Environmental Orthodoxy

Yesterday's report on a Greenpeace rally sparked some comments, notably one from a Greenpeace member, who pointed to a January 2007 report [pdf] detailing Greenpeace's energy strategy. That report emphazises conservation and renewable energy sources, especially wind and photovoltaic solar. It's skeptical about carbon sequestration, a technology that stores CO2 produced by coal power underground or under the ocean.

There's a lot to agree with in that report. However, like a lot of environmental organizations, Greenpeace opposes nuclear power. So, to achieve the level of renewable energy production required by their consumption scenario, Greenpeace assumes huge growth in that sector. For example, they predict a 300-fold growth of wind power in less than 20 years.

This month's Wired Magazine examines a few of the environmental sacred cows, including nuclear power. From the perspective of global warming, Wired argues that nuclear is clean and available in an industrial scale. That issue debunks a number of other myths, including the one that Air Conditioning is inefficient (actually, it's more efficient than heating), and the notion that organic foods help the environment. It's an interesting counterpoint to the Greenpeace study.


While I am no scientist, I am not convinced that global warming is as big a problem as some people think it is.

As recently as 33 years ago, the world's brightest scientists felt we were moving toward a mini ice age


When a scientist speaks out against global warming he or she is ostracized.


People talk about the climate of fear when politicians speak of terrorism. I see the same thing when it comes to global warming.

I agree that there's been politicization of the debate, but that has happened on both sides. For example, the NASA inspector general announced yesterday that his investigation showed that political appointees in NASA "worked to control and distort public accounts of its researchers' findings about climate change for at least two years"[1].

Rather than engaging in a debate about (1) whether global warming is real (which is something even Lindzen, the guy who wrote the WSJ piece, thinks is true), and (2) whether it is man-made, I focus on the cure being proposed.

The cure being advocated is simply to reduce emissions. To me, this makes sense on a number of grounds other than global warming. First, lower-emission cars are more fuel-efficient, and increase energy independence. Ditto for wind, solar and other forms of clean energy. Second, carbon emissions are accompanied by emissions of other toxins that we know are bad for us and our children, so reducing them makes our world cleaner. Third, the technology for reducing emissions is a place where we can funnel our huge investment in education and research and create industries where we lead the world.

Even if carbon emissions don't have anything to do with global warming, we will have a stronger, cleaner country if we reduce those emissions. So, even if the science is wrong, the cure has great side-effects.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/02/AR200806...

Rotten said:

"The cure being advocated is simply to reduce emissions. To me, this makes sense on a number of grounds other than global warming. First, lower-emission cars are more fuel-efficient, and increase energy independence. Ditto for wind, solar and other forms of clean energy. Second, carbon emissions are accompanied by emissions of other toxins that we know are bad for us and our children, so reducing them makes our world cleaner. Third, the technology for reducing emissions is a place where we can funnel our huge investment in education and research and create industries where we lead the world."

I agree 100%

Thanks for the link to the Wire piece. The idea that a new Prius has already burned the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gas is striking. As to solutions, a lot of the points should appeal to young, mobile individuals, but most don't apply nationally.

We could all leave the rural and suburban North to the trees and move to the South West, for example, and draw Mid-West water from ever deeper wells or pipe it in from the Great Lakes, air condition our high rises and eat locally-mass-produced beef and vegetables. We could drive used cars until the mass transit system is built. It's unlikely, but it might save Florida from being submerged. Then what?

Painful as that is, looking over my woodlot, I'm with you in that we should stop burning things to produce our energy.

Like most Wired pieces, it's a few little points, not a comprehensive plan.

The suburban vs urban issue is a big one with no easy answer. You're right that mobility is restricted for most people.

It's interesting to me that rising energy costs are going to cause a double-whammy to the already reeling real-estate markets. Easy credit led to development of ever more distant bedroom communities populated with McMansions. Expensive energy will make those bedroom communities less desirable. I wonder if some of the far-out suburbs in places like LA and Phoenix will end up as ghost towns.

