Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Climate Change: Summary Position Part II

I spent two weeks arguing that those who use particular arguments in the climate change debate are at best deserving of the same type of condemnation as we would give the drunk driver or the school bus driver who decides to race across a train crossing to beat an oncoming train.

Then I started to give my own position on the climate change debate.

Yesterday, I argued that - unless you are going to put in enough work to qualify for a PhD in climate science - that the scientific consensus represents the best information on the subject. You cannot point to any group or institution and say honestly that it does a better job of explaining and, more importantly, predicting what is going to happen than the scientific consensus. Scientists are human, and some will lie and commit fraud and be blinded by their biases. Yet, in spite of these flaws. the scientific consensus is still the best source of information.

This identifies one of the strongest points of moral condemnation that I have been arguing for - arrogant people willing to bet human lives that, by watching Fox News and surfing the internet for a few hours, they can be so certain that the scientific consensus is wrong that they will bet the fate of whole cities on the outcome. It is hard even to fathom the arrogance of such a person.

However, even though the scientific consensus is the best source of information on what will happen, it does not tell us what should happen. I hasten to add that, as a moral realist, I hold that science could find and report moral facts, so far it has avoided a rigorous study of that discipline. Consequently, even scientists can give us no better than crude, rudimentary moral intuitions - many, like our scientific intuitions, are greatly flawed.

The dominant political consensus on what should happen is that the nations of the world should get together and work together to prevent global temperatures from rising 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. This means mandatory caps and then cuts on greenhouse gas emissions.

I hold that caps and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions represents an extremely costly, foolish, and ultimately immoral approach to the problem that is ultimately doomed to fail. It will fail because it establishes a system where people are given a liberty to do great amounts of harm without being held responsible for the consequences. Not only are they given this liberty, but those who do harm are actually rewarded with a higher quality of life than those avoid doing harm.

The whole issue of climate change is that greenhouse gas emissions create costs. Those costs are potentially as high as the destruction of whole cities and of whole populations. This, in itself, is a moral issue. As such, it is a legitimate object of concern in this blog.

Behavior that does a great amount of harm to others is to be morally condemned.

When it comes to the harms caused by climate change, there are three basic policies on the table that tell who will pay for those harms.

Policy 1: The victims themselves pay for the harms caused by global warming. The bill gets sent to the people who lose their homes and property to sea-level rise, die from heat stress, and have their communities wiped out by drought. If we were talking about a moral crime such as theft or rape, this method says that the costs of theft and rape are to be borne by the victim, and that those who do the harm shall be left free to do as they please.

Policy 2: The taxpayer gets the bill for all the harm done. On this model, we are going to institute expensive government programs to deal with global warming and spend trillions of government dollars mitigating the effects.

Policy 3: Let those who do the harm pay the costs. The costs of dealing with climate change is taken out of the accounts of those who contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The more one contributes, the more one pays. If a person does not wish to pay these costs, then they will take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. If they are willing to pay these costs, then at least they are not making others worse off by their actions. They are being required to pay enough money to compensate their victims for harms done.

Of the three, Policy 3 is the only option that makes any moral sense.

However, Policy 3 does not require caps or mandatory reductions. It does not bilking the common wage earner to pay for huge government programs to subsidize alternative energy production, carbon sinks, and engineering projects to deal with the effects of climate change. It requires collecting money from those who cause climate change - the greenhouse gas emitters - and using that money, not general taxpayer money, to pay for all of these projects.

It is simply an application of the policy that individuals will be held morally responsible for the consequences of their actions. If you are at fault for running a red light and smashing into another car, you compensate your victim for the harms done (or have your insurance company do it).

A lot of people do not like to be held morally responsible for the harms they do to others. They like to escape responsibility - to do harm to others and then run away from the consequences. However, this is not what a good person would do. This is not the type of behavior we have any reason to praise. It is quite the opposite - a type of behavior that we have a great deal of reason to condemn and to condemn harshly.

The political solution that best matches this moral requirement is one that requires that greenhouse gas emitters make a payment proportional to their contribution to the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The solution will then use that money specifically to cover the costs associated with global warming (if any). Anybody who does not want to pay for the harms they cause to others is free to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and thus reduce the amount of harm they have to pay for.

