Sunday, November 15, 2009

Much Toodaloo About Climate McCarthyism

The Climate Concern Troll Twins have declared war on Joe Romm, finger painting him as the Climate Joe McCarthy. Romm is not everyone's cup of tea, but as Hank Roberts put it

But, man, I remember Joe McCarthy. Joe Romm is no Joe McCarthy.

Not even close, not even comparable. You look at that video, and look at the videos of some of the really slick, sophisticated, anti-environmental spokespeople.

You’ll see a similarity, for sure. Joe Romm’s not one of those. He’s maybe trying to be that smooth and organized, but he’s just never got the self control to be the kind of sleaze that McCarthy was, and he’s never had anything remotely like the power McCarthy had.

Get real, kids. You’re not repeating history here.
Hank and Eli are old guys, most of these guys, the Pielkes, Kloor and Nordhaus and Schnellenberger, are too young to remember Tail Gunner Joe, and the more effective bomb throwers on the House Un-American Activities Committee with their local affiliates.

Further, close reading by the Rabett Labs team has raised issues about how Nordhaus and Schellenberger go after Romm. For example, they write
Earlier this year Romm attacked two of the world's leading environmental economists, Richard Tol and William Nordhaus (the co-author's uncle). Their crime? They were thanked in the acknowledgements of a study by economists from MIT, Northwestern and the National Bureau of Economic Research, which was subsequently touted by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
When your mice direct you to the link you find that it is a part of a series about how Joe was not very happy in a Joe like way with economists, and particularly on a report from three MIT economists (not Richard Tol or William Nordhaus) that was being touted by AEI. He titled the post:

“Voodoo Economists, Part 3: MIT and NBER (and Tol and Nordhaus) — the right wing deniers love your work. Ask yourself “why?

A thought that has occasionally occupied the space between Eli's rather large ears. Parenthetically the shift among economists on climate change driven by the Stern report has been encouraging. When the Stern report first appeared the sour response from economists filled the air, but as Stern's warnings on the costs of inaction sunk in, first Weitzman and then the rest changed their tune while holding on to their distaste.

Still, the only Rommian mention of the above mentioned two in the text is
What makes the paper especially noteworthy, however, is not merely the credentials of the authors, but that they thank such climate economist luminaries as William Nordhaus and Richard Tol for “helpful comments and suggestions.” The only helpful comment and suggestion I can think of for this paper is “Burn the damn thing and start over from scratch.”
which is not an attack on Uncle Bill and Richard Tol, but a note that they were acknowledged as having offered comments and suggestions. Richard Tol responded:

Dave is quite right. I read and criticised the paper, and so they put me in the acknowledgements. This is common practice. It is the polite thing to do and it signals to editors and referees that they did discuss their ideas with others.

It for sure is not an endorsement. Indeed I did tell them that their estimates are suspiciously high because their model is underspecified.

In other words, BAU for papers. That became part of another post on Climate Progress entitled

“Voodoo Economists, Part 3.5: Richard Tol says wildly optimistic MIT/NBER study, beloved of deniers, is “way too pessimistic””

which apparently got Nordhaus and Schellenbergered into

In another post attacking Tol, Romm wrote:

"Tol's work is a beloved of the right wing global warming deniers."
Deep Climate points out that this is a condensation of the statement in Romm's post of
"It was and is my intention to discuss Tol’s work, which itself is a beloved of the right wing global warming deniers, in Part 5."
and he finds them "not guilty on the lesser charge".

Young and innocent readers, there may be some place, somewhere, where that odd construction was written by Joe Romm. No link was given, none found with Google. Perhaps there will be others, certainly not Eli, the Rabett hastens to add, who will consider this to be a bit of slightly sly creative editing. Others, not Eli, he hastens to add, would greatly appreciate a link to remove all doubt in the matter. Recent experience with the Twins, has perhaps indicated to Eli that they do not have the funding for needed extra letters, and some must be dropped. Is it, he asks, time for a blogger ethics panel?

Tomorrow we move on.


Deep Climate said...

The quote is a condensed version of the 3.5 piece. It's slightly longer:

"It was and is my intention to discuss Tol’s work, which itself is a beloved of the right wing global warming deniers, in Part 5."

So "not guilty" on the lesser charge, I would say. Still, throw the book at them for everything else.

William M. Connolley said...

"Hank and Eli are old guys"

Yes: I think there should be some sort of badge, or colour-coding, or maybe like wikipedia user-boxes, to indicate "this blogger is old enough to remember McCarthy" or "this blogger is in his 6th decade" or "this blog has been going for n years"

Arthur said...

As usual, projection.

The main discussion topic for the Twins is not what we should do about energy etc., but what environmentalists and others should say, or things they should not say. They should not call CO2 pollution, in particular, because it frightens the children. Just as Pielke Jr. strenuously tries to prevent anybody from ever linking storm damage to climate change. Or McIntyre tries to shout down anybody who talks about a hockey stick.

And they all become oh so offended when anybody complains about their objections to what other people say. Hypocrites.

richardtol said...

Eli: The link is here:

The citation is accurate.

Steve Bloom said...

Just to note that RP Sr. is plenty old enough to remember McCarthy.

EliRabett said...

Thanks to DC and RT for the information. The quote, was, however trimmed. More interesting, did Romm ever post Part 5 (there is a part 5, but it is about Larry Summers).

richardtol said...

a) I am too young to remember Joe McCarthy, but I do have a sense of history. I do not like Joe Romm one bit. His blogs are full of nonsense and he is very unpleasant. Linking Romm to McCarthy is as unsavoury as linking critical voices in the climate debate to the Holocaust.

b) Joe Romm never published his promished thrashing of my work.

EliRabett said...

As the Romans said, de gustibus non est disputandum and Eli sure ain't gonna try to convince you that Joe Romm is the guy you want to sit down and have a beer with. That was George W. Bush and we know how that came out.

However, what would you call people who deny mountains of evidence. Eli would remind you of the links between the tobacco denialism, ozone depletion denialism, climate change denialism, DDT caused malaria denialism, just to wave the red flag, AIDs/HIV denialism and more. It is a lifestyle.

Still, being semi-reasonable, the Bunnies await a better description.

Then, of course, there are the delayerists. . . .

Deep Climate said...

What's the common link in Eli's list? They all involve the denial of science.

So you could call it "science denialism" or simply anti-science.

By the way, they tell me Marc Morano is a very affable fellow. And I know for a fact that Tom Harris is.

But what do you expect? They're slick PR professionals.

Marion Delgado said...

I can't really think of anything I despise more than the Breakthrough Institute right now.

Marion Delgado said...

Tol's entire career, as near as I can make out, has been built on telling rich people what they want to hear, more or less. Misreading the Irish economy 100%, and perhaps blaming his abject failure on tachyons traveling backwards in time from future carbon credits. If Romm is McCarthyite about Richard Concern Tol, then Tol was Stalinist against Al Gore. It'd be nice to buy these people a mirror.

Marion Delgado said...

And one final thing:

This tactic, picking one scapegoat and piling on him, is the same old right-wing M.O. - look what the GOP, Fox News, and the Teabaggers did in a coordinated campaign, sequentially, working on Van Jones, with plans to move down the list to other people like Cass Sunstein.

The idea that since so many lying whores are attacking Joe Romm at once, his fairly optimistic and largely unobjectionable climate blog, and he himself, surely must be doing something wrong, is the entire POINT of the tactic.

The market fundies at Breakthrough may believe they're presiding over the death of environmentalism, but I believe environmentalism will outlive them, and their self-serving and unscientific paradigm is heading for the ash-heap of history.

richardtol said...

Thanks, Marion, that was a constructive contribution.

