The guilty ones preventing good policy about climate change

Summary: Yesterday I proposed that we try new ways to end the climate policy gridlock. Today I explore why we have not yet done so, and probably won’t do so. The reason why reveals something important about America.

“When I was sixteen, I went to work for a newspaper in Hong Kong. It was a rag, but the editor taught me one important lesson. The key to a great story is not who, or what, or when, but why.”
— Elliot Carver, in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

Climate science marching into the future.

Girl Marching Off Cliff - Dreamstime-51961474
ID 51961474 © Rangizzz | Dreamstime.

The public policy debate about climate change first caught my attention as an example of America’s ability to see the world, evaluate what we see, and collectively make decisions (our national OODA loop). An effective OODA loop is necessary for our prosperity amidst the hazards of the 21st century. Perhaps even for our survival. What I found is all bad news.

Yesterday’s post recommended that climate scientists try new ways to break the three-decade-long gridlock in the climate change policy debate – and gave a specific suggestion. Today’s post asks why we won’t do that and why the policy debate has run in circles for so long – as participants on both sides repeated tactics that consistently failed. It is an immense story of failure by key groups and institutions across America. This posts hits a few of the high spots.

(1) Phase one: tit for tat, not science

“A genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is 500 years away easier than he can a thing that’s only 500 seconds off.”
— From Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

There are some obvious but shallow answers. We have seen this situation many times in books and films since the publication of When Worlds Collide in 1932. Scientists see a threat to the world. They go to the world’s leaders and state their case, presenting the data for others to examine and question. They never say things like this …

“In response to a request for supporting data, Philip Jones, a prominent researcher {U of East Anglia} said ‘We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?’”
– From the testimony of Stephen McIntyre before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (the July 2006 hearings which produced the Wegman Report). Jones has not publicly denied it.

This happened repeatedly during the long debate since 1988. Questioners (and later critics) were rebuffed and insulted, a mind-blowingly counter-productive tactic that screamed “climate scientists have much to hide.” In reaction to this rose the legions of denialists. Not skeptics, but people denying the “greenhouse” effect and anthropogenic warming. The mainstream skeptic community contributed to the poisonous gridlock by embracing deniers (handling fringe elements is a challenge for all political movements).

(2) Phase two: playing politics while the world warms

Once the climate policy debate fragmented into two opposing teams, inevitably they become adopted by the major political parties.

The Left saw climate policy as a means to gain the power to restructure the US economy and society to their liking (e.g., journalist Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate and Pope Francis’ fiery speeches condemning global capitalism). This was the climate debate in miniature. I and others pointed this out in 2015. Leftists denied it and mocked us, until the Green New Deal made it explicit. Then their denials went down the memory hole. Journalists for the major news media concealed this story, from start to end.

Much of the Right easily incorporated denialism into their worldview, along with creationism, denial of Keynesian economics, and belief in faux history about the Civil War and Thanksgiving.

The reaction of both sides is pitiful, but that of the Left is also weird. Thirty years of playing politics and nothing to show for it. I discussed yesterday’s post with a physicist, whose rebuttal to my recommendation for more science was No, we need more politics – vote for Bernie! That was the thinking of WWI’s generals. There was always one more “over the wire into battle” before victory. There was no need to work together with their foes to find solutions. Now we see them as madmen who brought disaster on Europe. Future generations might see us as crazy people for the same reason if the climate wars end badly – either from climate change or a repeat of past extreme weather (the policy gridlock prevents preparation for either).

That is not only bad tactics, but it is also bad politics – if you care about climate change (vs. just cynically using it as a cover story). Politics in a successful society (e.g., not Somalia) is the search for agreement. That means finding steps that can gain majority support. Climate change is unlike slavery, as it offers many opportunities for everybody to work together. There are two obvious ones. First, preparing for the repeat of past extreme weather (which resilience also helps for climate change). Second, testing the models (both sides are confident of the result, and so should be willing to support funding for the test).

But we live in ClownWorld, so climate debate resembles a food fight in a grade school cafeteria.

(3)  Why not test the models?

Model validation is a well-established field, since computer models are used in thousands of critical applications. Climate scientists ignore most of this, instead giving us endless backtests – a weak form of validation due to tuning.