On this method, if a person decides to do less harm, they get a direct benefit in the form of reducing the payments they make into the pool that compensates people for those harms. And the people who decide to continue to do harm makes payments that at least leaves others no worse off than they would have otherwise been.

There is no cap in that people are allowed to emit whatever greenhouse gasses they are willing to pay for. There are no mandatory reductions - just the voluntary reductions of those who decide, "I can't afford to buy insurance against the possibility of moving whole cities to higher ground, so I'm not going to do the things that may have these kinds of consequences."

As fossil fuel emitters are forced to pay for the full costs and consequences of their action, we should see sizable private free-market investment (without taxpayer subsidies) in alternative energy. The demand will come from those who do not wish to pay the costs of emitting greenhouse gasses.

One of the most morally outrageous arguments that we see in the climate change debate - and one that we hear a lot from the vocal leaders of the Republican Party, is that this tactic of forcing people to pay for the harms they cause to others is "bad for the economy". If greenhouse gas emitters are required to cover the costs of their actions, the story goes, this will mean the loss of jobs and economic collapse.

These are scare tactics used . . . effectively . . . by thieves, vandals, and murderers who wish to continue to rob and kill others and destroy their property without facing the consequences of their action. This argument is like saying, "No, we cannot take steps to cause credit card fraud! Whenever we prevent credit card fraud we damage the economy because of all other money these fraudsters spend, promoting jobs and employment!"

It is an absurd argument. Somebody has to pay these costs. Stopping credit card fraud leaves the money in the pockets of those who earned it so that they can spend it as they please. Holding greenhouse gas emitters morally and economically responsible for the harms they do means that those who would have otherwise been their victims get to keep their property, their health, and their lives, to spend as they choose - or they are provided with compensation as valuable as that which is taken from them.

In economic terms, this means raising the victim to the same point on the indifference curve – where possible.

Somebody will have to pay these costs. Either it is the victims of global warming, the taxpayer (regardless of their degree of responsibility in causing these problems), or the greenhouse gas emitters themselves.

Morality suggests that it be the latter.


John Doe said...

Sorry, dude, but I have to disagree. I've SEEN how liberals work. No, not in science, but in other areas. The law is a prime example. They are not limited to the facts. If they don't like the facts, they change them. They don't like the truth, they modify it.

They don't merely try to win temporary arguments. Instead, they infest institutions of higher learning and then jam their opinions down uninformed minds and program them.

Liberalism is no less a religion th an Christianity and Islam. Liberals control virtually all of our universities. They control what is taught to our scientists. It's no wonder that "scientists", especially the younger ones, walk in lock-step off the global warming cliff.

Those of us who have seen how liberals operate realize that the ClimateGate e-mails are just standard operating procedure. That is what they do when liberals are in power. They hide the truth. They defame their opponents, and fight to prevent them from publishing their views. Should we believe the "consensus"? How about you godless heathen believe the "consensus" of Americans and convert to Christianity?

Oh, wait, now I've gone too far.

anton said...

Irrespective of what ultimately happens, our world will have to continue existing with the likes of John Doe! YUK!!

With regard to #3, with which I totally agree, its only problem is that those responsible will not be around to be held accountable. They will either have passed away, or escaped to some mountain retreat. Fining a corporation has no effect, they just deduct the fine from their taxes . . . or get "acquired" by another corporation. (Remember the chemical spill in India?) Our judicial system has not been created to deal with them . . . after all, they created it.

Forty years ago I suggested that if you wanted to do something that caught "their" attention, cut off their "air conditioners". Just go into their offices and homes and cut the cords. The inconvenience would only last for a day at most, but they would take notice. My associates claimed that "we couldn't do such a thing . . . we would end up in jail"

I thought it was a small price to pay.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Yep, Anton, I agree.

Apparently them liberals are involved in a massive conspiracy to promote misery and suffering by promulgating things they know to be wrong simply for the enjoyment of watching people suffer.

And there are so many of them they are able to completely take over the institutions of higher learning, not because they are interested in the subjects they teach but so that they can better further their aim of promoting human misery and suffering.

