Sunday, September 06, 2009

Schellnhuber: West has exceeded quotas

In his previous life, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber used to be a fairly good theoretical physicist. For example, he would solve the Schrödinger equation with an almost periodic potential in 1983. He has spent a year or so as a postdoc at KITP in Santa Barbara (1981-82).

But the times have changed. For a couple of years, he has been the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the main German government's climate protection adviser. What he has just said for Spiegel, in
Industrialized nations are facing CO2 insolvency (click),
is just breathtaking and it helps me to understand how crazy political movements such as the Nazis or communists could have so easily taken over a nation that is as sensible as Germany. A few rotten steps in the hierarchy is enough for a loon to get to the very top. He is proposing the creation of a CO2 budget for every person on the planet, regardless whether they live in Berlin or Beijing. Let us allow him to speak:
Humankind has to limit itself to emit only fixed amount of carbon into the atmosphere until 2050. [...] Because the industrialized nations have already exceeded their quotas if you take into account past emissions. [...] With the current output you see that Germany, the US and other industrialized nations have either already used up their permissible quota, or will do so within the next few years. [...]

The industrialized nations are facing CO2 insolvency. This means that they have to notch up their efforts to reduce climate change, otherwise they will use up the CO2 budget actually designated to poorer countries and future generations.
Question: So industrialized nations would have to pay massive sums of money?
Yes. Up to €100 billion ($142 billion) annually. If the richest sixth of the world's population were to pay this amount, each person would have to pay €100 per year. The West would give back part of the wealth it has taken from the South in the past centuries and be indebted to countries that are now amongst the poorest in the world. It would, however, have to be ensured that the poorer nations use the money for the proposes it is intended -- namely to help them to develop a greener economy.
Of course, Schellnhuber is not the first hardcore nutcase of this kind who has been saying such things, pretending that he is oh so smart. Many of you may remember Richard Feynman's popular book, Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman, where he also described a crazy "interdisciplinary" conference where a similar "thinker" has been proposing the same "reparations" paid to the poor countries, based on the same assumptions that Mr Schellnhuber has used.

In order for me to save some time, let me just copy Feynman's entertaining description of the crazy conference he attended in the 1950s. The amount and basic types of pompous fools haven't changed: they have just taken over many institutions that apparently include the German government:
There was a special dinner at some point, and the head of the theology place, a very nice, very Jewish man, gave a speech. It was a good speech, and he was a very good speaker, so while it sounds crazy now, when I'm telling about it, at that time his main idea sounded completely obvious and true. He talked about the big differences in the welfare of various countries, which cause jealousy, which leads to conflict, and now that we have atomic weapons, any war and we're doomed, so therefore the right way out is to strive for peace by making sure there are no great differences from place to place, and since we have so much in the United States, we should give up nearly everything to the other countries until we're all even. Everybody was listening to this, and we were all full of sacrificial feeling, and all thinking we ought to do this. But I came back to my senses on the way home.

The next day one of the guys in our group said, "I think that speech last night was so good that we should all endorse it, and it should be the summary of our conference."

I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there's only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn't take into account the real reason for the differences between countries -- that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn't the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn't understand it. They didn't understand technology; they didn't understand their time.

The conference made me so nervous that a girl I knew in New York had to calm me down. "Look," she said, "you're shaking! You've gone absolutely nuts! Just take it easy, and don't take it so seriously. Back away a minute and look at what it is." So I thought about the conference, how crazy it was, and it wasn't so bad. But if someone were to ask me to participate in something like that again, I'd shy away from it like mad -- I mean zero! No! Absolutely not! And I still get invitations for this kind of thing today.

When it came time to evaluate the conference at the end, the others told how much they got out of it, how successful it was, and so on. When they asked me, I said, "This conference was worse than a Rorschach test: There's a meaningless inkblot, and the others ask you what you think you see, but when you tell them, they start arguing with you!"

Even worse, at the end of the conference they were going to have another meeting, but this time the public would come, and the guy in charge of our group has the nerve to say that since we've worked out so much, there won't be any time for public discussion, so we'll just tell the public all the things we've worked out. My eyes bugged out: I didn't think we had worked out a damn thing!

