Monday, August 29, 2016

Social Science and Climate Change: Positive Thoughts.

There are even short articles, maybe a post and a half, that make a bunnies ears twitch and his nose wiggle back and forth while muttering yeah yeah.  In this case a discussion of risk management and decision science by Paul Stern, John Perkins, Richard Sparks and Robert Knox. 

In The Challenge of Climate Change Neoskepticism, sadly not open, the authors define today's neoskepticism as

accepting the existence of anthropogenic  climate change (ACC) but advocates against urgent mitigation efforts on various grounds such as that climate models run "too hot", or are too uncertain to justify anything other than "no regrets" policies as having net benefits.  Mainstream scientists are well aware of uncertainty in climate projections.  But neoskeptics citing it to justify climate inaction marks a shift in focus in climate debates from the existence of ACC to its import and to response options
While the questions may be legitimate the inferences that the neoskeptics draw from them are unjustified.  In particular, they are assuming that risk remains static, but as Stern, et al, point out the nature of climate change is that risk is increasing, and thus the relative risk of catastrophic consequences is growing scarily fast.  Although only implied in the article, it is the nature of things that when risk increases, the central measure will only grow linearly but extreme risks in the wings will increase to a much greater extent.

When applied to climate change risk this means (and here Eli interpolates) that it will first reveal itself through qualitative and quantitative increases in catastrophic events, but that also means that attribution will be more difficult since it is the nature of wing events that statistical treatment of them is hard while on the other hand, shifts in average risks will be both slower and masked by natural variability.

As the article says, people use simple mental models to deal with uncertainty.  The challenge is to provide the public with models that
(i) are factual and not misleading (ii) use a familiar domain to explain the unfamiliar (iii) capture interest and (iv) allow for extrapolation consistent with current science.
Uncertainly has to be acknowledges together with the choices and costs growing from it if action is taken or not.  Stern et al, as Eli, consider procrastination penalties as punishing. 

They offer hypertension as an example.  It can be dealt with through changes in life style or medication or both, but it is a risk the extent of which is not known for any particular person.  While the risk is progressive, there can be catastrophic failures leading to death or disability and the condition is only slowly reversible.

The authors suggest that decision  sciences offer a way of dealing with such risks by
(i) adopting policies that  will perform robustly across various plausible futures (ii) pursuing a variety of policy strategies to increase the likelihood that some will yield good results and (iii) organizing decision making processes for flexibility and responsivenss.
Eli notes that such a response implies that not everything tried will work, and thus chooses better and faster at the cost of cheaper.



"Scarily fast " ? Many climate pols pronounced themselves terrified of the signal long before anybunny coud extract it from the noise.

Before they get to rechristen plain vanilila skepticism as neo-anything, I wish the authors would summon the courage to ante up and bet on when expect sea level to rise one centimeter in a year.

Fernando Leanme said...

I dont see why they use the term neo skeptic. They have been tarring and fathering anybody who didn't adhere to strict party orders as issued by the climate nomenklatura. Now they realize their position is full of holes and blame people like me who saw the holes 10 years ago.

Let's be clear, after 40 years working on large ticket items which involved a lot of risk analysis I see these guys as children playing in the mud with little sticks.

They preformed their opinion based on a very flawed understanding of how things work in their totality, developed a political religion based scientific edifice and now they realize most of what they've done is in a shambles. So they retreat into social science mumbo jumbo and try to patch their mistakes up with pychobabble.

Fernando Leanme said...

By the way, Crystal Serenity left Cambridge Bay and will try for Pond Inlet on the Atlantic side. I believe they'll try the Peel Sound route. I believe the NW passage should be open in a few days, but they'll have to move slow. Temperature should be 0 to 2 degrees in the main NW channel as they go over the hump.

The updates I put on Twitter have two purposes. I'm being monitored by the Venezuelan and Cuban security services, so I'm tossing Crystal Serenity updates referenced to September 1, when the huge protest is scheduled in Venezuela.