And, yet, the idea that an additional 250 ppm of CO2 (which equals 0.25 parts per thousand) in a column of air 100 km tall can absorb 3.7 watts of radiated Earth energy is just too wild to accept.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

As for #3, the moral principles involved still justify charging people for future costs and for generating risk that others then must defend themselves against.

If my activity creates a risk that your property could be destroyed (e.g., I have built a dam or I have opted to drive on public roads), I may be required to purchase insurance against the possibility of fugure harm.

So, we may charge current greenhouse gas emitters a charge as insurance against the risk of future harms as well.

John Doe said...

"Them liberals" don't teach what they know to be untrue. Rather, their failure to use logic, and their utter lacking of common sense, their inability to distinguish arsenic-laced Kool Aid from other means of hydration, and their universal trait of banding together to force everyone to toe the liberal party line lead to one main result. A bunch of lemmings, usually walking off a cliff.

Eric in Oakland said...

John Doe seems to misunderstand how science and jurisprudence work.

He says "The law is a prime example. They (Liberals) are not limited to the facts. If they don't like the facts, they change them. They don't like the truth, they modify it."

The purpose of law (Jurisprudence)is not to discover truth or diseminate facts. It is to advocate (defend or prosecute) a position or case in an adversarial arena. All lawyers, whether they are liberal or conservative are part of this system, so to pretend otherwise is to construct a straw-man.

Science, on the other hand, is about testing theories and collecting facts (data). Furthermore, there is a peer review system in place that makes the discipline overall self correcting. Results are publicised and retested by independent agencies. Theories must be supported by repeatable experiments and able to predict new data accurately before they are widely accepted. Any contradictory data or failure at prediction places theories in doubt.

John Doe (unlike a scientist) is basing his opinion on ideological dogma and is ignoring the available evidence. Now, THAT is illogical.

Calvin said...

Eric in Oakland seems to misunderstand how reality and human nature work.

Humans being what they are, all are prone to clouded judgment from impure motives, and no field, profession, or undertaking that involves human beings is immune from this fact.

It's all well & good to discuss how science and peer review are *supposed* to work, but we assume this means they will *always* work this way at our own peril.

Eric's view of science seems to come with its very own doctrine of infallibility. Now, THAT is illogical.

anton said...

Perhaps a look into the past is required . . . how about 2,500 years ago?


Calvin said...

Nice historical tidbit, mind enlightening us as to what significance we're supposed to glean from it?

anton said...


How science works has been around for a long time, even if present-day commentators prefer to create their own approach. Since the beginning of recorded history there have been scientists who accept their fallibility and do something about it . . . and then there are the "other guys" who believe that "ignorance, shouted long enough and loud enough, gets magically transformed into intelligence!"

Calvin said...

That has no bearing on the point being made: that the ideal of science is not always the way science is carried out in real-world practice, thanks to fallible humans. Nobody's denying the principles behind the scientific method, peer-review, & continual self-reevaluation, but it's idiotic to claim that that is always how individual scientists work, without fail - again, that's like claiming a doctrine of infallibility.

Eric in Oakland said...

Calvin, please refrain from erecting straw-men and stick to addressing the points that are actually made. No one here has claimed that science is infallible nor that any profession or field of endeavor is free of scoundrels or fools.

The very fact that humans ARE fallible is exactly why new theories need to be subjected to scrutiny and checked by independent agencies before being accepted. The scientific method does not depend on human integrity, but on hard data.

The only field of human endeavor that makes broad claims of infallibility and refuses to objectively consider evidence is religion.

If you have evidence to support your wild assertions, then please provide it. Your unsubstantiated and scientifically illiterate opinion is simply not sufficient.

John Doe said...

Eric, you sound as you are confused. The "purpose of the law" is to proscribe certain behavior. I presume what you really meant is that the purpose of a lawyer in a trial is to advocate. Yes, in that you are correct.

