Sunday, June 05, 2016

McArdle messaging mess

Lost in her errors and insults flung at the scientific community, and at her political opponents who accept climate reality, was the only part of Megan McArdle's argument that should matter:

....there are folks like me who aren’t sure enough to make a prediction, but are very sure we wouldn’t like to find out, too late, that the answer is “oops, catastrophic.”
Okay, so she's very sure that we shouldn't follow a policy pathway that makes catastrophe possible. What does she want to do with that framework? I see she semi-approvingly cites to a lukewarmist, kind of a bad sign. Said lukewarmist said basically stop doing everything we're doing now to fight climate change and impose a carbon tax instead, but doesn't say what we should do given that the Republican Party rabidly prevents all attempts at imposing a carbon tax. McArdle, somewhat to her credit, says he doesn't want to do enough, but again fails to tell us what enough is to her.

My two takeaways:

1. She's mad at the rest of us that her tribe is wrong, so even as she semi-admits they're wrong, she throws as many insults at climate realists and adds as many mistakes as she can, starting with the idea that the flaws in modeling human behavior demonstrate similar flaws in modeling the physics of climate. The important message, that we need to act, gets lost in her discussion of alleged communication failures by people outside her tribe.

2. McArdle has (possibly) made an interesting leap over a divide where many lukewarmists/denialists haven't. A common denialist position short of complete denial is to accept scientific reality up to the point at which that reality would require them to shift their policy positions, and then for mysterious reasons, they suddenly find that the science no longer works. McArdle seems to allow we need to do something. How she deals with the binary choice issue between Republicans and Democrats was left unsaid here, but could be worth pursuing.

Finally, I'd add that I'd write this very differently if I expected McArdle to read this and wanted to influence her. I'm writing to us realists here, and I'm mostly just mouthing off without expecting to change much. Maybe climate realists should try more, or at least check in periodically with people like her, despite the annoyance involved. But for her part, if she were really trying to influence "alarmists", then she's doing it wrong.

33 comments:

Fernando Leanme said...

I'm for a carbon tax, say $20 per ton, applied to every source, including cement plants. The tax can be indexed to the actual lower troposphere temperature and sea level change measured by satellites over the previous 5 years. The introduction of a carbon tax will allow elimination of all subsidies.

andthentheresphysics said...

There does seem to be something of a pattern emerging of people going around suggesting that everything would be so much better if only some other group behaved differently, while themselves behaving in a manner similar to what they're criticising.

Russell Seitz said...

McArdle says she's been writing about the climate wars for 15 years, but her views recall the state of the debate three decades ago.

Bernard J. said...

McArdle says:

"This lesson from economics is essentially what the "lukewarmists" bring to discussions about climate change."

Hmmm.

Except that economics and physics are not comparable as sciences. Economics is to actual physico-trophic systems analysis as alchemy is to chemistry, or astrology is to astronomy.

"It would be a lot better for everyone -- including the planet -- if we left off the tribalism and the excommunications and went back to actually talking about the science: messy, imprecise and always open for well-grounded debate."

I'm surprised that she was able to get a dog-whistle of that size into her mouth.

It's curious how her own adjectives to describe science are themselves "messy, imprecise and always open for well-grounded debate." McArdle is arguing by assertion, and her representation of the science of climate change leaves much to be desired. It's almost as if she doesn't know really what she's talking about... Oh, that's right, "[s]he has a bachelor's degree in English literature."

angech said...

If renewables are so good, and improving all the time and getting cheaper all the time like that computer quote where things double every 6 months will we not end up fixing the problem without even needing to fix it?
Except a tinsy bit of coal power to build the renewables.

andthentheresphysics said...

angech,
The obvious answer to your question is that CO2 accumulates and so the impact will depend on the pathway we take to get from where we are now to the point at which it stops accumulating. Assuming that what might happen naturally without needing to actually consider that there is a problem worth solving does not guarantee to be the optimal pathway.

Bryson said...

