Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Imam?

There may be one imam who is especially important to the recent Northwest Air attempted bombing, the Fort Hood shootings, and other planned attacks. He was born and educated largely in the U.S., and has lived and worked there recently.

Good news: there may be very few people who are truly a threat to attack Americans. Bad news: once again it is a relatively privileged person, with plenty of access to the benefits of Western life, who becomes radical. Are there known cases of radical Moslems becoming Westernized, to counter-balance the Westernized ones who become radical?

Monday, December 28, 2009


I've recently read a substantial part of the life of Lord Salisbury, written by his daughter. Then I re-read a short life of Edmund Burke by John Morley. I keep thinking of A.J.P. Taylor's suggestion that conservatives are people who wait until the other side goes swimming, and then steals their clothes. In other words, from the moment liberals or progressives suggest a new program, it is just a matter of time until conservatives adopt it, even if this comes after years or decades of bitter denunciation of the idea as hostile to our way of life, immoral, etc. Certainly in 19th century British politics, to which I keep returning for some reason, conservatism was largely defined by issues that gradually disappeared.

To be a Tory meant opposing free trade. Tariffs helped the good old farmers (supposedly not only rich landed aristocrats), close to the ancestral soil, tied by habit and instinct to our traditions, etc. Robert Peel as a new, non-landed, kind of urban mercantile conservative, was considered to be taking a bold step in adopting free trade after an election campaign in which he allowed the impression to stand that he would oppose it. Disraeli led a rebellion by "die hard" Tories, but as soon as the dust settled, Disraeli told his followers that protection by means of tariffs was "not only dead, it was damnable." The economy was booming, and free trade was popular, end of story. Protection would pop up again from time to time, pretty much always from Tories. Joe Chamberlain bizarrely brought it up in the 20th century, when it made trouble for Balfour as Tory PM. Balfour tried to come up with a compromise, but failed. Only a few years later Tory PM Baldwin campaigned on some kind of tariffs. When he was defeated, that was the end of it--a hundred years after Peel.

Tories were supposed to be for the established Church of England--even in Ireland and Wales, which didn't want it, and didn't want to pay for it. Gradually this part of the establishment faded away to a considerable extent. Tories were supposed to fight "Reform"--expansion of the franchise to somewhat poorer people, and equalizing constituencies in a way that would weaken some of the gentry. In 1832 the Duke of Wellington persuaded his fellow Tory Lords to back down. In the 1860s Salisbury broke with his leader Disraeli--Salisbury taking the anti-Reform view that the ordinary people, admitting that they were in the majority in the country, should not have unchecked power in government any more than any other narrow group should. Funnily enough, the Tory party benefitted hugely from the Reform in the late 19th century; without good polling or anything comparable, no one could have predicted this. Everyone ended up as one happy family.

So: is there such a thing as a conservatism that can be stated in at least relatively unchanging principles, or are conservatives always simply saying "not yet."

Burke worked harder at this than Disraeli or Salisbury. To paraphrase: a political community has institutions that are functioning more or less well at a particular time. This includes "establishments" (plural, not just one Establishment as those stupid old hippies would suggest), but it also brought a way of life, a home, a set of habits and traditions, for ordinary people. None of this should necessarily be regarded as completely fixed or unchanging, but the better it is working, the more hesitation there should be in changing it, especially by threatening violence. Burke was especially concerned at a kind of intellectual conceit that new ideas should be introduced willy-nilly, to see what would happen, even if the risk of violence was more or less inadvertently raised. One might say Marxism in the twentieth century was an extreme example of this tendency.

Burke was all for the American Revolution, dedicated to the rights of man, which Burke would be the first to say was a relatively new doctrine in history, and largely confined, as a working philosophy, to the English-speaking world. Why would he not oppose what might seem an extension of this doctrine, bringing with it the direct threat of violent revolution, in the American colonies? Burke said the Americans were defending ideas, but more importantly daily practices and habits, that had become well-established among them. Proposed British laws affecting the colonies were going to hurt them, restrict business, force them to curtail the plans and decisions, all arguably beneficial, that they had been in the habit of making. Given all the typically New World talk about the frontier, and tomorrow always being better than today, it may have been hard to find as aggressively entrepreneurial group of business people anywhere as one found in the American colonies. In this sense, aggressive capitalism was something to be defended there, but probably not in India, a very different and, Burke would probably say, more backward place. Burke actually said it was the British government that was introducing a novel doctrine in America, with the idea that Parliament was more supreme over American business people than it was over those in Britain. Instead of allowing them more latitude, as their organic situation may have demanded, Lord North and King George III were trying to force them to accept less. This all reminds me that my late father used to say the American Revolutionaries were demanding the rights of Englishmen. Tocqueville says, no doubt partly because of the relative lack of violence, that the American Revolution was hardly a real revolution.

