One green to rule them all…

I have been pondering the issue of global warming lately.  I generally take a cautious position when it comes to climate change.  I am first of all uncertain as to what portion of climate change can be attributed to human activity, but also cautious about assuming that simply doing nothing is the proper course.  If we can take measures that ease the effects of global warming – anthropogenic or no – then I think we should, but we should be wary that legislation doesn’t inadvertently harm the poorest among us and across the globe, or end up creating such a drag on the economy that the ill-effects outweigh the benefits.  Jim Manzi has written a great deal along these lines.

One green to rule them all...But all of that aside, the remarkable thing about global warming as a cause, is that it has provided for the first time in history a single umbrella under which all environmentalists and “green activists” can unite.  Before global warming the green movement was in tatters.  Splinter causes competed with one another and fringe groups were hard to distinguish from more serious ones.  You had the animal rights folks, the deforestation folks, the clean water types, the hippies, the blame Canada crowd, and so on and so forth.  And you still do, but now they can all find common cause in the most epic environmental battle of all time: global warming.  If the “warming” part doesn’t sound so fierce, the “global” which precedes it should be enough to rattle a few cages.

The new unity within the green movement has found an unlikely hero in former VP Al Gore as well, who has remade himself as the green guru, championing a 21st century system of papal indulgences carbon credits which are supposed to somehow ease our guilt help offset carbon use and thus put an end to increased carbon output and halt global warming.  It’s all very spooky to me.  I’d prefer a simple tax, but then how could people like Al Gore cash in on the venture (outside of DVD sales, that is)?

I suppose I am made uncomfortable by the climate change debate in the same way I’m made uncomfortable by any discussion of environmentalism.  Environmentalists remind me a little of really rabid free-marketeers.  They so often ignore the human dimension, blinded to the unseen by their loyalty to an ideology or cause.   But while I can shrug off the environmental causes I think are foolish or inconsistent in the realm of splintered green activism, global warming presents a far trickier problem – because again, I think we may indeed be facing a climate crisis, but I don’t think anyone has come up with any sort of compelling solution.  Certainly the legislation in congress is uninspiring, and could actually be downright counterproductive.

And then, also, it seems sort of absurd to me that it is such a pressing issue to so many people when issues like healthcare and war and poverty are very real, very immediate problems and global warming is at best a problem in the future with theoretical side-effects.  There is a certain sort of arrogance or condescension here that troubles me.

In any case, I just wonder how much of this was conscience effort on the part of people like Al Gore who saw that the green movement was on the rise but still very fragmented and chaotic, and who realized that with some grand, unifying theme to rally the troops they could make so much more money accomplish what was previously unthinkable: a unified environmentalist movement gone mainstream.  Certainly specific causes have had temporary success in the mainstream.  The Clean Air Act was a result of just this sort of success.  But global warming is so much more universal.  Its applications are so widespread.

Just something to think about.

(P.S. – Do you think it’s a coincidence that both Al Qaeda and Al Gore start with the word “Al” … ?)

(P.S.S. I’m just kidding.  I don’t actually think Al Gore is a Muslim)

(P.S.S.S. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Muslim)

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59 thoughts on “One green to rule them all…

  1. Great post, E.D.! I hadn’t thought of this in this way before.

    You may also be interested in Joe Carter’s post this morning, which takes the green movement to task for its focus on automobiles and gas mileage while almost completely ignoring the far larger problem (and far easier to fix problem, it would seem) of international shipping. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/11/24/sink-a-ship-save-a-planet/

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    • As someone who’s a lot closer to Gore’s view than the libertarian one, I’ll readily admit that what evidence I’ve read suggests that gas mileage isn’t really a threat as far as climate change is concerned, though it is a problem with respect to our dependence on foreign oil, which is a related though different concern. Things like meat production and housing have a much bigger impact on the problem, for sure.

      This being said, I’m not sure I agree with E.D.’s view of climate change advocates. If you read Matt Yglesias on the topic–and he’s probably the most bullish on this topic of the people I read–you see quickly that what most concerns him is the human cost, in particular the possibility of droughts and such that could cause much human suffering. I’m not sure that I’m with him completely on that sort of worst-case scenario, but I don’t think you can say that serious intellectuals who support dramatic action on climate change don’t care about the human costs of the problem. Some do, and it’s true that doing something about the problem will require a nontrivial amount of sacrifice that isn’t exactly going to be shared evenly. But most of the Gore-ites are focused on what would happen to people if we don’t do anything, and see it as an obviously superior tradeoff. And I definitely agree with that.

      In any event, I’m not particularly partial with respect to cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax. The ultimate point of both policies is to use less energy and, of course, to spur innovation.

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      • Two points.

        First, I think in comparing (some) environmentalists to the rabid free-market types, E.D. meant the people advocating things like across the board gasoline tax hikes, or fully organic farming, things that would disproportionately affect the poor. Or international efforts that would limit opportunities for economic advancement in the world’s poorest countries/regions. I could be wrong but if so, I think that’s a fair comparison, granted it’s not between some rabid free market types and all environmentalists.

