Monday, December 15, 2008

Steven Chu vs a sane homeowner

A few days ago, Marc Morano received some credit from a Joe Romm - the cheerleader-in-chief at recent wild orgies celebrating the death of Michael Crichton - for having determined that Steven Chu, the future U.S. secretary of energy, is not quite psychiatrically OK (much like many similar participants of the Poznań conference) when it comes to warmophobia and related disorders. 

Well, your humble correspondent would like to modestly inform everyone that it is me, and not Marc Morano, who has figured it out. ;-) Thanks! 

To see why Steven Chu is psychiatrically impaired, let us look at his new talk about the
... electrical wiring.
After a small fire in your house, a woman comes to your house and tells you that you have to pay $20,000 to get a new wiring, otherwise your house will burn in a few years at the 50% confidence level.
Related: Veteran psychiatrist finds out that all left-wing people are mentally ill
Chu's opinion is that it would be foolish to "look for" an expert who says that the new wiring is not necessary. Clearly, you must trust the woman and her first friend who says the same thing, he says: you have to pay $20,000. In the same way, the United States of America (and perhaps other countries as well) must immediately sacrifice a part of the national economy, too, in order to avoid the burning house - a planet, in this case - in a few years. 

It's not his money, after all, so why wouldn't he sacrifice it? Why wouldn't he give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety?

How an actual homeowner would think?

Is that an argument worth a Nobel prize winner? Brian Josephson, Chu's Nobel colleague, might add that the future fire in your house would be started by telekinesis. Well, what a sane person would do in this context?

First of all, as the first commenter says, the owner would be puzzled why a structural engineer has such strong opinions about electrical wiring. ;-) Second of all, a sane person would try to determine - regardless of the "sign" of the expert's testimony - whether the structural engineer's opinion was trustworthy and based on objective expertise or whether it was driven by some other interests, for example the profit for his or her company.
Related: A fresh interview with Steven Chu about the Day After Tomorrow (in reality), how he wants things to be bad (but not awful) - talk about a wishful thinking, and why architects should paint roofs white so that air-conditioning may be reduced (much like the intensity of light bulbs) and the Earth is cooled down - wow! ;-) Thanks to Willie Soon.
Also, a sane person would pretty quickly discard the first recommendation because it came from a woman, as Chu proudly told us. Only about 15% of structural engineers are women and 70% of those got to the field because of affirmative action (before this movement began to be intense 15 years ago, there were about 5% of women in that field), so there is clearly something suspicious going on here, if the first catastrophic testimony comes from such an unexpected source. 

The homeowner would not only require the other experts to be men but also to have male, technical attitude to this technical question. 

And you know, her prediction was pretty extraordinary. The homeowner could easily find out that there are only 4 fires per 1000 existing houses per year (in Texas). Only 16.6 percent of these fires are caused by wiring - a similar percentage as fires caused by heating equipment (15.8 percent), cooking (11.4 percent), more than smoking (5.5 percent), children playing with fire (4.5 percent) but much less than fires caused by arson (25.5 percent). A future fire is very unlikely, it is very unlikely to be caused by wiring, and the expected damages are smaller than $20,000, anyway. So unless the homeowner can easily afford it, a $20,000 fee is a clear waste of money.

The second "expert" would be discarded soon afterwards because the sane homeowner would realize that this "expert" had predicted in "The Progressive" (1970) that during the 1980s, 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the "Great Die-Off" because of hunger. Fortunately, the homeowner knows a very good psychiatrist whom he could recommend to this "structural expert #2" who is still employed by the Stanford University. Let's hope that he will never have dreams about billions of people dying in hunger again.

The third, fourth, and fifth "experts" were less well-known than Paul Ehrlich but the homeowner would probably soon realize that they're going to the pub with the previous two and, it just happens, they have been both very active in promoting the same junk politicians. The sane guy would learn that this loosely connected gang is doing business in the whole world and is getting $2 billion a year just for "determining" that pretty much every housBolde needs a new wiring. It seems to be a great business.

There are too many coincidences here that a sane homeowner wouldn't expect if the "experts" were real independent experts who were giving him a pure professional analysis.

Independent experts

After some time, the homeowner would decide to hire an independent, non-governmental agency with no obvious indications of a bias and no manifest links to the strange clique of nuts that were being sent to his house so far (and with no links to the companies that produce the new wiring). And it just happens that this new agency would determine that there can't be any big fire caused by wiring in the bulk of the building and there is only one wrong power outlet in the kitchen that should be replaced for $40, besides a $10 fuse in the living room. 

Of course, this agency would be fair. They would realize that it was trivial to see that the fire couldn't occur - because they were looking at hundreds of similar houses in the past and they knew the actual reason of the small recent fire. And the only reason why they had to see this house was that its owner was misled by a well-known group of fraudsters - and a fair agency doesn't want to charge people for such incidents because that would effectively be collaboration with the fraudsters. So they would only charge the homeowner $50. As you can see, the guy saved $19,900. He is insured and owns additional houses in other towns, anyway.

