Cool it?

Another unconvincing assualt on Lomborgs new book. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know whats so terrible about it. But lots of people seem to dislike it. Alanna Mitchell says:

Worse still, he fails to take into account three of the characteristics of global climate change that scientists fear will make it so dangerous. First, the climate will become unstable and unpredictable, meaning it will be hard for humans to adapt farming, housing, energy sources and, yes, even air-conditioning supplies.

Well no. I haven’t seen any evidence for this at all. Who says so? [Clarification: the problem text is “the climate will become unstable and unpredictable”]

Second, the pace of the changing climate is, historically, unusually fast, and species, fashioned by slower evolutionary pressures, are not prepared for it. You can’t just look at the absolute change in temperature without looking at the speed with which it’s happening.

This is more convincing. There is the teensy problem of Dansgaard-Oeschger oscillations, which were also fast. Perhaps they only happened in the North Atlantic.

Third, the change is not expected to be linear. At some point, it becomes logarithmic; it feeds upon itself and the changes happen exponentially. These are the climate thresholds scientists keep examining and writing about, the tipping points that are difficult to predict and even more difficult to prepare for.

Ahem, we’ll just skip lightly over the odd log error. Meanwhile, were back on the killer tipping points of no return stuff, which are once again being misinterpreted. They may exist, there may be sudden jumps we’ll run across, but if so we dont know what they are (Greenland melting, for example, is *not* going to lead to any exponentia-type effects).

The review fails to take on a single one of BL’s arguments. The only one mentioned is about the 2003 heatwave; BL points out we probably gain as much from loss as winter deaths as we lose in summer deaths; AM doesn’t dispute this, and only says there are other factors, which she lists. If BL fails to consider, say, drought, then she has a point. But I doubt he does.

So, is there a proper critical review of Cool It out there anywhere?


[Thanks to JH for a pointer to a better review by Tim Flannery. Its better, but its still not good. BL appears to have said some dumb things about river flows and glaciers.

TF says:

Lomborg’s flawed grasp of climate science is most evident when he discusses sea levels. He makes much of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) projection that sea level will rise by “about a foot,” misleadingly noting that this is lower than previous projections. He does not tell us that the IPCC figures do not account for collapsing ice sheets, which may result in far larger rises, due to the difficulty of predicting how glacial ice will react to warming.

This isn’t much good. It’s unreasonable to crit Lomborg for using baseline IPCC predictions; how glacial ice will react is indeed rather hard to predict, but if IPCC left it out why shouldn’t L? To do anything sensible with it leads us into the interesting territory of how to weight different scenarios of unknown probability, which is an unsolved problem (indeed largely unaddressed, except by the likes of mt). Maybe TF should try to address is soberly.

But The deepest flaw in Cool It is aha, good, now we’re getting somewhere its failure to take into account the full range of future climate possibilities. The computer models project outcomes ranging from mild, which he acknowledges, to truly catastrophic, which he ignores. If BL truely does select only the milder range of possibilities, then he is cheating, and this is a major hit. But I’m doubtful that he does.

Then we come to Lomborg vs Stern. Stern (in my view) erred on the high side of damage and change, and the low side of cost. And (venturing onto dangerous economic ground) no-one with any credibility apart from JQ believed his discount rates. So when TF says Lomborg asserts that “a raft of academic papers have now come out all strongly criticizing Stern…” he is correct, and so is Lomborg: there really are a lot of people who have crit Stern. But when TF says “He further asserts that the Stern report… [is] slanted toward “scary” scenarios. This latter assertion is simply not true. Stern gives a straight reading of the range of possible climate outcomes. he is wrong: Stern does *not* give a straight reading of possibilities (he uses a high version of A2).