Be that as it may, you apparently missed the thrust of my argument. "Appeals to authority" such as Alonzo made in his post have zero--ZEEEEEEERO--effect on me because I have seen how liberals act in other academic areas. They are not less liberal, nor more rational, merely because they are "scientists." Liberals are liberals, and in my opinion enough of them lie and cheat and scam and twist facts such that I will never believe anything that they say "just because they say so," or because they are the "experts." I've seen scientists lie in court. The ClimateGate e-mails merely reinforce my distrust of liberals.

The problem with a loss of credibility is that when it becomes really important that others believe you, they won't. "I know I've cried wolf numerous times before, but REALLY this time there is a wolf and he is going to ruin our planet."

Science is indeed about testing theories and collecting facts. But my point is that I have found through life that liberals lie. They hide the truth, and twist the facts to support their own agenda. It is not a "fact" worth believing merely because a liberal says it is. Show me the proof. Let me see others duplicate it, then I will believe it. Don't hide behind a big fascade like the Wizard of Oz, and ignore freedom of information requests.

Warming alarmists want us to believe that tree rings are an accurate "proxy" for telling us what temperatures were in the past, but then they are not accurate when tested against the past 40 some odd years, so they throw out those results. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. If rings aren't accurate in the past 40 years when it is inconvenient to your theory, then we can't trust them 2,000 years ago when they supposedly support your theory.

Liberals infest the scientific peer review system just as they do the Law Review system. Here's a clue: they bar the door to conservatives, they slant reception of articles towards liberal articles, and slant the articles themselves to present the liberal issues whenver possible. And it is usually possible. Again, the ClimateGate emails just reinforce what I have already learned about how liberals operate. Recently it came out how that bozo "scientist" did the same thing at Wikipedia, removing articles he didn't like and banning those who disagreed with him. So to try to present scientists as unbiased and science as "self-correcting" is impossible with me.

But hear me, because you are either missing my point, or being intentionally obtuse. I am not basing my opinion (about AGW) on ideological dogma. Rather, I'm basing my opinion about scientists based on how I have observed liberals act in other academic areas. I am still trying to be open about AGW--even a broken clock or a liberal can be correct once in awhile. But trying to argue that we ought to believe "the consensus of scientists" just because it is too late won't fly with me. I've seen too much of how those jokers work in other fields. The ClimateGate emails ruined their credibility. And the refusal of AGW crowd to unequivocably condemn the emails calls all ya'll credibility into question.

Eric in Oakland said...

John, did you fail to notice that whenever I used the word, "law", I included "jurisprudence" in parentheses for clarification? That should have made it quite clear that I was not talking about legislation. Nor were you, according to the context of your original post. The entire subject of law that you introduced appears to have been a red herring. And, by the way, it would be a more proper definition of law (in the sense of legislation) to say "regulate" rather than "proscribe". Not all laws exist to forbid something.

And please don't confuse preponderance of evidence with an appeal to authority. That is a straw-man argument.

More to the point however, if you are basing your rejection of Global Warming data on the fact that SOME scientists have lied and SOME liberals have lied, you are guilty of the genetic fallacy. And don't conservatives lie also? Why is your skepticism so one sided? Could it be a point of ideological dogma?

John Doe said...

Perhaps I am the cause of the confusion: I was responding to these arguments made by Alonzo in the previous article, not this one.

"First: You and I do not have time to become "fully informed" on climate change.... "Second: The best information on what is going to happen is in the scientific consensus."

Translation: We don't have time to get up to speed so we have to take their word for it. That is precisely what I am unprepared to do, based upon my own observations of how liberals in legal academia work, and how the emails show that they also work in global warming academia. I can't be any more clear than that.

And, yeah, so what? I am skeptical of liberals in this case because they are claiming that we have to drop everything and change the status quo. In my simplistic manner of thinking, they have the burden of proof. The world's climate has been changing for millions of years, and suddenly they want us to believe it is changing because of man. I'm skeptical, but I am listening. I am not implying that all liberals lie. I am saying that enough of them lie so that I do not trust the rest of them. Call that what you will, I call it common sense. How many times do you have to be lied to before you distrust a group? Conservatives lie, too. If they were advocating spending billions and trillions on a problem, I'd be skeptical of them, too.

Martin Freedman said...