Climate: the expected warming

These are silly games - initiated by Chu - because we are not talking about any specific house so you can't be sure whether Chu or humble correspondent are correctly estimating the risk. (By looking at the statistics above, you can see that Chu's prediction is extremely unlikely to be accurate.) In the case of the global climate, the subject is more well-defined and something is actually known about the issue.

Well, in this case, the "experts" claim that not only one house, but the whole planet will "burn" in a few years. That's a much more extraordinary statement than the already bizarre warning by the female structural engineer.

Chu claims that there is a 50% probability "of disastrous social, economic and political risks" in a few decades. The catastrophe is supposed to be caused by the greenhouse effect that will heat the planet up by 5 °C.

A reader or a homeowner may lack the expertise to predict certain things about the climate but he surely understands what it means for the temperature to increase by 5 °C in a few decades - let's say 3 decades. He may quickly learn that the warming caused by the greenhouse effect should be most pronounced in the middle troposphere. After a few minutes, he finds the graph of the mid troposphere temperatures from 1978 to 2008: three decades of data.

He will learn that the temperature increase in these three decades - when the economy was kind of flourishing - is about 0 °C or 0.05 °C. It is completely indistinguishable from the (much higher) annual variations. Steven Chu talks about 5 °C in a few (three) decades which is an estimate that exceeds the reality by two orders of magnitude. That's just like if he is scared to death - and ready to pay $20,000 (or trillions of dollars, in this case) because he has confused a mouse on his garden with a tiger.

All actual data indicate that if there is an underlying trend beneath the noise of the weather data, it is currently less (and probably much less) than 1 °C per century, i.e. certainly much less than 0.5 °C in a "few decades".

A thought experiment: huge warming

But let us follow Steven Chu and confuse the mouse with the tiger, too. Imagine that in a century, the average temperature would jump by 5 °C - like in the most catastrophic projections by the hardcore alarmists (you won't find anything higher than that because with a finite amount of tricks and cheats, it is simply impossible to get your predictions above 5 °C per century: Steven Chu may randomly add additional orders of magnitude to his predictions but I think that above a certain threshold, he simply should be put in the insane asylum).

Would the great grandsons face a burning house? Steven Chu says that the new temperature would take them into an unknown territory. Well, every newborn baby - including our great grandsons - is taken into a new territory when it is born. The open world is so different from the womb! And the initial conditions for its life are defined by the moment of its birth, not by the moment of his great grandfather's birth, as some of the senile great grandparents incorrectly assume! Great grandparents are pretty much irrelevant, especially when it comes to your feelings about the weather today. Just think about your great grandparents. What would they think about the weather on December 15th, 2008?

Does Steven Chu offer a more specific threat in a warmer world? Well, he says the following:
A world average temperature change of 5 °C does not sound like much, but a 5 degree warmer world will be a very different world. In the last ice age, roughly one third of the United States was covered year-round in a glacier.
That sounds scary. There is only one subtle problem with the glacier. You would actually need a cooler weather, not a warmer weather, to re-create a big U.S. glacier. A few degrees of cooling could re-create some of the glaciers (it would surely take a long time!) but because the big glaciers are pretty much gone in today's world, a few degrees of warming simply don't have any comparably spectacular effect. The only "qualitative" threshold here is the freezing point of H2O and the bulk of the U.S. is above it.

But let's forgive Mr Chu this mistake - his field was laser optics, not the phase transitions of water. And incidentally, the ice age will eventually return. In a few dozens of thousands of years, there will be another one and the natural contribution to the dropping temperature will be over 5 °C. Why doesn't Steven Chu and others care about the people in the year 22008 who will be threatened by a new ice age? It's not as convenient for their goals as their worries aboutt the people who live in 2108, is it?

More seriously, let us academically ask: Would life and a prosperous economy be possible in the year 2108 if the temperature were 5 °C higher than today? Well, we happen to be familiar with different temperatures. Look at the average annual temperatures over the globe:

You see that the average annual temperature ranges from -50 °C to +30 °C, depending on the location. That's about 80 °C of temperature difference between the poles and the equator. Indeed, the idea that the world has a constant or uniform temperature is a wrong intuition forced upon you by your fancy air-conditioning system. ;-)

The difference between the poles and the equator - 80° C - corresponds to roughly 10,000 kilometers. Divide it by 16 and you will obtain 5 °C and 600 km.

So even if the temperature increase were as dramatic as the weirdest chicken little's can fabricate today - and these predictions are at least an order of magnitude above reality - even the most sensitive people and animals could compensate the warming by moving 600 km towards the poles (or cooler areas).

