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EPA Employees Embrace Action on Climate:

Yesterday Public Employees for Environmental Protection released a "petition" signed by the presidents of 22 union locals of EPA employees calling on Congress to take action on global climate change. The letter, addressed to Congress, reads in part:

The climate changes we are witnessing are those that are largely due to human behavior. Therefore, we ask that a prudent environmental policy be put in place to take every reasonable step to abate and control GHG emissions. The voluntary and incentive-based programs to encourage the reduction in GHG emissions are not enough. We request that Congressional Leaders not only support a vigorous program of enforcement and reduction in GHG emissions, but also support research programs aimed at abating global warming through direct, cost-effective technological intervention (e.g., geo-engineering), while at the same time supporting policies and regulations that reduce GHG emission sources, in line with the principles of the Kyoto Protocol.
PEER says the letter's release was timed to conicide with the oral arguments in Massachusetts v. EPA. Yet other than the general subject matter -- global warming -- the letter has little to do with the case. While the signatories clearly advocate greater action on climate change, they've addressed themselves to Congress, caling for legislative action. Nowhere does the letter suggest that the EPA already has the legal authority to take the sorts of regulatory measures they support. To the contrary, the letter suggests that EPA's primary authority only extends to "voluntary" measures and energy conservation measures, as opposed to mandatory emission controls.

PEER also engages in a bit of overstatement in its effort to sell the story. For instance, PEER's release calls the letter a "petition" signed by "representatives for more than 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists." Yet the letter itself notes that the signatories represent "over 10,000 United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) environmental engineers, environmental scientists, environmental protection specialists and support staff." Characterizing all of these employees as "scientists" creates a much different impression than does acknowledging that those represented by the sigantories include "support staff" and others without scientific or technical training. Presumably the opinions of agency acientists would carry more weight on the urgency of climate change than that of others.

Mho (mail):
Regulators making an unsolicited call for more regulatory power. Now, that makes this citizen feel all warm and fuzzy.
11.30.2006 6:26pm
TomHynes (mail):
Any chance that "taking every reasonable step to abate and control GHG emissions" will increase the number of unionized EPA employees? The union leaders are just zealously representing their organizations.
11.30.2006 6:29pm
posterboy:
Jonathan, wasn't an issue in the case whether the scientific community had come to a consensus regarding whether climate change was caused by human factors? Seems this letter would be relevant.
11.30.2006 6:35pm
KeithK (mail):
Individuals who work for a government agency that creates and enforces environmental regulations are probably biased towards more regulation by nature. The fact that these individuals seek more regulation as a policy goal doesn't carry any particular weight in my mind.
11.30.2006 6:40pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Posterboy -

Short answer: No.

Long answer: First, the letter is not a letter by "scientists" exclusively, as I note in the post. Second, that's not an issue in the case. The questions are 1) whether the petitioners have standing, 2) whether the Clean Air Act confers authority on the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, and 3) if the EPA has such authority, whether it properly justified its refusal toe exercise such authority. As even the petitioners' attorney acknowledged at oral argument, the existence of a scientific consensus is not determinative of any of these arguments (though it could constrain the EPA's discretion if the case is remanded).

JHA
11.30.2006 6:50pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
Hey, who can blame them? They're with the government, so they must have our best interests at heart.

When this year's brutal, er, I mean non-existent hurricane season followed last year's brutal hurricane season, the effects of global warming were proven. Global warming - it makes it stormy-er, and less stormy, all at the same time.

Actually, I'm coming to believe in that Gaia theory, that the earth goddess is angry at us, and we need to sacrifice some Hummers and Ford Expeditions plus a whole lot of economic prosperity to propitiate them.
11.30.2006 7:21pm
posterboy:
Thanks JHA.
11.30.2006 7:21pm
ray_g:
If I read the post and PEER's press release correctly, the only people who actually signed this petition were the 22 union officials, and nowhere did it mention how these representatives determined their constituent's opinions. So basically, some union bosses signed this. To say, as they do on their web page, that 10,000 EPA scientists signed this, is a big, fat, lie. Thought experiment: if your Senator or Representative signed a petition that you disagreed with, would you want people to claim that you signed it?
11.30.2006 7:27pm
Bub (mail):
I would be interested to hear why some of those commenting believe global warming is not happening or is not a threat to our future. Educate me, but with scientific fact please, not big-government conspiracies.
11.30.2006 7:31pm
Steven Plunk (mail):
Bub,

I would suggest visiting Junkscience.com for information concerning the dubious nature of man made global warming and the emerging industry surrounding it's supporters.

I have read arguments on both sides and can conclude nothing for sure. But I can certainly say we are far from "consensus".

Common sense tells me that we should slow down and look closer rather than expect the sky to fall, the tipping point reached, or the next hurricane season to destroy the United States. Idiots like Al Gore want us to think those sorts of things.
11.30.2006 7:38pm
KeithK (mail):
I would be interested to hear why some of those commenting believe global warming is not happening or is not a threat to our future. Educate me, but with scientific fact please, not big-government conspiracies.I believe that temperature data indicates a recent rise in global average temperatures. I am not convinced that this rise is due primarily by anthropogenic factors. While a majority of climate scientists tend to think that CO2 and humna factors are the driving force there is still plenty of debate. Having a reasonable understanding of complex mathematical systems and mathematical models (PhD in engineering) I am skeptical about the ability of climate scientists to predict long term trends accurately. Even if temperatures are rising primarily due to human factors I find it far from certain that the results of this will be univerally bad. The earth has been warmer in the past during recorded history (e.g. around 1000 AD) and as I understand it the warmth was a boon to human civilization. I am even more skeptical about the ability to predict the effects of climate change than I am of the ability to predict the change in the first place.