All in all, its better than the previous, which was poor, but fails to land much in the way of punches and makes errors of its own -W]

[Thanks to bcl for pointing to the Salon interview, which as he says skewers BL rather badly over polar bears. On page 2 BL (correctly, I think) says (about sea level rise) “don’t trust one scientist (Hansen) trust the intergrated viewpoint (IPCC)”. He is saying this to avoid having to deal with large (and unlikely) rises, but he strongly commits himself to this position. But by page 3, the interviewer quotes ACIA (which is BLs main ref) as “As the amount of sea ice decreases, seals, walrus, polar bears and other ice-dependent species will suffer drastically.” To which BL replies “I’m just saying that it will be harder for the polar bears but that they will not decline…”. Where does BL get this from? Later, he says “OK. But I’ve talked to a different expert that’s up in Greenland, who works for the Danish government, and he has looked over my chapter, and said that it’s OK”. This is precisely the attitude he was previously criticising: picking your pet expert instead of an intergrated assessment. Then the interviewer essentially finds BL lying by selective quotation (re polar bear adaption to ice-free state) and he has no real reply.

Bottom line: over polar bears, Lomborg is at best deceptive. The problem is that many GW problems are ecological. If BL finds himself needing to lie over this one, why should I trust him over the rest? Which leads to, why should I trust his damage estimates? -W]

[Better add the nice review at the NY Rev of Books. This includes the question I’ve asked and never had answered: “Why don’t we divert to it some of the (large and nontheoretical) sums spent on, say, the military? The answer he gave when I asked this question at our dialogue was that he thought military spending was bad and that therefore it made more sense to compare global warming dollars with other “good” spending. But of course this makes less sense. If he thought that money spent for the military was doing damage, then he could kill two birds with one stone by diverting some of it to his other projects. Proposing that, though, would lose him much of the right-wing support that made his earlier book a best seller” -W]

Comments

  1. #1 James Hrynyshyn
    2007/10/02

    Of course there is. The first one to come to mind is Tim Flannery in the Washington Post:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/06/AR2007090601979.html

  2. #2 bigcitylib
    2007/10/02

    You might check out this interview with Keven Berger in Salon. He catches Lomberg out rather badly re polar bears, which Lomberg expects will evolve back into brown bears and get on just ducky.

    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/08/29/bjorn_lomborg/

  3. #3 Tim Worstall
    2007/10/02

    I’m currently reading it (unfortunately I haven’t been hired to review it) and I’d say that both those reviews you link to are full of sh**.
    I’ve not finished it yet, nor reread my notes, but it makes a clear and obvious point. We don’t actually care, per se, about the CO2 levels, we care about the environment and the people in it. As such we should be doing whatever we can to make the best use of the resources available to address those two things. And it turns out that Kyoto (which is his constant reference point) isn’t it.
    I think the problem that the reviewers have is that they simply don’t get (or like perhaps) the concept of opportunity cost. We can’t do everything, we’ve got to pick and choose what to do and large and immediate cuts in CO2 emissions are a vastly costly method of doing what we actually want to: make life better for the subsequent generations of human beings.

    Flannery? Lomborg believes markets should not be regulated? He’s a darling of those who think so? How much regulation, what form of, can be argued but other than David Friedman not sure that anyone thinks there should be no regulation of them.

    [The opportunity costs stuff does annoy people, indeed. Partly because they see decisions taken which clearly violate it (Iraq war an obvious example). OTOH that might be an example of why you *should* use such costs to determine policy rather than irrational political instinct.

    How about arguing that constant reference to Kyoto is cheating? We all know Kyoto isn’t enough; he should be arguing about carbon taxes instead -W]

  4. #4 MarkH
    2007/10/02

    I don’t buy his argument wrt to heat related deaths.

    The sharpest increases in heat-related deaths tend to occur in cooler climates, and vice versa. The areas that are not prepared for the weather suffer more when it then occurs.

    The idea that people who are accustomed to living in the cold their whole lives are under great threat of cold-related deaths is not accurate, I’m afraid. It’s when they suddenly get exposed to a heat wave that they all keel over and croak.

  5. #5 Toby
    2007/10/02

    On the strength of Flannery’s review, I don’t think I’ll bother with Lomborg’s book at all.

    Its “Storm World” for me.

    [Why would you base your opinions on someone who very clearly opposed to the book for no very clearly good reaons? By all means say “I don’t want to read the book because I dislike the conclusions” but don’t use TF as an excuse -W]

  6. #6 John McCormick
    2007/10/02

    Alanna Mitchell said

    [it will be hard for humans to adapt farming, housing, energy sources and, yes, even air-conditioning supplies.]