The ongoing dishonesty of McArdle's chosen heroes in this screed undermines her case-- can anyone name a 'lukewarmer' who's engaged with the evidence and addressed the risks of climate change honestly (instead of spinning and dodging)? If she wants to comment on the economics, maybe she should have a chat with Munich Re and other insurers (or just take a quick look at weather-related losses). There are powerful economic interests who are very attached to BAU. Taking what their hired guns have to say about climate change seriously is a very long way from healthy scientific skepticism.

Russell Seitz said...

We've all seen this sort of ruckus before: hyped media accounts of quotidian models - econometric, population, climate, whatever-- lead to declarations of a Crisis or Existenial Threat by ( insert year ending in 50 or 00)

When the system being modeled fails to deliver the exponential goods on time, whichever side of K-Street is on the case adds a decade or a century to the timeline, and issues a new press release saying, See- they got the sign of the effect right!, and those doing the work go on reading the literature and dutifully adjusting the parameter base.

Vis a vis the IPCC, we are in the third yada yada iteration of this bemusing process.

jrkrideau said...

@ Bernard J.

You are being too hard on astrology.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.
John Kenneth Galbraith

Bernard J. said...

jrkrideau, indeed...

At least with an astrological prognostication there is at the least a chance of random coincidence of prediction with result - for example today I met a tall, dark stranger - whereas the pronouncements of denialists and contrarians are consistently almost completely wrong.

It takes a special sort of shamelessness to be more wrong than even random chance would allow, and to not even blink in the face of it.

My sincere apologies to astrologers everywhere, who are more correct than climate science deniers.

Bernard J. said...

As for economists, well, I could make some comments but I don't want to invoke the Beetlejuice...

Phil Hays said...

Exponential growth ends.

Sometime before the mass of the universe has been all converted to people, the population growth will end.

That is the easy question. The hard question is when and how? A rational, soft, stable and voluntary limit with little overshoot while maintaining or improving quality of life is far better than hitting a hard limit followed by a crash and collapse of civilization.

Hank Roberts said...

Just think of all the expense avoided by not building out all those planned Gen1 nuclear plants before experience accumulated showing the flaws in the design.

Well, but think of all the expense actually avoided by not upgrading the Gen1 plants to fix the problems as experience revealed them. Nobody could afford to run these things if they were brought up to date.

Hey, a little risk, a little gamble ...

Sometimes delay is the most effective form of denial.

It's a shame about people, but as usual, we couldn't be convinced to get the design right before building a bunch.

"Hey, what could go wrong?"

Hank Roberts said...

PS for Russell, yes, there are indeed wackos out on the "left" side of the political spectrum making up wildly wrong shit about nuclear power -- hell, look at http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/12/declassified-u-s-government-report-week-fukushima-accident-100-total-spent-fuel-released-atmosphere-unit-4.html for the "we're all dooooooomed" approach to informing the public.

I'm not claiming I have any answer.

Like the "Car Talk" guys said to a caller, after getting something wrong: "I wish we were smarter"
Like their caller replied to them: "I wish you were too, guys."

Hank Roberts said...

PPS: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/rants/nothing-like-this-will-be-buil.html

"... although it's one of the safest and most energy-efficient civilian power reactors ever built it's a technological dead-end, that there won't be any more of them, and that when it shuts down in thirty or forty years' time this colossal collision between space age physics and victorian plumbing will be relegated to a footnote in the history books. "Energy too cheap to meter" it ain't, but as a symbol of what we can achieve through engineering it's hard to beat."

JohnMashey said...

Econmics: lacking conservation laws, it's hard, but actually, there are some pretty good economists, who acknowledge challenges and uncertainties along with need to use models we have and keep improving them, rather than waiting for perfection.
Professors Stephen Polasky ( U MN) and Michael Hanemann (AZ State U) are both Members of the NAS, and IMHO did a fine job in Minnesota Social Coat of Carbon case.

Their opponents: not so fine:
Peabody's Outlier Gang Couldn't Shoot Straight In Minnesota Carbon Case, Judge Rebuffs Happer, Lindzen, Spencer, Mendelsohn, Bezdek



John Farley said...