Burke was a Whig, who may have become more of a Tory with age. He wanted to protect liberalism where it had been established (very few places), and extend it where possible (possibly even fewer places).

Burke famously was opposed, one could almost say violently opposed, to the French Revolution. He suggested the whole mess, even before it became really violent, was the deliberate destruction of organic traditions by a few trouble-making intellectuals. As Morley says, Burke never admitted that some of the reformist measures of the early days of the Revolution were hugely popular, and reflected the actual suffering of the ordinary people in their organic, communal daily lives. The Revolution was not simply hostile to tradition--it was partly inspired by, and consistent with, the traditions of the country and the people. Burke might have said that the pre-revolutionary actions of the King and aristocrats of France were just as revolutionary or bellicose, even if carried out in the name of tradition, as the actions of George III and Lord North before the American Revolution.

Does Burke provide us with any way of telling in advance whether progressive and even revolutionary ideas are "good" or "bad"? Perhaps one can say: the more revolutionary they are, the more they are to be discouraged, but Burke as a Whig surely defended the English Glorious Revolution as the timely establishment of a just and lawful regime that provided a peaceful solution to the religious wars and other issues. Leo Strauss' essay on Burke suggests he moved away from "natural rights" modernity to "history." Somehow big-H History, like a divinity, can decide and let us know the outcome.

The American regime has a conservative character compared to social democratic regimes in the 20th century. For some Republicans and so-called libertarians, if an idea was not in fairly widespread circulation in the 1780s, it can be discounted and perhaps rejected. So: no welfare state--not even public education or pensions, perhaps very limited public or government provision for the poor. The Swedish welfare state began with labour market programs--ensuring that there is work, and workers move to the work, but also that there is unemployment insurance. Perhaps Americans have always believed in government works that employ people, even if they are make-work projects. Capitalism understood as creative destruction--ultimately affecting the family and everything else--does not seem very conservative, but it was definitely well understood by American merchants in the 1780s. A standing army was definitely regarded as an evil to be avoided, even if there were odds and ends of people who wanted to make trouble for you; today's libertarians seem to embrace the Pentagon, possibly the largest and most wasteful bureaucracy that has ever existed, but that is another story.

Blindly led by "experts"

Here's another example of people who should know better being blindly led by so-called experts. (The article in the Register links to a piece in Playboy). In this case, the Bush administration, at the highest level, believing some cock and bull story about details of terrorist attacks being broadcast in code over Al Jazeera. The con artist involved, Dennis Montgomery, was working closely with the Science and Technology unit of the CIA. Surely, one would think, these are people who would insist on proof that there is such a technology, or that it works. But no, they wanted to believe, or they wanted to prove they were being super-cautious, or something, so they sold Montgomery's nonsense to Dick Cheney and others. It took a while for actual intelligence officials to establish that the whole story made no sense: among other things, terrorist operatives would need de-coding devices, there would be no logistical advantage in proceeding this way, etc.

Of course I'm reminded of global warming. There have been many extremes of cold and warmth on earth. No one thinks any of them have ever been caused by human action, except possibly a warming trend in the twentieth century. In order to believe man-made CO2 has caused this particular trend, one must believe that there is a closed energy system, that this one forcing will over-ride any other forcing, including some that might cause cooling, etc. Surely some skepticism would be called for, and in the meantime, detailed evidence would be demanded before drawing conclusions. But no. Gullibility ruled.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Is warming over, and what caused it?

Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy at Waterloo, says "global warming" lasted from 1950 to 2000; and we are now in a cooling period. This already suggests no real correlation with man-made CO2, which has been increasing steadily since about 1850. He says in fact that when warming occurred, it was caused by a combination of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and cosmic rays. Production of CFCs has gone down dramatically since about 2000, which was the first year that developed countries produced no new CFCs at all. Dr. Lu was intending to explore the relationship between CFCs and ozone loss or "the hole in the ozone layer," but he ended up arriving at findings about temperature and climate.