        2.) “But most of the Gore-ites are focused on what would happen to people if we don’t do anything, and see it as an obviously superior tradeoff. And I definitely agree with that.”

        I really fail to see how this isn’t a somewhat arrogant inductive fallacy. Without precognition, things in the future can’t have obviously superior tradeoffs. Then again, I just remember the same line of thinking circa 2002. What will happen to us/people/the west, if we don’t get rid of Saddam Hussein, the greatest threat to freedom there ever was, obviously invasion is a superior tradeoff.

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    • I really liked Carter’s close:

      “Imagine the effect we could have on pollution if we spent as much time, energy, and money on solutions that make a difference for other people’s lives rather than those that merely make us feel good about ourselves.”

      I would imagine that solutions that don’t fall under the tidy umbrella of “fighting the man Big [insert industry here]” just don’t get the same amount of effort because they’re lacking in glamour/sock-it-to-em-ness.

      That said, the environmentalism movement really should push for more pollution/inefficiency taxes.

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  2. Sorry, i like your posts usually, but you totally miss an important point here. Action on climate change isn’t something only environmentalists are getting behind. The military has issued several reports that climate change is a national security threat — even John McCain said so during his campaign. Hunters and anglers are seeing their favorite spots gradually change. The business community supports action — look at the backlash the Chamber of Commerce received from its members. Scores of U.S. mayors have signed climate-change pacts. Universities. Evangelicals. Just about every sector, every world leader, and every scientist is calling for action. It’s not confined to granola-eating treehuggers. That’s what makes this the ultimate issue.

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  3. There’s a good article in the Post today along these lines – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/23/AR2009112303966.html – about environmentalists either explicitly or tacitly supporting nuclear power. If it weren’t for the political insanities of the GOP treating everything Obama supports as socialism and just about everyone refusing to have nuclear waste less than 500 miles from their house, this would be a great opportunity.

    I can’t quite get my head around why the consensus message for Gore et al is almost exclusively about generation (plus CFLs and hybrid cars of course). If a real cap and trade system is ever implemented – one absent any immunity and whatnot – the energy mix would shift somewhat and nuclear generation would be stimulated. However, the biggest changes by far would be in increasing energy efficiency of existing products. The easiest way to reducing CO2 emissions is by using less energy (and modernize the electric grid), not by providing boatloads of subsidies to prop up solar, wind, bio, etc.

    The thing about climate change that really convinces me that action now is necessary (w/ real sacrifice) is that it’s irreversible on the timescale of centuries. It’d be interesting to see what’d happen when we hit 1,000 ppm CO2, but unfortunately there’s no turning back at that point. I’ve seen Manzi’s back-of-the-envelope stuff, but I don’t know that you can model the relative impact of 500 years of increasingly high CO2 levels and fixing the problem now.

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  4. This is pretty much right, and I like your point on the sort of big tent environmentalism coming out of global warming concerns. I’m from Appalachia, and it’s interesting to take a look at the anti-Mountaintop Removal (“MTR,” a particularly nasty type of surface mining — wish I knew how to link but just Google it) folks around here. It’s a strange mix of out-of-state scientists (concerned about burning coal and climate change), locals (concerned about destroyed family property and clean water), outdoor enthusiasts (no Wild, Wonderful WV to hike/ski/fish), and, strangest of all when you really think about it, union activists (underground mines employ more people because much of MTR is performed by huge machines).

    Strange bedfellows, and the (I think) unfortunate result has been that only non-union mining sites and companies are targeted by anti-MTR campaigns. It’s a little funny and refreshing to see NASA scientists and local yokels fighting against something together, but somewhere the no-coal-at-all folks and the we-just-want-more-coal-jobs people will, if successful in this venture, butt heads on down the road.

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  5. I have a two-word answer:

    fresh water.

    We have built an enormous economy across the planet based on some very precise assumptions about rain and snow fall. These assumptions are being proven false much faster than expected. From southern California to India to China and across Europe, billions upon billions of dollars will need to be spent in infrastructure just to slow the impact of climate change, much less stay in place or accommodate population growth.

    The most recent IPCC update was released today here. If you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention.

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        • Quite frankly they can move themselves. But even if we agreed (for some political reason) to pay completely to move them it would still be cheaper than strangling the urban and productive portions of the American SW for want of water so that we can make strawberries bloom in the desert.

          Or a corollary: there are pesky little things in Africa, Latin and South America called people who could make an honest living growing strawberries for us in an environment ideally suited for it with no huge dams or expensive water redirection projects necessary. Why do you want them to languish in poverty while we spend a fortune and smother our own southwestern urban areas just to gain the privilege of selling ourselves desert strawberries at half the quality and twice the price?

          Oh, and since most of the people growing the strawberries in the desert are exploited immigrants smuggled in here from Mexico wouldn’t it be more humane and more efficient to let them grow the strawberries at home rather than run across the border while right wing nutballs shoot at them to farm them in our expensively irrigated desert farms?