I think the tendency of some to act like there is complete consensus that the world is coming to an end as a result of CO2 production makes those who aren't convinced more skeptical.
11.30.2006 7:45pm
Kevin P. (mail):

Having a reasonable understanding of complex mathematical systems and mathematical models (PhD in engineering) I am skeptical about the ability of climate scientists to predict long term trends accurately.


I am a Chemical Engineer by training and worked as a process engineer in a semiconductor wafer factory for many years. Predicting temperature changes was a hard thing to do even for semiconductor processing tools smaller than a single room. We can't predict local weather changes that are more accurate than a few days, and I am very skeptical that we have the ability to predict the climate of the entire planet. In fact, the predictions that the Earth will warm by an average of 2.4 (!) degrees seem fantastic (and arrogant) to me.

I have looked into some of the science of global warming. It fundamentally consists of various actual and proxy temperature readings fed into continually refined statistical models. In my job as a process engineer, I used Statistical Designed Experiments and rapidly learned that you could easily make a statistical model tell you whatever you wanted it to. In the factory, however, I was able to see if the model was accurate by measuring the actual performance of semiconductor chips that I experimented on. Nobody has the corresponding ability to experiment with the entire planet and validate climate models.

I am open to the belief that the earth is warming and that humans are partly responsible for the warming. However, both propositions are far from proven, as far as I am concerned. And the word "consensus" is meaningless in the context of science. You can either prove something with evidence and repeatable experiments, or you can't. Global warming falls into the latter category. If you need to claim consensus, then you don't have scientific proof. It is as simple as that.

And finally: is global warming such a bad thing? I think it would be better than another ice age.
11.30.2006 8:00pm
Ramza:
Hopefully this will sway the non judicial branches a certain way instead of swaying the 9 justices on the Supreme Court.


As for whether global warming is happening, and or its man induced. Is different than giving more authority to the EPA, energy trading, or doing other measures to curb greenhouse gasses through things such vehicile mileage standards and power plant standards. Some of those soltuions may do more harm or cost more than benefit the provide. Additionally while global warming may cause harms to some groups, and may be "chaotic" it may provide benefits to other groups, off the top of my head artic shipping and longer growing seasons.

Fact of the matter Global Warming is never "cut and dry."
11.30.2006 8:02pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
Posterboy:

Jonathan, wasn't an issue in the case whether the scientific community had come to a consensus regarding whether climate change was caused by human factors? Seems this letter would be relevant.

Adler:

Short answer: No.

From yesterday's transcript:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, there's a lot of conjecture about whether -- I gather that there's something of a consensus on warming, but not a consensus on how much of that is attributable to human activity.

The Bush Administration continues to throw sand in people's eyes over climate, and that affects standing if there's doubt about injury.
11.30.2006 8:25pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
I should add that doubts about science can also be used by EPA for the alternate argument - that even if they have discretion to regulate CO2, doubts about the science make it better for them to not issue regs.
11.30.2006 8:34pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):

Nobody has the corresponding ability to experiment with the entire planet and validate climate models.


Exactly, that is why the science will never be perfect and we have to accept the shortcomings. It doesn't make sense to argue that we should wait until the science is perfect to only then address the issue, knowing full well that the science will never be perfect.

I am not a fan of runaway scientific theories, but this is far from it. No model can predict anything perfectly. That is an unreasonable standard. The question is, given that there is abundant empirical evidence and broad scientific consensus to back up the theory that humans are causing warming, and a lack of a competing theory, how do we weigh the risks of action versus inaction. That is the better line of debate, rather than the nonsensical debate about the science behind global warming by those who fail to put up a more plausible theory.

The accuracy of the model's predictability is not that important because these models use a range of expected outcomes. Some people will choose the lower end, some the higher end. And part of the calculation will have to be the risk that we are wrong in whatever choice we make. But that doesn't mean the status quo is the best response.
11.30.2006 8:53pm
Byomtov (mail):
JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, there's a lot of conjecture about whether -- I gather that there's something of a consensus on warming, but not a consensus on how much of that is attributable to human activity.

Let's not forget that Scalia thinks creationism is a reasonable non-religious point of view. His unmerited reputation for brilliance notwithstanding, he ought not be allowed within 100 miles of any scientific question.
11.30.2006 9:39pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Woodstock:

Exactly, that is why the science will never be perfect and we have to accept the shortcomings. It doesn't make sense to argue that we should wait until the science is perfect to only then address the issue, knowing full well that the science will never be perfect.


"Perfect" science is a strawman that you are erecting. I did not use the word perfect.

I am completely skeptical of anthropogenic global warming theory. It is a bunch of statistical models that can't be verified. And like I said, the word "consensus" is meaningless in science. You can prove your position or you can't.
11.30.2006 10:03pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"No model can predict anything perfectly. That is an unreasonable standard. The question is, given that there is abundant empirical evidence and broad scientific consensus to back up the theory that humans are causing warming, and a lack of a competing theory, how do we weigh the risks of action versus inaction."

The truth of a scientific assertion does not depend on consensus. Consensus has been wrong too often to rely on it. Here are some examples.

1. Eugenics: In the 1920s eugenics had wide acceptance among biologists, the media, politicians, and the public. We now know their biological theory (this is before DNA) was bogus, but it had consensus. Eugenics led to great harm both in the US and Europe.

