We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Climate change policy: what do the models tell us?

Very little. A plethora of integrated assessment models (IAMs) have been constructed and used to estimate the social cost of carbon (SCC) and evaluate alternative abatement policies. These models have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis: certain inputs (e.g. the discount rate) are arbitrary, but have huge effects on the SCC estimates the models produce; the models’ descriptions of the impact of climate change are completely ad hoc, with no theoretical or empirical foundation; and the models can tell us nothing about the most important driver of the SCC, the possibility of a catastrophic climate outcome.  IAM-based analyses of climate policy create a perception of knowledge and precision, but that perception is illusory and misleading.

- Robert S Pindyck in a new paper. And this comes from someone who supports taxing carbon emissions.

Quoted by Robert Murphy, who’s very good on the sandy foundations of the climate economics holding sway in the IPCC and the US government – see also here and here.

Climate horror show at the RI

Someone who well deserves to be high up on the climate usual-suspects list is Bill McGuire, who is Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College, London. He’s giving a lecture at the Royal Institution, Albemarle Street, on 21 February. The blurb for this on the RI website reads as follows:

Tuesday 21 February 2012
7.00pm to 8.30pm – Good availability
Lecturers: Prof Bill McGuire

Twenty thousand years ago our planet was an icehouse. Temperatures were down six degrees; ice sheets kilometres thick buried much of Europe and North America and sea levels were 130m lower. The following 15 millennia saw an astonishing transformation as our planet metamorphosed into the temperate world upon which our civilisation has grown and thrived.

One of the most dynamic periods in Earth history saw rocketing temperatures melt the great ice sheets like butter on a hot summer’s day; feeding torrents of freshwater into ocean basins that rapidly filled to present levels. The removal of the enormous weight of ice at high latitudes caused the crust to bounce back triggering earthquakes in Europe and North America and provoking an unprecedented volcanic outburst in Iceland. A giant submarine landslide off the coast of Norway sent a tsunami crashing onto the Scottish coast while around the margins of the continents the massive load exerted on the crust by soaring sea levels encouraged a widespread seismic and volcanic rejoinder.

In many ways, this post-glacial world mirrors that projected to arise as a consequence of unmitigated climate change driven by human activities. Already there are signs that the effects of climbing global temperatures are causing the sleeping giant to stir once again. Could it be that we are on track to bequeath to our children and their children not only a far hotter world, but also a more geologically fractious one?

In this talk, Bill McGuire argues that climate change is once more setting the scene for the giant to reawaken, and we can already see the signs.

Tickets: £10 standard, £7 concessions and £5 Members

Make a night of it! Come for a cocktail or something delicious, modern and British to eat in the bar. The bar and café at the Ri has the perfect atmosphere for a night out.

…Seeing this prompted me to send an email to Prof. McGuire:

Dear Professor McGuire

My eye was caught by the description of your forthcoming lecture at the RI on the 21st. It sounds fascinating: I hope I can get there.

But I think somebody at the RI has let you down. According to the blurb at http://www.rigb.org/contentControl?action=displayContent&id=00000005647:

>> Twenty thousand years ago our planet was an icehouse. Temperatures were down six degrees; ice sheets kilometres thick buried much of Europe and North America and sea levels were 130m lower. The following 15 millennia saw an astonishing transformation …

- and then:

>> In many ways, this post-glacial world mirrors that projected to arise as a consequence of unmitigated climate change driven by human activities. Already there are signs that the effects of climbing global temperatures are causing the sleeping giant to stir once again. Could it be that we are on track to bequeath to our children and their children not only a far hotter world, but also a more geologically fractious one?

I assume some air-headed press officer at the RI thought it would be a good marketing ploy to bracket a serious scientific account of the effects of a sea rise of the order of 100 metres with the effects of the rise projected by the IPCC for the lifetimes of our grandchildren.

Makes those Daily Mail climate-change deniers look sober by comparison!

I know it might be hard for you to inject some sanity at this late stage, but can you do anything to get the RI Web page corrected?

Best,

Chris Cooper

______________________________

Chris Cooper
Science writer and editor

[... & full contact details]
______________________________

I suppose this could be classified as a troll, if person-to-person emails can be trolls. Certainly, it was meant to be provocative. And it was a tiny bit deceptive in that I was pretending to believe that BM wasn’t personally responsible for his own publicity, whereas I don’t doubt for a moment that he drafted it himself, judging by his past output (for example, “ ‘Tiny’ climate changes may trigger quakes“.)