On that day things will be getting interesting as the Venezuelan people try to shake free from the Castromadurista autocracy led by Nicolas Maduro. As of the last few days we are seeing more arrests, and the national guard is trying to blockade protest marches trying to enter Caracas from the provinces. One of these marches is by natives from Amazonas coming in with spears and everything. You won't see much coverage in the English media, but there are plans by unnamed organization's to fly drones over the city to video what goes on. The government is likely to cut off or slow down Internet, so outsiders won't have a full picture of events during and after September 1st.

Anonymous said...

> Let's be clear, after 40 years working on large ticket items which involved a lot of risk analysis I see these guys as children playing in the mud with little sticks.

Reading 40 comments from you suffices to reach similar conclusions, Fernando.

While Stern's terminology only leaves me (and perhaps you too) a lukewarm feeling, how do you feel about how he identified your Goldilocks argument?

Vinny Burgoo said...

The Crystal Serenity should perhaps have been called Hermes V:

I haven't read it, so don't know whether Serres thought that science was the Atlantic and the humanities were the Pacific, or vice versa, or nothing quite that specific. Perhaps he was just having extended pun fun with C P Snow.

EliRabett said...

Ah yes, the famous engineering level report ploy. Bob Grumbine nailed that one to the wall

Victor Venema said...

When you are monitored by the Venezuelan and Cuban security services it is best to write no comments on blogs, that helps THEM track you.

John Farley said...

What?? You're being monitored ONLY by the Venezuelan and Cuban security forces?
What about the FBI, CIA, KGB and MI-5? What about them? Huh?
Not to mention the Mossad and Hamas !!

Rabbit Run bloggers are obviously of crucial importance for national security.


Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that They aren't out to gotcha !!!!

Howard said...

more mental masturbation from nattering nabobs of neologisms.

Risk-based corrective action. Assume wicked problem unsolvable and settle on the upper end of RCO 6.5 as the target. Stop funding climate research except field data collection. This assumption means that CCS will be required, therefore, the world needs carbon-free energy up the wazoo by 2075. Do you tools get that? No more boutique circle-jerk pipe-dreams but seriously massive power.

First, reduce PM2.5, SOx, NOx, BC, that causes the MF black snow responsible for ending the LIA by replacing coal with gas. Pour all climate $$ into batteries, inherently stable nuke and space-based solar.

Anonymous said...

Stern et al just sound so... reasonable... it seems rude to suggest that their policy guidance amounts to little more than shuffling deckchairs while whistling past the graveyard. It seems rude so I won't do it. There. Not done.

Several years ago somebunny wrote about The West Arctic Ice Sheet and Resilience: "Personally, I think we should drop the term "sustainable", which has been co‐opted by business, diluting all remaining meaning. In my opinion, "resilient" is a better term to describe both a goal and a process for cities. Resilient, in ecology and other disciplines, basically means "being able to recover from disturbance or shock." Whether or not that recovery is in the same state is irrelevant. Recovery is relevant. Adaptability, flexibility, perseverance and planning are important to human resilience – things we used to do and still do now. Being resilient means being prepared, and being prepared means tipping points aren’t scary. Before we moved to cities and became specialized, humans were very resilient. It’s in our genes. We just forgot (and got lazy because of cheap energy) how to do it. I think we have enough time to remember."

I think so too.

I pay little mind to Stern and his ilk because I believe the ship has sailed. Yes, we absolutely need to do everything we can to mitigate the problem we're creating but at this point I think that resilience will be the key. We need to plan on adapting to whatever comes next. We in the First World have had it easy for quite a while. I anticipate that it will get hard again.

I hope that my children have gentle souls but I believe that to navigate the future successfully they need to be tough as nails physically and psychologically. They will need to adapt and to persevere. They will need to be resilient.


if Crystal Serenity sinks an iceberg , will John blame the Venezuelans , or the Cuban peacekeeping forces on Ice Station Zebra ?

Andrew said...

if Crystal Serenity sinks an iceberg..

By hitting it so hard that it shock-transforms to Ice VII ?? Must be going fast..

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

Adapting to climate change is like adapting to a sinking ship... without plugging the hole.

Humanity can adapt with difficulty to global warming in the ballpark of 1-2 C (and with the penalty of losing ~10-20% of species biodiversity). Humanity can adapt with very great difficulty to warming of approximately 2-3 C, and over 3 C humanity should probably say good-bye to (civilised) life as we know it. More than 4-5 C warming, and we should prepare our epitaphs in a form that can be read by nacently-evolved intelligent species æons hence, and by little green folk who drop by to wonder at our folly. Oh, and at this level of warming we should probably also carve the gravestones for the potentially 40-70% loss of species that will likely occur...

Adapting to climate change is something that you do after you've mitigated your arse off.

The Bunny was right to speak of resilience. What the rest of the bunnies need to consider is that resilience is not something that you pull out of the hat post hoc, but that you have integrated and operational in the system a priori. And we're looking at our a priorities in the rear-view mirror.

Bernard J. said...

A coda on resilience...

When shit hits the fan individuals and small groups can exhibit resilience, but populations not so much. It's an inherent Gaussian fact of evolutionary life. So when we're all ducking the flying fæces we should watch how the rest of the planet is managing in the same task, and how their responses might bleed into our own efforts to avoid the sewage.

Proximal success is pyrrhic in the face of distal failure.

Howard said...

Bernard J: If the 4K doomsday happens, The Americas will be fine, although I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed. Asia and Africa could possibly see mass extinction from the four horsemen. Europe will be swamped by refugees. Location, location, location.

Bryson said...

I'm more troubled about how the changes at 4K or more (and perhaps as low as 3?) play out socially and politically. Yes, much of the globe will remain habitable for humans and even suitable for our crops. But it's not as if we've done very well with the purely financial shock of a burst housing bubble and the massively failed bets on that market-- even in the 'first world' the economic pain continues. What will happen when we're faced with major recurring crop failures, the loss of lower croplands and coastal cities over decades and continuing for centuries, likely collapse of important fisheries... I would expect a long and very disorderly retreat-- more Libyas and Syrias, more Trumps, and much more crazy of all kinds around the world. Just for extra anxiety there are quite a few nations with enough nukes to make a real mess, and Mr. Trump appears to be puzzled as to why using the damn things is unacceptable.


It's more about exponents than location, but if you map 4K into geography , it means roughly as many degrees of latitude , or thousand of feet of elevation.

Given the observed & projected rates of change, and the thermal mass of the whole shebang, the Anthropocene is looking more like a happy hunting ground for the Four Ground Sloths of the Apocalypse: the field is in motion, but a snail can outrun the isotherms marching up from the equator.

Bernard J. said...

Russell, a snail could have outrun by several orders of magnitude the bioclimatic envelope changes from many of the previous great extinction events, and yet those events saw mass extinctions. Does this give you a clue to the logical flaw in your "not a problem" position?

If not perhaps you could approach the issue by considering a couple of questions... What conditions define the ecological niche of a species? What interacting changes occur to these conditions when one or more parameters are altered?

These are not trick questions: they simply have complicated answers. I've exhorted you previously to avail yourself of the ecological expertise in your local institution - I would again encourage you to consider such an excursion, because you're thinking with one hat on when you need to think with another, and the hat that you're wearing is tricking you into thinking that you're perspicacity is universal.

Professors Dunning and Kruger probably have a coda that alludes to this pitfall.

Bernard J. said...

"...if you map 4K into geography , it means roughly as many degrees of latitude , or thousand of feet of elevation.

Not really. Not in terms of ecological sequelæ.

Going horizontally, a 4 degree increase in mean global temperature has profoundly different (and mostly much greater) local temperature consequences, depending on many different factors besides latitude. The proof of the pudding is that the planet has thus far experienced approximately a degree of warming, and for many species the impacts on latitudinal range in degrees has been several times this. It all depends on what species/ecosystem one is quantifying, and it is important to remember that biodiversity and ecosystem functions are neither consistent between different elements, nor fractal.

In vertical shift scenarios (and I go with the newfangled-speak of 1 C (or K) per 100 m) there are additional factors to consider, of which one is the very important issue of geometry. Range area attenuates to zero in a geometric manner with an increase in altitude.

Compounding this is the fact that vertical shifts are accompanied by habitat fragmentation as contiguous areas of ground are replaced by peaks separated by atmosphere. And range fragmentation presents all sorts of emergent problems, including but not restricted to non-linear reductions in the population sizes that can be sustained, and obstruction of genetic flow required to maintain population viability.

It must be great to be an old codger with little skin in the game over more than the next few years Russell, and with the blithe ignorance of not being familiar with the bag of surprises that climate change brings to ecosystems, but your thinking that there is no problem does not make it so. It does you no credit to cavalierly wave your hand with unconcerned indifference to the damage that too much warming, too rapidly, will wring on the biosphere, especially when you expect others to respect your professional expertise. Once more I counsel you: find and talk to your local paleobiologists, ecophysiologists, population biologists, and ecologists, and sit at their feet and learn you some of the basics of the complexity that is the functioning of the biosphere on this planet.

Bryson said...

Russell I agree that in a simple world in which only smooth, gradual changes of temp on a smoothly varying globe with no serious barriers to migration and no big shifts in soil types or other disconnections between how inter-dependent organisms manage their annual schedules in response to temperature, moisture levels, light etc., it might not be so bad. My understanding is that that simple world is not earth-- as noted above, past mass extinction events seem to support this more pessimistic take.

Howard said...

Bryson makes a good point. What sort of kudzu migration will occur that might strangle defenseless ecosystems? Over a long enough poverty timeline, no one cares about the bugs and bunnies, it's the naked ape that matters. Mass homo migration out of Asia, Africa and the Middle East into Europe is the eco-collapse you are looking for. It's starting now due to the rising temperature of monotheistic culture and the choking industrial air required to keep Dollar Stores open. Just wait until the Ogallala can no longer feed the world. The population density of and the oceanic moat surrounding the Americas is a feature, not a bug. Geography matters.

E. Swanson said...

Re-posted with more information:
I found Stern et al. to be rather disconnected from the problem they describe. They appear to misunderstand the AGW denialist, while trying to create a new label for these folks. They wrote:

"Today, neoskepticism accepts the existence of ACC but advocates against urgent mitigation efforts on various grounds, such as that climate models run “too hot” (5) or are too uncertain to justify anything other than “no-regrets” policies as having net benefits (6)."

But, look who they refer to as their "neoskeptics":

They are either unaware or ignoring the deeply political and anti-science efforts of the denialist camp. Using the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal as a science reference? Monckton and Soon? They continue:

"Neoskeptical claims may be driven more by ideology or economic interests than by science (11), but they cannot be dismissed as confidently as pure denial or skepticism. By focusing attention on risks and highlighting uncertainty, they raise important questions about ultimate impacts and response options."

Yes, they can be dismissed, as their efforts exhibit clear politically motivated biases. The denialist have a habit of ignoring information which refutes their claims, thus they should not be considered as dispassionate scientists. The denialist are gaming the political system and have no intention of presenting a coherent risk analysis. Their efforts are purely political and all the efforts by social scientists in the realm of "Science for Decision Making" have so far proved a failure. This is clearly evident in the Republican Party Platform, which states:

"We will enforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act, not it’s distortion by EPA regulations. We will likewise forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, something never envisioned when Congress passed the Clean Air Act. We will restore to Congress the authority to set the National Ambient Air Quality Standards and modernize the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act so it can no longer invite frivolous lawsuits, thwart sorely needed projects, kill jobs, and strangle growth.
Information concerning a changing climate, especially projections into the long-range future, must be based on dispassionate analysis of hard data. We will enforce that standard throughout the executive branch, among civil servants and presidential appointees alike. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution. Its unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy. We will evaluate its recommendations accordingly. We reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which represent only the personal commitments of their signatories; no such agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate.

We demand an immediate halt to U.S. funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in accordance with the 1994 Foreign Relations Authorization Act..."

Get real folks, the denialist are winning the political contest...


Bernard J, this town is crawling with systems ecologists and biologists of all inclinations , from Wald and Wilson on through George Church, and having listened to them with great interest, I must beg to disagree, precisely because of the overwhelming complexity of the system in question. Have you no sense of the problem's viscosity?

Fear of environmental displacement on decadal or generational scales of human times is not the same as understanding how the Anthropcene figures in the calculus of extinctions over geological time. As surely as I been writing about the casually tranformative power of human action to transform landscapes and ecologies the common denominator even of niche ecology is time deeper than the scale of human politics.

Ed Wilson wants us to leave half the world alone because we've already transformed half its land surface. As a conservationist I applaud his impulse , but it has not escaped my notice that that transformation took hundreds of generations and , surprise, left us with the complexity we are bent on conserving . As I observe that population growth continues to pose threat far more exponential than the rate of climate change , I think your passion misdirected.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Russell writes" ... transformation took hundreds of generations ..."

And how many of those generations had 9 billion people in them - isn't that the projected population peak?

To put it another way, 107 billion people total have been born. 1 out 15 is alive TODAY. Hundreds of generations of a few million people vs single generations now of over a billion people.

You know this intuitively, Russell. It doesn't need my explaining. So what's the game?


What part of innumerate don't you understand?

With the population of countries where the wild things are not, like the US , Europe, Chiina, and Japan contracting, the demogrphic reality is what took 100 billion dead people 100 generations to effect will necessarily take fifteen times fewer people some few generations more. Quit bellowing, Kevin and do the math.

Anonymous said...

> [A] snail can outrun the isotherms marching up from the equator.

How about the State of Florida?

Bryson said...

Interesting, Russell-- but not in a persuasive way. As Kevin points out, current human population levels (and industrial activities, including farming) are unprecedented, and many species are on the brink and effectively extinct from an ecological point of view. You take comfort from the long preceding history of much smaller generations and much lower levels of resource exploitation; looking forward you cite slow declines in population in a few very wealthy countries. But economies and footprints continue to grow, and every country not already living as large as we do wants to reach those levels of consumption. Every great ape but us is on the verge of extinction, and they're in very good company. Fisheries are in serious trouble (for example the cod recovery in Nfld is glacial at best, despite a very long commercial fishing ban). And like many organisms our food system is dependent on fairly stable climate-- moving north as prairies get warmer and dryer, and the soils. Higher temperatures and shifts in rainfall amounts and patterns play hob with crops and natural flora and fauna. A few bad years can push some over the brink-- I think centuries of bad years are guaranteed to push many over. A big investment in mitigation (at a time when many young people are underemployed and co-benefits like reduction in coal mercury and other nice things), seems like a very timely idea to me-- and whistling in the dark has no attraction at all.


Neverendinaudit ,
Florida is a species? Who knew?
Some few states I've visited have since gone extinct, but their names , not their territory have gone missing from current maps .

Cue Fernando complaining Floridians are slower than snails but faster than the Dutch .


Prioritizing family planning is not whistling in the dark- the demographic reality is as stark and simple as climate science is subtle and complicated.

Bryson said...

Russell: Simple doesn't imply sufficient.

Anonymous said...

> Some few states I've visited have since gone extinct [...]

States can go extinct now, just like species. Fascinating.

Let's blame for Florida's slow drift.


Biafra, Portugese Guinea, The Condominium of The New Hebrides, The Soviet Union, East Germany, the Principality of Hunza , and counting.

Anonymous said...

Indeed - lots of states joined the Unicorn State of Inexistence, Meinong.

I mean Russell.

So how many more states need to die before statehood goes extinct?

Speaking of geographical races, this one's interesting:

Before going extinct, the State of Florida might be tempted to go pay a visit to its neighbourhood.

Just like the old days.

What fun we'll all have.

Anonymous said...

With Russell, only his state of excellence is at great risk.


I don't think you want to go there , InextinctableAudit - with the ice age gone, isostatic rebound is shrinking the Baltic faster than sea level rise can inundate the Pomeranian shore

E. Swanson said...

Russell, on the southern coast of the Baltic, the natural result of the melting of the ice sheet over the Fennoscandia peninsula after LGM is a rise of sea-level, due to the slow collapse of the glacial fore-bulge. The ongoing rise in global sea-level due to AGW will add to that natural rise, thus the net effect is faster rise in sea-level along the German Baltic coast.


Not sure what or where you meen- if the coastal barrier islands ( Peenemunde) are eskers, they won't have the mass to deform the underlying mantle. the whole southern fennosa\caian shield is rising 2 -5 mm/yr,

E. Swanson said...

Russell, I should have spelled it "forebulge".

Here's a link and some graphics.

admin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernard J. said...

"Ed Wilson wants us to leave half the world alone because we've already transformed half its land surface. As a conservationist I applaud his impulse , but it has not escaped my notice that that transformation took hundreds of generations and , surprise, left us with the complexity we are bent on conserving ."

Russell, that "complexity" to which you refer evolved before the last few hundred generations of humans. And the complexity of the biosphere would be even richer than it is now were it not for humanity's impact on just about every single ecosystem on the planet, where indeed in some cases the impact has been so severe as to result in the loss of entire ecosystems.

Worse, that complexity has incurred a great extinction debt, which will only be realised decades, centuries, and millennia after the impacts were wrought.

I'm scratching my head to understand how you seem to have cultivated such an apparently sanguine attitude about the state of global biodiversity. I can only conclude that you are looking over your shoulder, rather than looking at the road in front. Any realistic consideration of the figures would not leave one so cavalier about the state of the planet's biodiversity.

Some numbers. EO Wilson puts current species loss at ~27,000 pa. Eldridge reckons 30,000 pa. My last back of the envelope calculation was an order of magnitude lower at 2,000, but I wasn't including all taxa or cryptic extinctions. Now, Stuart Pimm puts the background extinction rate at 1 per million species years. There is still considerable dispute about the number of species on Earth, but for the sake of this discussion it can be put in the range 2-20 million. Parsimoniously taking the higher number that equates to a background extinction rate of 20 species per annum.
That puts the current extinction phenomenon at 1,000-10,000 times over the background level.

Barnosky et at 2011 (Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?) have done some work that shows that the extinction trajectory appears to have increased over the last thousand to ten thousand years, a range that encompassed your "hundreds of generations" of humans, and which argues strongly that humanity's impact is not as benign as you appear to suggest. And again, I will reiterate that extinction is (like climate) a phenomenon characterised by inertia, and that the historic impacts of humans on biodiversity are still to be fully realised.

Bernard J. said...

"As I observe that population growth continues to pose threat far more exponential than the rate of climate change , I think your passion misdirected. "

Again, I say "no". Given the current severe stresses on biodiversity and species extancy, further stressors can have extremely significant effects. And as I said in a previous post, species are very sensitive to mean temperatures in their niches, your incredulity notwithstanding and regardless of their short-term tolerance of transient variability in temperature. Further, most thermal tolerance curves are skewed such that survival more rapidly diminishes toward the upper end of thermal ranges, so even relatively modest global warming can have significant consequences for bioclimatic envelopes. Even without the other stressors on species, climate change is a profound threat to many: the fact that we've FUBARed so much else makes it just that much worse.

As for human population growth and its "threat far more exponential", that's a bit of a straw man, and not worthy of you. You should understand this.

Of course, as I always invite people in such discussions, if you disagree with the relevant ecophysiology Russell, you have but to produce the work, or your own calculations, that shows that the planet's species will gallop with gay abandon in front of the creeping bioclimatic isotherms and the concommitent changes in other abiotic and biotic parameters. I await such with great interest, as it would be a significant load off my mind and the minds of my ecologist colleagues to know that global warming isn't nearly the problem we suspect that it is.

Hank Roberts said...

The one in the middle is for Eli:


Bernard, if the post-Industrial Revolution rate of global temperature rise rivaled the increase in human population, the terrestrial biosphere would have perished in The Great Frying before Fourier and Tyndall could publish.

In 1992 a best selling book appeared featuring a rate of extinction graph that climbed exponentially through some of species per year data points from the contemporary works of the authors you mentioned to arrive at infinity in a mergier with the dead vertical ordinate bounding the right hand sie of the graph in the year 2000.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by this books graphic display of innumeracy, and, following a glowing revirew of it in The Skeptical Inquirer published a letter in that journal questioning its merit. Some recrimination followed, but, despite its having already misinformed a million or more readers , the graph was redacted without comment or corrigendum from subsequent printings of The Earth In The Balance , which I see remains in print.

As surely as science is socially constructed, what we make of estimates adduced by systems biologists is invariably inflected by both our perceptions of how candid and disinterested they have been in the past, and the degree to which they suffer their findings to be distorted to polemic ends. It happens a lot and Dick Feynmann wasn't kidding whe he said :" reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled. "

Vinny Burgoo said...

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Bernard J. said...

Russell, how about we get to the brass tacks...

What do you consider is the best estimate of the extinction rate one hundred human generations ago?

What do you consider is the best estimate of the extinction rate today?

What in your understanding will an increase in mean global temperature of 2-6 C do to compound the contemporary extinction rate, for progressively higher values along that interval?

What do these extinction rates presage for global biodiversity over the next one hundred human generations?


Bernard , I'm afraid I don't know how good the 'best estimates' are, as the disciplines of population ecology and biology are scarcely two generations old .

I should expect those estimates to change, much as estimates based on geophysical methods are doing , as heuristic improvement continues, but have a duty to remember the past excesses of many still active in popularizing the present state of the science. Paul Ehrlich's fine work on Euphydryas needs no rehabilitation, but though his polemics, like Jared Diamond's, remain tendentious in the extreme. they remind us of the considerable power of self-unfulfilling prophecy-- 100 generation forecasts are not my metier, but the permanence of zeal on the policy stage, and the progress just two generations of life scientists have made make me suspect the amplification of conservation efforts by the scientific preogress of the next 98 generations may save more species than we have so far counted.

Or for that matter , may by then have created.


To whack the brass tack as requested , population bio's Bayesian priors present a problem: from the implosion of the population bomb, to giving a muldoon to a politician who very graphically predicted the extinction of everything by the year 2000.

It's enough to inspire skepticism even among those who agonize about tropical habitat and biodiversity destruction by mere demography, be it transmigrasi oil palm plantations in Borneo , or the expansion of soybeans in Brazil.

Tom said...

Ah, poor Russell. Commanded by Bernard J. to give a best estimate of the rate of extinction... when we don't know the numerator, we don't know the denominator, we don't know the rate of change.

Cue Bob Dylan.

Anonymous said...

Bob already knows Russell is a fraud, but what Bob wants to know, briefly and in passing, is Tom just plain stupid, or is he a natural born liar? However, Mr. Bob quickly lost interest in that question.

Hucksters and flim flammers are easy to spot.

Bernard J. said...

"Ah, poor Russell. Commanded by Bernard J. to give a best estimate of the rate of extinction... "

Except that I didn't command anything of Russell, I just asked for his considered opinion. It's in black and white above Tom - read it.

And Russell's response was effectively that he didn't trust the science, so it must be wrong. I note that in his distrust he doesn't offer any counters to the science, just the logical fallacy of his incredulity.

And it's getting predicatable that you, Tom Fuller, will appear with non sequiturs whenever the subject of to ecological degradation arises. You don't like that ecologists are able to point to the trajectory of humanity's impact on the biosphere, do you Tom? It really galls you to know that science informs us that there's a slow motion biodiversity train wreck in progress, and that suggestions to respond to it entail a bit of belt-tightening on everyone's part.

Still, I'm curious... As you want to partake of this conversation, perhaps you'd like to offer your considered opinion of the numbers and errors of estimation for just the five 'higher' taxonomic classes that are boney fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Are you able to describe how poorly we "don't know the numerator, we don't know the denominator, we don't know the rate of change"? And once you've done that you can of course destroy the notion that global warming of several degrees C will have no confounding impact on these unknowable rates of extinction.

Humour me. Of course, it does mean that you have to actually crack open some literature and teach yourself...


Tom Fuller has always done his duty to his clents when commanded to spin the science until the catcalls begin , and then change the subject

It's what PR flacks do for a living.


Here's a charming picture of Tom hard at work earning his last Christmas bonus .

He's the beard between Mark Morano, and Viscounr Monckton & the bear.