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  6. The media’s non coverage of the other side of CarbonGate makes them just as complicit in this crime along with David Suzuki who we deniers promise will be called to explain why he was leading us to war against an non existent enemy of climate change.

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  7. We extract large amounts of fossil fuels that have been stored underground for millions of years. We burn it to produce the energy–the burning of which produces a tremendous amount of energy per unit–needed to mobilize the most scientifically and technologically advanced state of humanity in our biped’s short history. That combustion releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, et al, into the atmosphere from an otherwise previous state of dormancy.

    From a strictly objective point of view, how can there not be systemic ramifications for this ongoing action?

    Scientific investigation is the only way to measure and chart our atmosphere and the effects of burning fossil fuels. To denigrate the scientific field researching climate change, and conjecting human involvement, based on 10 year-old emails from bickering scientists–who didn’t have access to the rapidly improving measuring technologies or numbers of today–is kind of crazy. Not surprising, but still crazy.

    I’m from the Yukon and have lived in Iqaluit, Nunavut. The changes there are swift and dramatic, people tell me. And erratic. That is the most defining word. (I won’t even go into thawing arctic permafrost which threatens to release an even more damaging greenhouse gas, methane.)

    The solution? Burn less fossil fuels–then none. Get a new source of energy (and probably deal with the unforseeable ramifications therein). Hm. Well, isn’t that the trick, then, eh?

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  8. I agree:

    There is a certain sort of arrogance or condescension here that troubles me.

    Here are some points to document your “troubles:”

    1. It’s arrogant to assume the we know what the Earth’s ideal temperature is.

    2. It’s arrogant to assume that we can achieve this ideal temperature, somehow, by legislation.

    3. It’s arrogant to assume that we can predict the future. One thing we know for sure is that we don’t know the future. Some wise man compared today’s situation to the early 19th century’s urbanization. The industrial revo was filling cities with ex peasants looking for jobs in factories causing untold suffering and strife. If someone had projected present tendencies into the future back then, like the global warmists do today, then they would have “predicted” an acute horse shortage in a hundred years, plus a horseshit tsunami. The horseshit tsunami finally came true with the global warming debate, but you get the point: any prediction simply projects present tendencies into the future. We don’t know what will happen in the future. For example, will someone invent the internal combustion motor, thereby making horses obsolete for transport? Nobody could have even imagined such a thing in the 1820s. We can’t imagine what will happen in the future either.

    Are you not aware of the brewing scandal in the global warmer “community?” It’s already being called “Climategate,” which is a really bad sign for global warmers. I imagine that Al Gore is in damage-control mode right now and going for broke.

    I think I’m a born skeptic, but on environmental issues, I was made, not born: when I was in high school, we were all going to die because DDT was killing bugs and the birds who ate the bugs were dying, an so forth. Never happened.

    Later, we were all going to die because of the “population bomb,” sometime in the ’80s, I think.

    Now it’s “global warming.” Who wouldn’t be skeptical after living through the above? Oh, well… never mind.

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    • Without getting into my own feelings on the matter, Roque makes a good point here.

      I do think that “big science” and its alarmist friends in the media have created a Boy Who Cried Wolf problem for themselves. The 20th century is littered with awry predictions that have not yet come to pass or never will and at the time weren’t exactly shoddy science.

      Which, for reasons relating inductive fallacies, doesn’t affect my personal evaluation of climate change, but does have a larger effect on the credibility of scientific predictions of the alarming kind. Surely one can see how as a rebuttal, “but Science says so and lots of other people to,” fails to be convincing.

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    • Call me arrogant, but the “ideal” temperature for the earth is that which we have experienced for the past few hundred years and has provided the basis for our civilisation (location of farmland, cities, etc, etc).

      BTW, I think your DDT example is an excellent case study of an environmental problem being identified by the scientific process, followed by a successful concerted global action to use in a targeted rather than broadcast manner

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  9. E.D. help me out here! Rush’s past couple of shows (today and yesterday) were centered on the hacker who broke into some Algore/climate change/global warming thingy and stole 60+ megabites of stuff showing that the whole antropological global warming thing was a concocted hoax. They had you kids believing their lies.
    Could you verify that…I really don’t want to spread false info, but I think this is true?

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    • The emails didn’t show that global warming is a concocted hoax, per se…

      But they do demonstrate, once again, the problem of “consensus science”. When it reaches the realm of “everybody knows”, you could well have left the realm of dealing with data. Indeed, some of the emails talk about the difficulties of wrangling the data. Ideally, a “real” scientist would say “this data is not fitting the model… therefore the model has problems” rather than “I need to send an email talking about what a pain in the arse the data is turning out to be.”

      There is nothing that this particular debate reminds me of more than religious discussions. When people talk about those who deny global warming, my first thought isn’t “holocaust denial” the way they probably intend but a Spanish Inquisitor asking “Do you deny Christ?”

      The globe is warming or it is not.
      The warming (if it is) is caused by man or it is not.
      This (if it is) is something that can be prevented/managed or it is not.

      By looking at the data, we can figure out what is and what is not.