But one man’s troll is another man’s well-aimed rapier thrust – and I had one, small, precisely defined target for my challenge: “bracketing a serious scientific account of the effects of a sea rise of the order of 100 metres with the effects of the rise projected by the IPCC for the lifetimes of our grandchildren.”

Anyway, Prof. McGuire didn’t rise to the bait, and didn’t reply. His self-publicizing climate-alarmist hype on the RI site is unchanged. I don’t know whether I can bear to be at the event.

Samizdata quote of the day

Well thank you IPCC authors for letting us know what is really behind that “very likely” assessment of attribution [of] 20th century warming. A lot of overbloated over confidence that cannot survive a few years of cooling. The light bulbs seem to be just turning on in your heads over the last two years. Think about all the wasted energy fighting the “deniers” when [you] could have been listening, trying to understand their arguments, and making progress to increase our understanding of the causes of climate variability and change.

- Judith Curry, the climate-change non-alarmists’ favourite climate scientist, commenting on an article by Paul Voosen on Greenwire: “Provoked scientists try to explain lag in global warming”.

Mobs and madness

Rudy Guede gets 30 years for the murder of Meredith Kercher.

On appeal he incriminates Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, in contradiction of his own first testimony. This claim buys him a reduction of 14 years in his sentence.

Knox gets 26 years, Sollecito 25, on the basis of Guede’s evidence – and bungled police forensics.

After Knox and Sollecito have lost four years of their lives, the courts admit there was never any significant evidence against them and acquit them.

In Seattle a crowd cheers. In Perugia a crowd howls.

The British redtops are beside themselves. All gibber that Meredith Kercher has been “forgotten”. One puts a headline over Knox’s picture: “Meredith Who?”; as if these words come from her. One shows a photo of Knox, elated at getting her life back, and describes her as “grinning from ear to ear” – which, as we know, is something bad people do when they’re gloating over some undeserved gain.

Amanda Knox is home in Seattle. She has to live with the lingering ghost of a possibility that the Italians may yet demand that she go back. But at least she doesn’t have to worry about a European Arrest Warrant.

What an insane, vicious farce.

A lose-lose strategy

Jack Straw, sometime Justice Secretary, is on a campaign against referral fees in accident insurance claims. Claims management companies (CMCs) busily ferret out details of accidents that people have suffered, and sell on the details to solicitors who will encourage the victims to sue, on a no-win-no-fee basis. Mr Straw and many like him claim this pushes up legal costs that will eventually have to be paid by insured people generally. Furthermore, it encourages that wicked thing, the ‘compensation culture’, the habit of demanding that someone be to blame for every misfortune we suffer and should pay up accordingly. Mr Straw says referral fees are:

a lucrative and self-serving merry-go-round in which the personal information of anyone involved in any collision with another vehicle, no matter how trivial its effects, is traded like a commodity, typically for £600 to £800 a shot, with the aim of pursuing a claim – any claim – provided that it brings rich rewards to all those involved in this industry.

He reckons that whiplash injuries claimed by car occupants after being shunted from behind are largely fictitious – it seems they’re difficult to diagnose, so such claims are hard to refute.

In fact, one Dr Simon Margolis, CEO of something called the Premex Group, while trying to counter Straw, ends up by making him seem more credible:

There is no blood test or imaging modality currently in existence that can prove or disprove an injury was sustained or whether symptoms are being experienced. That is why a combination of the taking of a history and the laying on of hands during clinical examination by a medical expert remains the appropriate approach. Much can be learned from the general demeanour of the claimant and the way the history is delivered.

“The laying on of hands”! I love that. Much can be learned from the general demeanour of industry apologists.

Straw’s beef seems to be another instance of the ancient complaint against middlemen in general: people can’t see what service they provide and think they just push up prices. I compare the referral-fee example with the old complaint against advertising: when I buy a can of beans I have to pay the costs of the advertising that persuaded me to buy it. Outrageous!

The same answer applies to both cases, I suppose: in claims management, the middlemen actually reduce costs and push up the effectiveness of the whole system by matching up buyers and sellers, and encouraging buyers (accident victims) to buy (sue). If CMCs are squashed, lawyers will have to do the job themselves, or use other means to attract custom.

Jack Straw’s proposals are bound to make the whole process of getting justice less efficient – if that’s imaginable. But his private member’s bill has been read in the Commons without opposition, regrettably.