    William, you replied:

    [Well no. I haven’t seen any evidence for this at all. Who says so?]

    Today’s news from CSIRO says so.

    [Ah, wrong text. I’ve clarified this. Its the unstable-and-unpredictable bit thats wrong. Unless… she is trying to suggest that we really don’t know how climate is going to change? That might be defensible -W]

  7. #7 Michael Tobis
    2007/10/02

    There is a difference between getting something wrong and lying. I speak from experience; I am scrupulous about avoiding lying, but that has unfortunately not made me infallible.

    I personally avoid having opinions on polar bears as a matter of policy, but stipulating that Lomborg has it wrong on that one doesn’t invalidate his point of view.

    I propose that we lack the appropriate metrics for cost benefit analysis over long terms, and that applying economic arguments on time scales where they mean very little is the core error. I also agree with those who argue that the IPCC consensus describes a sort of median physical opinion and underweights high risks. This is a cost/benefit argument of a sort that doesn’t necessarily rely on monetary valuations.

    I think the vehemence and shallowness of many critiques of Lomborg is very much a matter of concern, though hardly more so than the vehemence of many defenses of him. Are we daydreaming when we imagine rational public discourse?

    [Agree re the critiques, which on the whole aren’t: they are simply “I don’t like this” faced with various bits of text that may or may not hang together. Daydreaming? Probably. Did you know that nearly 50% of visitors to sci blogs are bloggers? We’re all talking to ourselves and the wide world is reading tripe for entertainment -W]

    I’m reading book called “Whose Freedom?” by George Lakoff, which is within the “framaing” frame, that argues that people don’t make decisions rationally, and that we had better cope somehow. I’m not sure how to cope with this but it seems clear enough. So if Lomborg’s critics make less sense than Lomborg, does it matter?

  8. #8 Michael Tobis
    2007/10/02

    Oops, broken html above. Clarifying:

    I personally as a matter of policy take no position on polar bears, but stipulating that Lomborg has it wrong on that one doesn’t invalidate his point of view.

    [True in principle. But if he has been deliberately quoting aout of context – and it looks very much like he has been – that casts doubt on his commitment to honesty; which leaves you unable to trust any of his other stuff without checking it. Dito swapping authorities -W]

  9. #9 David B. Benson
    2007/10/02

    My understanding of DO events is that, while extreme in Greenland and possibly extreme over the stadial ice sheets, there is (so far) no good indication of these being extreme over other land surfaces.

    In particular, I’m having some difficulty finding evidence of DO event caused climate shifts around the North Pacific Basin, with especial interest in the Gulf of Alaska. (Anyone know of some papers?)

  10. #10 Douglas Coker
    2007/10/02

    See Bill McKibben’s NYRB review of “Cool It” plus 3 other books here http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20676

    Douglas Coker

  11. #11 Hank Roberts
    2007/10/02

    > unstable and unpredictable

    Help me be clear on what you’re criticizing there –if they’d referred to “increased variability” instead, would you have agreed with those words?

    [No – why would I? -W]

    You can find a handful of hits searching just 2007 for
    “unstable and unpredictable” +climate in Google Scholar but most are references to political behavior. No surprise.

    > bears

    Well, yes, over the shorter term what we see is changes in frequency of particular genes, and likely with no sea ice suitable for hunting seals, the bears producing the most grandchildren won’t have needed the genes to be pure white.

    If they’re lucky, they have enough variability in the gene pool to evolve camouflage patterns suitable for lurking next to their new environment, like oil equipment. Caterpillar Yellow?

    They’re an outlier, efficient in that environment.

    Saying the brown bears are the same animal is pretty pathetic, though.

  12. #12 Hank Roberts
    2007/10/02

    > increased variability ….. [No. Why….?]

    Well, that’s my question.

    I see a lot of work assuming variability will increase. I don’t see it discussed directly by the climate scientists very often. It seems to be assumed by many other scientists.