2. The census of the medical profession before 1937 was that pellagra was an infectious disease instead of a deficiency of vitamin B3 (niacin). Overcoming the consensus was an uphill battle. Numerous experiments, like injecting the blood and other body fluids from people suffering from pellagra into healthy subjects did not infect them. Pellagra was induced into to healthy prison inmates by feeding them a diet deficient in vitamin B3. They got pellagra. Consensus was exactly wrong.

3. In the 1980s the Nuclear Winter proposed and calculated by Carl Sagan gained a wide consensus. The theory fell apart completely with better models. I know someone who watched Sagan fume as he sat through a talk disproving his theory.

4. Acid Rain: The threat of acid rain to forests, lakes, rivers, buildings and wildlife had consensus in the 1970s and 1980s. This bogus theory was taught to schoolchildren like the Piltdown man forgery. In the 1990s a massive government study costing nearly $500 million proved acid rain was a minor problem. Natural processes caused most of the high acid levels in NY lakes. The theory had wide acceptance. It took better science and more data to refute the consensus.

5. Anthropology: Most anthropologists believed that pre-state people were largely peaceful and warfare was a minor problem. This idea had almost universal acceptance. The theory is completely wrong. Warfare in pre-state people was almost ubiquitous and continuous. See the War Before Civilization by Lawrence Keeley.

6. String Theory: This theory has been the dominant paradigm for high energy particle physics research for about the last thirty years. It was supposed to lead to the "theory of everything," unifying gravity and quantum mechanics surpassing the standard model from 1970. Again the theory had and has wide consensus. Today this theory is coming apart. In fact it's not even a theory but a landscape of 10^500 theories. It can't be confirmed on falsified. See the two books Not Even Wrong and The Trouble With Physics, two recently published books.

It should be obvious by now that consensus among scientists is a very weak argument. In all the examples cited above people were just as sure that the theory must be right.

A model does not have to be perfect, but it has to be stable. If small changes in the assumptions or parameters or data lead to big changes in the predictions, the model is not reliable enough for policy-making purposes. The physics of cloud formation is not well understood. Increased cloud coverage leads to cooling, while raising the level of the cloud top leads to warming. Here is a quote from A Climate Modeling Primer (a pro global warming book) "… the radiative calculations do suggest that even the direction of positive cloud feedback on surface temperature is far from obvious." If clouds kill positive co2-water vapor feedback mechanism, then increases in co2 will not be amplified by induced increases in water vapor. Without this amplification, the amount of warming is greatly reduced.
11.30.2006 11:17pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Jonathan, this is a rather disingenouous post.

You really do not disagree with the substance of the joint letter, but choose to quibble over whether it is really a "petition" and whether the signatories in fact represent "more than 10,000 EPA scientists, engineers and other technical specialists" as noted in the press release, or whether that 10,000 figure is padded with non-specialist support staff.

In addition, you choose to discredit the letter by referring to it as "selling a story", even it's a story that I imagine you agree with - that climate change is a looming problem and that if the federal government is to seriously address climate change mitigation and adaptation, that exisiting regulatory tools are insufficient and additional legislation would be needed. What troubles you about having EPA employees on your side?

Also, your implicit criticism of rent-seeking by the EPA unions is interesting, but undeveloped, unbalanced and in part besides the point. Can you think of any other examples of rent-seeking at work in the domestic debate? It would be instructive to go through the chief ones (pardon me if I missed them in your earlier posts).

I would note that while the PEER petition may be seen as a plea to Congress to give more regulatory authority to the EPA, it is not expressly stated, and there are other parts of the executive branch that have a fair chance of getting substantial chunks of the action, like DOE. While the PEER letter requests Congressional action, it is hardly dictating what Congress may or may not do.

Of course you've taken your eye off the bigger point, behind all of the domestic jockeying for position by regulators, industry and enviros, is that the atmosphere is an open-access common resource, which users can exploit for free while shifting their costs to others. Tragedies of the commons for resources like these can be avoided only with effective agreement among the resource users globally. The EPA employees are positioning themselves to be part of an eventual solution, while the rent-seekers who benefit at the cost of us all iwsh to protect their private gains. While I hardly suppose you intend to be an advocate for inaction in principle, you must be aware that that is how many perceive you.

Finally, you've mistated the full name of PEER.
11.30.2006 11:28pm
Therut:
Just another example of why I would never join a Union. What does this have to do with working conditions, wages, benefits???????????? Not a dang thing. Unless as above it is to make more government jobs.
11.30.2006 11:45pm
Joe7 (mail):
Three points:

1) The alleged rise in temperature in the 20th century is less than the margin of error of thermometers used for at least the first half of that century.

2) The amount of carbon dioxide produced from the 1940s through the 1970s was much greater than that from 1900 to the 1940s, but the temperature decreased during this period.

3) Computer models could be verified by applying data from the 1950s, which is reasonably accurate, and using it to predict conditions in subsequent years. I have yet to see a replicated study showing a successful test with this conditions.

To make this more fun, what if we start with 1930? Would it predict the decline in temperature from the mid-40s to the early 70s?
12.1.2006 12:15am
kovo62 (mail):
Surface temperature readings is not a good metric for climate change. Some of the increase in temperatures is indeed a result of human action but co2 may just be a very mim=nor part of that. Changes in land use has a direct effect on surface temperatures and the 20th century as see great change in land use; deforestation, urban sprawl, etc. In theory, even if the planet were experiencing slight global cooling we would still expect to see higher average temperature readings. Ocean heat content is a better metric.
In addition to human factors, there exist many other climate factors, solar radiation, ocean cycles, albedo, cloud formation, cosmic rays, natural variation, and maybe many factors we do not yet understand. What proportion of warming is actually caused by co2 and for that matter, what is the optimal amoumt of co2 in atmosphere? Do we know? Could a higher concentration of co2 actually be a blessing in disguise? Could those who would expect to benifit from more co2 sew for damages against those who deliberately intervened to lower co2 concentrations?
12.1.2006 4:26am
A. Zarkov (mail):
kovo62:

You bring up some very good points. However I like to point out that the climate modelers have an answer for the urban heating island. They claim the effect is minimal amounting to only .05 C of the observed warming over the last century. They quote from a recent nature article.