      But to wrangle the data? This is much like the prosecutors who just want two black guys driving a car. The point isn’t about finding who did what and punishing the guilty… it’s about screaming to the masses that there is a problem and something is being done about it. (And, of course, if the real perps aren’t caught, who gives a crap because the important thing is the headline and the re-election, right?)

      One cannot help but come to the conclusion that “real” science is about more than headlines and getting re-elected.

      Or, I suppose, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that it ought to go back to being about that.

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      • JB, thanks for your comments. Being an old ranger and having experienced similar phenomenon in the 60’s, 70’s etc., I was and am cynical about GW. If you come across any evidence of a hoax would you please ‘comment?’ If this is a hoax/or the political manipulation of data, its the biggest in the scientific community since the Piltdown Man and should go a long way in damaging the creds of science guys. I notice our fellow interlocutors are ignoring us; kinda like ignoring the 800 lb gorrilla; hey he’s in the room, better take a look. Thanks, JB!

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      • “The emails didn’t show that global warming is a concocted hoax, per se…”

        It’s kinda early yet to make any judgments on the data (not just emails) exposed by the hackers (or whoever they were), don’t you think?

        If it turns out that the world in not “warming,” like the scientists say it is (i.e., man-caused), and they manipulated the data to prove GW, then what would it be if not a “concocted hoax?”

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        • If you look at the data and the data brings you to the conclusion that the globe is, indeed, cooling… and it turns out later that you get more data and all of your previous data points were unrepresentative samples and it turns out that the globe is, indeed, warming… and it turns out later that you get even more data and even though you had even more data points it turns out that those points were closer, but still not perfectly representative, and it turns out that there is significant “global climate change” going on that cannot neatly be summarized as either “warming” or “cooling”… at what point is a “hoax” going on?

          The scientists (and I use the word loosely) had a model and the data was not fitting the model. The fact that they said “there must be a problem with the data!” is not them engaging in a “hoax”, per se. PT Barnum engaged in hoaxes. These ideologues are many things… but they aren’t hoaxing. From what I’ve gleaned from the emails, they honestly believe that the problem is with the data, rather than the model.

          This makes them poor scientists, surely.

          I don’t know that it makes them folks who are engaging in a hoax on anybody.

          Or maybe you use the word differently than I do.

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          • Well, I guess you’re right about my use of the word, “hoax.” It’s not accurate. What word would you use, then, to refer to a determined effort to defraud the government and the people by manipulating scientic data, etc etc?

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  10. As we try to imagine the decline of Easter’s civilization, we ask ourselves, “Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?” – Jared Diamond

    I think the environmentalists are posing questions as to the costs and benefits of our management of the earth’s resources. It is not that they posit an “ideal temperature”. They’re saying that given the carbon cycle and our behavior, there will be consequences.
    Perhaps not as grave as global civilization’s collapse à la Easter Island or Norse Greenland , but consequences worth thinking about nonetheless. Actually, left unchecked, a persistently unsustainable posture towards the environment, deforestation, desertification, dead rivers, anthropogenic extinctions, etc., could very well lead to quite grave consequences indeed.

    I don’t see how this is arrogant. I don’t see how these represent claims of precognition.

    As for Kyle’s point on previous, shoddy science, we can only work with the best science we have at the time. I’m sorry science isn’t perfect, but the scientific method doesn’t claim perfection. It’s making provisional, refutable statements about the world after systematic examination. I think we have a better chance of avoiding the Easter Island scenarios when we take onboard their warnings.

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    • Once again, the Jared Diamond Discover Magazine piece, a prefiguring of points he’ll develop later in his Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The Malcolm Gladwell review of Collapse in the New Yorker that mentions the Norse Greenland colonies’ collapse. Der Spiegel piece on India’s river management problems, re: dead rivers. More careful linking next time.

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  11. I’ll believe the environmental groups are genuinely concerned about AGW when I see their brain dead hate-fetish of nuclear power vanish and not a moment sooner.

    That said I’m think the preponderance of evidence suggests that AGW does in fact exist. As to its long or short-term effects versus the long or short-term effects of preventing it, I remain skeptically agnostic.

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  12. Well, DDT was found to be the cause of thinning eggs in the top predator, in this case a bird of prey, the Peregrine falcon. It was subsequently widely banned or drastically scaled back. No person was going to die. But birds and ecosystems were safeguarded from that particular menace.

    As for the population explosion, you’re referring to the famous equation of the 1880’s (or perhaps earlier) where exponential population growth would overwhelm food supplies? Well, populations DID grow, but much of that growth was rural-to-urban and owed to nutrition and sanitation improvements; urbanization has since shown to be a population growth inhibitor in cases where education and incomes are respectable.

    Wow, Roque, if these cases are the reasons you’re such a skeptic, how about the science that proved that DDT was a harmful chemical and not worth the risk? Or how about CFCs, lead in your gasoline, mercury in every chemical plant–these are allowable in your skeptical world because the ‘science’ that revealed that were dangerous to humans and the environment were near unanimously endorsed by the scientists of note at the time.