    Broecker: “the climate system is an angry beast …”

    Or from a salmon program a decade ago:

    “we hypothesize that climate change will lead to increased variability of the hydrological cycle….. A sub-objective of this past year has been to review the climate change literature to determine the viability of our hypothesis that warming will lead to increased variability in the water flows that affect the salmon fishery…..”

    nigec.ucdavis.edu/publications/ar/annual97/westgec/project21.html

    So — why _do_ people expect variability to increase??

    [Um. Well, there is some kind of popular meme that var will increase, and it suits the “angry beast” metaphor, but I’m not sure its anything more than that. This, BTW, is on the assumption that by “variability” you don’t mean that the climate (30-y averages) will vary more than in the past, since thats just obvious. But if you mean that the interannual SD increases, that is not at all obvious -W]

  13. #13 Eli Rabett
    2007/10/02

    The base issue is the walk and chew gum at the same time problem. The world is rich enough to meet large future challenges (climate change) and concrete immediate ones (malaria).

    McKibben puts his finger on Lomborg’s flim flam. Why compare the cost of curing malaria to the cost of limiting climate change? We do a lot of things with our resources, including military forces, social programs, face lifts, etc. If you want a table ranking the various things to be done with the money you need to consider everything that IS done with the money.

  14. #14 Hank Roberts
    2007/10/02

    I went back and read the IPCC SP4 on variability.

    And (sigh) William was just being smarter than me again.
    He does that.

    Seems “climate variability” from human activity remains hard to find because of natural climate variation. But natural variation for the past some millenia has been _around_a_mean_ that’s now changing faster than before. I think that’s the point.

    Of course the natural variation when looked at over centuries is immense compared to what any human lifetime encompasses, so this doesn’t really reassure planners much.

    The trend appears to be clear to the biologists.
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v416/n6879/abs/416389a.html

  15. #15 Hank Roberts
    2007/10/02

    I hope, William, you’ll make a separate full post on the statistic about who reads science blogs.

    That reminded me of this:

    “I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted… I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin cabarets of the ’30s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Lehrer

  16. #16 Steve Bloom
    2007/10/03

    William, my impression is that most book reviews don’t get into the level of detail you seem to want, as doing so tends to bore readers. As you will recall, Lomborg’s first book made such a big splash that it did get that treatment, coordinated by Steve Schneider and published in SciAm. This one doesn’t seem to having anywhere close to that much attention, so perhaps it doesn’t merit the same treatment.

    It having been established that Lomborg’s rise to fame was based on a fraud (his putative environmentalism) and that he has no climate science qualifications, why go through the sort of exercise you’re talking about for this new book? Why not review Singer and Avery’s tome, e.g., since they at least have some minimal qualifications with regard to the subject matter?

    Of course, if there’s such a crying need for it *you* could do the review.

  17. #17 Preben S
    2007/10/03

    One more review:
    “Hot air. The book reviewed by Eban Goodstein at Salon.com.”
    http://www.salon.com/books/review/2007/08/29/cool_it/
    There is a good example of cherry picking here:
    Yet here again he imagines a consensus that does not exist. Yale economist Robert Repetto’s well-known review of 16 cost studies concluded that the estimated GDP impact of Kyoto-level controls ranged from the relatively small negative effects that concern Lomborg, to results that were also small, but positive. Reducing emissions might actually spur economic growth by, among other reasons, increasing global energy efficiency.”

    Se also:
    http://www.lomborg-errors.dk/coolit.htm>Lomborg Errors.
    You can find several examples on BL’s cherry picking and lies on this web site. Up to now only a few samples from cool it.

    I can see a lot of uncertainty in the projections.
    How will the future be in big parts of Asia when the rivers from Himalaya dries up in part of the season?
    What will the draught impact be in big parts of the world?
    Will the Ogalala Aquifer dry up in 30 years allready?
    Water wars instead of oil wars? Exaggerating a little? – maybe, maybe not.

    There is also a short review concerned in particular with uncertainty and cost benefit analysis:
    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/09/if-the-uncertai.html
    “If The Uncertainties Are Not Small, standard Cost-Benefit Analysis As Applied To The Economics Of Climate Change Becomes Incoherent. By Partha Dasgupta.”