His work is peer-reviewed in a peer-reviewed journal (Physics Reports) with lots of peers reviewing it. In fact, it may even be sprinkled with fairy dust.

I think for a lay person the main question is: is there some doubt about the science that underlies the recommendations to spend billions or trillions reducing CO2 emissions?

Monday, December 21, 2009

EPA: Clean Air vs. Reducing Carbon

A nice piece by Steven Hayward in the Weekly Standard. He begins by admitting forthrightly (maybe not what you'd expect from a conservative) that the Clean Air Act, enforced by the EPA, has done a lot of good. It has been costly, but it has not really inhibited economic activity or growth in a noticeable way.

By contrast, if the EPA tries to use its authority to drastically reduce the production of CO2, there is likely to be a substantial economic cost. It's not like other sources of energy are readily available, and business people are just too short-sighted to use them. What's even more likely than costly implementation, however, is that there will be litigation every step of the way, and increasing doubts as to whether CO2 should in fact be treated as a pollutant.

Liberals and environmentalists might say: leave it to a conservative to say that a fairly recent reform, which they bitterly opposed at the time, has worked out, but the one being proposed now is a disaster. I come back to the point that there is real doubt about the data, and the warmists have not been transparent about that. In one way or another, they will have to be more transparent now.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Actual vs. Hypothetical Human Suffering

The Mayon volcano in the Philippines has forced the evacuation of 8,442 families comprising 40,093 people in less than a week. Because the volcano has given substantial warning of a big eruption, there are no serious injuries or fatalities so far.

Is this disruption, caused by one obscure volcano, more than has been caused by alleged global warming so far?

The tsunami five years ago, caused by an earthquake, killed 200,000 people.

There seems to be no doubt that the volcano underneath Yellowstone Park will erupt one day--and on a scale that will cause global cooling, loss of agriculture, and tremendous death and suffering. Is that more certain that the alleged warming? It seems so.

Coal miners die in mines on a regular basis (see here, here, here). Instead of trying to restrict any and all carbon, would it not make sense to encourage a shift from buring coal (still very cheap for much of the world) to burning oil and gas?

CRU: An excess of moral zeal more than a hoax

Key pieces of evidence: Phil Jones in 2004:

Bottom line - their is no way the MWP [Medieval Warming Period] (whenever it was) was as warm globally as the
last 20 years. There is also no way a whole decade in the LIA [Little Ice Age] period was more than 1 deg C
on a global basis cooler than the 1961-90 mean. This is all gut feeling, no science, but
years of experience of dealing with global scales and varaibility.

The 50 or 60 climate scientists were convinced that human activities had made a profound difference to temperature/climate, and were likely to make a greater difference in the future. They needed to develop a response to the obvious observation that spectacular changes in climate had happened in the past with no human intervention at all. As a step in this direction, they came up with the "hockey stick"--temps flat for hundreds of years until 1900, then upward at a steep and steady rate through the 20th century. The MWP wasn't very warm, if it existed at all, and the Little Ice Age wasn't very cool--natural variability was less than the dramatic changes now being caused by human beings. At best this wouldn't answer questions about 5000 years ago or more, but it would be effective rhetorically. Defenders of the CRU point out that they don't sound, in e-mails that they expect to remain private, like they are hatching a plot, deliberatelyh falsifying evidence, laughing at the rubes, etc. It's more that they are convinced that the data will fall their way sooner or later. As soon as it does, they stop being skeptical about it. Once they have one graph on their side, they are ruthless in their criticism of any attempt to question it.

There has been a lot of talk about passages from Kevin Trenberth. This one from October 2009:

The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

He would rather believe every thermometer in the world is broken than give up on the models.

Then a further exchange:

How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!

Coming from Trenberth, this amounts to saying: he's pretty confident he can identify the major factors affecting temperature/climate; but he doesn't know how they interact, or whether warming or cooling is likely to be prevalent in a specific period. A very simple view is that increased CO2 causes increased temps, probably modest increases at first; there is a closed energy system, so there is nowhere for added heat to go, and so there is a forcing that causes a more dramatic temperature increase. This is the Gore view, but Trenberth seems to say he has no idea whether it is true, and he thinks this is true of all the peer-reviewed climatologists.