Florida submerged? The National Wildlife Federation says that 30% of Florida beaches will disappear by 2100 if we don't stop the carbon flow. I really don't even believe that, but if true, would leave 70% of the beaches intact. This would hardly amount to a submerging of Florida.


While I am no scientist,

I am a research scientist and you have no idea what you're talking about.

You make a fool of yourself when you attempt to discuss global warming. That saddens me, because I generally respect your opinions a great deal.

Exile -

I am not a scientist, but many scientists dispute the global warming models.

Here is one from MIT:


More dissidents here:


NASA's chief also dissents:


And a bunch more dissent here:


I could go on and on, but will stop here.

Exile - I really do respect your opinion, but apparently there is not the consensus that everyone wants me to think there is.


The first link is from 1992. 16 years is a lot of time.

The second one ends with this quote:

"There are still far more scientists that have studied and support the conclusion that global warming is caused by humans" she said. "The studies of the IPCC do include the dissent, but their conclusions represent the consensus of the scientific community."

The next story says that the NASA administrator (a political appointee) disagrees with all his scientists:

Hansen believes Griffin's comments fly in the face of well-established scientific knowledge that hundreds of NASA scientists have contributed to.

"It's unbelievable," said Hansen. "I thought he had been misquoted. It's so unbelievable."

Several other NASA climate scientists contacted by ABC News echoed Hansen's comments, saying an overwhelming majority of their colleagues believe global warming is an urgent issue that society should be addressing. The scientists asked that their names not be used because they did not want to jeopardize their careers.

The final one quotes 1992 dissent from the Kyoto accord.

I think it's pretty clear that the majority of scientists support the thesis of man-made global warming. But do they all? No. Is there still research to be done? Yes.

Your thoughts on global warming are sub-stupid. It's like talking to my cat.

Really, this makes me think a lot less of you. It's difficult for me to take anything you say seriously from now on.

That last one was for Elmer. Sorry, buddy, but I have to write you off as a serious person.

I'll make some effort here to explain the nature of science. Essentially, experimental science is based on the idea that you begin with a hypothesis, then you test it, and it if the experiments fit the hypothesis, they you accept it.

That's an oversimplification of course, but it summarizes the scientific method pretty well.

With global warming, it is not possible to design reproducible laboratory experiments so it is not testable in the way that some other scientific ideas are. With global warming, however, scientists had a theory with a lot of evidence -- that rising levels of carbon gases in the atmosphere would lead to higher atmospheric temperatures -- and this theory predicted the rise in global temperatures more or less perfectly. Global warming is a theory where: (1) there is a great deal of empirical evidence to support it and (2) there is a widely understood causal mechanism by which rising levels of carbon gases give rise to higher temperatures. When you have those two things in combination -- massive amounts of empirical evidence AND a widely accepted causal relationship -- that's about as sound a proof for a theory as you're going to find.

Now, modern science, unlike most fields of inquiry, is very concerned with poking holes in accepted theories. So there is a great deal of work done on alternative explanations for rises in temperature and so on. And that is as it should be.

But when a scientist tries to pass off poor and inconclusive work as something substantive, that scientist *should* be ostracized, the same way that a would-be doctor should be ostracized for, say, promoting leeches as a cure for cancer.

Bear in mind, there are thousands of climate scientists in the world. As with any field there is a certain proportion who are quacks or who have ulterior motives (such as funding from oil companies, backing from right-wing think tanks or what have you). It's worth noting that there has never been a paper in a peer reviewed scientific journal that seriously rebutted the idea that increased levels of carbon gases should increase global temperatures.

I'm not sure you realize how out of your depth you are here. I hope that this enlightens you somewhat.

Please explain this to me (go slowly - remember I am dumber than your cat:


Why would our best scientists think we were going into a period of global cooling just 33 years ago (less than a second in the earth's life cycle)?

And you have made my point about how people are treated when they dare question the global warming theory.