    Would you have been a skeptic then?

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    • Yes, the ban on DDT has saved some birds. But, “No person was going to die”? That’s not the way I remember it but, OK. Fine. But, What about the children? Some of them may have died to save the birds:
      Wikipedia:

      Critics claim that restrictions on the use of DDT in vector control have resulted in substantial numbers of unnecessary deaths due to malaria. Estimates for the number of these deaths range from hundreds of thousands, according to Nicholas Kristof,[105] to much higher figures. Robert Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health said in 2007 that “The ban on DDT may have killed 20 million children.”[106] These arguments have been called “outrageous” by former WHO scientist Socrates Litsios, and May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, says that “to blame environmentalists who oppose DDT for more deaths than Hitler is worse than irresponsible.”[79] Investigative journalist Adam Sarvana characterizes this notion as a “myth” promoted principally by Roger Bate of the pro-DDT advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) in service of his anti-regulatory, free market ideology.[107]

      Note to Socrates Litsios and May Berenbaum: it’s a lot more irresponsible to be name-calling against other scientists instead of refuting their claims by using the scientific method. Note to Adam Sarvana: Don’t change the subject. Roger Bate’s ideology has nothing to do with the claim that “the ban on DDT may have killed 20 million children.”And yes, wow, I would be a skeptic then too.

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      • Oh, Jesus – more discredited lies from somebody whose earlier post showed strong deficits in logic. Although using Kristof as a source does get you laugh points. There is not a ban on using DDT for malaria; there are agricultural bans. Those have undoubtedly saved millions of lives, since the agricultural use of DDT has been shown to cause DDT resistance in malarial mosquitos.

        See: http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ddt/
        for a start; there are many, many links to actual peer-reviewed papers.

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        • I don’t remember using Kristof (who he?) as a source, but I can’t defend myself against the charge of being deficient in logic. I’m always looking to improve myself on that point. So, help me out here. I don’t get it: you say, “There is not a ban on using DDT for malaria; there are agricultural bans. Those have undoubtedly saved millions of lives, since the agricultural use of DDT has been shown to cause DDT resistance in malarial mosquitos.”

          If DDT is banned for agricultural use, because it does cause deaths by malaria (i.e., it “has been shown to cause DDT resistance in malarial mosquitos”) then what uses does it have? And how does this refute the Wikipedia article, which says that “Critics claim that restrictions on the use of DDT in vector control have resulted in substantial numbers of unnecessary deaths due to malaria?” Couldn’t these deaths have happened before the ban was recinded?

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    • As for the population explosion, my memory betrayed me. It turns out that I remembered a book called The Population Bomb, by Paul Erlich, which said that worlwide famine would kill hundreds of millions by the 80s. It does fit into my narrative of skepticism, however. I must have mixed the so-called Club of Rome into my memory of Erlich’s book. They predicted that oil reserves would run out by the late ’80s early ’90s.

      As bad as it is to have bungled these references, this does not affect my claim that environmental scientists have a long history of alarmism that has been refuted by real events.

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  13. Some friendly advice, you might want to use another example besides DDT.

    Given that the Earth is our only current place of residence, and given that it is an enormously vast and complex system that we do not understand completely, shouldn’t we be erring on the side of caution?

    You’re not skeptical at all, and for someone so concerned with arrogance, your vanity is astounding.

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  14. It is obvious over a century of pollutants from the Industrial Age has had some impact on climate change and the environment. The problem is people get wacky and want to blame global warming on everything. How did icebergs melt from the Ice Age before the Industrial Age? Cyclical patterns of weather are a major source of climate change. The Farmers Almanac has also used sunspots and other solar activity for their prediction models for years and years.

    People in power often use a little bit of truth to control a lot of companies and to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Al Gore is a huge waster of energy and maybe even a bigger polluter of the environment. He uses private jets when he could often go on commercial airlines that are already carrying passengers. Yet Al Gore has the nerve to tell others how to clean the planet while he makes millions from their gullibility.

    The up side of all this is that the global warming scare is helping to clean the environment and conserve energy through green technologies. I’m all for this as long as it doesn’t wreck havoc on the poor and destroy people’s lives.

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  15. A particularly thoughtful post, I think. I am more confident that the science behind climate change is sound, but I worry that having a partisan figure such as Al Gore attached to the concept of global warming has been somewhat damaging. Global warming isn’t a “left” vs. “right” kind of thing but more a “best available projection given the evidence” kind of thing. Unfortunately, that’s how most issues get framed by the media. (This resource, while far from perfect and not without bias, is probably the best the Internet has on the subject, btw. http://muller.lbl.gov/teaching/Physics10/PffP_textbook/PffP-10-climate.pdf )

    Even though I am more confident in the science, I share some of your concerns about finding potential solutions to climate change, especially since there are other, more pressing immediate problems. Doing something about climate change will require substantial restructuring of the economy, and with the state involved, they will almost surely pick winners and losers. Given the nature of our legislative process, neither a carbon tax nor cap and trade system would probably survive without significant horse trading that could have some disastrous unintended consequences. And, as you rightly point out, most of these would probably affect the poor most profoundly.

