Global Themes

On Globalization & Venture Capital

“Global Greening versus Global Warming” – Excerpts

Excerpts from “Global Greening versus Global Warming” by Matt Ridley (emphasis added):

…I am increasingly disaffected from science as an institution.

The way it handles climate change is a big part of the reason.

After covering global warming debates as a journalist on and off for almost 30 years, with initial credulity, then growing skepticism, I have come to the conclusion that the risk of dangerous global warming, now and in the future, has been greatly exaggerated while the policies enacted to mitigate the risk have done more harm than good, both economically and environmentally, and will continue to do so.

…Why do I think the risk from global warming is being exaggerated? For four principal reasons.

1. All environmental predictions of doom always are;

2. the models have been consistently wrong for more than 30 years;

3. the best evidence indicates that climate sensitivity is relatively low;

4. the climate science establishment has a vested interest in alarm.

…I will come to those four points in a moment. But first I want to talk about global greening, the gradual, but large, increase in green vegetation on the planet.

…As Myneni’s co-author Zaichun Zhu, of Beijing University, puts it, it’s equivalent to adding a green continent twice the size of mainland USA.

Frankly, I think this is big news. A new continent’s worth of green vegetation in a single human generation.

 

…Now let me back to global warming.

 

These days there is a legion of well paid climate spin doctors. Their job is to keep the debate binary: either you believe climate change is real and dangerous or you’re a denier who thinks it’s a hoax.

But there’s a third possibility they refuse to acknowledge: that it’s real but not dangerous. That’s what I mean by lukewarming, and I think it is by far the most likely prognosis.

I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is.

I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is.

I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is.

I am not saying the climate does not change; it does.

I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is.

And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950.

I agree with the consensus on all these points.

I am not in any sense a “denier”, that unpleasant, modern term of abuse for blasphemers against the climate dogma, though the Guardian and New Scientist never let the facts get in the way of their prejudices on such matters. I am a lukewarmer.

 

The track record on doom

I said that one reason to be skeptical about dangerous climate change is that environmental predictions of doom are always wrong.

Here’s a list of predictions made with much fanfare and extensive coverage in the media in the 1970s, when I was young and green, in both senses of the word:]

 

So what is the problem? Well, the theory of dangerous climate change depends on a whole extra step in the argument, one that very few politicians and journalists seem even to know about – the supposed threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes.

 

 

As the distinguished NASA climate scientist Roy Spencer has written,

“If you fund scientists to find evidence of something, they will be happy to find it for you. For over 20 years we have been funding them to find evidence of the human influence on climate. And they dutifully found it everywhere, hiding under every rock, glacier, ocean, and in every cloud, hurricane, tornado, raindrop, and snowflake. So, just tell scientists 20% of their funds will be targeted for studying natural sources of climate change. They will find those, too.”

Does it matter that our politicians panicked in the early 2000s? Surely better safe than sorry?

Here’s why it matters. Our current policy carries not just huge economic costs, which hit the poorest people hardest, but huge environmental costs too.

But there is a further reason why it matters. Real environmental problems are being neglected. The emphasis on climate change as the pre-eminent environmental threat means that we pay too little attention to the genuine environmental problems in the world.

We bang on about ocean acidification when it is overfishing and run-off that is most hurting coral reefs.

We misdiagnose climate change as the cause of floods when it is land drainage and urban development that is the cause.

We claim climate change as the cause of extinctions, when it is invasive species that disrupt and damage ecosystems and drive out rare species.

We say climate change is a threat to air quality, when it is climate policy that has hindered progress in improving air quality.

We talk about losing seabird colonies to warming seas and then build wind farms that slaughter the birds while turning a blind eye to overfishing.

Here’s why I really mind about the exaggeration: it has downgraded, displaced and discredited real environmentalism, of the kind I have devoted part of my life to working on.

 

….In Germany, a 20% increase in renewables between 1999 and 2014 has resulted in no change in emissions at all.

Read it in full here.

October 30th, 2016 Posted by | Development Issues, Energy and Environment | 3 comments

3 Comments »

  1. Some excerpts from Atanu Dey’s excellent piece on Climate Change Hysteria:


    There must be a variety of reasons for people to feel concerned about impersonal matters that they are not personally responsible for and that they have little control over directly. One of those reasons is “virtue signalling.” In effect, their internal dialog proceeds thusly: “I am aware of a very serious issue that you are ignorant about and are oblivious to the danger it represents. I know and you don’t. I care and you don’t. I am more virtuous and better than you.”

    One of the worst offenders in the climate change business (and it is a business, we must admit) is Al Gore. (I find it curious that he is a cousin of the late Gove Vidal, arguably one of the sanest modern Americans.) I concur with Charlie Munger’s assessment that Al Gore is an idiot. [Thanks to Rajan Parrikar for the link.]