Some of the evidence given as validation would be funny, if we were discussing something other than the future of humanity. Perhaps the best-known attempt at model validation concerns the forecasts in “Global climate changes as forecast by Goddard Institute for Space Studies three-dimensional model” by Hansen et el. in the Journal of Geophysical Research, 20 August 1988. Its skill was evaluated in “Skill and uncertainty in climate models” by Julia C. Hargreaves in WIREs: Climate Change, July/Aug 2010 (ungated copy). She reported that “efforts to reproduce the original model runs have not yet been successful”, so she examined results for the scenario that in 1988 Hansen “described as the most realistic”. How realistic she doesn’t say (no comparison of the scenarios vs. actual forcings); nor can we know how the forecast would change using observed forcings as inputs. Sorry world, the dog ate my model.

Another equally weird example is “Evaluating the performance of past climate model projections” by Zeke Hausfather et al. in Geophysical Research Letters (in press). They use complex mathematics to avoid re-running the models, as Dr. Hausfather explained in a Tweet.

“Our implied TCR approach effectively accounts for mismatches between models and observations without the need to dig through punch cards and FORTRAN 77 code.”

With the fate of the world at stake, they did not want to bother “digging through” old records. But such shortcuts do not work, as Paul Krugman said in “What have we learned since 2008“ (2016).

“Some annoying propositions: Complex econometrics never convinces anyone. …Natural experiments rule. But so do surprising predictions that come true.”

Where have the skeptics been in this debate? Lots of mockery (imitating their opponents), bickering about the accuracy of the global temperature datasets (which are dilapidated, but not substantially), and complaining about the IPCC (deeply flawed, one of the best science institutions ever, and better than we deserve). The few skeptics (they often dislike that label) with meaningful challenges to the science (e.g., Roger Pielke Sr. and Jr., Judith Curry) get applause but little support.

The most common response to my proposal

“It won’t work because of XXX or YYY or ZZZ.”

This is the most common response to Every Single Reform Proposal on the FM website, from people on both Left and Right. This confident defeatism is the fun easy path to national disaster. We are a successful nation because the Americans before us tried and tried and tried again, defying the odds. Most of our problems are like climate change: building a consensus about how to use our fantastic national power to solve our problems. If we cannot relearn how to do this, we are finished.

Conclusions

In military theory, the key to victory is understanding the schwerpunkt – the key point at which the battle is decided. Breaking the climate policy gridlock requires identifying that point and focusing relentlessly on it. I believe that is model validation. Others will have different ideas. We need to try as many of them as possible as soon as possible. It is up to us to demand action.

If you have not yet read it, see part one:
After 30 years of failed climate politics, let’s try science!

For More Information

Ideas! For your holiday shopping, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a story about our future: “Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see the keys to understanding climate change, and especially these …

  1. Paul Krugman shows why the climate campaign failed.
  2. Fix the mistakes that killed the climate change campaign!
  3. Scientists show us why the climate change campaign failed – so far.
  4. A crisis of overconfidence in climate science.
  5. About the corruption of climate science.
  6. The noble corruption of climate science.
  7. A demo of why we do nothing about climate change.
  8. Climate science has died. The effects will be big.

Activists don’t want you to read these books

Some unexpected good news about polar bears: The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened by Susan Crockford (2019).

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr., professor for the Center for Science and Policy Research at U of CO – Boulder (2018).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

 

28 thoughts on “The guilty ones preventing good policy about climate change”

  1. Very good Larry. I agree. Living here on the Gulf Coast of Florida everyday I see the effects of global warming. Most recently the erosion has reached the point where palm trees are falling into the water.
    The evidence is obvious. The solutions are not. The main concern is rebuilding the shore at a cost of millions every few years.

    When we think of climate change research cancer research comes to mind. A skeptical mind will say cancer will never be solves because too many jobs depend on keeping the cancer mystery unsolved. The same may be true of climate, but ever more so, because a solution to climate change might involve putting everyone on chemotherapy and the results are far from clear. Few are up for that.

      1. hunterson,

        “Erosion is not caused by “climate change”.”

        I suggest you take a Geology 101 course. Erosion has often been caused by climate change. The shape of the northern US – from the Pacific to the Atlantic – was shaped by erosion caused by the end of the last ice age.

  2. One of the political failures of the international CC advocates is to ignore that all weather is local. The use of sloganism rather than local self interest is good place to start as to why the schwerpunkt is so elusive. In risk assessment, it is taught that the matrix for ranking needs to get to the level of the problem(s). Instead we see fossil fuels, capitalism, and democracy as the problem, not rising seas, droughts, or floods. The ranking system is mixed and is ineffective (IMO).