There's a lot of not-so-great journalism and junk popular science in the world -- remember "The Population Bomb"? That was on the cover of Newsweek and Time years ago. The earth's growing population was going to kill us all. Obviously, we're still here.

Since we've been subject to a lot of hysteria over scientific studies, Congress commissioned the National Academies of Science to produce a report that would represent the current scientific consensus on the climate. That study is available here:


There's a difference between that report and one or two news magazine articles.

By the way, I got that report URL from a McClatchy story titled "With science undisputed, climate bill opponents turn to cost":


That's actually a very good question, Elmer. There was never the kind of consensus about that as there is about global warming. Some scientists believed it, some didn't. The evidence was not conclusive. That doesn't mean it's wrong to make predictions. I predict that Obama will win in November, that either the Red Sox or Yankees will win the AL East (sorry D-Ray fans). But I don't have any conclusive evidence for either and I don't claim that I do. On the other hand, when I drop a coin, I can predict with complete certainty that it will fall to the ground, unless there is something between its path and the ground.

Global warming is not as well-supported as the theory of gravity, but it is much more well-supported than the predictions about the cooling period in the 70s or my predictions about the Red Sox and Yankees.

I guess I can see now where you're coming from with this and it's probably true that much of the media -- especially right-wing media -- doesn't do a good job of accurately describing the state of the debate.

But the fact is that global warming is very nearly a certainty, as much as anything of its nature can be.

BTW, the Wired article, while it assumes global warming, seems to be a good example of week journalistic science. I wonder if is just meant to be a contrarian attention getter or if there is something else going on, i.e., "tree huggers are stupid."

Some examples of it's silliness: a ten-year-old car has "already paid it's carbon debt." Dead trees don't absorb CO2. Organic food travels more than ordinary food. Organic cows live longer therefore they pollute more (they also account for a tiny amount of our meat consumption, and they don't eat processed feed). Allowing things to rot is tantamount to CO2 pollution, but using modern "green revolution" techniques to fertilize the soil is OK.

ElmerK, re: your comment about your daughter's train trip to the NYC area: I just read in the Newark Star Ledger that NJ and PA are working to get passenger service running between Scranton and Hoboken in the next couple of years. We can only hope that Binghamton, Elmira, Corning will soon follow.

Also an interesting graph in Krugman showing that rail freight volume is actually rising in the US and surprisingly not no much in the EU:

Wired is usually pretty good on science and technology, but the car example in particular is poorly worded. I mean, driving a small car into the ground is the best use of resources, but no "carbon debt" is discharged.

As for the cows, the bottom line is that eating meat is far more resource-intensive than eating vegetables. But at some point, the madness must stop, and that point for me is when I put a bloody steak on the grill.

Some of my problems with global warming

1. When I talk to or listen to people who back the global warming theory, the almost always say something like “we’re damn near positive, but don’t know for sure.”
2. It is a political item as well – I trust Al Gore and Michael Moore about as much as some of you folks trust George Bush and Dick Cheney.
3. The earth has been around so long, and the systems are so complex I don’t see how someone might not be skeptical.
4. Scientists have made poor predictions in the past – see the global ice age story above (and thanks Exile for the explanation) – I understand it better now but still see where wrong predictions can be made even by the smartest people. Then the meteorologists suggest that the last two years are going to be record beaters as far as hurricanes are concerned and both years turned up duds.
5. On a personal note when I was a child the medical scientific community decided that the best way to treat my problem of not eating was to expose my thyroid to radiation. The cure worked only too well, but now they have me in every year for tests, fearing that my thyroid will develop cancer.

Like I said, Elmer, this is like talking to my cat.

In fairness, you showed more of a glimmer of a understanding than my cat. But not much.

I've given up on you.

Exile - I guess if you feel that personal insults are the way to go, than I shall give up on you too.

Sorry, Elmer -- that was a bit over the line on my part. I guess I find this topic frustrating, because you're usually so reasonable, even when we don't agree.