Friday, August 31, 2007

Changing views question Global Warming Consensus

The latest in the ongoing re-positioning of the central narrative on climate change. Now there is empirical evidence to support the notion that the scientific community does not embrace the "consensus" political activists seek to impose on research and discussion.

Climate changes. People play a role in that change. How significant a role is unclear but probably not that great. Moreover, the changes that are occurring are neither unprecedented nor catastrophic: indeed society is probably more endangered by the precautionary measures environmentalists are advocating that it is by the changes that are taking place -- especially when those measures suck money away from other priorities and real issues (see post below).

Poverty and development redux

Two contrasting perspectives on poverty and development for your consideration. 
The first addresses the idea of poverty in the North American context and how the use of the term "poverty" must be used with caution in a relative sense.  The bottom quintile of the North American population would be considered at least middle-class in a large portion of the globe.  Poverty ...remains a permanent excuse for further government intervention. The fact remains that poverty, by design, will never go away. And it gives radical egalitarians (yes I'm on a radical egalitarian kick) such as John Edwards the political leverage they need to use the government to "fix" a problem that will never be fixed.
The second is a discussion from the perspective of an African teacher in Britain to promote a documentary on development and debt relief and his observations on the reactions and attitudes he discovered when showing his film.  The conclusion of the film is that the West's environmentalism, which puts nature above human beings and despises true development, leaves Africans living off the land and remaining as poor as ever. The West's association of corruption with Africans and their leaders is racial discrimination in disguise – it is an idea which sweeps global inequality and underdevelopment under the carpet.
The common link in both stories is the extent to which ideology has infused the popular narrative defining how both poverty and development are both perceived and portrayed within the mainstream media and education.  Infusing the discussion is a heavy dose of guilt, of morality and of parsimony, and an absence of rational perspective.  In the words of the Samizdata quote of the day:

The reason welfare is bad is not because it costs too much, nor because it "undermines the work ethic," but because it is intrinsically at odds with the way human beings come to live satisfying lives. Charles Murray, US author

The prevailing Western attitude towards both poverty and development can be seen similarly as fundamentally at odds with the way human being live satisfying lives.  We achieve satisfaction by striving towards goals and seeking to improve our situation: happiness comes from having hope in a better future, from having someone to share that future with and by undertaking something meaningful towards the attainment of that improved future.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Climate hype cooling

Weather affects people's perception of climate and climate change. As this article points out, the cool (North American) and wet (European) weather enjoyed by many parts of the developed world this summer has been reflected in both a lack of media hype around climate change and is a subsequent reduction in the political profile for the issue. One thing successful politicians know: if the public isn't in agreement, get off the bandwagon.

All ecomyths go through cycles of great attention and then ebbing enthusiasm. My prediction? Now that global warming has morphed into climate change, it will slowly become absorbed into the next dominant narrative for eco-hype. Same rhetoric, same actors, different set of acronyms: eco-hype recycles endlessly.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Just how closely connected are and the federal Liberal Party?

Funny stuff technology, especially information technology: leaves traces all over the place that most of us don't realise but can be highly revealing, just like DNA at a crime scene.

As this post documents very clearly, at least one political party in Canada has taken to hiding its policy advocacy behind the front of a supposed 'environmental group. That this party calls itself "liberal" is the real oxymoron, as they appear to adopt tactics that contradict any definition of libertarianism.

Oh, yes, my bad. I was forgetting that in the case of ecomyths it's the end that justifies the means, any means apparently.

If the cause is sufficiently just (and as the same people define what is and is not moral, their cause has to be just doesn't it?) then procedure, rule of law, and concepts like justice, can all be superseded by the need to act: what a blessing the precautionary principle is to such zealots -- don't have to prove anything, except the possibility of harm -- and you can justify any intervention.

Especially interventions that supply more revenue, jobs and careers for those raising the possibility of harm in the first place, the definition of morality in play, the media reaction,, maybe even a scientific consensus -- that will intimidate some, alienate others, isolate any critics.