    1. John,

      “Instead we see fossil fuels, capitalism, and democracy as the problem, not rising seas, droughts, or floods.”

      You must read different newspapers than me. The ones I see go into lavish detail every day about rising seas and so forth. They present limiting fossil fuel use as the solution – not the problem. They very seldom talk about capitalism (too abstract for most of the population).

      1. Sorry for the conflation, you’re correct.

        Though, yes, I do read more about those who see capitalism and democracy as the problem as to the failure, in their opinion, of limitations are not as the advocates demand. The doom and gloom presentations are so flawed I seldom can read more that a paragraph or two before concluding the information content is too low or non-existent.

      2. John,

        “Sorry for the conflation, you’re correct.”

        Admitting an error puts you in the elite among commenters, anywhere. Out of the 66 thousand comments here – many of which range from fallacious to fictional – only a microscopic fraction admit factual errors when pointed out.

      3. Except the seas aren’t rising, the storms aren’t getting worse and nothing remotely approaching a crisis is taking place.

      4. Hunterson,

        “Except the seas aren’t rising”

        Almost every expert on the planet disagrees with you. The seas have been rising for thousands of years, with the most recent surge beginning with the mid-19th century’s end of the Little Ice Age.

        “the storms aren’t getting worse”

        It would help if you reply to a direct quote. Replying to things not said in the post makes you seem like a crank ranting on a soapbox on a street corner.

        “nothing remotely approaching a crisis is taking place.”

        With that ability to foresee the future, you must have accumulated wealth beyond imagination! But please excuse the rest of us if we don’t arrange the world according to your bombastic statements. Experts’ forecasts disagree (as they so often do), and we will attempt to sort them out into useful guidance.

      5. FM,
        You are right. I used short hand of “seas are not rising”, instead of the longer but clearer,”SLR is not increasing noticeably in any tidal gauge record. SLR is only increasing in models that do not reflect actual records”. Sea levels has increased at about 3mm per year for over 100 years.
        Sorry for the less than clear assertion.

      6. Hunterson,

        ”SLR is not increasing noticeably in any tidal gauge record.”

        It’s nice that you are cosplaying a climate scientist, but you are not one. This is the past the best known data by the CU Sea Level Group showing the 3.1mm/yr rise.

        The debate among scientists is if the rate of sea level rise is accellerating? There are many studies using instrument data, which so far come to contradictory results.

        To understand this debate, see Dr. Judith Curry’s recent paper – Sea level rise: what’s the worst case? – and her summary of conflicting recent research: Sea level rise whiplash.

        Tide gauges are crude instruments, and will be the last to show any acceleration.

        If the rate of sea level rise is in fact accelerating, then it will eventually appear unequivocally in the data. As with most cutting edge science, clear results take time to emerge.

  3. The reason this remains a constant battle is because climate alarmists hide their true agenda – depopulation, globalism and socialism. There is no climate emergency. Follow the money trail to discover what’s really happening.

  4. Good article, even if it’s not a new topic.

    I think that people have been heavily conditioned towards despair and it is present on both sides of the putative political divide. (Indeed I have at times thought as I read your articles on other topics, ‘I wish I shared Larry’s confidence in the social power of the left, being as that is where I mostly sit.’) This is not everyone by a long shot, but it is a large chunk of the population, and this chunk then gets to be amenable to “DO X NOW OR ALL IS LOST!!” kinds of messaging… which have been more clearly present, in my eyes, on the right side of the spectrum then the left.

    I don’t have a clear answer to the problem in my hip pocket, unfortunately.

    1. SF,

      “even if it’s not a new topic.”

      How often do you read an article about “a new topic”? How many “new topics” do you see in a year? I see very few.

      “I think that people have been heavily conditioned towards despair”

      I am frequently astounded at the number and variety of excuses I see for our behavior. Poor babies, we’ve been “conditioned.” Electro-shock in tubes? Drugs in the water?

      “which have been more clearly present, in my eyes, on the right side of the spectrum then the left.”

      That’s the funniest thing I’ve read in the long time. I’ve documented the Left’s frequent use of this trope going back to the 1960s. As to who uses it more – Leftists say the Right, Right-wingers say the Left. Their both just speaking tribal truths – and wouldn’t know the real thing if it bit them in their asses.

      “I don’t have a clear answer to the problem in my hip pocket, unfortunately.”