OK, I looked up Megan McArdle in Wikipedia because I didn't know who she was.
Her background is in literature Fiction. So I shouldn't have bene surprised that the numbers in her essays are made up. In the sciences you're not supposed to make up numbers. OK, OK sometimes you research them out of somebody else's writing, but then the numbers are dug up and not made up. And you're supposed to cite the source.

Of course some bigfoot pundits make stuff up. That's why Evans and Novak were dubbed "Errors and No Facts"

Russell Seitz said...

A numerate plagiarist is hard to find.

EliRabett said...

Not really

Bernard J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bernard J. said...

"Econmics: lacking conservation laws, it's hard, but actually, there are some pretty good economists..."

Indeed, and there's an entire discipline that's been around for almost a century, and active for half a one.

Tom Odum and Malte Faber are two, from different corners, who come to mind. There are many more. Inspiring thinkers...

And it's saddening and frustrating that the fundamental principles that they point out are simply too unpalatable for the current system to accept.

Russell Seitz said...

I should have said hard to find in an English department.

barry said...

...insults flung at the scientific community...

She doesn't mention the scientific community. Is that even implied?

She's not wrong about the tribalism, "apostles and heretics," nor that shooting over the parapets is unhelpful. Seems to be some of that in Brer Rabbett's article.

...mad at the rest of us that her tribe is wrong...

The tribe that "support[s] action on climate change for the same reason [they] buy homeowner’s, life and disability insurance: because the potential for catastrophe is large"?

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-04-08/subpoenaed-into-silence-on-global-warming

Looks to me like she agrees there's a risk and has a right-wing take on it/solutions (innovation/renewables/geoengineering).

Lukewarmism as described in the referenced article is simply wishful thinking based on talking points. I'd like to have seen that rebutted.

barry said...

I see Brian, not E Rabett, wrote the article.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Barry, when one has an in excess of 0.5 Watts per square meter energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere cause by in excess of 400 ppm concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and rising at 3 ppm per year on a life and carbon based civilization bearing smallish terrestrial planet, inhabited by in excess of seven billion delusional nutjobs (and rising fast) - that's not a 'risk' of catastrophe, that a severe existential astrophysical and astrobiological 'threat'. And that's just the start of your children's problems. You are a delusional lukewarmist nutjob. People like you and Ms. McArdle are not the solution, you are the problem here. This is science speaking directly to you. You are not listening.

barry said...

I recycle, turn off lights that aren't being used, take public transport, and one of my primary voting choices is for the party that promises to do most about mitigating CO2 emissions (I'm voting for the Greens in a few weeks). My view is that while climate sensitivity has a range it's best to be prudent and take the worst case scenarios as a serious risk and plan accordingly.

Most often I get called an alarmist. Tribalism is rife.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Well barry, I'm afraid to say, that when faced with multiple severe existential threats as humanity is right now, you're token gestures are far from being even close to enough. What humanity needs to do is STAND DOWN immediately, clamp down on nonsense violent media, tax the freakin churches, and implement mandatory birth control. And that's just the start of it. What really needs to be done is that your culture needs to be destroyed. It's bullshit. I don't really think you have the right stuff. mConsidering you are bordering on science denial.

Russell Seitz said...

God's teeth, he raveth mightily.

barry said...

Yea verily, smiting the pagans one post at a time.

Brian said...

Barry, that link you gave to where McArdle said what she wants to happen to solve climate change is interesting. It's not far out of range of realistic opinion. She even says "maybe geoengineering" and if you emphasize the "maybe" aspect, and as an act of desperation rather than a convenient crutch, then that's reasonable.

What she doesn't say is what government policies should be to encourage the solution.

Russell Seitz said...

No worries, Barry, his snark is worse than his smite.

barry said...

Brian, maybe that's right-wing proclivities. She is "a pessimist on the prospect of collective action on climate change," which chimes with cynical attitudes across the political spectrum, including in our own 'tribe.'

barry said...

Coincidentally, there's a post at realclimate on conservatives and messaging.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2016/06/boomerangs-versus-javelins-the-impact-of-polarization-on-climate-change-communication/

A slightly depressing read, recommending in the activists' arrows pointing at lukewarmers and the politically casual rather than died-in the wool Republicans (yah, it's an article on US political identity - dunno if that translates to other places).