Urban heat islands occur mainly at night and are reduced in windy conditions. Here we show that, globally, temperatures over land have risen as much on windy nights as on calm nights, indicating that the observed overall warming is not a consequence of urban development.



I don't think this is the weak point of the global warming advocates. I think it's the cloud physics as I said above.
12.1.2006 5:46am
kovo62 (mail):
Zarkov:
Thank you for the links. It seems to me that even .05 C is rather significant. This would represent 7-8% of the warming by itself, while urbanization is only part of the land use change phenomenon. Much of what we consider rural areas have changed as well accounting for many more millions of acres of land than urbanization. Do we add another 8% for this? Factoring all of this out makes the overall warming trend look at least a bit less impressive, especially since we're comparing it to a relatively cold period of our present interglacial period...
12.1.2006 9:14am
Random3 (mail):
This is one of the more interesting global warming threads I have seen on this site, or any site, in a while. Probably this is due to the fact that there are some actual scientists and engineers (rather than just lawyers) making points about verifiable scientific facts, or lack thereof, in the global warming debate. I think Kevin P. lays out the skeptic argument as succinctly as I've seen it put, and I continue to think it supports the basis of a very powerful argument against doing anything about global warming (the other part of that argument is to consider the possible widespread benefits, not just costs, of global warming, should it occur). Keith K and Woodstock have also made good points on the skeptic side. The bottom line is that in real science, the verifiable facts have to support your hypothesis, and in the case of the anthropogenic global warming theory, the verifiable facts do not support the theory. No amount of arguments from authority (e.g., we have a "consensus") can obscure this fundamental problem. I too can dial the knobs on a computer model to make the various temperature data surrogates say whatever you want them to say. Models are not reality. As an aside, the wonderful thing about an education in hard science is that it provides you with a powerful BS detector in these sorts of debates, should you choose to employ it. You are not required to take on faith the mystical consensus pronouncements of the high priests of global warming. It really is not that hard to spot the problems with the theory if you approach the issue with a critical mind. I'm very heartened by the fact that other scientists and engineers have taken the time to judge this theory using the same standards as any other scientific theory, and have readily come to the same conclusion as I have. The global warming theory has a very fundamental problem in that it is not supported by the verifiable data. Until it does, I will continue to judge it as eco-politics dressed up as science.
12.1.2006 9:32am
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
TokyoTom-

While I disagree with Jonathan on the Mass. case, I think his point in this post is legitimate. The EPA employees shouldn't be misrepresented as scientists when many/most of them aren't. It parallels somewhat the completely bogus Oregon Petition signed by "scientists" that doubts global warming.

Global warming skeptics on this thread-

Just FYI, I and other people have been trying to find global warming skeptics to bet us over whether global warming is happening, and we've had very little success. Prominent denialists like Lindzen, Michaels, Gray, and others are willing to bet other people's lives but not their own money based on their own predictions. BUT, if unlike the denialist leadership, you think the science is unproven and you're willing to put your money where your mouth is, take a look at the bets here.

And if you like the oh-so-convenient dodge that it's merely a natural warming from the pre-1850 cold spell, then I'll bet you that warming will accelerate.

Don't want to bet merely because you're just uncertain over global warming? You're choosing your bet decision based on the possibility of warming. Congratulations for supporting the precautionary principle. Might want to be consistent about that.
12.1.2006 10:51am
Kevin P. (mail):

Prominent denialists like Lindzen, Michaels, Gray, and others are willing to bet other people's lives but not their own money based on their own predictions. BUT, if unlike the denialist leadership...


If you use the word denialist to describe those who are skeptical, can we say that you are faith-based in your belief in global warming?

Another reason to be skeptical of the global warming theory - that its adherents feel the need to achieve consensus by shouting down and smearing their skeptics as denialists. They wouldn't need to do this if they were able to prove their theory with evidence.
12.1.2006 10:55am
Kevin P. (mail):
Here is another example of scientific "consensus" - gastritis and peptic ulcer disease which for decades was understood by consensus to be caused by stress and lifestyle. Quote:


This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who with tenacity and a prepared mind challenged prevailing dogmas. By using technologies generally available (fibre endoscopy, silver staining of histological sections and culture techniques for microaerophilic bacteria), they made an irrefutable case that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori is causing disease.
12.1.2006 11:04am
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
Kevin P-

Feel free to call me anything you want, if you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. Shall we bet?
12.1.2006 11:36am
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Sounds to me like the union leaders are trying to drum up some additional jobs - and members to inflate the union coffers and the union's power and prestige. Or perhaps they have a personal agenda re: global warming, which they are trying to use the union's prestige and power to advance, the way the teachers' unions push things like gun control and so forth.

As for Global warming, while I am sure that human-generated CO2 has some small effect, we have within historical memory seen far more drastic climate changes caused by natural causes - the Medieval maximum and the Maunder Minimum or Little Ice Age.