And just why is George Orwell still classified as fiction?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Climate Audit and the role of blogs

An excellent discussion over at Climate Audit prompted by the resignation of the site's original administrator, JohnA.  The discussion reflects on the role of blogging in science and it also reveals some of the personal cost required in producing a blog.
As JohnA points out: science has often followed a paradigm that has outlived in usefulness but is simply "patched up" rather than fundamentally rewritten. A sort of blind alley develops, where not only do scientist keep hitting the wall at the end, but they are unaware of how blinkered they can be, until some bright spark comes along.
In today's era of information technology, rapid technological advancement and global information, blogging represents both an alternative vehicle for information, the dissemination of ideas and dialogue.  It also presents a serious challenge to the hegemony of academic, refereed journals as the sole arbitrator of scientific and intellectual "truth".  There will be those who will embrace blogs and blogging for the merits they present.  There will be those that will resist.  Ever thus in the history of change.  But slowly, steadily, or faster and suddenly, history has shown time and time again, that change is inexorable when it benefits most of the people, most of the time.
Online publishing and blogging may not be accepted within academia, they may even be a punitive activity, but they are the way of the future for academia as they are for all forms of media.

Blogging and the msm

An update on the role of blogs and, in particular, their utility vis a vis that of mainstream media (MSM). 
If you want information that is verified, accurate and considered on public policy issues, such as ecomyths, where should you go?  Journalists (especially academic journalists) have a vested interest in promoting the supposed veracity of the msm: it is a claim that has to be earned, not just assumed.

Deconstructing the moral fable of climate change

One of my favourite commentators is Josie Appleton.  Here is the text of a speech she recently gave, examining the moral basis of a specific ecomyth, climate change.  Her basic premise is that by... asking a few critical questions, we can start to separate the morality tale from the physical reality of carbon dioxide emissions.
Appleton makes the point that contemporary eco-ethics are characterized by an anxiety about change and an over-riding objective of social stability.  She states:
  • My main concern with eco-ethics is that it allows us to stop thinking about the meaning and point to life. It is like a layer of scaffolding built across society, which allows every individual, and every institution, to avoid the questions that they find hard to answer. Eco-ethics allows us to avoid the question of human purpose, by directing all our actions towards the clouds.
Both of these primary conditions (1) anxiety about change and (2) social stability,  are axiomatic: assumed to be correct and desirable, without any attempt to discuss their intrinsic value as predominant philosophies.  For example, has civilization progressed and prospered more in history during times of great change (technological, social, cultural) or in periods of extended stagnancy?  What are the advantages of social stability and its intrinsic perils (authoritarianism, totalitarianism, ethnic cleansing) versus the advantages of social upheaval (cultural expression, art, diversity)?
Appleton's essay is an excellent summary of the manner with which contemporary eco-myths should be dismissed.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Planet Gore on National Review Online

As much as people want to push the idea that there is a consensus on climate change science and/or that the science is settled, there will be those who will resist totalitarian dogma, practice academic freedom, and offer contrary evidence based on empirical observations, such as this study.
Fifty years from now, it will be interesting to see how the present era of environmental fanaticism is reviewed.  I seriously doubt that the propaganda surrounding global warming will be assessed as the brightest hour in scientific discovery.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blog benefits: understanding climate feedback

One of the best uses of blogs is for scientists to be able to share ideas, early in the research process, rather than wait and hope that a meeting at a conference may lead to interaction: academics are not usually Facebook kinda social networkers, so blogging has a lot of potential to increase interactivity.

This post is a good example, asking whether the approach to feedback mechanisms in climate research has been correct. The drawback? That climate science has become so ideologically polarized that normal scientific exchange is no longer in play.

A second use of blogs, is related and involves the communication of complex scientific ideas in a more generalized form so that non-specialists can understand and appreciate the implications of scientific enquiries.

This post is good example and relates to the same issue of feedback mechanism in climate change.

Finally, a caveat and an answer.
A lot of web material, blogs especially, have a pre-disposed ideology. Some, like this site, outline that ideology: for some it remains implicit and it is left to the reader to filter the message from the dogma. Sadly, there are also web tools that appear to be value neutral, or may be presumed by some to be free of ideology, when they are not. For example, the highly popular wikipedia offers lots of useful information but as an open source resource, it is reflective of the edits of its contributors.

Well now a program has been developed that will at least reveal who has been editing which wikipedia entries: very useful when the topic being edited is subject to radically different ideological interpretations.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Causes of death

Some new data that might appear to be counter-intuitive for some people, or at least contrary to the dogma they have been taught. Here and here, the latest figures from the World Health Organization on causes of death in the world are discussed in the Economist.
What the data show is that chronic diseases (heart disease,cancer) are far more significant than infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria) as a cause of death in both the developed and developing world.  Chronic diseases have long been considered the peril of affluence.  Indeed they fall outside the remit of the UN's Millennium Development goals: Combating chronic disease is not part of what the UN calls its "universal framework for development".
What the latest data show is that people everywhere are living long enough to contract chronic diseases.  However, poorer countries are less able to combat chronic illnesses and the mortality rates from chronic diseases are higher in developing countries.
The data suggest that the present focus solely on infectious diseases in developing countries is both incorrect and insufficient. 
Again, the easy part of the equation is describing the problem.  What the most effective policy response is to the situation is open to wide interpretation.