    Big chunks of economy are not science. It’s religion. The Julian Simon ideas are almost pure dreamwork. BL’s work is nothing more. That’s my opinion.

  18. #18 Luboš Motl
    2007/10/03

    Of course that there exists a good and informative – literally critical – review of Cool It. It was written by Michael Crichton:

    http://www.amazon.com/Cool-Skeptical-Environmentalists-Global-Warming/dp/0307266923/

  19. #19 Alexander Ač
    2007/10/03

    Dear William,

    “Did you know that nearly 50% of visitors to sci blogs are bloggers?” – this is quite optimistic number ;-). I guess that most of sci bloggers are more intelligent than average, most of scientists are not climatologists or related (physics, biologists etc.) and virtually nobody is really interested in what will be 50 years from now (whatever it will be).

    I think we are not designed to be interested in distant future, i.e. we are not designed to be sustainable (we don’t see long-term effects of present day actions)

  20. #20 Martin Lewitt
    2007/10/03

    I doubt that “failure to take into account the full range of future climate possibilities” is a fair criticism. The models are not yet up to the task of apportioning attribution between solar, CO2 and other forcings, much less assigning probabilities to “possibilities”. Correlated errors among the AR4 models are larger than the energy imbalance responsible for recent warming. Compare the Roesch (2006) positive surface albedo bias results with the Hansen (2005) energy imbalance results.

    It does not yet make sense to consider the range of model results as equivilent to the full range of future climate possibilities.

  21. #21 guthrie
    2007/10/03

    Regarding the pace of change of climate and ecosystems, there is a small problem there. Due to the past 250 years of industrialisation, we humans have taken over large areas of the planets surface, effetively meaning that species which make up ecosystems that are trying to adapt to the warming, will find it extremely difficult to move anywhere due to being blocked in by concrete.

  22. #22 Dano
    2007/10/03

    Ahem.

    Those of us who brief policymakers can only do so much with what smart people quibble about, *cough*William*cough* and sometimes Michael. It is just fine to have these discussions about whether findings are just so, but that doesn’t do much for directioning society.

    When I brief my policymakers I do so from an education in hort and urban ecology and environmental planning. And these disciplines are clear in that disturbance and resilience interactions are strained in our current socioecological systems.

    You folks go ahead with these semantics over Lomborg. Staffers see his cr*p as wrong and not too many decision-makers are getting positive briefings these days.

    Carry on.

    Best,

    D

  23. #23 JamesG
    2007/10/05

    It’s always odd to see so many people discussing what we should be doing and where we’ll find the money. Meantime in the real world we’re developing hybrid, electric and fuel cell-driven cars. We’re also building wind farms, wave energy stations, subsidizing geothermal heating and funding nuclear fusion research. Our new batteries, fuel cells and solar panels are smaller, better and far cheaper than they were just a few years ago. Green investment is the “in” thing haven’t you all noticed? Don’t fret so much!

  24. #24 J. Althauser
    2007/10/08

    Steve Bloom mentioned that Lomborg’s earlier book on environmental issues was exposed in Scientific American-

    Misleading math about the Earth
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000F3D47-C6D2-1CEB-93F6809EC5880000
    The first essay is on climate by Stephen Scheinder. Similar criticisms follow on energy, population and biodiversity.

    Here is an analysis of misleading extinction claims by an expert in that field.

    http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/~dwenny/documents/NAJ2002unabridged.pdf
    The same misleading methods surely fill the current book (and should be mentioned in reviews of it).

    Lomborg is a political scientist posing as statistician/economist. His publication record shows one peer-reviewed paper on game theory, from his thesis in ~1994. Since then, zilch. His strong suit is self-promotion, as apparent from his adjunct professor spot obtained without any academic accomplishments.

  25. #25 ChrisC
    2007/10/17

    Not sure if I’ve missed the boat on this one, as this is an older post, but Judith Curry has a critque here:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/10/AR2007101002157.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

    My own assessment is that it’s good, but not great. I think she nit picks somewhat, and dances around the main points. But she still gets a few good blows in.

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