    Given that a huge chunk of greenhouse gas emissions come from our current system of agriculture in the form of nitrous oxide from bacteria in the soil breaking down nitrogen-based fertilizer and methane from cow burps (yes, I’m being serious), I could see food costs being a huge problem, especially if we throw biofuels into the mix. While it certainly would be wonderful if everyone could eat free-range, local, and organic chickens, that’s obviously not particularly feasible. Another potential problem area would be with energy costs from switching from coal-fired generators (cheap, cheap, cheap!) to more scarce renewable resources. Food and energy make up the majority of expenses for the poor, so an ill-conceived climate change reduction scheme would, in fact, disproportionately affect the poor.

    On a side note, I find it strange that climate change deniers are highly skeptical of peer-reviewed scientific publications, yet they immediately jump to conclusions about a bunch of out-of-context emails.

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    • “…they immediately jump to conclusions about a bunch of out-of-context emails.”

      The “out of context” gambit will work for a while, except that they are not out of context. They’re right smack-dab in context. And they’re not just “a bunch of emails,” either. They’re scientific data.

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    • I too have to laugh at your characterization of “a bunch of out-of-context emails.” I think the authors are very clear that they don’t want to refute the arguments of those that disagree with them using real scientific data but are instead want to discredit them in the world of popular opinion so that that no one will take a look at the science.

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  16. I don’t know – I know several scientists and they generally are not very political. I know that there’s a tendency to say that they are all working together with some sort of political agenda, but in my personal experience, that’s pretty far from the truth.
    There have been high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the earth’s past, assuming one believes the earth is older than 10k years or so (look up paleoclimatology). And at that time, the seas were much, much higher. Say you’re the person who figures this out by analyzing ice core data and correlating your findings with other scientists, and you are watching, like everyone else, sea-ice disappear from both poles, what would you do?

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  17. I think it’s worth noting that war and poverty will be greatly influenced by the state of the climate in 20, 30, 50, 100 years. It’s to the point where the Department of Defense is off commissioning studies on the potential impact of climate on security conditions in the rest of the world. (Disclosure: I go to a school where one of our main research centers recently received a large grant from the DoD to do such a political impact study)

    Also, ED I’m going to have to call you out on the “carbon credits as papal indulges” nonsense. It’s actually a pretty simple microeconomic concept to prefer a carbon trading scheme over a tax. Namely that pricing a tax is a very serious problem when it comes to emissions reduction; the possibility that you set it too low for the amount of ablation you want is very real and significantly greater in terms of cost than if you were to set an emissions goal under cap and trade and work with slightly less efficient inducements. AND that in terms of market oriented solutions, cap and trade allows companies with a greater economic advantage in reducing emissions a very serious incentive for doing so, rather than simply making other firms stop producing stuff. There’s stuff to be said about cap and trade, but let’s not go into snark mode and ignore that there is a real economic rationale for doing so that’s based on the relative merits of taxing externalities versus capping them and the last one which is a hybrid.

    Also, let’s recall that the Clean Air Act amendments also included a cap and trade system for particulates emissions which worked relatively well.

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  18. I think I’m a born skeptic, but on environmental issues, I was made, not born: when I was in high school, we were all going to die because DDT was killing bugs and the birds who ate the bugs were dying, an so forth. Never happened.

    Don’t be so skeptical that you forget to check the facts.

    DDT stopped killing things because we stopped abusing it by using it willy-nilly in the environment. DDT is particularly deadly to predators at the top of the food chain in estuaries — bald eagles, osprey, brown pelicans, for example. All three of those species faced extinction — could not breed and get young to survive long enough to propagate.

    Action really does work. People listened, people acted, and DDT use was stopped. You were saved by people who acted on the information given.

    Same thing with clean air. The Clean Air Act was the result of a lot of scientists measuring the atmosphere, carrying through research to show harms on buildings, trees, crops, wild animals, and humans, and then acting to stop the harms.

    Air in Los Angeles is much cleaner than it was. Pittsburgh tries to attract new industries with claims of clean air (it didn’t hurt the clean air that steel mills went out of business; but here in Texas I’m ten miles from the world’s largest steel producer, and the air is not fouled as it used to be). We cut lead out of gasoline and raised the collective intelligence of the nation.

    Now, you dismiss those gains as nothing, and claim to be “skeptical” of the science that made those things happen.

    That’s not skepticism. That’s rejection of fact.
    Now you say you think

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    • I agree Ed. Environmentalism has produced tangible and significant gains. Did you know that the US is like 3 times as forested now as it was in the 1930’s (mind you a lot of people aren’t so thrilled about their communities vanishing)? The water and air haven’t been this clean in a century or so.

