories were never settled or absolute. Science is slowly refined over time with more and more research and congruent data sets until theories are thrown out or revised to concur with real world quantifiable observations. When these models began to diverge from our real world observations, which suggest a global cooling trend for the next several decades, we should have immediately gone back to the drawing board to determine what factor or factors we are missing.

    McKitrick’s proposal is spot on. Independent verification and accountability is the only solution to this. I expect it will take decades for the credibility of science to rebound from this fiasco.

  4. In what sense is your discussion a response to McKitrick’s comment? You hysterically warn about ‘spending a trillion dollars’ but McKitrick doesn’t mention a word about spending a trillion dollars in his comment, nor on what we should spend it. He’s calling for open verification of climate science.

    The title of your article, raving about a mythical `trillion dollars’ we’re supposedly going to waste, is one of those typical anti-AGW fear-mongering examples of wild hysteria. There’s no evidence that any responsible person is proposing to spend ` a trillion dollars’ on cap and trade. Moreover, you assert in your comment that “you ignore the primary reponse of the AGW doomsters, which is regulation of emmissions and “cap and trade”. Both are likely to have deleterious side-effects.” What’s your evidence that the primary response of the AGW climate scientists is regulation of emissions and cap and trade?

    The climate scientists merely recommend reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The single most efficient and cost-effective of reducing global greenouse gas emissions as fast as possible invovles reducing the growth rate of the global population. That means that logically our primary response to the verified and accurate climate science is to institute crash birth control programs for the third world, where the population is growing fastest. (Most countries in the developed world are either at zero population growth or their population is decreasing, as in Japan and Italy. Only France is above ZPG. Indeed, several developed countries face imminent demographic disasters due to falling populations, most notably Japan.) Why would anyone be against birth control for the world’s poorest countries, since they can’t afford their starving populations as it is, much less another 3 billion mouths to feed over the next 30 years? You’re not really suggesting that we ban condoms and birth control pills in the third world, are you? You don’t really think this planet can handle another three billion people when scientists are already warning that the seas will get fished out of all marine life in another 50 years if global population growth continues unabated, do you?

    The next most cost-efficient methods of reducing global carbon emissions, measured in dollars per gigaton of CO2, by far are, according to graph #1 (“A Cost Curve For Global Greenhouse Gas Reduction,” McKinsey’s Quarterly, 2007): (PDF of the article here)[1] better building insulation; [2] more fuel efficient commercial vehicles; [3] more efficient lighting; [4] more efficient water heaters. We’re on track witha ll of these, particularly the efficiency of lighting, since we’ll soon be moving to LEDs and away from incandescent bulbs, and massively more efficient water heaters are now on the market and new federal tax credits are encouraging homeowners to install ’em. No tax credits are needed to encourage the adoption of more fuel-efficient commercial and person vehicles, since the skyrocketing cost of gasoline and diesel will take care of that. So which of these sensible reasonable measures to reduce emissions are you objecting to? What’s the problem with any of McKinsey’s top 5 more cost-effective ways of reducing global carbon emissions? Even if global warming is a giant hoax, doesn’t it make sense to become radically more energy efficient as cost-effectively as possible? What’s the problem with that?

    Holding up an extreme AGW zealot’s claim that we have only 4 years to save the planet as typical of AGW proposals is the fallacy of the argument from extremes. There’s a middle ground between having only 4 years to save the planet and doing nothing (as you suggest). That middle ground is what the vast majority of policymakers support — namely, reduce population growth in the third world and move away from burning fossil fuels of all kinds, toward renewable resources. Those resources range from solar (unlikely — producing enough solar cells to make America energy-indpendent would require more indium reserves than are known to exist) to hybrid cars (reasonable but only a stopgap) to radically improving our mass transit systems (which we’re on track to do, all puns intended) to building liquid thorium freeder reactors.

    Hysterical reactions like yours to scientific data seldom prove useful. The overwhelming majority of people who have made suggestions about dealing with the scientific reality of global warming have, like McKinsey (op cit), proposed sober sensible programs to reduce America’s and the developed world’s use of fossil fuels and make our economies more energy-efficient. That takes care of reducing emissions; cap and trade is a tiny ancillary issue of little significance compared to the much vaster greenhouse gas implications of another 3 billion people on the planet within the next 40 years.
    FM reply: More nonsense from the author of The definitive rebuttal to skepticism about global warming! You can write such thigns until you are blue in the face (“Hysterical reactions like yours to scientific data”), but it just doesn’t get traction with most people any more. This isn’t worth discussing, which I’ll show by 3 notes.

    (1) “Holding up an extreme AGW zealot’s claim that we have only 4 years to save the planet”

    When did James Hansen of NASA turn into a “extreme AGW zealot”? And what kind of supergenius global expert are you to so label him? He’s a respected scientist, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who initated the current concern with global warming with his 1988 testimony before the US Senate. See Wikipedia for more. Here Mclaren exhibits one of the odder beliefs of the green religion: scientists are unquestioned experts, except when they bring discredit on the holy green faith — then they become ignorant fools. This usualy applies to scientists sceptical of the green doctrines. Mclaren shows believers willingness to cast overboard their fellow-believers when convenient. Amen.

    (2) “raving about a mythical `trillion dollars’ we’re supposedly going to waste”

    First, I did not say it was all a waste (your typical lies, misrepresenting what I said). Second, the trillion-dollar estimate I give is low (it’s just a headline). To use the best known example, the Stern Report (Report, Wikipedia) recommends spending 1% of global GDP — now aprox $60 trillion — per year for some indefinite period to control CO2 emmissions. That’s $6 trillion over 10 years.

    (3) “but McKitrick doesn’t mention a word about spending a trillion dollars in his comment, nor on what we should spend it. He’s calling for open verification of climate science.”

    As I am sure even those readers in the children’s section understood, I recommend taking McKitrick’s advice as part of a systematic review of the climate science data and methods before we make massive investments attempting to stop global warmings.

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