While it might be nice to have more efficient energy production and usage that doesn't involve burning fossil fuel, the more rational reasons would be scarcity of a natural resource that might be better used for chemical production than energy and the pollution resulting from burning fossil fuels - not present with nuclear and other alternative energy sources.
12.1.2006 11:56am
kovo62 (mail):
Denialists? I don't know about any denialists. I, for one, accept climate change as a fact. But because I see climate as a highly complex system and I accept the possibility that many factors play as role, I am not convinced that co2 represents the most important factor, but even if it did, I'm not convinced that warming is bad for the planet. Maybe it is, but the alarmists with their quasi-religious apocaliptic zealotry haven't convinced me. Calculations of how much water is stored on Antartica and Greenland and how much it could add to sea levels is and will continue to be irrelevant scare tactics until plate-tectonics moves Antartica to different latitutes, and that will be not be measured in decades or centuries but in millions of years. Until then, warmer air temperatures could actually help build up the ice. We contiually see pictures and films of ice melting and icebergs calving but we don't see films of what is happenning at the same time, namely precipitation over central Greenland and Antartica.
12.1.2006 11:58am
Woodstock (mail) (www):
Feel free to throw up examples of consensus on false theories. That is not evidence. Gravity and General Relativity also have consensus but that doesn't mean they are automatically false. The difference is that when those theories you cite were disproven, it was because they completed failed to correspond with the evidence, while other theories succeeded.

So far, no other theory has credibly explained the recent warming trend across the globe. If the "null hypothesis" is natural variation, as many seem to think, that hypothesis has been rejected with a high degree of confidence, since recent warming falls well outside the range of natural variation for the last 100,000 years.

So if you dispute the fact of there being statistically significant warming in the last few years, you are arguing in the face of evidence. To continue your argument, you therefore must present an ALTERNATE theory of why warming is taking place.

Many skeptics of global warming theory take to simply attacking the models. The models are not the theory, they are a tool devised to try to predict the effects of specific increases in CO2. Most skeptics actually seem to accept global warming theory, but then simply attack the specific coefficients used in various parts of the model(such as the cloud effect). I am not defending the models. It is a tough job to predict anything, and any policy response that relies entirely on models, and takes their predictions as fact, is terrible policy. But don't dispute global warming if you only have a problem with the models.

I think of global warming theory as being similar to the theory of evolution. Both theories are so complex that the exact mechanisms on a micro level are often not explained, but they have still been accepted as true because their overall structure appears to be accurate.

Is recent warming on a trend that appears to be significant? Is the primary explanation for that trend likely to be natural or man-made? If man-made, is CO2 emission likely to be the primary factor causing warming? --these are the questions that underpin global warming theory...not the specific coefficient on the cloud cover function on some scientists' computer models.

When people say global warming is not proven, I actually agree, but no theory is ever proven. Keep in mind Karl Poppers falsification principle, which states that no theory can ever be proven true, but wrong theories can be proven false. Science moves forward based on the false theories being disproven, leaving only theories that are LIKELY to be true but can never be said to be 100% truth.

So disputing global warming is not enough. I could dispute the theory of gravity if I wanted. You have to show how the evidence falls outside the most broad construction of the theory. And then you need to show an alternate theory that is more explanatory of the evidence.

If people follow these principles in the global warming debate, I believe the opposition will significantly narrow.
12.1.2006 12:21pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):
The question of whether warming is good or bad on an overall level is not relevant from a legal policy standpoint. If you believe that it is overall good, and that we should therefore ignore the many losers--islands that will be submerged, cities that will be underwater, ski resorts that will close, agriculture interests that will be destroyed---you are arguing for the kind of broad social engineering that you probably dispute in other policy.

There will be winners and losers. But if factories and car emissions are causing the destruction of property or other interests, even if others benefit, then that is a legitimate reason for the impaired property owners to demand policy action. If natural variation is the cause, there is no cause to prevent. All that matters is a causal link be established between an offender and the destruction of my property...then I can demand policy action or sue the offenders.
12.1.2006 12:36pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Brian Schmidt,
What is this betting or not betting on the bets you propose supposed to prove? Some people just don't like betting. Even if they are 100% confident in their position many would rather give to their favorite charity $2K now rather than permit LongBets to collect 25 years of interest and then fork over their donation plus their winnings. (The time delay in the donation would be my main reason for not wanting to tie up my charitable contribution-- particularly since my current favorite charity is to help my friend Jenny get a heart lung transplant!)

Anyway, aside from all the general reasons not to take up bets of this sort, research scientists and engineers typically don't place real money on the correctness of any theories or models in their own area of research. There are lots of good reasons for this. I could give them but I'll skip straight to analogies: Placing real money on these things is a bit like judges evaluating disputes that affect their own financial interest. It's like athletes placing bets on their own games.

And why is the one data based bet you placed be so poorly worded. Do you mean "I bet the 2025 global average temperature measured using instrument set "X" (or that approved by panel Y etc.) will exceed the global average temperature measured by the same set in 2005?" Or do you want to compare the 5 year average global average temperature centered around Jan 2005 and Jan 2025? (To take out noise.) Or what?

Even if this betting system didn't transfer 25 years of accumulated interest into LongBet's pockets, you really need to word these things so there can be no argument who won when 2025 arrives. (Also, out of curiosity, does LongBets post the challenges so visitors can read them and also know whether bettor's have declined any? )
12.1.2006 12:39pm
Tom952 (mail):
I have a signed petition that says "Cease funding for the science-as-religion departments of the EPA"
12.1.2006 1:23pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
lucia-

I apologize for failing to meet your standards on wording. You ask:


And why is the one data based bet you placed be so poorly worded. Do you mean "I bet the 2025 global average temperature measured using instrument set "X" (or that approved by panel Y etc.) will exceed the global average temperature measured by the same set in 2005?" Or do you want to compare the 5 year average global average temperature centered around Jan 2005 and Jan 2025? (To take out noise.) Or what?



