Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The 50 to 1 project

Topher (*1982) is the commercial brand of an Australian host and filmmaker who had 6 siblings, was educated at home, and decided that movies – and later movies about political issues etc. – were his real passion. Using some "amateurish" money, including some funds from Lord Monckton – as I understand it – he shot a series of interviews with skeptics called
The 50 to 1 Project
Thanks to Anthony W. and Honza U. for leading me to watch some of the videos. The ideas, graphics, and especially the content look very good. The videos include a 10-minute introductory video and interviews with Nova, Evans, Watts, Essex, Laframboise, Morano, Singer, and Ergas. Evans' interview is the one that I have listened to most carefully (Honza recommended me 9:30-12:00 of that video).

However, I was intrigued by the particular figure "50 to 1" that is used as the title of the project. It's supposed to say that "the price of mitigation exceeds the price of adaption by the factor of 50". Where did the number 50 come from? I quickly learned that it was extracted from the 2006 Stern report. In some counting, mitigation would cost 80% of the GDP while adaptation would cost 1.6%.

Well, nice, and given some interpretations, plausible. However, the Stern report was complete junk as a piece of economics (especially because of the totally unrealistic treatment of the discount rate) and one may get any number he wants. It seems bizarre to me when skeptics borrow such numbers from such badly constructed pillars of alarmism – even if the number from the alarmist report proves that the attempts to "wrestle" with the climate change are a preposterous waste of efforts and resources, anyway.

What does it exactly mean that the mitigation is 50 times more costly? To make the ratio well-defined, you have to specify what you mean by the "money spent for mitigation" and the "money spent for adaptation" (and I am neglecting the fact that we would have to compare two very different and non-interacting worlds, a rich one and a poor one, and one dollar in one of the worlds isn't easily converted to dollars in the other world). Both quantities are hard to define (what is included and what is not?) and both quantities, especially the first one, heavily depend on people's decisions so they can't be "objectively" quantified in advance.

The real issue is that the climate is inseparable from the weather and using existing technologies, one can't control the weather at every place of the globe for any realistic price. So the price for "full mitigation" is de facto infinite. Let me tell you an example what I mean. A category 5 hurricane is a weather phenomenon but it does contribute to the "climate" – the weather averaged over a few decades etc. – so you may also count it as the climate phenomenon. A full-fledged program of "mitigation" could also require that there won't be any Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean anymore. I am not aware of a miraculous technology by which we could afford something like that today – or in the following decades. Even if you just decided to "ban" any hurricane that is stronger than all the hurricanes on the record, and that clearly could be interpreted as a sign of "climate change" if one decides to do so, you would have to pay an infinite price to be "sure".

But if you can't prevent some strong hurricanes or other potentially harmful weather phenomena, it can always be said that you haven't mitigated the climate phenomena that matter. You may always waste more money for "mitigation" but their effect on the things that matter will be negligible and perhaps negative. To summarize, the "price of mitigation" is a completely arbitrary number. It's really "the amount of money that people are willing to waste for no benefits that are described by meaningless phrases about global warming". It can be millions, it can be billions, it can be trillions, it can be quadrillions of dollars.

You can't really stop the weather phenomena now or in any foreseeable future. Even if you decided to regulate only the global mean temperature – which isn't really a too important quantity for anything that people are doing – you will fail. For dozens of trillions of dollars, you could suck the CO2 from the atmosphere and reduce the concentration of 400 ppm to something like 150 ppm at which plants stop growing. For various estimates of the sensitivity, such a reduction of CO2 could lower the temperature by one or several degrees.

But at some moment, Nature will bring us larger variations. In the year 60,000 AD, a new ice age will likely peak and the global mean temperature may be up to 10 °C lower than today. You won't be able to compensate this cooling by an increase of CO2 because you could need up to 5-10 doublings, to raise the CO2 concentration from 400 ppm at least above 10,000 ppm, but the atmosphere would become uncomfortable for breathing. (There would be many advantages, too.) More importantly, you won't really find the appropriate amount of carbon to burn anywhere. Also, the Earth will fight back by absorbing the excess CO2 (it's doing so today, devouring 2 ppm from the atmosphere every year). The higher it is, the more quickly it absorbs it. We won't be able to reach 10,000 ppm of CO2 by man-made emissions. Chances are that even 1000 ppm is too much for us to reach. In a few centuries, fossil fuels will "peak" in some definition and the CO2 will peak at a comparable moment. Maybe at 600 ppm, maybe at 1500 ppm, no one knows and it's not really important.

My broader point is that it is impossible, at least with the currently foreseeable technologies, to prevent the changes of the climate even if you nonsensically reduce the the concept of the climate to the global mean temperature only. So the "price of mitigation" is a quantity only encodes how much money people are going to waste for some verbally "justified" nonsense but the goal, the "mitigation", will not be achieved. It can't be achieved locally. It can't even be achieved when you talk about a single global quantity, at least not for an extended period of time.

The "price of adaptation" is somewhat less arbitrary but it's still largely ill-defined. People are adapting to changes, anyway. As I wrote in the paragraphs above, people will have to adapt and prepare for weather phenomena even if they would gain the control over the global mean temperature. So the "price of mitigation" still includes the "price of adaptation" because adaptation will always be needed, too.

Now, you may ask: Which expenses may be included into the "price of adaptation"? I don't know of an algorithm to separate the expenses to those that are about "adaptation" and those that are not. When you buy a heating system for your home, you are adapting and preparing your household for the likely drop of the temperature in the winter. The seasons are mostly natural and predictable – a winter is bound to happen sometime between November and March so you have to be ready and it's not about "climate change" – except that you can say the same thing about slower oscillations of the ocean-atmospheric coupled system, too. El Niños and La Niñas are almost guaranteed to occur sometime in the next and every 5 years (both of them). So it's also normal to get ready for these ENSO episodes. With various frequencies, hurricanes, drought, floods, and many other phenomena are guaranteed to arrive, too. The expenses meant to protect us and our assets from these things are always "partly climatic".