There's also a line that cooling by SO2 may be canceling warming by CO2--he still believes the latter, but he does not know the extent of the former.

UPDATE: Not Trenberth: MacCracken indicates that man-made SO2 has a cooling effect, and could cancel out the effects of man-made CO2 for all anyone knows:

From: Mike MacCracken [mailto:mmaccrac@xxxxxxxxx.xxx]
> > > Sent: 03 January 2009 16:44
> > > To: Phil Jones; Folland, Chris
> > > Cc: John Holdren; Rosina Bierbaum
> > > Subject: Temperatures in 2009
> > >
> > > Dear Phil and Chris--
> > >
> > > Your prediction for 2009 is very interesting
> > (see note below for notice that went around to email list for a lot
> > of US Congressional staff)--and I would expect the analysis you have
> > done is correct. But, I have one nagging question, and that is how
> > much SO2/sulfate is being generated by the rising emissions from
> > China and India (I know that at least some plants are using
> > desulfurization--but that antidotes are not an inventory). I worry
> > that what the western nations did in the mid 20th century is going
> > to be what the eastern nations do in the next few decades--go to
> > tall stacks so that, for the near-term, "dilution is the solution to
> > pollution". While I understand there are efforts to get much better
> > inventories of CO2 emissions from these nations, when I asked a US
> > EPA representative if their efforts were going to also inventory
> > SO2 emissions (amount and height of emission), I was told they were
> > not. So, it seems, the scientific uncertainty generated by not
> > having good data from the mid-20th century is going to be repeated
> > in the early 21st century (satellites may help on optical depth, but
> > it would really help to know what is being emitted).
> > >
> > > That there is a large potential for a cooling
> > influence is sort of evident in the IPCC figure about the present
> > sulfate distribution--most is right over China, for example,
> > suggesting that the emissions are near the surface--something also
> > that is, so to speak, 'clear' from the very poor visibility and air
> > quality in China and India. So, the quick, fast, cheap fix is to put
> > the SO2 out through tall stacks. The cooling potential also seems
> > quite large as the plume would go out over the ocean with its low
> > albedo--and right where a lot of water vapor is evaporated, so maybe
> > one pulls down the water vapor feedback a little and this amplifies
> > the sulfate cooling influence.
> > >
> > > Now, I am not at all sure that having more
> > tropospheric sulfate would be a bad idea as it would limit
> > warming--I even have started suggesting that the least expensive and
> > quickest geoengineering approach to limit global warming would be to
> > enhance the sulfate loading--or at the very least we need to
> > maintain the current sulfate cooling offset while we reduce CO2
> > emissions (and presumably therefore, SO2 emissions, unless we manage
> > things) or we will get an extra bump of warming. Sure, a bit more
> > acid deposition, but it is not harmful over the ocean (so we
> > only/mainly emit for trajectories heading out over the ocean) and
> > the impacts of deposition may well be less that for global warming
> > (will be a tough comparison, but likely worth looking at). Indeed,
> > rather than go to stratospheric sulfate injections, I am leaning
> > toward tropospheric, but only during periods when trajectories are
> > heading over ocean and material won't get rained out for 10 days or so.
> > > Would be an interesting issue to do research on--see what could be done.
> > >
> > > In any case, if the sulfate hypothesis is
> > right, then your prediction of warming might end up being wrong. I
> > think we have been too readily explaining the slow changes over past
> > decade as a result of variability--that explanation is wearing thin.
> > I would just suggest, as a backup to your prediction, that you also
> > do some checking on the sulfate issue, just so you might have a
> > quantified explanation in case the prediction is wrong. Otherwise,
> > the Skeptics will be all over us--the world is really cooling, the
> > models are no good, etc.
> > And all this just as the US is about ready to get serious on the issue.
> > >
> > > We all, and you all in particular, need to be prepared.
> > >
> > > Best, Mike MacCracken

Friday, December 18, 2009

Climate: Data, Data, Data

The more people look at raw temperature data from specific regions of the world, and apply some reasonable process to allow for changes in environment, low number of stations, etc., the more it seems the big cheese warmists (perhaps 50 or 60 people) have fudged, or have encouraged national weather offices to fudge, the numbers. There is a real possibility that there is no robust data showing the twentieth century was unusually warm, or that there was a warming trend from the beginning of the century to the end, corresponding to the increase in anthropogenic CO2. There may be no correlation between the increase in man-made CO2 and anything bad at all.