      Most of our problems have “clear answers” – in terms of what we can do today (which is all we’re responsible for). If God threatened to kill your family unless you did something today to help resolve the climate change policy debate, I’m confident you would have many ideas. As a nation, we have elected to sit on our butts and whine, so the many solutions (I’ve given scores) — all of which require work – are immediately dismissed as “can’t work.” It is the easy fun path to national decline.

    2. 15 seconds into reading this article, I was thinking… If you want to restructure the worlds economy based on science, then run your model for some time and prove it is predictive over that time and it gives actionable numbers into the future. Then, we can talk about remedies.

      I’m glad you are of the same mind.

      1. citizen,

        “run your model for some time and prove it is predictive over that time”

        I don’t know what that means. Yesterday’s post (today’s is the follow-up) says that we have past models that we can run today, compare their forecast temperature with actuals – and have an answer now. We don’t need to wait.

    3. You’re very right about tribal perspectives. I try to acknowledge that my tribe is my tribe, not God’s chosen, at least.

      You’re right about the work too.

  5. On the subject of model validation, I would be somewhat comforted even by something far short of a true out-of-sample validation: a backtest with causally estimated parameters. I.e. on the first date of the simulation (say 1880 or whenever sufficiently rich observational data exists to meaningfully compare modeled versus observed temperatures), all physical parameters are set to their theoretical values and all “tuning” parameters are fixed to some default value (chosen on the basis of a Bayesian prior, perhaps). This is then used to predict temperature on day 2, while the day 1 observations may be used to update the tuning parameters on day 2 that are used to predict day 3, etc.

    This type of backtest is de rigueur in financial market prediction. It does not substitute for true out-of-sample testing, but it does drastically reduce the risk of overfitting. Most importantly, since it at least crudely mimics the actual decision problem (i.e. deciding what policy to pursue based on expectations of future warming given only our knowledge of the past), the causal modelling framework protects the modeller from type I error — thinking the model is skillful in the sense relevant to policy when it is not. It may be overly conservative from the perspective of minimizing type II error, but that is something of a philosophical question (related to one’s attitude towards the precautionary principle, or some other axiom that would lead one to minimize mankind’s influence on the natural world unless we have affirmative statistical evidence that our environmental impact will not be gravely harmful). Since I have no strong philosophical commitments of that nature, and since restructuring society to mitigate carbon emissions has severe economic costs, my inclination is toward minimizing type I error. But I suppose not everyone need agree with me about that.

    1. sflicht,

      “This type of backtest is de rigueur in financial market prediction. It does not substitute for true out-of-sample testing”

      What “financial market prediction” models? There are useful models for high-frequency trading – predictions over seconds. But they don’t do what you describe.

      I know of no reliable models for predicting financial markets. If I had such, I would be rich beyond imagining. I would not tell anyone about it. Standard finance theory says that prediction models no longer work when they become public knowledge (the weak version of the efficient market hypothesis).

  6. Climate change globalism, socialism and de-population are linked and a book or two more could be written on that.

    At a simple level what can turn us from climate despair, I would argue individual conservative action.

    Buy less “stuff”, houses and garages full of consumerist rubbish, (buy what you need only, not all you want)
    Buy local whenever you can, we need the jobs right now, especially at the bottom end who often work making things,
    Save and invest, any losses are in the learning process,
    Exercise each day, start small walk at lunch time,
    Eat local and home made food (less food miles), take leftovers for lunch at work. Keeps you slimmer and healthier reducing risks of diabetes, heart disease and lots of other illnesses.
    Plant a garden, fresh vegetables, exercise and costs little if grown from seed and take cuttings.

    Conservative values, could be prompted to counter socialism, with regard to climate. Using the power of marketing and business sense.

    Spending less than we earn, saving, investing, self reliance and so on. Investing in low energy lighting, computers, building, better infrastructure to reduce transport costs in time, and fuel (ie money). Create a virtuous cycle from a clear business case prospective, driven by business who actual can bring things in on time, on budget. Beat the socialist angle on climate, with business.

    1. Just a guy,

      “Climate change globalism, socialism and de-population are linked.”

      I don’t know what “climate change socialism” is, but neither of the other two are necessarily linked to climate change. Fertility is already crashing, but won’t have an effect until the second half of the 21st century – dropping the population from a peak of 8 to 10 billion people.

      That is exactly what I discussed in this post: using climate change as excuse for what you already want other people to do. I’d be more impressed if you recommended things that you would otherwise dislike – but felt necessary to do for climate change.

      Most of your “solutions” would have a microscopic effect on the climate. They’re just things you like that you glue to climate change.