Finally, when we were discussing the question of whether we had developed a way of having a dialogue among people of different disciplines -- our second basic "problem" -- I said that I noticed something interesting. Each of us talked about what we thought the "ethics of equality" was, from our own point of view, without paying any attention to the other guy's point of view. For example, the historian proposed that the way to understand ethical problems is to look historically at how they evolved and how they developed; the international lawyer suggested that the way to do it is to see how in fact people actually act in different situations and make their arrangements; the Jesuit priest was always referring to "the fragmentation of knowledge"; and I, as a scientist, proposed that we should isolate the problem in a way analogous to Galileo's techniques for experiments; and so on. "So, in my opinion," I said, "we had no dialogue at all. Instead, we had nothing but chaos!"

Of course I was attacked, from all around. "Don't you think that order can come from chaos?"

"Uh, well, as a general principle, or..." I didn't understand what to do with a question like "Can order come from chaos?" Yes, no, what of it?

There were a lot of fools at that conference -- pompous fools -- and pompous fools drive me up the wall. Ordinary fools are all right; you can talk to them, and try to help them out. But pompous fools -- guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus -- THAT, I CANNOT STAND! An ordinary fool isn't a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible! And that's what I got at the conference, a bunch of pompous fools, and I got very upset. I'm not going to get upset like that again, so I won't participate in interdisciplinary conferences any more.
Feynman's book continues with a story involving the young rabbis whose main concern was whether electricity was fire.

I wonder how Feynman would feel if he had to be talking to not just a few nuts of this kind but e.g. to 2,500 similar nuts who would be moreover described by the media as good scientists, if not the best ones in the world. ;-) Good for him that he managed to die in time.

Hat tip: Marc Morano

A British religious bonus

The German readers could feel that they're superior because their government science adviser is the greatest nutcase among the world's government science advisers. ;-)

In order for me to fight against such a new wave of German supremacy, let us look into the United Kingdom.

Lord Robert May, Baron May of Oxford, has been the chief adviser to the British government for some time. Now he is the head of the British Science Association. According to The Guardian, The Telegraph, and others, God is obliged to fight against climate change, and so are the religious leaders. A deity can serve as a "punisher". Lord May will kindly accept the role of the commander-in-chief who will instruct God and all churches in the world what they should demand from the people.

More precisely, faith groups "could lead policing of social behavior". And if God fails to make a soul green, the soul may always be burned at stake. Welcome to the Postmodern Dark Ages, at least until Lord May is admitted to a mental asylum! ;-)


  1. (I think your fast-comment section is having problems.)
    OK ... I can understand worrying about extreme measures as such, etc. But if CO2 is a warming stimulus (from spectroscopic data), there is still as risk factor, right? Most around here wouldn't take the multiplying factor to be around three, but maybe around one, etc. But if they aren't sure, then neither is anyone else AFAICT. So what is the proper "risk" posture then? How much is worth doing? People want critics to come up with alternative plans and not just critiques.

  2. damn Lubos - I'm gone a couple weeks and your fan club doubles.
    How do you keep them all fed?

    Neil' you're missing the main point. Warm is good. Period.
    How do I underline with this thing?
    Alright I know.

    We use to want to save the rainforest. Co2 augmentation saved the rainforest. We have more rainforest then we know what to do with. It's creeping into Mexico we have so much.
    We use to want to plant trees. We don't have to plant trees anymore. Trees are springing up all over the Boreal forest of their own accord.
    We use to want rain. Now we get plenty of rain, more then we need.

    We all like to see the girls in bikinis.

    Warm is good.
    Good doesn't need a risk factor.

  3. Before we run around with our heads cut off, we should verify our data, verify our models.

    Let's do something silly and make sure the models predict reality before we make decisions based off of them.

    There are a lot of really intelligent people out there that think Global Climate Change is a big problem. I am pretty sure they are all going to wake up some day and wonder what the hell they were doing.

    Lots of hand waving going on. Every once in a while an actual bit of science shows up. Just about everything else appears to be someone hyping something beyond the boundaries of rationality.

    Acidifying the oceans means going to from a basic solution to a slightly less basic solution. (pH from 8.1 to maybe 7.9) To say this is acidification requires someone to be purposely misleading.

    The real cause of the problem.... SUPERMAN.

    Everyone wants to save the world just like Superman does.

  4. Thought you'd find this interesting -

    Electronic comparison of all Darwin Editions to highlight shifts in ideas