Re: [asa] Theology of AGW WAS The Climate Science Isn't Settled

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Dec 02 2009 - 14:48:30 EST

Heya Christine,

Again, replies below.

I can see where you're coming from, and I grant that on the surface, these
> emails do *appear* to show corruption. But when you move beyond "lack of
> professionalism" to "corruption" or something to that effect, you have now
> levied a charge against someone's integrity. I don't make such charges
> lightly, and would prefer to go the "innocent until proven guilty" route,
> seeing as I don't have any direct personal knowledge of the situation.

Except charges of corruption or worse are rife in this debate anyway, with
far less evidence. Notice the pattern of accusing people who are skeptical
of global warming of being "denialists" (let's see if that word pops up
right on this list), in the service of businesses that are actively trying
to obscure what they know is the truth, etc. That certainly doesn't mean the
tone of these debates should not improve, or that two wrongs make a right,
etc. But I will stress a point that seems to be quickly getting thrown down
the memory hole here: The immediate response to these leaked emails by some
people, including some people on this very list, was to label people as
thieves and felons for discussing their contents or distributing them.

I'm all in favor of discussing subjects with a level head and avoiding
charges of corruption. But as with other subjects, I'm not going to be in
favor of using careful, polite, calm language for one side, while the other
side always has the worst claimed about them.

Schwarzwald wrote:
> "The way this reads to me is, "alright, we may be uncertain about whether
> this will be bad, or to what extent it will be bad - but damnit, whatever's
> going to happen will happen so we better do something about it now!" And
> yes, I know someone can come up with a vivid description of potential
> horrible climate change patterns, etc. History is filled with people who
> spoke of terrifying scenarios if their superficially reasonable suspicions
> bore fruit. And it should be clear that once we're starting to talk about
> these judgments, were really have left science behind in large part."
> If I sounded alarmist, that was not my intent. It seems that our difference
> here is a difference in how to handle uncertainty. If you were the policy
> maker presented with this information, you would say something like "let's
> not tinker with the status quo because that might have negative economic
> impacts, until we're really, really certain about the specific scenarios
> we're facing" Whereas in the same position, I would react something like
> "well, the science isn't 100% certain, but our best scientific data from the
> past several decades indicates we may have some serious problems at hand if
> we do nothing. As the policies we would need to implement would likely be
> helpful in the long-run anyway, let's pursue climate change regulations." Do
> you think that's a fair assessment of our different perspectives?

It's not alarmism I was speaking of in this case, actually - so much as the
attitude that even if the data is inconclusive (and I'm speaking here about
the actual impact of these climate changes even granting global
warming/"climate change") that we'd better do all these things anyway, just
in case. And not only must we do something, we must do a very specific
'something' despite there being a wide variety of ways to approach the issue
even if we're entertaining such possibilities. And that's before the
question of whether it's even right to entertain a lot of these
possibilities, which even some AGW proponents have regarded as outlandish
and exaggerated.

> Schwarzwald wrote:
> "I'm more than comfortable leaving "competitiveness" almost entirely to the
> marketplace as opposed to the government.
> And really, I think that's one of the biggest problems I have with the AGW
> policy debate. Conveniently, so many of the policies that people want
> imposed by force of government just so happen to be policies that they'd be
> pushing for regardless of AGW anyway. People should be eating this instead
> of that, they should be walking instead of driving, they should value one
> thing over another, they should be giving up money so other people who have
> been judged to "need it more" should have it, the government should be
> helping people make the "right" choices, etc."
> I understand in part where you're coming from. I certainly don't want to
> the government imposing a rule saying I can't eat meat, or that by force of
> law I must walk to work everyday (25 miles would be a long walk!). But I
> don't think that's what anyone is suggesting. I think the suggestion is to
> address an externality to our economic system (I presume you know what
> externalities are?) - here we have a potential, significant cost to society,
> that the market does not place a value on. Therefore, the market cannot
> properly manage the risk and society will eventually (assuming that climate
> change predictions are accurate) have those costs imposed on us in ways that
> may be extremely unpleasant and will not be easily accomodated by the market
> in the future. Therefore, it seems good for the government to change the
> market framework so that a cost to this externality is assigned, and then
> the market can properly adapt to it and manage it in a way that harnesses
> the market's creative power and efficiency. In practical terms, if you
> place a price on greenhouse gases (whether through taxes or cap/trade),
> you're only forcing the market to address to climate change in general
> terms, you're not dictating how the market should respond in specific terms.

But those specific terms are already what you yourself have had in mind, and
what others have had in mind as well. And that's a big part of the problem
here - one that doesn't get solved by trying to achieve those goals in a
more technically indirect sense. This also assumes that the right
'externalities' are being addressed, that addressing other externalities
wouldn't be an as-good or better path, or whether an entirely different
policy wouldn't be optimum. Again, it's very convenient that the actions we
absolutely have to take to save the world from certain doom just so happen
to be all the actions people the same people are normally in favor of

Here's one to consider. One of the problems with this talk of climate change
(Again, assuming from the start the relative truth of global warming, or a
modest AGW scenario) is that A) We really don't know if the disasters
forecasted will come to pass, B) We may be 'too late' to stop a lot of these
changes even if they're coming, C) We don't completely understand the
mechanisms involved, and it's possible to make bad choices - especially this
far in 'advance' D) 'Addressing them now' will cost what.. hundreds of
billions? Trillions? A tremendous amount of money, time, and more.

That to me is a great argument to vastly moderate the more aggressive AGW
policies/proposals, and to budget instead for dealing with problems as they
come more closely into view. Indeed, if all this talk about the potential
horrors (starvation, war, doom doom doom) that may come to pass is real,
then it becomes important to ask whether 'Taking a leadership role in the
cause to address climate change' isn't downright inane.

> One more point here, more in terms of political theory. What I don't
> understand about this viewpoint is the faith that is placed in the free
> market as opposed to the government. To be blunt, neither system is perfect
> or foolproof. Both systems can become corrupted, and both systems are
> inhabited by many people - some with noble aspirations and some who are
> corrupt. The difference is that the marketplace - specifically, captialism -
> encourages greed through "enlightened self-interest" and the "invisible
> hand", and the only accountabilty that corporate executives are subject to
> (besides laws, obviously) are shareholders - and shareholder power is
> determined by wealth. In contrast, although government encourages corruption
> through the exercise of power, it is also designed to be a reflection of
> (and the exercise of) the people's will, and in that way, takes on the
> dimension of public service. Moreover, our leaders are directly accountable
> to everyone (not
> just the wealthy) through our vote and the public participation/comment
> processes. Although it would be wrong to have blind faith in either system,
> I tend to place more faith in the government's actions on behalf of the
> people, than the market's influence on the evolution of society (Note to
> Greg: I am using the term "evolution" here generically to mean something
> akin to "unfolding change" - please don't respond with another post about
> how you feel the term is being abused in the social sciences).

In the interest of not getting into what would be a very deep, expansive
conversation on a greater political subject, I will simply say this: I do
not have nearly as negative a view of capitalism as you do, nor as positive
a view of government. In fact, I think the very idea of government as "a
reflection of the people's will" is tremendously hard to sell. Look at the
20th century. And the 19th century. And the 18th, and 17th, and...

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Received on Wed Dec 2 14:48:55 2009

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