Either one is fine - the offer is followed up with negotiatons over details, as are the other longbet predictions. And maybe you'd like your favorite charity to double the money it receives, by winning money away from rubes like me. Longbets says it gives the interest to the winner's charity too.

My bet was challenged, and the challenger failed to respond to my repeated efforts to negotiate details. I never heard back from him. Longbets doesn't appear to post challenges, I think it would be useful if they did.
12.1.2006 1:34pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Brian Schmidt, placing bets on science and engineering is stupid and infantile. Find someone in a kindergarten to bet with you.

Woodstock, there are few practical consequences to debating the theory of gravity or evolution. Both are useful in academics, but have little effect on daily human life and decision making. The theory of global warming is being used to advocate for large changes in the way we do business and live today. That places the burden of proof upon the advocate, not the skeptic.
12.1.2006 2:28pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
Kevin P, your side of the spectrum tends to have a different perspective on the Simon-Ehrlich bet. The unwillingness to bet when charities will receive all the winnings is a good indication that it's not maturity stopping your side from betting.
12.1.2006 2:32pm
Kevin P. (mail):
If Simon and Ehrlich want to bet, that is their business, and presumably yours too.

I have been an engineer for nearly 20 years, and have helped advanced the frontiers of my science and profession. I have never had any interest in or understanding of why I or anyone else would place bets on a scientific debate.

I read through the comment thread again, and notice that, unlike Woodstock, you have not actually attempted to contradict anything that any skeptic has said so far. I suspect that you have little grasp of the science (maybe you are only a lawyer?), and so resort to childish taunting about betting. Debate the evidence and the theory, or visit Las Vegas.

Feel free to sputter more if you like, it's a free thread.
12.1.2006 2:39pm
lucia (mail) (www):
And maybe you'd like your favorite charity to double the money it receives, by winning money away from rubes like me.

I'm not sure you understood why doubling my money 25 years from now is not attractive.

First problem: At 5% interest, in 25 years, my money should more than double. I figured this out thusly: [(1+0.05)^^25-1]= 2.38. This is greater than 2; my money more than doubles if I don't bet. If I win the bet it doubles; if I lose I get nothing.

My understanding of compound interest and fiscal conservatism prevents me from wasting my money in this way. I should think this alone would prevent nearly any rational thinking person from placing a 25 year bet at LongBets.

Second problem: My current charity is a young woman who needs a double lung transplant very, very soon. Sending her money in 25 years will do absolutely no good.

For the record, I did not accuse you of being a rube. I simply pointed out some obvious reasons why people who are 100% confident in their predictions would not take the specific bet you actually posted.
12.1.2006 2:41pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):
The theory of gravity and evolution DO NOT have practical effects on daily life? Are you kidding? I live my life on the ASSUMPTION that if I walk outside my door I will not fly up into the air. And governments build hydroelectric dams on the assumption that water flows downhill.

Just because the theory of global warming is being used to advocate for changes in how we live doesn't mean we need to automatically reject it. Rather, it is an incentive for figuring out what's going on.

This debate would be easier if the skeptics accepted that global warming was probably true and instead turned to the specific predictions of temperature increases. The tendency to equate the computer models with the overall theory is debating "in bad faith" from the standpoint of the global warming adherents. If the underlying theory were accepted by more people, then the environmentalists would feel less need to be melodramatic about the practical consequences of the theory. Then we could have a realistic debate about how well we can predict temperature increases and the risks of inaction versus action.
12.1.2006 2:44pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Oh-- I should note: I make no predictions about global climate change at all.
12.1.2006 2:59pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Woodstock:

The theory of gravity and evolution DO NOT have practical effects on daily life? Are you kidding? I live my life on the ASSUMPTION that if I walk outside my door I will not fly up into the air. And governments build hydroelectric dams on the assumption that water flows downhill.

The first human child learned 40,000 years ago that things fall down and water flows downhill. Humankind structured its life around these observable facts well before learning, science, technology and Isaac Newton. Nobody waited for the theory of gravity to understand why this was happening, or changed their life after hearing about the theory. Even today, the actual utility of the theory of gravity as a predictive tool is rare and limited to a few abstract applications like gravimeters.

The theory of global warming is nowhere near as obvious and predictable, sorry.


This debate would be easier if the skeptics accepted that global warming was probably true and instead turned to the specific predictions of temperature increases. The tendency to equate the computer models with the overall theory is debating "in bad faith" from the standpoint of the global warming adherents.


The computer models ARE the theory. They claim to correlate the hundreds of factors that affect temperature and claim to explain its trends into the future. Take away the computer models and there is nothing that you can predict. You are right that the model is the tool, but in the case of global warming, the tool is also the theory. I have used computer models for a living, where my job as a process engineer was on the line if I screwed up. I fail to see why you claim that I am debating you in "bad faith". My skepticism is deeper - I find it doubtful that ANY computer model that predict ANYTHING about the long term climate trends of the planet.
12.1.2006 3:02pm
Kevin P. (mail):
I agree with lucia above. I too make no predictions about global climate change. In the next century, it might:
On average, increase.
On average, decrease.
On average, stay about the same.
Increase on average in some places and decrease in others.

This is about as much as anyone can predict.
12.1.2006 3:04pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):

The computer models ARE the theory.