Climate policy will have to survive 10-20 electoral cycles. Calling names does not help. On the contrary, comparing people to McCarthy, Hitler, Stalin, Irving only polarises the debate and gets us further from where we want to be.

Climate policy is difficult enough without mistaken historical analogues.

EliRabett said...

IEHO, Richard Tol is the designated successor to William Nordhaus and Gary Yohe, and as them, is limited by the tools in his box. While money is fungible it is not everything, and in spite of rumor, it can't buy everything. More precisely it is not possible to accurately value everything, and the past, while a guide in selecting rates of change, is far from perfect. Moreover, while data is a good thing, if we had data on the future we would use it, but, alas, we are forced to use models, and with them comes uncertainty. Hell, even with data you can have some uncertainty

Eli has problems with the way that Nordhaus, Yohe and Tol have structured their work allowing it to be used to reinforce delay and, in the early days worse. The economics has had trouble capturing the very real downsides and procrastination penalties. This is the basic Rommulan attack on the economists and to it Eli would add that the cost benefit analyses have never captured the benefits one would get from early action based on the centuries long persistence of CO2 forcing because ANY positive discount rate taken over a few hundred years pushes the benefit of early action to zero.

Eli has noted a sea change touched off by Weizman's notice of the asymmetry of risk from climate change and which Tol to his credit is following. Loosely put, they now accept Stern's conclusions but still don't like very much how he got there.

Now others, not Eli, may say that this is reasoning from the conclusion, but allow the Rabett to point out that others were there many years ago, as countless USENET discussions including this rather lateish one show.

Better late than never, but late has its costs which may be deposited in the account of those who council delay.

richardtol said...

Just for the record: I have been arguing for a carbon tax since 1991. Nordhaus has argued for a carbon tax since 1977. (Yohe's start date lies somewhere between 1977 and 1991, but I can't recall exactly when.)

Weitzman's 2009 paper draws the same conclusions as Tol's 2003 paper.

EliRabett said...

Not very hard.

More seriously, how can/does CBA handle the cummulative and essentially permanent CO2 forcing problem which extends for a couple of hundred years. We have a pretty good handle on the asymmetric part of the problem now.

richardtol said...

Eli: All that is in the public domain. If you want a private, one-on-one tutorial, you know how to find me and you can guess my rate.

Hank Roberts said...

What we need, from those who take the problem seriously, is careful, clear, 7th-grade-English public tutoring.

That's the average reading literacy level out there right now.

I've never seen a study on the reading grade level of _voters_ but I would not count on it being higher.

As many have discovered to their chagrin, there is no pay scale for the work of trying to clean up other people's externalized costs.

Unless you have grandchildren, or value other people's grandchildren, of course. Working for them is its own reward.

Shorter to economists generally: if you've been holding anything back, that has needed to be said -- what can you hope to gain for yourself compared to what the future is losing while you delay?

Talk to an ecologist if you don't get it. If you do get it, why are you being so moderate about saying so?

EliRabett said...

Do Eli's carrot buy the fabled (though never seen) one handed economist?

Also what Hank said

Hank Roberts said...

Remember there's a great human tradition of switching to the winning side at the last minute, taking credit for the victory, and never having to give up the comfortable dominant position and the comfy chair.

That 'Prodigal Son' story has it right, sad to say.

Here's where Breakthrough is going, I suspect, with their youth programs -- finding out where the people are going so they can lead them, with perhaps just a little bend to the libertarian side.

But never forget: "There are no libertarians on airplanes."

If the kids realize the planet is just a big, big airplane, Breakthrough loses.

Hank Roberts said...

Let me correct myself: that should read "... IN airplanes."

And thank you Eli for introducing me to yet another fine blogger.

Hank Roberts said...

So, Eli, what d'ya think, could Tol actually contribute useful tutoring to the public if sufficiently compensated? I'd open a tip jar if money's the only leverage, if the man could make a difference. I can't tell from what I see in public.