Global warming? Look at the numbers

Lots of places where you can read about the revised "rankings" for warmest years on record, this is one of the more accessible and easily understood of many.  It is important to note several things:
  • there is no temperature trend now that the correct figures are being used
  • the corrections only came about because of the activities associated with the Climate Audit blog of Steve McIntyre, who previously exposed the myth of the Hockey Stick temperature graph, and
  • few (none?) of the usual global warming zealots have had the good grace to acknowledge that the science "does not track", "have the traction" or otherwise fit any of the contemporary public policy buzzwords implying doom and gloom as contended by advocates over the past decade or so.
These data really do represent an Inconvenient Truth: global warming is a myth. 
Climate is changing: always has, always will.  Humans are modifying the climate, but not disastrously so and the changes do not constitute a prevailing environmental crisis. Get over it and focus on issues that do constitute a real problem to human survival, like: development; clean drinking water, and; the eradication of diseases such as malaria and AIDS.
The difficultly these problem pose is that they are real, and thus actions to mitigate them are measurable and discernable.  Global warming as a non-real issue is perfect for government bureaucracies, advocates and other associated policy actors, as any actions can claim effectiveness as their actual impact can not actually be measured against a non-existent baseline problem. 
Ecomyths are nothing if not self-perpetuating, self-justifying and self-aggrandizing for those advocating them.

China's river of life

A number of things make this post interesting. 
First, the title reminds me of all those National Geographic articles that were the only glimpse a generation had of other places, other lands, other cultures.  Today, the internet and social networks like Facebook, provide for this generation a far more accessible and unedited glimpse of other cultures. 
Second, the post refers to the extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin.  Now hands up: how many of you even knew that there was a dolphin in the Yangtze River before reading this?  In fact, look at a map of China: how many can find the Yangtze River?  I point this out to bring some perspective to the outrage at another lost species.  More importantly, this is only the fourth species of mammal to become extinct since 1500 -- the biodiversity figures most banded about  are (1) grossly inflated, (2) guestimates, not observed, empirical data, and (3) concern the loss of insects and plants most of us wouldn't be able to recognize anyways.  4 lost species in 500 years: not quite as dramatic is it?
Last, the article excellently describes the complexities of resource decision making: how to balance the tradeoffs between natural environment and human occupancy.  The Yangtze dolphin has gone: but the river provides a viable livelihood and prosperity for millions  -- prosperity, not subsidence level poverty.
Resource decision always involve trade-offs.  Anyone who presents a simple solution usually doesn't have all the information or has an agenda that precludes them from seeing all the perspectives.  Sustainability is change: change that benefits the most people in the most places, most of the time.  It is not about preserving the past or precluding human prosperity.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Trash incineration

August holiday weekend and the family gathered for a visit at my in-laws. As only my mother-in-law could put it 'only 18 for dinner'. Eighteen of us, gathered to eat, chat and hang out. Now everyone pitches in, brings food, drink, towels and chairs but we forgot garbage bags to take our waste home: my brother and sister in law are restricted to one garbage bag per week: challenging for a family of 4, not feasible when you host a clan of 18 for a few days.

Why? Not because garbage actually is that problematic. Lots of landfilling space in Ontario, we could even join the 21st century and incinerate -- but as this editorial describes, support for incineration continues to soften in the heart of Canada.

Waste is a very popular ecomyth. Waste need not be a problem: it is easily disposed of through a range of context-specific options ranging from sanitary landfills (where land is plentiful), to incineration (where it is not, and/or energy costs are high) all the way through to the extended use of goats (where technology is too expensive an option).

So why all the angst in a province like Ontario about garbage? Well trash means consumption. For ideological environmentalists to simply dispose of trash is to legitimize consumption -- the real sin -- thus garbage, household garbage, is another way to attack the "overly" consumptive lifestyle that is destroying the planet.

