Sunday, September 02, 2007

Prominent scientist questions warming hysteria.

In the world of science one of the big names remains to be Freeman Dyson of Princeton University. He has delved into issues ranging from quantum mechanics to futurism. And he is a vocal skeptic of warming hysteria.

To be clear, being a skeptic may mean many different things, depending on the skeptic in question. Though the anti-skeptics would have you think there is just a lump group called skeptics who are identical in thought and basically ideological whores who sold off their integrity to “Big Oil”. Ah, how easy life is when one is simple minded.

Dyson’s skepticism can be found here.

He says that he thinks “the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated.” He says the climate models are very good on some aspects of climate and extremely weak in other areas. “They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.” In the modern age, says Dyson, the intimate connection between science and public policy requires heretics like himself. He argues that politicians want answers and some scientists then “make confident prediction about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions becomes dogmas which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed.”

The warming exaggeration, Dyson says, diverts “money and attention from other problems that are more urgent and more important, such as poverty and infectious disease and public education and public health, the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans, not to mention easy problems such as the timely construction of adequate dikes around the city of New Orleans.”

Dyson’s remarks well illustrate a concern made by of the “skeptics”. Certainly this is the point that Bjorn Lomborg has been making with the help of some very respected academics. Fundamentally the argument is that we face numerous problems. We also face a world of scarcity -- we can’t solve all the problems we would like to solve. If we put resources into one problem we lack sufficient resources for other problems. So we have to make trade offs.

So where should we spend our resources? This means doing cost/benefit calculations. What is the cost of one problem and what would it cost to solve it? Now compare solving that problem to solving another problem, which of the two brings the higher returns? And note that when the term cost and returns are used this doesn’t necessarily mean just monetary costs.

If you choose to spend billions on global warming that leaves less to spend on issues like clean water in the developing world, poverty alleviation, new food technologies, vaccines, etc. The net result is that you may reduce warming by some slight variable while dramatically making life worse off for many poor people. There is no question today, for instance, that the absurd bio-fuel programs are having little impact on global warming but are pushing up world food prices and increasing starvation in poor countries.

So the questions is what will be the costs, or benefits, of warming. And what will it cost to stop the warming, if it can be stopped. If you find that the solution is more costly than the problem you don’t bother. William Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, recently looked at some of the “popular” solutions to warming and the costs associated with those solutions. He then compared them to the costs of the problem itself.

Nordhaus says the numbers indicate that “the ‘ambitious proposals’”cost more to the world than the problem they are meant to solve. He wrote:
Clearly, meeting these ambitious objectives would require sharp emissions reductions, but the timing induced by excessively early reductions makes the policies much more expensive than necessary. For example, the Gore and Stern proposals have net costs of $17 trillion to $22 trillion relative to no controls – they are more costly than nothing. The emissions target of the German proposal is close to that of the Stern Review analysis, and the cost penalty is likely to be similar.
In other words these cures are worse than the disease.

Dyson also thinks we are making a mistake in calculating a global warming average since:
The effect of carbon dioxide is important where the air is dry, and air is usually dry only where it is cold. Hot desert air may feel dry but often contains a lot of water vapor. The warming effect of carbon dioxide is strongest where air is cold and dry, mainly in the arctic rather than in the tropics, mainly in mountainous regions rather than in lowlands, mainly in winter rather than in summer, and mainly at night rather than in daytime. The warming is real, but it is mostly making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter. To represent this local warming by a global average is misleading.
Dyson entire essay is interesting, as one would expect. I disagree with his statement that the highest value of the humanist is harmony between man and nature. The highest virtue is harmony between man and man. I’m not saying nature is unimportant but I put that value below interhuman relationships. Read Dyson for yourself.

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