    We should remind ourselves that climate change is only the latest of a tradition of doom and gloom prophesy. Not too long ago, the gloomy predictions of doom was global cooling. The pendulum has swung the other way.

    The Population Scare

    One of my favorite Chicken Little “the sky is falling” doom-and-gloom stories is the population problem. Stanford University biology professor Paul Ehrlich stirred up quite a few people with prophesies of utter devastation in his best selling books “The Population Bomb” (1968) and “The Population Explosion” (1990.) He warned that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death because there was simply not enough food for the billions that would crowd the earth.

    I was persuaded by Prof Ehrlich’s argument. The naive easily fall prey to neo-Malthusian arguments. That was before I understood economics, specifically the role of technology, the power of human inventiveness, the magic of free markets, etc. But now I know better. I should mention also that it was before I read the brilliant Julian Simon (1932 – 1998), professor of business administration at the University of Maryland. I recommend his book “The Ultimate Resource” which you can read on the web here.

    Julian Simon consistently argued what at first sight appears to be pure nonsense, but after proper reflection makes perfect sense. He said that that there are no natural resources. All resources are human creations. More about that some other time.

    He famously won a bet that Ehrlich and he had.

    Wanting to prove his theory that natural resources are not finite in a true sense, Julian challenged Ehrlich in 1980 to choose five commodities that he believed would become more scarce, and therefore more expensive, over a decade. Ten years later, the price of each metal had fallen. [Source]

    For more on the Simon-Ehrlich bet, watch “Who Won the Bet of the Century?” [Thanks to Anup Nair for the link.]


    Leaving that aside, let’s cautiously wade ankle-deep into the murky climate change pool and examine what we find. …
    Also, note that it is not absolutely certain as to the causal link between CO2 and average global temperate. It could be that an increase in CO2 levels pushes up the temperature, or it could be that a rise in temperature causes an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases.

    Human use of fossil fuels have contributed to the increase in atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. Therefore, all else being equal, humans have had an effect on increasing the average global temperature.

    The mean sea level will rise with rising temperatures. By how much? By about one foot in a century. That’s about two centimeters per decade.
    The present climate models predict a rise of 3 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Or about a third of a degree every decade.

    It is important to remember that rising sea levels is manageable. People adjust to gradual changes. Richer people adjust better to changes. The entire land area of the world will not get submerged.

    Temperature rise is not an unmitigated disaster. The present warmer areas will lose some agricultural productivity but the present colder areas will gain from longer growing seasons. There will be more heat deaths but there will be fewer deaths due to cold.

    Higher CO2 levels mean agricultural productivity will rise. There will be more food for people.

    Energy Use Powers Civilization

    Here’s a neat set of graphs which illustrate one simple fact: humanity’s progress and the level of atmospheric CO2:

    There is a correlation between CO2 emissions, GDP per person, life expectancy and human population numbers. Correlation does not imply causation but it suggests that there is a connection.

    The story of civilization is the story of the progress humans made in the harnessing of energy. It starts with animal power. Wind and water power is also hundreds of years old. Then comes the use of coal, the first fossil fuel used. Then petroleum oil and natural gas.

    With increasing use of fossil fuels came an increase in labor productivity — meaning we could produce more. That is what’s captured in the increasing GDP per person graph, and the increase in human population and increased life expectancy.

    Expert Opinion Matters

    There are lots of well-established facts on the matter of climate change. They include present and historical data. There are many climate models, and their projections depend on their assumptions about how the global climate responds to the various parameters in them.

    Data are important. But data have to be interpreted properly and the implications of data varies with the interpretation. The jump from data (assuming that the data are unambiguous) to interpretation to likely scenario projection is not immune from major errors.

    I am not qualified to judge the accuracy of those models. Therefore I would rely on the expert opinion of climate scientists. One often bandied about pseudo-fact is that “97% of climate scientists agree” on climate change. Alex Epstein has argued in Forbes that “‘97% of Climate Scientists Agree’ is 100% Wrong“.

    If you dig a little deeper into the 97% claim, you find that it is just inflated rhetoric designed to mislead and misdirect. In a scientific survey paper by John Cook, the summary states, in part, “Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 percent [of papers he surveyed] endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.”

    The “97% of papers surveyed” statement has been deliberately distorted to imply that 97% of all scientists (not just climate scientists) have reached consensus that there will be dangerous climate change if immediate steps are not taken to stop CO2 emissions. One former US president tweeted, “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” The man has a reputation of playing fast and loose with facts.

    I agree with Prof Steven F. Hayward of Pepperdine University. He said, “I think historians are likely to look back on the hysteria over climate change today the way we, today, look back on prohibition: as a comic misadventure that shows the harsh limits of political enthusiasm directed against basic facts of nature and society.” [Watch his video “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Global Warming”. Link below in the notes.]