Force people to deal with, i.e. restrict, their garbage and you force them to face up to their sins of consumption. Don't apply technology (or even common sense) and supply a solution: enforce demand management, constraint and let everyone see in their own homes how bad they are for the planet.

Such hogwash. Especially when the vast majority of what is sorted and organized into municipal recycling efforts, ultimately ends up in the landfill anyway.

Their will be no enlightened trash management in Ontario until first this ideology of eco-poverty is broken. It is perhaps our most prevalent ecomyth.'s Ultimate Global Warming Challenge

Well this should be easy. All you have to do is prove that global warming is real and caused by human activity.

Ah, you do have to use science though: but that shouldn't be a problem given the "consensus" and all that.

Can't wait to see the first entry. Any entry come to that. Problem with global warming is the same for all ecomyths: asserting it's so, doesn't make it so.

A lie is a lie: doesn't matter how often or how loudly it is repeated. Saying it is, doesn't mean it is -- especially in science.

No use getting upset with me: write out your proof, send it in and collect $100,000: much more productive and creative. But again, that's another thing about critics -- they don't actually create anything of value.

Side bet: more people criticise the contest (and/or its sponsors) than actually submit entries.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ideology and the Lessons still unlearned

People sometimes wonder what is meant by ideology and just how does that affect the use of science in public policy. Surely, if we have the science, ideology has nothing to do with things, right?

Sadly, no. Ecomyths are the result of ideology and the continued imposition of beliefs despite the scientific evidence that contradict those beliefs.

A good example is well explained here. It is the situation in Britain where a program was introduced into schools to promote healthy eating by giving kids a free fruit or vegetable serving each day. The follow up evaluation showed the program had no long term influence on the eating habits of children. Yet, despite the data clearly showing the program to be a massive (and expensive) failure, the academics conducting the evaluation recommended that the program be expanded, rather than cancelled.

Their thinking? Everyone knows fruits and veggies are good for you, kids have to eat right and if this program hasn't worked, then we will just double our efforts until it does. If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again. (Especially easy when it's the government's money you are spending and you get to be a recipient).

This is ideology, not science. The science has just shown the program to have had no behavioural effect. Moreover, its starting premise also is flawed, as the most well-conducted studies following hundreds of thousands of people for decades continue to show "no relationship between fruits and vegetables and cancer and no statistically significant associations with major chronic disease or cardiovascular disease."

Does this make fruits and vegetables bad? No, of course not. But is does make them much less of an invisible cloak of protection against cancer and disease than they are often portrayed as being, and certainly not a life essential to be foisted on kids at government expense.

The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing you've been doing all along and expect a different result.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Aerosols: heating or cooling?

The standard line in explanations of global warming to explain the disparity between rising carbon dioxide emissions and an absence of temperature increases in the period from 1940 to 1975 is that heating was precluded by the cooling of the atmosphere by aerosols, which when banned in the 1970's resulted in temperature rises.  Oops! it seems the scientific data totally contradict that explanation: a new study shows that aerosols cause temperatures to rise.
Now you would think this would be headline material.  Interestingly, the mainstream media has been rather silent about this latest scientific discovery.  Luckily for us Steven Milloy continues to monitor the world of junkscience, much to the continued dismay of his legion of critics.
Yet another inconvenient truth.  Can't wait to hear and read the convoluted explanations for this latest nail in the coffin of global warming.
At what point do we cease to explain away the litany of exceptions to the hypothesis and move forward to a more robust, accurate explanation of reality?

Friday, August 03, 2007

A horrendous development

This post was summarized as a horrendous development. Not sure what else to say. It occurs that you will read this proposal and either agree whole heartedly with the post, or seek to find some rationalization or defense for the proposal: this is either protection of personal freedom or its eradication.

And if you are unsure what Britain would look like under such a scheme, I recommend watching V for Vendetta.

Sadly life has started to mimic art, rather than art merely acting as a parody of life's comical aspects. The scope of governmental intrusion into daily life in Britain really is astounding: at what point do people say enough?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Contrarian View

Promo for another new blog to me, The Contrarian View. I couldn't decide which of several posts for July I wanted to link to, so I'm posting a link to the whole blog with an encouragement to read the series of posts on climate change, environmentalism and politically incorrect questions about nicotine, history and human nature.

Agree or disagree. Doesn't matter.
The point of the blog is to have you consider for yourself, your truth and where it is leading you in your life and why.
Kinda the whole purpose of this whole blogging thing in the first place.