The Met in the UK has relied on a changing number of weather stations: from very few in 1850, to a lot more in 1950. There is supposed to be a way of correcting for that--building in a margin of error in the early years, to allow for the fact that much of the area of the country is not being accurately captured by the readings. One researcher seems to have found that some warming indeed appears in the twentieth century, when the numbers are properly adjusted, but all the warming is within the margin of error in the 1850 numbers. There simply isn't much info about 1850. Maybe 1950 was warmer, but then again, maybe not.

One of my favourites, since the alleged thawing of both poles keeps coming up, is Antarctica.

Since 1993, the official temperature data for the Antarctic has depended on one weather station, out of a possible 27.

This one station, Rothera Point, is on the Antarctic Peninsula, which is known by various measures to be warmer than the Antarctic as a whole.

This one station has the highest temperature trend of any of the ten stations in the Antarctic that have been used for readings up to 1993. It is not clear why other stations have not been used consistently.

Rothera Point has an airport built in 1990-91, a hangar, a coffee shop and various buildings that would tend to warm things up.


West Antarctica is currently experiencing a net outflow of glacial ice, which will increase global sea level over time. A review of the scientific studies looking at data from 1992 to 2006 suggested a net loss of around 50 Gigatonnes of ice per year was a reasonable estimate (around 0.14 mm of sea level rise).[75] Significant acceleration of outflow glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment may have more than doubled this figure for the year 2006.[76]

East Antarctica is a cold region with a ground base above sea level and occupies most of the continent. This area is dominated by small accumulations of snowfall which becomes ice and thus eventually seaward glacial flows. The mass balance of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet as a whole is thought to be slightly positive (lowering sea level) or near to balance.[75][76] However, increased ice outflow has been suggested in some regions.[76][77]

I believe this means: as far as anyone knows, little to no net loss of ice is occurring at Antarctica. (East Antarctica, either gaining ice or staying the same, is much bigger than West Antarctica, losing ice).

Also many people are reporting the extreme cold and snow in Copenhagen during the last week or so of the Global Warming Conference Boo! I did a little more checking:

Both snowy and cold--overnight lows as much as 10 degrees below the average for December.

I know, weather isn't climate, but it's still funny.

Because of poor planning by people who want to establish a global government, many people stood in line in the cold for six hours or more.

"It was cold, even for a Canadian," said Gerald Butts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, who waited five hours in line to get his pass to enter the building.

Also a cold blizzard waiting in DC for Obama and many others. It's not out of the question that Dulles will be closed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My new take on Climate

There may really one set of modified temperature data, and a very small group of people who have seen this data and worked with it. I think Steve Hayward is probably on to something:

Michael Mann [Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University] Phil Jones [head of Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia], and Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore seem indisputably to be the bad actors (it was Santer who said he was "very tempted" to "beat the crap out of" skeptic Pat Michaels). Others in their circle, such as Keith Briffa [Climatic Research Unit], Tom Wigley [University Corporation for Atmospheric Research], and Mike Hulme [Professor at UAE], appear much more scrupulous and restrained about handling the data, uncertainties, and conclusions they put into print. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and key IPCC contributor, comes out somewhere in the middle, writing recently, for example, "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment [since 1998], and it is a travesty that we can't." But Jones also suggests in one email that he and Trenberth will help keep contrarian climate research out of the IPCC process "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

They had an opportunity to create and develop a new science--the science of climate. Beginning from computer modelling, it would involve a lot of statistics, a bit of physics (interaction of fluids and gases, radiation), a bit of oceanography (ocean currents and sea level), a bit of polar studies (ice cores), a bit of geology/paleontology (fossils, changes in sediments and rocks over time), a bit of dendrology (tree rings), among others.The exciting prospect was to arrive at specific findings about the apparently chaotic set of processes called "climate," and ultimately, perhaps, suggest some actions and government policies that might make climate more supportive of human life than it is. Given this golden opportunity, they squandered it.