The separation of expenses to those linked to "adaptation" and those independent of "adaptation" is about hundreds of arbitrary administrative choices, too. At the end, the societies will adapt whether they invest any special money or not. Assuming that the mankind won't go extinct in the next 100 or 200 years, and it won't, it will be able to say that it will have adapted to the changes. If the mother of a family in the third world that is increasingly starving undergoes abortion, it is a way of adaptation, too. Another question is whether the mankind will be able to see that it could be better off if it will have made some or different investments (whatever is the right tense here). But a shrunk population or luxurious expenses is a way of adaptation, too.

My broader point here is that it makes no sense to ask whether the mankind has adapted or not. Whatever it has done, it has adapted as long as it survives. And of course that it will survive under the business-as-usual, at least if we neglect some non-climatic, more dangerous threats. For this reason, it's not possible to quantify the "price of adaptation" in any way.

So I would never find it appropriate to politicize expenses as "payments for mitigation" or "payments for adaptation". It's a nonsensical way of looking at things. We will adapt whatever we do and we will never mitigate weather phenomena whatever we do. If we make some expenses, we must have more specific reasons to do so than just "adaptation". We may want to make a city resilient towards 500-year floods, for example. But there will always be some phenomena that will leave us unprepared. It's a law of Nature. You (and societies) can't protect themselves against "every threat".

OK, I've spent way too much time with this ill-defined topic.

David Evans was asked a question that I am also asked quite often – how it was possible that so many scientists pay lip service to the global warming orthodoxy if the data seem to clearly show that there's no justification for fear. Do they abandon the scientific method? Sadly, yes, Evans answers. More importantly, he says that the scientists are also humans and they need to have jobs, to feed themselves, spouses, or kids, in some cases, and they just know that being incompatible with the CO2 ideology could be a threat for this kind of personal safety.

I assure you that these considerations are damn real and important.

At Harvard, my specialization wasn't linked to the climate in any direct way and the climate wasn't even in the top 5 of the "sensitive questions" that turned me into a foe of the prevailing left-wing academic establishment (be sure that feminism, blackism, and other demagogic victimisms were more important – and at some moment, even my opposition to the anti-physics attacks by crackpots such as Woit and Smolin must have become politically incorrect by itself because similar left-wing jerks largely "own" the broader academic environment, too). However, even when it comes to this utterly silly and unimportant topic – the global warming propaganda – I was made very sure that my inconvenient knowledge would have been enough to make my life in the Academia insufferable.

The most intense realization of this fact came when a Marxist slut – or what is precisely the politically correct term for her – called Naomi Oreskes was visiting Harvard. She had some friendly encounters with an important theoretical physicist, a nice guy and top expert who was left-wing but I would never consider him a true left-wing zealot (a highly pragmatic chap, in a sense). She learned that I publicly declared her work on the "scientific consensus" to be rubbish. So she sent some e-blackmail to me with copies resent to all senior names at Harvard whom she knew and considered important (the recipient list included the heads of Harvard's climate and Earth-sciences-related institutes and some senior physicists in my department: all of those remained silent as far as I could see). The e-blackmail "argued" that I was spitting on the 50-year-long work by the best scientists of the history (she meant crappy fraudsters like Michael Mann and herself) and something had to be done about it.

Just imagine what would happen if a conservative senior visiting professor bullied a young progressive female junior faculty member by resending his hateful threats requiring to "comply" with his preferred ideology to a collection of powerful white old men. Once the story would be leaked, The New York Times and 10 other major left-wing newspapers wouldn't write about anything else than this nationwide scandal for months. When exactly the same thing happens with the political sides switched, I simply had to suffer. I had no realistic defense against the slut's bullying. Try to write letters by the mouse pointer in the Flash above so that you avoid the shark. ;-)

Now imagine what changes if you take the story above and replace a string theorist with a junior faculty member who is doing research of climatology and adjacent disciplines. Obviously, the amount, frequency, and urgency of the threats will increase by an order (or orders) of magnitude. The elimination from the system is pretty much guaranteed if he or she is publicly against the orthodoxy. Moreover, imagine that most such young folks can't really afford to sacrifice a year of income, unlike me.

The Academia is so contaminated by dishonest and aggressive ideologues who can't really be removed from the system – many of them have tenure – that you can't or you shouldn't realistically hope that in the coming years, the atmosphere in the Academia when it comes to climate change will substantially change. Instead, what we must hope for is that the broader society gets educated and realizes that the community of scholars as it exists in the real world today simply cannot and shouldn't be trusted when it comes to any politically sensitive questions. When the Academia notices that its status will have changed, it may change its weights, too. But the initial impulse simply has to operate outside the Academia.


  1. I think it's a killer whale, but to connect with the greater topic, arguing with the global warmers is like arguing about the name of the killer whale.

    The name, size of it's mouth, rows of teeth , underwater speed and agility, coupled with it's higher intelligence and cooperative hunting technique, suggests that the beast would be an imminent danger for any human brave enough to venture into the ocean, but there has never been a case of a "Killer Whale" predating or injuring a swimmer in the wild.

    The name itself is a flaw. The whale is not a killer.
    I'm guessing in the dim past, a fisherman perhaps thought up a contraption to ward off the Orka, so he needed to create a demand for his contraption. The bullshit and propaganda stuck around, so that it's all that remains of some ancient con man's game.

    It stuck so well that now "shark" and "killer whale" are interchangably lumped together in the category of "You don't want to swim here."

  2. They are called "killer whales" because they kill whale namely young ones.