      1. Yes, it is what I would like to see happening.
        Move manufacturing back to our countries, creating better paid jobs for the working class. If all the West manufactured at home with our environmental standards, 30- 40% of global products would be made in a more environmentally friendly way – should have some global effect surely.
        Cutting the deficits and using money saved to invest in a failing infrastructure, starting where paybacks would be fastest. Roads and bridges falling apart slow traffic, damage cars and trucks while using more fuel, upgrading trains to even their 1980’s standard would be a start, let alone to the standards of the developed cities of China.
        Disliking endless deficits – guilty
        Having a friend who is a surgeon, who regularly tells us 30 to 50% of her operation are now on chronically obese people, who often smoke and have self inflicted medical conditions – exercise and healthy eating would stop most of this. Perhaps 2- 3 % of GDP on unnecessary medical interventions – cutting off gangrenous toes and cutting lbs of fat away to just do a lap band. If health is 8-12% in rich countries and 25% of the health budget is spent on lifestyle related illnesses, drugs, alcohol abuse, obesity and so on, that is 2 – 3% of GDP, put into infrastructure to cut climate change and improve business.

        If the journey of a thousand mile starts with a single step, perhaps a global change starts with a few million people making these small steps.

  7. Very good post Larry. Your balanced, incisive take on this complex, fraught issue is most welcome.

    As an issue, climate change has evolved over the years. When I first started following it, back in the mid-80s, it was an interesting aside, of note to weather nerds but not much more. It didn’t even rise to the level of mildly concerning. Well it is conceivable that the ice caps could melt and well that would be inconvenient, but these things happen.

    But at some point the issue was noticed and seized on by the Earth warrior types and the hyperventilating paranoids, and it was off to the races. A back-burner issue for a time, it eventually got the attention of certain attention-seeking academic types, who used it as a career-advancement vehicle, to wit James Hansen, (and later, Michael Mann.) This sharp escalation in visibility caused others to take notice and join the growing parade. Eventually, every vested political interest found something in climate change to use. It was an excellent vehicle for high-profile moral bloviating, if nothing else, appealing to a certain type of public personality in love with the sound of his own voice. The volume steadily escalated as no clear resolution presented itself.

    Now it has, as you pointed out, clearly moved into the hysterical, clownworld phase, in which actual evidence effectively does not matter. Most notably, the hard Left seized upon the supposed crisis as a justification for their Extreme Makeover agenda, which was always there, but lacking a Tonkin Gulf moment had to bide its time in Fringeworld. This, of course, sends the hard right into paroxysms of foolish denialism.

    Now it’s tribal. This is such a huge, 800-pound gorilla of a political issue that you simply have to take a stand. You are either a morally upright, earth-loving, goodthinker or a knuckle-dragging, mother Earth-raping troglodyte denier. No middle ground. No good can possibly come of this.

    But the Earth will, almost certainly, fail to self-immolate, and so at some point interest will fade and we will lurch on to the next manufactured crisis with nary a backward glance. I suspect that in five or ten years there will appear yet another cyclical cooling trend of such scope that it cannot be denied, just like the period 1945-1980, which will break the back of climate panic.

    As a thinking person with a pretty good understanding of Earth science and history, I watch the climate spectacle with a mix of amusement and exasperation. Amusement because, well, it is highly entertaining. Exasperation because the loudest voices in this discussion are typically the least objective and, often, the least knowledgeable as well.

    All this talk about melting ice caps or a hothouse earth is ultimately pointless, because from a human perspective, Earth processes are extraordinarily slow. If these things happen they will do so over geologic spans of time, with little change occurring over a single lifetime. And the “tipping point” argument is absurd on its face because complex systems controlled by large numbers of interacting variables don’t flip to instability, ever, because one of those variable changes slightly in magnitude.

    What really annoys me is the lack of perspective. We humans are certainly remarkable animals, but in the long run we just don’t matter that much.To think we control the fate of the earth is insanely egotistical. Literally. We are like fleas arguing over the fate of the elephant. If we step too far out of line we will get smacked down one way or the other. The Earth has been doing this life thing for a long, long time.

    On the other hand, in the here and now you have to figure that our extraordinary level of consumption is not sustainable, nor healthy, and that maybe climate change is nature’s way of saying “Ease up a bit already.”

    Let’s take good care and try to leave the place a little better than we found it. How’s that for an idea?

  8. Pingback: The responsible ones combating just right coverage about local weather trade – All My Daily News

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: