Pat Michaels’ Kyoto scam

Readers may remember Pat Michaels, who authored a paper one that “disproved” global warming by deliberately removing almost one-third of the satellite data from his analysis and co-operated with Ross McKitrick on another paper that managed to “prove” that global warming wasn’t happening by mixing up degrees with radians. Alan Anderson has responded to my criticism of his claim that Kyoto was a dastardly EU plot to cripple the US economy by offering up an article by … Pat Michaels.

I’m afraid that this article is up to Michael’s usual standards. He constructs a measure of carbon efficiency by dividing a country’s CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by the area of that country. His rationale for this is that larger countries have to consume more energy on transportation. But Michael’s measure makes absolutely no sense at all.

  1. While it is true that in a larger country you can travel further inside the country, that distance is not proportional to the area of the country. For instance, if country A is twice as far from North to South and twice as far from East to West as country B, then the area of country A is four times that of country B, but you can only travel twice as far in country A.
  2. Imagine dividing the US into two equal sized countries. By Michael’s measure the efficiency of each piece is half that of the US, even though nothing else has changed. The reason is that Michael’s measure does not include international travel at all.

If you wanted to do a competent job of estimating the effects of Kyoto on transport in different countries you would need to show that the fraction of energy consumed by transportation is significantly different in each country, and that transportation would be particularly affected by Kyoto. Michaels does none of this, instead presenting his bogus measure as if it meant something.

Michaels also falsely claims that Kyoto “would cost us about 3 percent of GDP per year”. In fact, an extensive comparison of several studies finds:

All the studies project irreducible losses to the economy that are small (less than 1 percent of GDP in 2010 and 2020) in absolute magnitude

Why did Michaels advance such a nonsensical measure? It couldn’t have anything to do with funding by coal and oil interests, could it?

Update: Anderson has another post where he offers an article by Christopher Horner in another attempt to support his position:

For any other ignorant types out there who prefer factual arguments to rhetoric, here is an interesting article about the next likely step in the EU’s campaign to undermine US economic competitive advantage under the aegis of fighting climate change.

Here are some of the alleged “factual arguments”:

Doubtless accompanied by specious claims of scientific certainty, its plea would claim that the U.S. refusal to follow the EU’s greenhouse gas (Kyoto) path constitutes impermissible protectionism and/or “eco-dumping.” Incredibly, the WTO has indicated a willingness to accept such an argument, also advocated by some as a path to “harmonize” the otherwise incompatible pro-trade and anti-energy pacts….

mindless carbon dioxide suppression….

Any treaty threatening the economic health of nations will ultimately collapse of its own potential harm, though not without first wreaking havoc…

one important step would be to abandon Kyoto once and for all, with its built-in appeasement of ideological extremists seeking to impede global prosperity…

Of course, these aren’t “factual arguments”. For example, Horner offers no evidence that Kyoto will wreak havoc, no evidence that Kyoto is intended to appease “ideological extremists”, no evidence that the people who designed Kyoto are “mindless” and no evidence that the plea to the WTO was accompanied by “specious claims of scientific certainty. Nor is there any reason to believe that these “factual arguments” are accurate—they are nothing more than empty rhetoric, deployed because the actual facts are not helpful to Horner.

And guess who employs Horner to write this rubbish? The Competitive Enterprise Institute. Readers may recall fellow CEI employee Paul Georgia, who told the world that average temperature had no physical meaning. And Iain Murray, another CEI employess, who tried to rewrite basic epidemilogical principles and insisted that the evidence for global warming was cooked up. The CEI warns people that using Linux is legally risky, attacked the FDA when it proposed regulating tobacco, and relentlessly attacks Kyoto. It is no doubt just a coincidence that the CEI receives extensive funding from Microsoft, Philip Morris and Exxon.

Comments

  1. #1 Eli Rabett
    October 5, 2004

    One of the delights of my academic old age is that Michael Mann and Pat Michaels are in the same department……Oh to be a fly on the wall

  2. #2 Alan Anderson
    October 5, 2004

    Tim, when I described the article as “factual arguments” I meant simply that they contained arguments purporting to spring from facts. Mea culpa, shoddy wording, but if you look at the whole post and put that description in context you will see I am distinguishing it from the stuff I got in my email, my favourite of which finished:

    “I guess that they didn’t teach you that in Christian Sunday School where you went to avoid being picked on”.

    [I'm an atheist; where do these people get this stuff?]

  3. #3 BertJan Bakker
    October 5, 2004

    On distances and country size:
    The maximum distance in a rectangular area is to travel the
    diagonal. So, the maximum distance in a country with doubled
    dimensions will be sqrt(2) times larger, even less than you
    calculated.

  4. #4 ben
    October 5, 2004

    Why exactly is it that global warming is a bad thing anyway? I’ve seen nothing compelling to make it look like this is so.

  5. #5 ben
    October 5, 2004

    for instance, stuff like this at the beeb seems really dumb

  6. #6 jre
    October 5, 2004

    I agree that the BBC managed to simplify the issue to somewhere on the low-resolution side of “cartoonish.”
    Better discussions may be found at the

    National Academy of Sciences
    and the

    IPCC.


    Every reviewer I trust has said that the range of potential outcomes is huge, but that some of them are almost certain to be bad, in the sense of disruptive –e.g. forcing people to move out of coastal areas, grow different crops, etc.
    Less likely, but possible, are extreme results such as toggling the Atlantic conveyor current to another stable state, making northern Europe’s climate dramatically colder. On the other hand, higher latitudes would almost certainly be warmer.

    So — is global warming a “bad thing”? Depends on where you live, but it would certainly be disruptive as hell for a lot of people.

  7. #7 Charles Stewart
    October 5, 2004

    BertJanBakker: You are wrong. The diagonal of an XxY rectangle is sqrt(X^2+Y^2), while the diagonal of a 2×2 square is 2sqrt(X^2+Y^2), exactly twice as much, just as Tim says.

  8. #8 BertJan Bakker
    October 5, 2004

    Charles Stewart: You are totally right of course. Reminds me
    to think twice before posting.

  9. #9 Jonathan
    October 5, 2004

    Ben:

    If nothing were to happen other than the temperature everywhere go up a couple of degrees, than there would be problems — lots of low-altitude areas are now under the ocean, and lots of previously arable land become desert, but some previously too-cold land also becomes arable. But the changes can be more subtle than that.

    For instance, as was widely reported, the US DoD commissioned a study on what would happen if the North Atlantic Conveyor, a large-scale ocean current that leads to Northern Europe, were disrupted. This is a very likely outcome of any significant melting of the north polar ice cap. The results are not pretty: much of Northern Europe becomes significantly colder very quickly (although the scenerio under review in the report, that it shuts off over 20 years, is unrealistically fast, it could easily happen over 50 or 100). That causes mass migration and possibly border skirmishes or war over now-scarce resources like arable land and food.

    But, in fact, its worse than that. The weather patterns on the planet reflect an very complex nonlinear system that has settled into a semi-stable equillibrium over centuries and millennia. While a new equillibrium with a higher temperature might be supportable (although the cost of adapting to it in the short and medium term would be huge — mass migration, famine, etc.) the transition will be disasterous as the system tries to adapt before relaxing to that equillibrium. As an example, look what happens in the Americas with El Nino, where a fraction-of-a-degree average change in part of the Pacific ocean causes huge weather disruptions on the western side of the USA and Central America. The problem isn’t the small increase in temperature, it’s all the transient weather patterns are set up. If there are significant temperature changes over the course of a century, then those sorts of events could be expected to be occuring for at least that century, and perhaps much longer until the new equillibrium sets in.

    The system is so complicated that it’s a bit of a mugs game to try to predict the exact bad transient things that would happen, but no serious climate scientist believes that the disruptions would be good.

    You should definately try to follow jre’s advice and look at the IPCC report. The results of that report included things the US adminstration did not want to hear, so they then directed the National Academy to produce the issue, and their report, also linked to by jre, basically agrees with the IPCC report. These reports represent the genuine consensus of the scientific community on the current understanding of the issues.

    Sorry for the long post.

  10. #10 Peter
    October 5, 2004

    Ben wrote ‘for instance, stuff like this at the beeb seems really dumb’. Well, it is from (C)hildrens BBC!

  11. #11 jre
    October 6, 2004

    I missed that. Either I’m still a child at heart, or my expectations have been lowered by a general dumbing of the media. The site linked to by ben seemed only slightly more simplified than what I’ve come to expect from (e.g.) USA Today (or, as the immortal Fred Friendly described it, “a TV show you can wrap fish in”).

  12. #12 Dave
    October 6, 2004

    Michaels’ comments also assume a uniform population distribution. In a large – geographically speaking – country like Canada, for example, the majority of the population lives within a few hundred kilometres of the US border. While transportation is certainly expensive going west to east, there isn’t anywhere near as much going north to south.

  13. #13 ben
    October 6, 2004

    yes, I know it’s from the children’s bbc. So what? It’s ok to give our kids one sided views provided it’s dumbed down? It’s not the presentation that was dumb, by the way, it was the content. Seems more like bias and indoctrination to me.

    And what if all that bad stuff happens in spite of Kyoto etc? What are the garantees that Kyoto will be effective? What is the likelyhood of doomsday scenarios with and without Kyoto? Maybe it’d be smarter, more economical and easier to simply accept that change will happen, we won’t know what it is until later, and plan to deal with it.

  14. #14 Jonathan
    October 6, 2004

    Ben:

    That could be said of any policy option. Who knows? Let’s not do anything, see what happens.

    The rational response is to take the best information available at the time, make decisions based on that, and be prepared to revise them as time goes on. The fact of the matter is that this is one of those situations where acting now is much cheaper than acting later, and while it’s certainly true that there are uncertainties, the costs of inaction are potentially immense. Being paralyzed by (largely imaginary) uncertainty is a poor option.

    The fact is that 90%+ of people who study this for a living think that something should be done, and if you read the reports jre linked to you’d know that. You may personally feel that you are much better informed than those climate scientists, but my guess is that you aren’t. Yes, you can find people who disagree, but you can also find people who firmly believe that there is a sculpture of a face on Mars and that they have evidence of a coverup.

    As for the CBBC report, objectivity doesn’t mean just transcribing arguments from partisans of each side. Sometimes, the facts are just overwhelmingly on one side of the debate, and omitting that fact isn’t `objective’, it’s flat out misleading. Whenever the Mars-face people issue a new press release, you don’t see headlines “Evidence of Martian Civilization: Opinions Differ”. The evidence for climate change is pretty much at that point where to give a credible objective account of the story is to tell it like it is — global climate change caused by human actions is almost certainly slowly happening, and the only question is how bad it will be. If you disagree, you’re more than welcome to do labratory experiments on the scattering of light by greenhouse gasses or computational simulations of the climate and present them to the community.

  15. #15 Jonathan
    October 6, 2004

    Sorry for blathering on and on, but this topic is near and dear to me.

    It amazes me that people are so willing to dismiss research by hundreds or thousands of people in favour of what two or three people are saying in order to hear what they’d like; this is increasingly a problem in the American right these days, although it’s a larger problem than just partisan politics. It’s a reversal from rationalism; it’s a belief that because one *wants* something to be true, it must be; that reality is less important than firmly held convictions. It’s magical thinking.

    Some of the same people who are deriding taking action over climate change are the people who 20 years ago were saying that banning CFCs was going to be incredibly expensive, hurt industry, destroy jobs, and besides, the science wasn’t certain anyway. And yet they were banned, and the free market took over and some clever people found alternative materials, they were amply rewarded, and there are now measurements that not only have holes in the ozone layer slowed their growth, but in some places the process may actually be reversing. And somehow the western economies haven’t been destroyed.

    Human political history isn’t a story of decisions made with perfect knowledge. It is possible that some of the science today is wrong. But the solution to that is to do more research and proceed prudently, not to plug your fingers in your ears and shout “it must be wrong, because I want it to be; so lets do nothing.”

  16. #16 jre
    October 6, 2004

    These days, raw information is not in short supply.

    It is abundant everywhere, and nowhere more so than in a complex, data-rich field such as climatology.

    And it is available to anyone — you can even get

    a full set of Greenland ice core data for free,

    if you are so inclined.

    The scarce resources are time, and effort, and critical thinking.

    It is damn hard to make sense of so much information.
    Given a choice of beliefs, most of us would prefer to believe something that comports with our existing opinions, requires little effort to absorb, and doesn’t cost us money.
    Ideally, all three.

    That has been true forever (and I’m as bad as the rest of the crowd), but the Web has made the problem worse, by giving us way too much hard information, with no reliable way to sift through it, and simultaneously offering the tasty alternative of pre-cooked opinions.

    This site stands out among blogs because our gracious host is actually willing to follow the data, and to do the work necessary to make sense of a complex subject. It
    is to be hoped that his example will catch on.

  17. #17 Robert McClelland
    October 6, 2004

    Shorter Pat Michaels: Europe is evil and polluting is okay because I earn a hundred bucks for every bag of trash I throw on my front lawn.