The theme of these posts has been to identify garbage arguments - on either side - whoever uses them is not justified in coming to the conclusions that they do. This is not to say that non-garbage arguments would not show that one side is correct and the other incorrect, just that garbage arguments pollute the debate and the use of such arguments and their endorsement has serious implications for our world.

Let us compare John Doe to Alonzo Fyfe. Doe pointed out one instance of an error in Fyfe's research which Fyfe immediately acknowledged an corrected. This did not alter one iota the substance of FyFe's arguments - identification and criticism of garbage arguments.

In comparison Doe has continually sought further arguments in defence of his supposedly "neutral" and "sceptical" position, however he has repeatedly shown a bias against the conclusion that AGW is most likely true. However once one has eliminated garbage arguments, this where the balance of evidence points. It did not have to be this way, but it is.

Now he is employing the argument that "liberals are not to be trusted" and many variations thereof. It appears that anyone with whom Doe disagrees he unilaterally assigns as a liberal and then applies he negative pre-judgement of liberal to that person or institution. This whole method of argumentation has no legitimate justification. The persons so assigned may or may not be politically liberal (in the peculiar and unorthodox sense that Doe uses this term or otherwise). However this is completely irrelevant to the arguments being analysed here.

Apart from anything else Fyfe has himself, correctly IMV, has been critical of both big business AND big government solutions to AGW. I presume that big government is what Doe means by "liberal" policy, although this does not make much sense, I think he means socialist, since liberals are quite different and opposed to socialism and for individuals versus groups and typically against big government.

So Doe is both confused or causing confusion over what liberals are and distracting the debate in a completely unproductive manner. This is another garbage argument.

Doe is consequently failing to address the person and the specific arguments they are making and failing to use reason and evidence to criticise those specific arguments.

What we do know is that anyone employing garbage arguments, such as those analysed by Fyfe and this one use by Doe has no justification to come the conclusions that they do. They do not and cannot know (in a pragmatic or practical sense) suing such arguments.

So if Doe wants to participate productively in these threads he needs to get rid of his own garbage arguments and lets see what remains. Is he willing to stand up and do this?

John Doe said...

Faithless, at least TRY to pay attention before spouting off your big mouth. ALL I'm saying, and it is a narrow point, is that appeals to authority--"The consensus of scientists says AGW is true"--does not work with me. I've seen too often how liberals lie. And conservatives.

Alonzo's argument, that we should accept and believe "the consensus" isn't even a real "argument." It's a logical fallacy. A says X (A = "a consensus of scientists" and X = "AWG is true") A is an authority and knows more than John Doe. Therefore X is true.

Alonzo's "argument" with which I took issue, if I might condense it into my own words, was "we don't have time to figure out the truth, so just accept 'the consensus of scientists.'"

Sorry, I've seen too many scientists lie in the court room, and in ClimateGate. Argue facts, then I'll listen with a skeptical ear. Notice I'm NOT saying AGW is not true, because liberals and scientists lie? I'm saying that I'm not going to believe them without proof, just because there is a so-called "consensus" amongst them. Big difference, HUGE difference.

And while we are at it, speaking of bias, Alonzo attacked one AGW argument, and attacked about 10-15 of the so-called garbage arguments of skeptics. If he were truly unbiased, he would have addressed the hottest scandal of all--"climategate"--but instead he ignores it and pretends that it is not an issue. I'd say that I am no less biased to the skeptical side than Alonzo is to the AGW side. the name fits equally

Eneasz said...

Heya Faithless. It's probably no use trying to have a constructive argument with John Doe. He is obviously an authoritarian, and therefore anyone who agrees with him is correct and honest, and anyone who doesn't is not only wrong but also corrupt, dishonest, and fundamentally evil. AKA a "liberal".

I'm still not sure if he's serious or a very good caricature played for laughs. The last post of this thread made me LOL and I was about to concede falling for a masterfully played joke (and well done sir, if this is the case! :) ) but the latest comments from him have made me wonder...

A new version of Poe's law, perhaps?

John Doe said...

Eneasz the Original Thinker. Who dutifully parrots everything that the Globalwarmingalarmists say. Point me to one prior word that you have ever written that evinces ANY skepticism of AGW, and I'll quietly go away, never to bother you again.