      The problem with AGW is that it’s really big and really long term and lacking in big scary present day examples that can move the masses. In that AGW is uniquely different from any of the other environmental issues you cite. The solutions that AGW proponents proffer are really painful and people are understandably skeptical. Also it’s still an open question as to whether the economic cost of AGW is greater than the economic cost of preventing it. Worse yet there’s also the moral component because there’s a large part of the developing world that is in danger of being mired permanently in poverty if we restrict their ability to pollute. Suffice to say Global warming is a lot bigger and more complicated than anyone would like.

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    • DDT stopped killing things because we stopped abusing it by using it willy-nilly in the environment. DDT is particularly deadly to predators at the top of the food chain in estuaries — bald eagles, osprey, brown pelicans, for example. All three of those species faced extinction — could not breed and get young to survive long enough to propagate.

      Action really does work. People listened, people acted, and DDT use was stopped. You were saved by people who acted on the information given.

      How, exactly, did saving bald eagles, osprey, and brown pelicans save me? I can live without these birds, as beautiful as they are.

      Plus, the ban on DDT may not have saved millions in Africa, who were killed by malaria once DDT was banned.

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    • I am not skeptical of the improvements in life that environmental legislation has bought, like cleaner air, etc. I can see these things as well as you can.

      The debate here isn’t about conserving the environment or making the air and water cleaner. It’s about global warming. For sure I’m skeptical about this, and always have been. I’m even more skeptical now that I know that global warming scientists have manipulated the data to show inexorable global warming that would end life on Earth as we know it, etc etc.

      My skepticism is fueled also by the knowledge that the environmental movement was infiltrated by ex-communists/socialists after the fall of communism in the ’90s. Much of this movement is about attacking capitalism, not saving the environment, as the global warming movement shows.

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  19. How, exactly, did saving bald eagles, osprey, and brown pelicans save me? I can live without these birds, as beautiful as they are.

    Saving the birds didn’t directly do anything for you. The original post complained that DDT wasn’t really so deadly as advertised. I noted that it was as deadly, but we stopped using it, so the poisoning didn’t continue. For an example, I noted that our cessation of use of DDT in the U.S. saved those three species here. Recent research suggests that may have also halted a burgeoning cancer epidemic, and birth defects epidemic.

    The point is that DDT is indeed a dangerous chemical, uncontrollable in the wild once released. That we don’t continue to have lectures about how to peel fruit to keep DDT out of humans is because we don’t use DDT, not because the physicians, wildlife specialists and environmentalists were in error.

    It may be we didn’t get lead out of gasoline soon enough, but I trust you’ll look that one up on your own.

    Plus, the ban on DDT may not have saved millions in Africa, who were killed by malaria once DDT was banned.

    DDT use was slowed in Africa in 1964, 8 years prior to the ban on spraying DDT on cotton in the U.S. How our not spraying cotton with DDT caused malaria in Africa years later is an exercise in geography and time travel that I doubt you can make a case for.

    DDT was never banned in Africa, and is in fact still available for anyone who wishes to use it. You’re casting blame on innocent parties for something you’re not clear about, if you understand it yourself.

    DDT is still manufactured in India and China, and used widely across Africa and Asia. Have you ever wondered why malaria still plagues those nations that use DDT, and not those nations that stopped using it? Ponder that question for a while.

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  20. The debate here isn’t about conserving the environment or making the air and water cleaner. It’s about global warming. For sure I’m skeptical about this, and always have been. I’m even more skeptical now that I know that global warming scientists have manipulated the data to show inexorable global warming that would end life on Earth as we know it, etc etc.

    Well, since there’s no case that any data manipulation occurred to present a false picture, can you explain why you’re skeptical? Is it that you are unaware that thermometers and satellite readings also show a warming planet, in addition to tree rings? Is it that you’re unaware of the decline in ice around the world? Is it that you don’t garden, you don’t farm, and you’re unaware of warming-caused droughts and floods, and the changes in the date of spring over the past 40 years, and the changing of the plant zones across North America and the World? Is it because you’re completely unaware of the changes in animal migration, especially birds, prompted by warming? Or is it because you think Al Gore is fat?

    My skepticism is fueled also by the knowledge that the environmental movement was infiltrated by ex-communists/socialists after the fall of communism in the ’90s.

    That’s absurd. Socialists, and especially Marxists, do not give a damn about the environment. As you know, it’s been only since the fall of the Soviet Union that environmental disasters across the breadth and width of that former empire have become a subject of public discussion, and action to mitigate or change the damage. Communist China has been persuaded to amend its polluting ways only as the rise of capitalism has taken hold — the damage done to Chine was evident before, but nothing that Marx, Lenin, Stalin or Mao ever suggested would be a problem.

    I suspect that, just as you were misinformed about DDT, you’re also misinformed about communists in the environmental movement. No Rockefeller has ever before been accused of being socialist or communist, nor would socialists support such Rockefeller concerns as a clean and productive environment.

    I gotta admit, I’m really curious: Who gave you this load of garbage about environmentalists? Have you ever read Sand County Almanac? Did you read Silent Spring, or do you speak only from third- or fourth-hand hearsay? Are you familiar with the London Killer Fog, or the Donora, Pennsylvania, Disaster? Have you ever heard of Chernobyl, the nickel poisoning of the Soviet Union, the Aral Sea Disaster, or the Atomic City?