Sorry, you are just wrong. The models are not the theory, just as a model proclaiming to predict how humans would evolve would not be a theory of evolution. The theory of evolution only states that biological life has evolved and will continue to evolve.

The theory of global warming only states that as long as CO2 increases, temperatures will tend to increase.

Just like a model used by the federal reserve for predicting economic growth next quarter is not the theory of free markets. They are only an extrapolation of that theory, and attacking that model for not being 100% accurate is not evidence of the underlying theory being false. There will always be natural error in statistical analysis, that is why the concept exists. But the theories from which these predictive tools are derived survive any instance of them being off the mark, as long as no other tool is better at predicting actual outcomes.
12.1.2006 3:14pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):
What angers proponents of global warming theory is not the people who argue about the models being inaccurate or having natural error.

It is the general rhetoric from people who refuse to even accept the basic principles of scientific debate by saying things like:

-it is just a theory
-it is not proven
-the jury is still out
-there is not enough evidence

These things are true of all scientific theories, but this is what you hear from people who dispute evolution, and it is true from many people who dispute global warming. It is this kind of rhetorical avoidance of the theory that angers proponents. Much better to say things like this:

-There is not enough evidence, and here is my standard of evidence
-It is not proven, and it is highly unlikely to be true for such and such a reason
-It is not proven, and here is another theory that works even better
-It is probably true, but here is why I don't think we should do anything about it
-It is probably true, and the computer models are somewhat accurate predictors of temperature increases, but not accurate enough to base policy on

All of these further the debate. But what you typically hear from skeptics does not and only serves to heighten the stakes and make believers more infuriated.
12.1.2006 3:26pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Shoot... but my math sucks to day! Due to low blood sugar caused my exertion shoveling all that "global climate change snow" that dropped in my driveway, I subtracted 1 in the formula I used above. That means my in 25 years, the interest alone would be more 2.38 my bet. The money available to give my charity would more than triple.

So my options are:
1) Don't take bet. Invest 2K at 5% compounded annually. Give my charity 6.77 K 25 years from now.
2) Place bet:
a) If I win, my charity gets 4K.
b) If I lose, my charity gets 0K.

Conclusion: People who enter into this 25 year bet prefer to fritter away money rather benefit their charity!
12.1.2006 3:27pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Woodstock (mail) (www):

What angers proponents of global warming theory is not the people who argue about the models being inaccurate or having natural error.

Anger and emotion have no place in scientific debate.

Argue the evidence or stay out of the debate and keep your blood pressure low. Claiming that your opponents make you angry is not evidence for the correctness of your position.
12.1.2006 3:44pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):
Stop twisting my position around.

I am not saying that anger is evidence. Show me where I said that.

I only said that the scientific debate about global warming is not productive as long as many on one side refuse to engage in honest, good faith debate. In fact, my point is that anger doesn't have a place in scientific debate, and that is why both sides of any debate should be honest and concede as much ground as they can while holding the turf that makes sense. Both sides are guilty of this and it results in anger on both sides...which is not fruitful.
12.1.2006 4:25pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Woodstock:

"Feel free to throw up examples of consensus on false theories. That is not evidence. Gravity and General Relativity also have consensus but that doesn't mean they are automatically false."

The examples are evidence that consensus in itself does not verify the theory. Many people argue that we should take action on global warming because a consensus of scientists agrees.

There is general, but not universal consensus on General Relativity because it's not consistent with quantum mechanics, which enjoys an even bigger consensus. Here's one problem. Relatively assumes the speed of light (in a vacuum) is the same in all inertial reference frames. That means the lengths of things are not invariant, but change with reference frame. But in quantum mechanics the Planck length is the smallest distance that can exist and it's an invariant. But how can it be an invariant in all reference frames and thus be consistent with Relativity Theory? Moreover in the first confirmation of General Relativity Eddington actually fudged the data a little. He dropped some data points that he really had no business doing. With those points the confidence interval for the star displacement overlaps the value of the Newtonian value (which is not zero). Now it he was right and those points were outliers, but he was lucky.
12.1.2006 4:33pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):

Many people argue that we should take action on global warming because a consensus of scientists agrees.


I am not one of those people. I think very few proponents of global warming theory hold this view.

Their point in citing that fact is simply to say that if you dispute the theory, you need to have a really good reason, because there are a lot of really really smart people who have studied it and think that global warming is the result of greenhouse gases. They are not citing it as evidence, but as a means to shift the burden of proof to the other side where it belongs.
12.1.2006 4:44pm
Woodstock (mail) (www):
And I probably shouldn't say "burden of proof," but "burden of inquiry." If you are going to dispute the consensus, you need evidence or an alternate theory.
12.1.2006 4:54pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
Lucia-

Longbets says the winning charity gets all the bet money plus interest from all the bet money.

And as for the argument that no one can predict what will happen with the weather, therefore we can't set odds, nobody really believes that. My proof is that I'll bet temps will be colder in 10 years if given 20:1 odds in my favor. I think most people would take my side of that bet if they could find a chump willing to take the other side. In other words, it is possible to establish odds, but the denialists are unwilling to take odds that reflect their expressed disbelief in warming.
12.1.2006 5:02pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Brian, I did miss your statement that LongBets paid the interest, so I didn't account for that. So, I'm sorry about that.

However, LongBets does not give all the interest. The bettor's agreement says they give 50% of the net investment returns.

http://www.longbets.org/agreement

The grant or grants will equal the amount of the donations comprising the Long Bet plus 50 percent of the net investment returns attributable to the donations; subject to any investment losses.