They seem to have carved out a field which does not proceed by normal scientific standards. They accept and endorse only work that supports their predetermined conclusions; they decide what counts as a refereed journal in their field, and who is recognized as a refereee. Their competence in any field of science--even statistics, where it is has been assumed they are somehow beyond question--can be questioned. Even if it is admitted that there is some doubt about the connection between temperature and man-made CO2, to say nothing of Arctic ice, remote glaciers, etc., it is usually claimed that at least the climate gurus have a temperature record--or even better, several independent records--going back centuries, that are beyond question, and therefore a kind of bedrock for their theory. It turns out that the supposedly independent records are highly dependent on each other, and all have been manipulated in ways that go beyond the expected corrections that are required by the circumstances in which temperatures are recorded. Most tellingly, they have fought with great resource and determination to hide their original data, and the statistical methods which they have used to arrive at their published results, including wonderfully simple graphs. To an incredible extent, people who should know better have taken their word on all this, and therefore let them get away with it.

The Pandemic that Wasn't

When it comes to swine flu in Ontario, and larger issues, Dr. Schabas is my hero.

Surely a big part of the job of public health officials is to tell the truth about actual health risks as simply and clearly as they can.

Just over 100 deaths in Ontario from H1N1? The provincial ministry of health says: "It is estimated that annually influenza and community-acquired pneumonia account for 60,000 hospitalizations and 8,000 deaths, most of which occur among elderly persons1. Groups at increased risk for influenza complications include the elderly, immuno-compromised and persons with chronic medical conditions. In Canada, on average, 500-1,500 deaths every year are due to influenza alone."

So we had a fairly normal flu year, except that deaths were lower than would have been expected. Is that the impression you get from the media?

There have probably been 300 traffic deaths in Ontario during that time. There are about 80,000 deaths a year in Ontario from all causes.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Still Running

Just an update. Yesterday was the Santa Shuffle, 5K. I ended up running an eccentric route, so I don't really know how far I went. I also left my Polar running at the end, so I'm also not sure how long I took. But it was roughly 5 minute pace, and I was scheduled for a tempo run, so that's fine.

The route went crazy because of a young man named Kyle. When I first told the story I was referring to him as an idiot, but that's unfair. Lunatic would be better. He ran clad only in shorts and running shoes, on a chilly day. He was determined to win this thing, and he went off at a fast clip. Then: he was confused about the route, so he circled back at about 2K and came back to the start line. I was some ways behind him, but I saw him turn right at London road (the prescribed route) with his posse following him, then abruptly they all came back the other way. For some strange reason, I folowed. I ended up going off on my own. I assume Kyle did 7K instead of 5. If his posse tried to keep up, they would have been pretty tired.

Today: 11K, mostly a nice country run, with a group (headed by Karen) that is training for a 10 K. A much slower pace for me--close to 7 minutes. Chatting with Jose while we ran, and with other folks before and after. On days like this, it's great to be a runner (despite the cold wind).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Who's Christmas?

A nasty Facebook entry from a mayor in Tennessee is getting some attention. Apparently Obama's speech on Afghanistan pre-empted the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

"Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose. Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will give you a 10 minute disertation (sic) about it....w...hen the answer should simply be 'yes'...."
-- Arlington, TN, Mayor Russell Wiseman, complaining on his Facebook page about Obama's West Point address

So: Charlie Brown is now the byword for a wholesome, Christian entertainment for the season. And sure enough, the kids read from Scripture and sing an actual Christmas Carol or two. I've had the idea that originally, some Christians regarded the Charlie Brown special as a dangerously metropolitan or ironic take on the season--jazz, sophistication, and all that, the implication that no adult could really believe this stuff, it's really a kind of melancholy for childhood.

My question: if the Dickens story is about as close to scripture as all Americans get, is it really Christian? I guess so, but in a "Jesus was a kind man, aspire to the goodness of a good child" kind of way.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another E-Mail to Yglesias

I can't resist taking up your challenge: Why would so many politicians be saying "climate change crisis," if it isn't true? What is the upside for a politician who is worried about committing the spending that is called for by the IPCC?

