Update: Planet 3.0 was kind enough to publish my comment on their website on January 30th, five days after it was made. I extend my thanks to them for allowing the publication of my comment.
As the climate debate heated up in the early 2000’s a number of activists, scientists and commenters started up their own weblogs.
Some of them are quite good–best of breed is clearly Bart Verheggen’s weblog “Our Changing Climate“–but others clearly are more interested in politics than science.
What most of them have in common is the ‘Crossfire’ approach to dealing with disagreement–insults are common and dismissal for lack of scientific credentials even more so.
However, the worst tactic in evidence is the censorship of comments and commenters. The ‘moderators’ of these blogs will cheerfully trash your comments, or delay them so the conversation has moved on by the time they appear, or worst of all, ‘edit’ them.
For some reason the operators of these blogs seem to feel that censoring conversations in some way advances the debate. I don’t think the current state of the debate provides much evidence that they’re correct.
As it happens, I have had a comment in moderation for two days now at Planet 3. I’ll post the entire relevant comments below–please offer your reasons on why my comment deserves to be held out of public view…
The topic is ‘Why Environmentalists Disagree With Each Other“. Here’s a selection from the original post:
“But people are reluctant to give up their pet hypothesis, and never develop a real theory. For example, people who love technology, markets and economics will usually persist in believing those change the world, even when they don’t. Others strongly believe in political change, and persist in believing that, even if evidence suggests otherwise.
I tend towards an economics and technology bias, I guess, while others lean towards the political and cultural side of things.
My instincts tell me that we’re probably all wrong, and all right, and it will take some unusual combination of all of these theories to make a real difference in the world.”
The comments are an exchange between OPatrick and myself:
If we Cornucopians can add a note to this, there seems to be ample evidence that the world has changed for the better following the introduction of technology and the adoption of science as one of the principal tools for understanding our universe.
With those who do not believe the world has gotten better there is no point in arguing.
For those who believe it is politics or culture that drives change, I would offer the theory that you are looking at lagging rather than leading indicators.
I don’t believe the world is better.
Of course this is totally dependent on how ‘better’ is measured, but there is one fundamental, over-riding sense in which I think it isn’t better – that we are likely facing potentially catastrophic impacts from anthropogenic climate change and we have little prospect of averting that within timescales that would make a significant difference. If it weren’t for this looming threat and the utter sense of lack-of-controlledness my life would be exceptionally comfortable. I can also see progress in so many areas of development, nothing like the pace or consistency of progress I’d like, but something worth working for. But overall I think an objective analysis shows that my life is worse than it would have been when the threats to our stable lives were localised.
Naturally this is only a shadow of my argument, but we cannot ignore prospects for the future when analysing quality of our present.
This is the debate I have been hoping to participate in here at P3, so bless your heart for bringing it up.
I am a Lukewarmer by avocation. (Essentially that boils down to being convinced that sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of concentrations is much lower than 3C. I personally think it’s around 2C and have advocated preparing for 2.5C to give us a measure of additional security.)
Reading the IPCC AR4 and Nicholas Stern’s Review of the Economics of Climate Change shows a possible world that will struggle to deal with climate change, but does not hint at the ‘catastrophic impacts’ that worry you.
As a ‘Cornucopian’, ‘techno-optimist’ believer in what science and technology have already brought us and look certain to bring us in the future, I quite obviously would differ with what you think an objective analysis would produce regarding quality of life measurements.
I would be eager to continue this discussion if it falls within the boundaries of P3 rules and goals.
But Tom, your optimism relies on three things all lining up: that sensitivity is relatively low; that the impacts will be linear (or not severe); that technology will be developed to solve the problems in time. I’d say the probabibility of the last is high, of the first is at best medium and of the middle is low.
Assessing impacts is always going to be difficult, but I see good reason to believe they are going to be worse than you suggest. We can’t rely on peer-reviewed evidence because to all intents and purposes there isn’t any, and it’s difficult to see how there could be. But how could the sort of changes in growing conditions, availability of water and so on we can expect, even with lower sensitivity, not reverse the positive developmental changes we can see happening?
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
I think I would like in a perfect world to comment almost line by line to your response. I’ll start with the bottom and see where I run out of steam.
Most of the developmental changes we’ve seen have been put in place precisely to counter the forces you think will be exacerbated by climate change. People have been working to address the impacts of drought and flooding and even variability for more than a century. We will have to spend more and spend more wisely to deal with impacts, but so far it doesn’t appear that we’ll need to invent new technologies or bring infant tech to maturity in 30 minutes or less.
We’ve been bringing water to where we want it for millenia now, and we’ve actually gotten better at it than the Romans–although I admire their style. Farmers have also changed cultivars and landcare practices in response to both short and long term changes. There is 5,000 years of best practice available to learn from. We have examples of dealing successfully with sea level rise and not just from the Dutch. Parts of Tokyo have faced 15 meters of relative SLR due to subsidence–but they’re still there.
I would urge you to remember that the bulk of development for the developing world is going to happen during the decades before the net impacts of climate change are projected to turn negative. Remember that at the beginning, even for a 3C rise, there are real winners from the changes we expect through at least 2040. The gains can be used to build resilience into communities and even regions.
Even though I don’t think we need new technology to address these issues, new technologies will certainly emerge. And that’s what I think isn’t linear–new tech will surprise us somewhere in this area, far more than any discontinuity in impacts. Think of the Mole now guarding Venice from the Adriatic or the flood barriers on the Thames as first gen examples that NYC can learn from.
During the next two decades, at least, my conception of lower sensitivity is the least important of the three elements we’re discussing. Even if you’re correct and I’m wrong,the impacts of higher sensitivity are far enough out there that we have time to do what we need to do.
But that’s if we are intelligent enough to abandon some of the memes driving the political battle. You correctly see the flaws and political goals of people like Morano and Monckton. And that’s a good thing. But you transfer that across the spectrum of those who oppose you like spreading peanut butter on bread. That’s inappropriate.
Every day you all work at establishing the Xtreme Weather meme is a day lost to effective consideration and preparation. Worse, it falls into the class of argument that contains many of the skeptical objections–it is a-scientific and aimed at emotion rather than analysis.
But that’s my personal hobbyhorse–I understand your mileage may vary.