To bring legal costs down we need the process of linking up providers and consumers to be untrammelled. We also need police, judges and lawyers who do their jobs efficiently. Fat chance of that in the oldest of nationalized industries.

Maybe whiplash injury claims are largely a scam. I’d rather leave it to the people with a direct financial interest in showing this – namely, the insurers – to sort that out, rather than to the medical expertise of Jack Straw.

A lot of people are sceptical about whether no-win-no-fee improves the quality of justice. It may not be the whole answer, but it’s certainly part of the answer. If I ever found myself inside an ambulance I would want to see an ambulance-chasing lawyer hard on its heels. And I’d want some clever type in a sharp suit to introduce us.

Visiting a political Jurassic Park

My wife and I are off to Cuba next week for a fortnight.

We have to be quick if we’re to catch a glimpse of the place before it changes irreversibly. Every piece of news seems to be in the right direction for Cubans, the wrong direction for tourists seeking picturesqueness.

President Raul Castro has pledged to legalize the purchase and sale of homes by the end of the year, bringing this informal market out of the shadows as part of an economic reform package under which Cuba is already letting islanders go into business for themselves in 178 designated activities, as restaurateurs, wedding planners, plumbers, carpenters.

And:

Since last October, Cuba’s streets have turned on a new look with the opening of new private restaurants, fast food stalls, beauty salons and electronic repair shops.

Yes, got to move fast before Cuba’s USP as the Western Hemisphere’s only communist paradise slips away. Perhaps to pass to Venezuela.

But Venezuela hasn’t got the Hemingway connection to trade on.

Thanks for the day off

I loved the hats.

And the grumpy-looking little bridesmaid on the balcony at the exact moment of one of The Kisses (surely a future Violet Elizabeth Bott).

And the foxy chief bridesmaid.

And hearing again the words of the Anglican wedding service (even though it prompted, again, wistful laments from my wife about our own godless civil ceremony).

But mostly the hats.

The Not-so-great Malls of China

China’s Ghost Cities

Via Roger Pielke Jr, who got it from Lowy Interpreter. A commenter on Pielke’s blog writes:

I wonder how a command economy of China’s size will react when its controlled “bubbles” finally burst.

Indeed.

David Deutsch against AV

David Deutsch, quantum theorist, libertarian and a man with a brain exceptionally huge even for a libertarian, has posted a video on youTube of himself discoursing against AV (thanks to Sarah Fitz-Claridge for passing news of it on to me).

It is a beautifully clear 15 minutes of listening. He argues that AV, by making proportions of MPs more closely reflect the proportions of electors supporting the parties, doesn’t succeed in its purported aim of making the electoral system fairer. Rather, by making coalitions almost inevitable, it gives king-making power to the third party. Not only does that have nothing to do with numerical ‘fairness’, it makes it virtually impossible for electors to influence the third party and hence for it to learn from experience – Popperphiles will love his introduction of the great Karl into the argument near the end. First-past-the-post is less bad in this respect. The implication is that any proportional-representation system will have the same weakness.

I always participate in elections. I almost invariably spoil the ballot paper with a libertarian slogan. I try unsuccessfully to make my kinfolk and friends understand that this symbolic act is no more ineffective than the votes that they cast and is just as morally responsible. One of the rare votes I did cast was for a UKIP local councillor. I could actually detect a difference between UKIP and the other parties, and I approved of it.

Now I think David Deutsch might have persuaded me to cast a vote again – against AV.

Judith Curry takes on the climate establishment

If you are interested in seeing the polemics around climate giving way to improved climate science – and lets face it, a lot of the comrades around here find the polemics more fun – do not miss the storm being kicked up by Judith Curry on her blog Climate Etc. Curry is ‘Professor and Chair’ of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a bête noire (or at least a ‘crazy aunt’, as she puts it) of climate alarmists, as she is one of those competent insiders who keeps putting spokes in their wheels. She has three threads running on the topic of ‘Hiding The Decline’, referring to Phil Jones’s notorious Climategate email. The basic message to her fellow climate researchers is: stop trying to defend the indefensible. Some money quotes:

It is obvious that there has been deletion of adverse data in figures shown IPCC AR3 and AR4, and the 1999 WMO document. Not only is this misleading, but it is dishonest (I agree with Muller on this one). The authors defend themselves by stating that there has been no attempt to hide the divergence problem in the literature, and that the relevant paper was referenced. I infer then that there is something in the IPCC process or the authors’ interpretation of the IPCC process (i.e. don’t dilute the message) that corrupted the scientists into deleting the adverse data in these diagrams.