  18. #18 ben
    October 6, 2004

    I’ll agree with that, jre. I’ve got many other pressing things to deal with every day, not to mention a family and a full slate of hobbies (that I rarely manage to get to). More or less like everyone else including the climate scientists (except that they get to spend all their working time on climate).

    Also, the last sentence of mine up there is totaly stupid.

    I’m slowly going through the IPCC and NAS stuff.

    Now Jonathan. What you say is essentially correct in its own right. But, there is a fundamental difference between arguing about obvious fallacies and arguing about things that involve significant uncertainty. You wasted a good deal of space above with an unfair example.

    So really, how much certainty is there that Kyoto will have a net benefit? How much certainty is ther that no action on climate will have a net loss?

    I’m wary of government regulation such as Kyoto because government (esp. environmental) regulation, even when shown to incur a net loss, is very very very difficult to undo. Tell me I’m wrong. I’m thinking of DDT for instance. DDT ban = many people dead, no egg shell thinning.

    I could potentially be convinced to go with Kyoto for a trial 10 year period. If the economic difficulties are too great, the science changes, etc., then it would just die because there’d be no compelling reason to renew it. But if it was obviously good, and the new science backed it up, and we could afford it, then it would obviously be renewed. Why hasn’t anyone suggested this middle of the road approach? It worked for our “assault weapons” “ban.”

  19. #19 jre
    October 6, 2004

    That was a reasoned and gentlemanly response, ben, and I don’t want to seem contrary, but I have to take issue with your DDT statement, too.

    To choose an example, it seems to be accepted among biologists that organochlorines are bad for bald eagles. See, for example,
    this USGS site

    for the statement “Levels of DDE in eggs before and after the DDT ban were significantly different and were correlated with reproductive productivity.” (This is but one of many similar reports.) Bald eagles are particularly susceptible to the bad effects of DDT because of their diet and biology, and they are the DDT ban’s poster creatures for obvious reasons. But a prudent person would not assume that it’s just bald eagles who suffer, and the rest of us can relax. Some restriction on DDT use made sense in 1972 and still does today.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to make a rational trade-off between benefits. There is some level of harm from DDT that a reasonable person would accept in order to prevent many people from contracting insect-borne diseases. But we need to assess the harm fairly, and with open eyes.

    All the same Kyoto. If I can believe that a given person is making an honest effort to evaluate the climate data, whichever way they point, and fairly estimate the costs of remediation, whatever they may be, then I can respect that person’s argument, even if I do not agree with it.

    But I just have not yet come across anyone arguing against the reality of global warming, or against the feasibility of doing anything about it, who seems to bring that level of honesty to the table. I would be pleased to learn of such a counterexample. Nominees?

  20. #20 chris_a
    October 7, 2004

    “I would be pleased to learn of such a counterexample. Nominees? ”

    While the crickets chirp…

    Jonathan touched on something I think is very important. Namely, that the rise in mean temperature isn’t the only concern. The paleoclimatic record contains numerous instances of abrupt climate change in the relatively recent past – 100,000 years or so. [If you're looking for primary literature a good start is to search for "Dansgaard/Oeschger" or "D/O event" or "H-D/O tandem"]. The exact thresholds that trigger these changes are unknown. However, the larger and more rapid a climate disturbance is, the greater the likelihood it will trigger an abrupt change.

    Even if an abrupt change does not occur, another serious concern is an increase in climate variability. Both the paleoclimatic record and computer simulations support the contention that variability will increase with global warming. [I am unaware of any primary literature that claims that variability will decrease.] Obviously, the uncertainties concerning variability are even greater than those involving mean temperature. With that said, this could be a big problem: Consider the effects when 100-year events such as floods, heat waves, droughts, etc.occur every 20 years.

    Since the 1970′s, several of the teleconnection patterns (e.g. ENSO, NAO) have undergone quantifiable changes. Woods Hole scientists are measuring a slowdown in the THC. I’m not saying that these observations are proof that these changes will occur. I do think they are solid evidence that abrupt climate change and increases in climate variability are real concerns and need to be taken into account. The IPCC technical summary only mentions these briefly in the technical summary. It is not because they aren’t significant. It’s just that the uncertainty is too great, and that a strong, clear case can be made on the basis of the rise in mean temperature alone.

    If you want to have a discussion of costs and benefits, bear in mind that the estimates of cost need to take increased variability and abrupt change into account. Because of the wide range of outcomes and the associated uncertainties, it would be disingenuous to assign a single number for the cost of global warming. Further, the range of costs would be so broad that the discussion would be less of a cost-benefit analysis and more of a tolerance of risk analysis. It’s not your tolerance, or mine; it’s everyone’s tolerance.