Well, I guess the environment is a motherhood issue of our time. There have been a series of issues that have rallied quite a bit of public concern: landfills, plastics, phospates in lakes, acid rain, etc. I would venture to say that all of this is more salient among those with post-secondary education than among others. Politicians don't necessarily get a majority of votes from those with post-secondary education, but they know that issues that begin with a relatively small group can take on political momentum, until the question is raised: why aren't you doing something?

Beyond the environment specifically, I would say there is a lot of distrust of capitalism. In fact there is what I would call (I can't resist snark completely) kindergarten Marxism--the belief that capitalism is going to kill us somehow unless government or the UN intervenes, it's only a question of how. Maybe supermarket food is poison, despite being the most heavily regulated industry we have. Maybe the water we drink, maybe the air we breathe, maybe vaccines are hyped by Big Pharma not for our health, but for their profits. Maybe Big Agriculture is using biotechnology to make Frankenfood, whatever that is.

Obviously only a very small percentage of all the people I've been referring to really know anything about the science at all. They trust certain sources.

Was the CRU (founded by Margaret Thatcher, when she was fighting for nuclear power) trustworthy? Apparently not. Is the science settled, case closed, etc.? Apparently not, if it is true that the CRU has been one of three legs of the stool supporting the warming-linked-to-anthropegenic-CO2-theory.

My son is asking me: how could all the scientists at CRU be either clueless or lying, as I seem to be suggesting (drawing an analogy to the Bushies going in to Iraq). Part of my answer is that "clueless" can include "full of moral fervour, ideological rigidity, etc." Every large or lasting political movement has lots of extremely bright, well-educated people who are like this.

CRU and alternative data sets

So the major defence of the global warming theory now comes down to this: granted there were problems with the CRU data base, even before the dog ate it, but there are at least three other data bases that are truly independent of the CRU mess. They are all reliable, and they all agree, so global warming is real.

(Stipulating that by "the global warming theory" I mean the belief that: temperature is going up dangerously; this is linked to/caused by man-made CO2; there is something realistic that governments can do about this; and billions of dollars should be spent accordingly. Different skeptics question different parts of this theory).

Slate has jumped on this bandwagon, with credit for information being given to Gavin Schmidt, one of the people implicated in the CRU e-mails.

Veronique de Rugy of the Corner offers a strange take on this: She cites people saying don't worry, science is de-centralized, climate science couldn't be controlled by a small group, anyone with a computer can generate a model, all the models pretty much agree. Her answer is that there are more Democrats than Republicans involved in producing the models. But this is not really the point. Models ultimately need to be tested against a complex mass of data. The big question is whether there are any other sets of data that are truly independent of the lost CRU data.

As to surface temps, Ron Bailey says No.

What about satellite temps, available since the 1970s? Lord Monckton says they are tied to the suspect surface temp data.

I have my doubts about Monckton, especially his fears that the warmists are trying to bring about a world government. I actually think the warmists have done little harm so far, since actual governments are so hesitant to actually pay an economic price over this issue. Many of the countries that have flamboyantly promised to achieve CO2 levels that go back decades are ex-Communist countries that have lost a lot factories, and will have little difficulty in keeping their promises. Canada used to make promises based on the idea that forests are carbon sinks, so we can get away with the oil sands.

Having said that, another point from Monckton: On "hiding the decline". Actual temperature readings do not go very far into the past. Going further back than 1900, or at best 1850, requires the use of proxies such as tree growth. The warmists discovered that for the period during which they had both tree ring data and temperature readings, the tree ring data was completely out of whack. In the most recent years, the tree rings showed decline whereas the temperature readings did not, and in earlier periods there were other problems indicating that tree rings were totally unreliable. So they wanted to stick to temperature data, which itself has probably been fudged to exaggerate warming in the 20th century, while concealing the fact that the tree ring data is of no use, and there is really no good data from before 1850 or 1900. "Hiding the decline" shown by tree rings in recent years was just the tip of the iceberg: more of the iceberg was exaggerating warming in the 20th century, and pretending to have good data from before the 20th century.

The IPCC report says tree rings are a questionable proxy for temperature, since many factors other than temperature can affect tree growth. Despite this warning, the warmists have relied very heavily on a very naïve reading of tree ring data.

Today on Anthony Watts' site: someone who works with stats, who has previously not been involved in the climate debate, shows that the CRU program literally told the computer to align all temperature data with a hockey stick.