McIntyre’s analysis is sufficiently well documented that it is difficult to imagine that his analysis is incorrect in any significant way. If his analysis is incorrect, it should be refuted. I would like to know what the heck Mann, Briffa, Jones et al. were thinking when they did this and why they did this, and how they can defend this, although the emails provide pretty strong clues. Does the IPCC regard this as acceptable? I am sure do not.

….

The subject of climate change is a complex and important topic; the public is counting on scientists to provide the best available information. When the public saw … climategate, with “hide the decline” being its slogan, there was a substantial loss of public trust. This is not a good thing for climate science, nor for policy deliberations.

The response to climategate (of which hide the decline is the slogan) of the climate scientists and the broader climate establishment has been to say to the public “not to worry, the science is still sound, nothing has changed.” No one is standing up to acknowledge the problems and talk about addressing them so that this kind of thing does not happen in the future. Restoring trust would have been easier a year ago than it is now.

Referring to supposed parallels between the hockey-stick controversy and a controversy over the relationship between hurricane intensity and global temperature:

When I ponder the hockeystick debate, and its differences with the hurricane debate, and then I read those emails, well, I don’t have much sympathy. They could have taken a different path in all this. The hurricane group (and certainly myself) are no saints, but they did the right thing and it didn’t take them all that long to do it.

It takes courage to take on her own profession’s establishment like this.

The eco-despair of Alain de Botton

I heard the BBC’s A Point of View on Radio 4 this morning, Sunday. It is a 10-minute talk for general edification, falling between the religious service and the current affairs programme. The pop philosopher Alain de Botton has tenure on the current run. He called today’s piece “The ecological sublime” – a strange name, since it was concerned not with the sense of awe but with the anxiety and even terror aroused by environmentalists. I recommend hearing this short piece (available for a week, I believe) for the sake of the picture he paints of the desperation promoted by the deep greens’ jeremiads: a state of mind in which, as he says, we cannot fly to Florence to view Titians, raise our eyes to the snows of Kilimanjaro, transport milk by lorry to supermarkets, or enjoy an unusually warm spring day, without immediately fearing that we are implicit in crimes more enormous and devastating than nuclear bombing, while we are more powerless than any footsoldier caught up in a war crime – powerless because “we need collective solutions” and they are near-impossible because they would require the cooperation of over six billion people. He talks of Armageddon, of species suicide. The natural world no longer evokes forces greater than ourselves but only suggests our own powers – and those powers are terrifying. The new environmental awareness threatens to drive us into despair.

De Botton is not pointing to these baleful effects in order to condemn the doom-mongers. He swallows the whole thing hook, line and sinker.

And what is his remedy? He does not offer any philosophical resistance. His first remarks on opening the talk are on the general irrelevance of his own vocation: we should be drinking up the solid science of the ecologists rather than bothering about philosophers like him. He thinks the philosophical job is done by sketching out the situation created by the new environmental awareness. He recommends that we turn to artists – those gullible groupies of the greens! – to give us heart.

De Botton has another suggestion: that we counter our megalomania by meditating daily on selected astronomical objects, driving home to ourselves how very big they are and how very far away. That will keep us in our place, he thinks; it is his secular alternative to religious meditation.

This sorry suggestion would not work for me. I have always been fascinated by astronomy and I know quite a few of its big numbers. They never made me feel humble.

Perhaps if de Botton thought philosophical thinking were more important than he does, he would think it important to investigate the environmentalists’ descriptions of reality, and think critically about their nostrums. He might conclude that environmental pessimism is a libel on the state of the human race: things are in good shape, they are looking good for the future, and, rather than feeling despondent, we can feel proud of ourselves.

Samizdata quote of the day

For a couple of centuries an “Advertisement” in Philosophical Transactions expressly forbade pronouncements by the [Royal] Society as a whole on any scientific or practical matter.

… it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject, either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.

That sensible “Advertisement” disappeared in the 1960s when a politically ambitious physicist, Patrick Blackett, was the President.

- From the blog of Nigel Calder, doyen of science writers, via Philip Stott, who does his bit to inject some climate realism into the Radio 4′s Home Planet.

The Royal Society should return to its former path of virtue. And The Lancet would benefit from that motto, too.