I also have no clue how reliable their investment fund is. Is a prospectus provided? What rate of return has that fund been achieving? What fees do the fund managers charge &etc?

Will figuring out how I stand to benefit if I win be a major research project for me. Because frankly, if I were remotely motivated to gamble my charitable donations (which I'm not), or wait many years to donate them (which I'm not) that would be pretty unattractive!

But, as to your "proof" by offering this 20:1 odds bet: I don't gamble. So could you clarify somethig for me.

I mean... are you saying "If the temperature falls, you pay me $20 and if it rises I pay you $1? Or the opposite? (Also not asking this for rhetorical effect. You may be stunned to discover it, but many people don't gamble for a variety of reasons. Mine is that I find gambling pretty boring.)
12.1.2006 5:53pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
Lucia-

Fifty percent of twice your initial investment (both bettors' stake) equals 100% of the interest of you just investing your stake. So assuming your investment strategy isn't better than theirs, then your charity comes out even on interest but get twice the capital. I don't know the details of their investment strategy.

You understood my 20:1 odds on temps cooling correctly - it roughly translates a 95% bet probability that temps will warm instead of cool. The point is that it's possible to calculate odds that people would be willing to bet over. You can see from the odds I'll give that I think it's very likely that temperatures will warm.
12.1.2006 6:38pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Brian:
First: The details of the investment strategy would be important to a rational person trying to benefit their charity. I'm astonished a person who wishes to benefit a charity rather than just throw money down the toilet wouldn't look into that.

Second: I'm not planning to bet. But I'm darn curious about what you are actually claiming to be willing to do. So, I want to clarify further.

Based on the clarification of the definition of 20:1 odds, I'll describe what I would understand to be you betting the temperature will be colder in 10 years with 20:1 odds in your favor.

----- ------- -------- -------
The fuller example.

Some sort of "true annual global average temperature" is defined for a time period "A". (The time period might be the years 2002, '03, '04,'05, '06.) The true annual global average temperature will be called Ta.

Some sort of "annual global average temperature" is defined for a later time period "B". (Likely the average temperature for the years from 2012, '13, '14,'15, '16)

Temperature for both time periods will be sampled by someone somewhere to estimate the true "annual global average temperature" for both periods. (Naturally, there will be a sample mean temperatures, ta and tb, standard deviation,sa and sb, sample sizes Na and Nb etc.)

Now the "game" part of the bet:

Party A (that would be Brian Schmidt) has proposed the hypothesis that temperatures Ta is less than Tb. We will call this Brian's "bet" or hypothesis 1", H1. (Why Brian bets this I neither know nor care -- but it seems to be the bet Brian telling us he is willing to make.)

The alternative or "null hypothesis" Ho is that TA is not less than TB.

The test:

For the purposes of betting, the above data will be used to perform a one tailed, two sample t-test to test the Null Hypothesis, Ho. The confidence level for rejecting the null hypothesis will be 95%. (That is, we will reject the hypothesis Ho, if the chances it is incorrect is greater than 5%. )

If the null hypothesis, Ho, is not rejected at the above stated confidence level, party A will pay $20. (This is the case where temperatures do nothing or rise. Brian pays. )

If the null hypothesis is rejected at the above stated confidence level, party A will receive $1. (This is the case where temperatures are shown to fall as Brian bets. Brian gets money. )

The question repeated:
Is this more or less you mean when you say you will bet the temperatures got colder with 20:1 odds in your favor? ( We take data. We collect data and "Temperature" and do a standard statitical test as used in engineering, science, medicine, social science to decide whether the global temperature got colder or whether it's statistically indistinguishable from the current temperature?
12.1.2006 9:58pm
Randy R. (mail):
You will notice that none of the deniers of global climate change ever offer any other theory to support their contention. They insist only that there is no evidence that change is occuring, while at the same time argue that you can't predict anything.
12.2.2006 12:57am
Randy R. (mail):
It's interesting what the insurance industry's position on climate change is. They are a very conservative sector of the market, they invest for the long term all over the world, and billions are at stake, much of it in real estate. So they certainly have a vested interest in whether our climate is changing and how that will affect their assets. The very nature of their industry is predicated upon risk analysis. Bottomline for the insurance companies: It's all about the green stuff.

So what is there position? Just go to the Lloyd's of London website. They recently issued an advisory letter to all insurance companies stating that global warming is real, it's here, and they need to prepare for it. Partly as a result of that, and partly because other insurance companies have come to the same conclusion, insurance companies have begun to reduce capacity in the parts of the world that they believe will be first hit by global warming, which means principally the entire eastern coast of the US. That means higher premiums for you and me, and all companies that what to do business there, and it also means insurance will be tougher to get.

Now, for those of you who like to say there isn't a shred of evidence to support global warming theories, that it's just a bunch of nuts, the science is completely wrong, and so on, the simple answer is that you are wrong. I hardly think that the insurance industry is filled with wild-eyed radicals who just have an agenda to promote, and there is no reason for them to walk away from good business if there is no reason for it. And yet, here they are.

So perhaps they know something that you don't, okay? Perhaps, just perhaps, there might actually be some real concern by sober professionals whose concern is not an agenda but their bottomline, that global warming might just be real.
12.2.2006 1:55pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Kevin P. says
placing bets on science and engineering is stupid and infantile. Find someone in a kindergarten to bet with you.


Kevin, in addition to the post by Randy above about the bets the insurance industry is taking with respect to climate change, surely you must understand that all private investment decisions and financial transactions are based on bets about the future?
12.4.2006 2:21am