If you take the IPCC projections, the central prediction is about 3 °C only. That corresponds to 300 km or so. By moving from New York to Boston over 100 years, all local effects of the warming can be exactly compensated. Do you think that the difference between the weather in New York and Boston is unbearable? Is it a catastrophe to move from New York to Boston? Is the required speed too fast if you need to get from New York to Boston in 100 years?

The actual expected CO2-induced warming is close to 0.5 °C which corresponds to 60 km per century.

Do the people want warmer or cooler temperatures?

More importantly, would someone actually have to move because of the change of the weather? The answer is Almost no one. Most people live in the climate that is much cooler than the average temperature they enjoy most of the time. That's why e.g. the average Americans use more energy for heating bills than air-conditioning bills. In Canada or Norway, the difference is even higher. And they are used to much stronger weather fluctuations, anyway.

The difference between the average people's desired temperature and the average temperature of their environment is actually more than 5 °C. In the Czech Republic, the ultimate average country for many purposes, the average annual temperature is about 10 °C. Clearly, people would prefer a value around 20 °C. Give it up: we won't get enough desired warming by CO2 emissions, at least not in the next two centuries, not even if we assume the most brutal and "stretched" predictions of the future warming.

So you should understand that as long as Czechs approach this "problem" rationally, they are going to prefer warming over cooling and they are certainly not going to pay a lot of money just for a chance to avoid some warming - even if it were a few degrees. Instead, they are paying millions of dollars for their vacations in much warmer countries (by 15 °C). If you look at the map, you will understand that the same thing holds for the bulk of North America and Eurasia.

Would anyone care? You can see that there are warm places on the Earth, too: Sahara, Brazil, India, etc. But there are many other issues we should remember. First, the warming near the equator is going to be slower (the warming near the poles is amplified by the ice-albedo feedback effect). Second, the latitude is not the only coordinate that can compensate for the temperature changes. Altitude matters, too. The lapse rate is over 6 °C per kilometer, so if you move yourself into the hills, the maximum centennial warming may be fully eliminated, too.

If the radical predictions for a 5 °C warming in a century turned out to be correct, some regions such as Siberia could become more pleasant than others - like Australia. Agriculture - and people who depend on it - would probably be shifting correspondingly. Now, is it a catastrophe if some farms would move e.g. from Brazil to Siberia in 100 years? 

You know, Brazil has already been blessed, at least a little bit: Brazil is one of the world's greatest agricultural powerhouses, exactly because of its warm (and wet) weather. The country was even able to promote the biofuels to the dominant fuels for their cars at some point - which would be a silly dream in most other countries. Siberia hasn't been blessed in this way. Isn't it fair to simply allow the opportunities to change as time goes by? It is likely that 5 °C of warming would make many countries as hospitable to agriculture as Brazil is today.

Even if you thought that the only moral approach is to preserve the 2008 temperatures in every corner of the world forever, an assumption that Mike Griffin of NASA would call arrogant, your prejudices won't matter. What's much more important is that people in Russia are certainly going to think rationally about these issues. They "okay" various fashionable comments about the climate regulation today because it doesn't cost them anything and it's better for them to please zealots in other countries.

But if the Russian economy (and other economies) were at stake - and the only threat that would be averted by the "fight against climate change" were a few degrees of warming by 2108 which Russia badly needs, anyway - be sure that they won't join Steven Chu's stupid game. They will happily allow their economy to strengthen as the economies plagued by Steven Chu and his peers would weaken.

A lot of history occurs in 100 years

100 years is a pretty long time and many things about the world may change within a century. Some empires may be born or flourish, others may die or weaken. I don't personally believe that the climate change will become an important factor that will determine these changes in the 21st and 22nd century (the climate has had almost no effect on the patterns of mass migration in the 20th century). But even if climate change were one of the factors that will matter, there's nothing wrong about climate change. 

Climate change is just another legitimate factor that may or may not influence the life in the real world and the fate of empires, much like hundreds of other factors (such as breakthroughs in agriculture and industry, epidemics, meteorites, or over-reproduction of pests). Each of these factors may help someone and hurt someone else. Some of the factors are natural, others depend on the humans and their work. There is nothing "unacceptable" about either of them. It is completely irrational to single out climate change as the kind of change that is "not allowed to happen".

The world exists, it has a time coordinate, and things are therefore inevitably happening, changing, and evolving. Whoever is scared by these things - by change in general - should commit suicide because death is the only way to stop the time for him or her.


Mr Chu, I don't know what the second and third expert will tell you about your situation but I am telling you that you should try to medically treat your warmophobia, otherwise it can lead to serious problem for you and your country, whose secretary of energy you are going to become, in a couple of years. Many people with milder anxiety disorders - such as claustrophobia - are being medically treated, too.

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