    I’m not trying to defend Kyoto – it has its problems. I’m trying to explain why criticisms that claim Kyoto has a weak scientific basis or that it fails a cost-benefit analysis aren’t really credible.

  21. #21 Jonathan
    October 7, 2004

    Ben:

    Your response is a extremely fair. (Especially since, as I re-read my posts, the last one could be taken to be aimed directly at you personally, which wasn’t my intent; I apologize for that. I don’t even know you personally, and I certainly don’t know if you behave in the way I described.)

    There are definately lots of very good arguments to be had about the Kyoto treaty. One major point which can be missed when discussing the details of Kyoto, however, is that the immediate political reality seems to that it’s Kyoto or nothing — that is, there are no short-term replacements on the horizion. Since by any reasoning climate change is a global problem, any meaningful attempt to address it requires a world-wide negotation, which is a huge deal and isn’t easily redone or revisited. Unfortunately, such a process with so many countries having so many different interests is also always going to result in a seriously imperfect document.

    As with many sorts of problems, the cost of letting the problem grow to the point where its more visible is much greater than taking earlier preventative measures. Perhaps the sort of trial period you suggested with well-agreed-upon criteria to be met at the end of the trial period would be a good way to allow early action while still winning over skeptics. There’s also a possibility that the 10-year timespan might be too short; since a lot of the investment that would have to be done is very long-timescale (building energy and transportation supply and infrastructure notoriously take huge amounts of time), this would discourage buy-in until the `wait-and-see’ period is over. That, of course, would make doing the end-of-period assessment difficut; how can you tell if it has made a difference when it isn’t fully implemented yet?

  22. #22 mark
    October 7, 2004

    Another issue is that most prominent global warming sceptics are people like those debunked by Tim on this ‘blog, or proclaimed as heroes of that bastard Milloy’s site. People who are paid by special interests to pervert the cause of science. Not only do most climate scientists agree about global warming; those that don’t are usually in the pay of people with a clear interest in pretending it’s all a hoax. Whatever the merits of Kyoto, to present people like McKitrick and Michaels as objective voices of dissent whose contribution is as valuable as anyone’s is, at best, ignorant.

  23. #23 Ian Gould
    October 7, 2004

    I could potentially be convinced to go with Kyoto for a trial 10 year period. If the economic difficulties are too great, the science changes, etc., then it would just die because there’d be no compelling reason to renew it. But if it was obviously good, and the new science backed it up, and we could afford it, then it would obviously be renewed. Why hasn’t anyone suggested this middle of the road approach?

    Actually Ben the Kyoto Protocol provides for revising countries quotas every FIVE years. If costs are too high or global warming is foudn to be less of a problem than thought, the quotas could be raised. Unfortunately because Australia and the US haven’t ratified the treaty they’re unlikely to have much of a voice on this issue.

  24. #24 Bob H
    October 8, 2004

    “2. Imagine dividing the US into two equal sized countries. By Michael’s measure the efficiency of each piece is half that of the US, even though nothing else has changed. The reason is that Michael’s measure does not include international travel at all.”

    This point by Tim seems nonsensical to me. True the measure for each half is half what it was before, but the total is the same. I don’t see the problem at all.

    Incidently, is everything one big conspiracy theory to Tim? why do you see Horner, Paul Georgia, and Iain Murray as always having bad motives? The attacks on Pat Michaels show you are obsessive.

  25. #25 Ken Miles
    October 8, 2004

    I thought that Tim’s point was quite obvious. In real life, nothing has changed. By Michaels metric, a great deal has changed.

    Which leads to; Michaels isn’t care about the science, he’s in the propaganda business. He constructed a garbage system of measuring carbon efficiency to make a point.

    There is no conspiracy, just a bunch of ideologues trying to peddle BS while pretending it’s science. No different from the Answers in Genesis crew.

  26. #26 Peter
    October 8, 2004

    “Incidently, is everything one big conspiracy theory to Tim? why do you see Horner, Paul Georgia, and Iain Murray as always having bad motives? The attacks on Pat Michaels show you are obsessive”

    Straw based ad hom anyone?

    If he is an obsessive presumably you discount the possibility he is right? That there are bad eggs out there? Which, presumably, means you are right?

    Ok, so where is he wrong?

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