    Much of this movement is about attacking capitalism, not saving the environment, as the global warming movement shows.

    Rockefellers (especially Laurance) were not in the habit of attacking capitalism (nor are current Rockefellers out of that mold). They well understood, as most well-educated and -informed environmentalists do, that free enterprise tends to do much better at protecting essential resources than non-capitalist systems. It is not a coincidence that clean air is a concern in western, politically and economically free systems much earlier than anywhere else.

    You seem to think that the case for global warming is unmade because somebody broke into private e-mails of a few scientists. Considering the logical backflips necessary to come to such a conclusion on the basis of known data, it seems to me you’ve been victimized by some bad and biased reporting. You didn’t even know that the originators of the conservation movement were all devout capitalists who understood the value of clean air, clean water, good outdoor recreation and the concepts of wilderness.

    Have you ever run whitewater in any kind of craft? Where? When?

    Do you wish to see the world’s whitewater cut off from recreation? Why?

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  21. Note to Socrates Litsios and May Berenbaum: it’s a lot more irresponsible to be name-calling against other scientists instead of refuting their claims by using the scientific method. Note to Adam Sarvana: Don’t change the subject. Roger Bate’s ideology has nothing to do with the claim that “the ban on DDT may have killed 20 million children.”And yes, wow, I would be a skeptic then too.

    That’s funny. Litsios and Berenbaum, who are the subject of grotesque name-calling among DDT advocates, are among the last people anyone could ever catch calling names — though, God knows, they’d be right if they did, and they’d be justified, and any sane person would pay attention to which wanker it was earned their ire.

    Roger Bate’s ideology, slandering scientists for profit, may not properly be weighed in any scientific debate, devoid of all scientific fact or even Shakespearean tragedy reason as it is.

    Roger Bate’s unevidenced, unfair and wrong charge that a DDT ban killed children is based on several grotesque errors, by anyone else, but grotesque lies, we know as his sole mission is to slander the World Health Organization to frustrate their anti-smoking campaign in Africa and Asia.

    For Bate to have been correct, the following facts must be ignored and covered up, so the truth won’t get out:

    1. WHO stopped widespread use of DDT in Africa and Asia in 1965, 1966 and 1967, because mosquitoes had become resistant and immune to DDT where they could spray it, and most of the nations where they needed to mount an anti-malaria campaign, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the governments could not or would not mount a campaign with the intensity or depth to not do damage to the health of millions of Africans. Read about it here.

    2. Idi Amin was never persuaded by Rachel Carson to stop spraying DDT in Uganda. For Bate’s charges to be true, it would have to be true that Idi Amin was persuaded by Rachel Carson to stop DDT use in Uganda.

    3. The U.S. “ban” on DDT covered only U.S. uses. Manufacture in the U.S. was continued expressly to provide DDT for fighting disease and insects in Africa and Asia.

    4. DDT has never been banned in Africa. For Bate to be right, it would have to be true that Africans are so stupid they won’t fight disease with miracle-causing chemicals. Surely you are not racist enough to give credence to Bate’s implicit, but necessary, racist claim.

    5. Malaria rates in Africa continued to decline for at least a decade after DDT use in the WHO “eradication” program ceased. Had a shortage of DDT been the problem, how can we explain that? Malaria infection and death rates worldwide are lower today than they were at the height of DDT use.

    6. Malaria and malaria death rates rose again, in Africa and Asia, when the pharmaceuticals used to kill the parasite in humans, ceased to work. DDT had no effect on that issue then, nor at any other time.

    7. Some Africans genuinely don’t like DDT. Abusive spraying of the stuff killed off the fish they fed their families on. Thousands starved. Those deaths were relatively quick, and widespread, wiping out entire families at once instead of concentrating on children and pregnant women like malaria does. In the equation of life and death of a poor African farmer, malaria seems less frightening than the known disasters of DDT.

    8. Remember that WHO stopped using DDT because mosquitoes started becoming resistant. Every mosquito on Earth now has at least a few copies of the alleles that transmit resistance and immunity to DDT. Many of the malaria-carrying species are absolutely immune to the stuff. In some areas, spraying DDT would be akin to flushing dollar bills down a toilet in its effectiveness in fighting malaria, and in the effect on funds to fight malaria.

    9. Every place the experiment has been tried, bednets have reduced malaria infections and deaths by a minimum of 50%, and as much as 85%. DDT is among the least effective and most expensive methods to fight mosquitoes in Africa today.

    10. Africans are not so stupid that they would kowtow to Rachel Carson, whom most Africans have never read and don’t know about, and sacrifice their children to malaria, if DDT were a cheap and easy poison to stop malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

    11. Malaria is rampant in those nations that still use DDT, and in those nations that still manufacture DDT. The only nations where malaria has been effectively conquered include those nations that banned DDT. Maybe DDT is not the panacea claimed by DDT advocates. Maybe something else is needed to beat malaria.

    Whose side is Bate really on?

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