    Climate Change Not Dangerous

    That’s a claim I make based on economic reasoning. We have to remember that no model predicts run-away catastrophic global warming. There is good reason to believe that the worst that is going to happen if we continue to do business as usual is a rise in average global temperature and a rise in the sea level. Those changes will happen at a glacial pace (if that’s the right metaphor here.) The good news is that even the worst predictions are not likely to happen, as I argue below.

    There are more important and urgent things to worry about, and therefore deserve more of our attention and resources than climate change.

    First, and foremost, a few billion people desperately need material prosperity. For that, the world needs more energy. There are a variety of sources: nuclear fission, coal, oil, natural gas, renewable like solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, etc. Ruling any of those out is not going to help the present generation of poor people.

    The poor of the present should not be forced to shoulder the burden of ensuring a nicer world for the rich of the future. The poor of the present should not be made to suffer because some of the present rich believe that the world cannot bear the burden of many more people living materially richer lives.

    Not a Climate Change Denier

    I don’t believe that climate change does not matter at all. It does matter but it is not a yes-no question. It is a matter of trade-offs. The question is: how much does it matter relative to other things that deserve our attention?

    Disease, hunger, armed conflict, the Religion of Peace — these global problems demand a systemic response today more than anything that is likely to be a problem in 100 years. How much will it cost to address those pressing problems of today, and how do those costs stack up against the cost of climate change mitigation efforts?

    Many serious people have investigated the climate change issue. Bjorn Lomborg is one such. Consider his arguments, which you can find in books, articles, and easiest of all, on YouTube. [See linked video in the notes at the end of this piece.]

    Researchers usually focus on the climate change problem without reference to the factors that I took some time to outline above:

    Technology will improve. In a few decades, if not in a few years, there will be technology to alter the climate anyway we like. Imagine a genetically modified bacteria that uses sunlight to convert atmospheric CO2 to produce energy. That would allow humans to set CO2 levels arbitrarily.
    People will have greater average and aggregate wealth. Therefore they would be better equipped to address any adverse climate conditions — including but not limited to global warming and sea level rise.
    My argument that climate change does not matter as much as it is advertised to be is based on those two facts alone. We will know in a few years whether I am right or not.

    ….
    Non-use or reduced use of fossil fuels will hurt those who are poor today, and make it much harder for them to gain some degree of material prosperity. Therefore, I think that developing countries like India and China should not be a signatory to any “climate change” agreement that puts limits on fossil fuel use and/or reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that go into effect any sooner than the year 2067 — that is 50 years from now.

    Because by 2067, no climate change agreement made today would have any relevance. The world then would have moved away from CO2-generating fuels and would judge the present gang of climatistas as a bunch of motivated, ignorant, alarmist, self-serving busybodies.

    A final point. I am an optimist. Human civilization is not likely to remain at the level it is today — 0.7 on the Kardashev scale. I think humanity will become a Type I civilization by 2050 — “the technological level of a civilization that can harness all the energy that falls on a planet from its parent star”. Not just in energy use, but practically all our present global ills, including the evils of monotheistic ideologies, will be gone long before Type I is achieved. As Carl Sagan observed, humanity is going through technological adolescence now. I don’t think that phase is going to last much longer than a few decades.

    Comment by Shantanu | July 17, 2017

  2. Somewhat related: How the debate on climate change is cooling down By Marian L. Tupy, 22nd Sept ’17.

    Brief excerpt below:

    “..
    In a new study that was published in the journal Nature Geoscience, leading climate scientists have adjusted their previous predictions about global warming and stated that the worst impacts of climate change are still avoidable. Professor Michael Grubb, an international energy and climate change scientist at University College London, said that previous scientific estimates were incorrect, because they were based on computer models that were running “on the hot side.”

    According to the new estimates, the world is more likely than previously thought to achieve the main goal of the 2015 Paris agreement and limit global warming to only 1.5°C higher than was the case in the pre-industrial era. Only two years ago, many scientists dismissed the 1.5°C goal as too optimistic and Professor Grubb went as far to say that “all the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5°C” is unattainable.

    While it is true that the average global temperature is 0.9°C higher than in the pre-industrial era, the scientists now admit that there was a slowdown in warming in the 15 years prior to 2014 – a slowdown that the models did not predict or account for. Professor Myles Allen, another one of the study’s authors, said “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.”

    What has changed in the model forecasts since the Paris summit in 2015? The data showing that the climate models are running “on the hot side” has been available for years. In 2015, my colleagues Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger noted that climate models have been overestimating the rate of warming for decades. In 2016, John Christy from the University of Alabama in Huntsville testified before the US Congress that the climate models were inaccurate. For their trouble, all three have been labelled “climate change deniers.”

    Worth reading in full.

    Comment by Shantanu Bhagwat | September 22, 2017

  3. Some good news: The Earth’s ozone hole is shrinking and is the smallest it has been since 1988

    Comment by Shantanu | November 12, 2017

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