Well, Moe and I are sitting in the media room at the ICCC in New York, following the evening’s dinner and opening talks. Moe videoed Vaclav Klaus’ talk, and then left to wrestle with getting the video uploaded for processing.
I took extensive notes this evening. The events consisted of opening remarks by Heartland Institute President Joe Bast, main addresses by the President of the Czech Republic (and for the first half of this year, “rotating” President of the European Union) Vaclav Klaus and MIT Sloan Professor of Meteorology Richard Lindzen, and then a long Q&A session involving both men.
Both speakers were great; President Klaus is a formidable man.
I’ll try to summarize the key things that struck me and that I committed to a scrawl (that I can hopefully read) in my notebook.
In his opening remarks, Joe Bast noted that 80% of the IPCC “contributors” were not scientists. Well, that’s interesting – since the thermophobes regularly try to stamp down anyone who is not explicitly a “climate scientist.”
Vaclav Klaus is clearly a rock star. He got a standing ovation when he was introduced, a standing ovation when he finished, and many interruptions for applause.
He compared the present AGW orthodoxy to the days of communism – something with which he is personally familiar. As was the case with communism, AGW orthodoxy now seems to be completely unaffected by, well, reality. This is a depressing situation.
Since, in his capacity as President of the Czech Republic, he meets with numerous world leaders, he noted an odd happening. He’s noted a tendency for the most radical proposals for the reduction of CO2 emissions (as much as 80%, off-the-cuff) to come from leaders whose own countries have failed to come even close to meeting their very modest Kyoto reduction goals.
His biggest immediate political concern is the way AGW has fueled the growth of a large rent-seeking sector. He grouped these into those who profit from the trading of various “emission licenses,” various “alternative energy” producers, those who profit from the replacement of food crops with non-food crops (which has effectively caused “food losses” and global food shortages), and those who do well on the “speaking circuit” (Al Gore and Tim Flannery??).
Can we educate those who make decisions? The problem now is that we are not debating science; this is an argument against environmental activism.
He noted (and in this, speaking as a scientist MYSELF, I strongly agree) that “climate science” is far too complex to be its own field; it requires many pieces from other disciplines. President Klaus holds a Ph.D. in economics, so this was a good thing for him to recognize. This is a very complicated problem, and the “science” surrounding it is so diverse that there are many ways to attack the problem. (I personally have my own thoughts, coming in along a line of statistics, but that’s a story for another day.)
One thing he has noted, taking the cue from his long career in econometric modeling, is that the climate system is obviously much less sensitive to CO2 than had “originally” been expected.
He noted very trenchantly that environmentalists are technology-naive in a very schizophrenic (his word) way. At base, environmentalists hate technology; however, the “green technology” future depends on newer inventions that they desperately want – in fact, it depends on technologies that have not been invented yet. Based on this, he noted that this is “an irrational practice with fatal consequences.” For probably the first time in human history, the “plan” is to abandon existing technologies before new technologies become available.
Environmentalists don’t want to change the climate – they want to change us; this is subtly revealed in the way they prefer “prevention” to even any thought of “adaptation.” “They want to ‘save the planet’…. From what? From whom? The reality is that we have to save the planet from them.”
The second keynote was given by Professor Richard Lindzen, who holds the Sloan Chair in Meteorology at MIT. I’ve been familiar with Professor Lindzen’s scientific work for some time – he’s very good. Most of his talk was about trying to “do science” against the seeming floodtide of AGW arrogance. However, as he noted at the outset, we shouldn’t stop trying.
A key problem is that the whole AGW alarmist bandwagon has always been a political movement, and not a scientific one. There are many simple truths that our side often forgets.
One big problem for scientists (particularly academic scientists) is that endorsing AGW simply makes your scientific/professional life easier; he noted many examples of scientists who rose from obscurity to prominence simply by noting possible effects of “global warming” on whatever it was they were working on.
Perhaps the whole problem now boils down to one of “science” vs. “authority,” with the AGW alarmists acting now as “authority.” The alarmist movement has always sought to gain control of the mechanisms dealing with carrots and sticks; however, this has led to the co-option of science by politics – which has badly corrupted “science.” (I’ll note that this is similar to the notion of separating church and state; the common argument is that this is necessary to prevent politics from being corrupted by religion – but the reality is more often the opposite form of corruption. The situation in this case is similar.) He noted that one can greatly increase the chances of a positive result for your funding proposal (in anything) by including that you will examine the “effect of global warming” on whatever….
“Guesses allow anything to be projected.”
What can be done? We have to persevere, because ultimately logic trumps “authority.”
His most important technical part of the talk was to note the role that feedback mechanisms play in the world and in AGW modeling (this is something several of us discussed a few days ago). In order to produce appropriately “alarmist” results, the AGW models require the inclusion of various forms of positive feedback. Saying something that I’ve noted myself over many years, this is basically counter-intuitive to our observations of nature; complex systems in the natural world actually are based very strongly on negative feedback – they basically have a high-degree of self-regulation, and do not get knocked off their pins very easily. “Nature is dominated by negative (stabilizing) feedback, not positive (destabilizing) feedback.” (My own addition to this thought is that in very select and extreme circumstances, complex systems can organize themselves into critical states; however, the climate system simply shows no signs of going into that state of organization. But again, that’s a topic for another day.)
He also noted that the AGW models assume a “greenhouse effect” that is some seven times larger than what is actually observed in nature.
“Climate models represent unintelligent design.”
He noted, as per pronunciamentos from “professional organizations,” that activist board members claim to speak for the “organization” when they have never polled their members on these issues. This is, in my view, particularly noisome, as it represents an attempt to hijack an organizational label to try to amplify the personal views of a very small number of people.
The whole AGW gig has set back climate science as a field of study. It now depends entirely on gross oversimplifications that represent poor science.
He also landed on a topic that I have myself noted – that even on “our” side, there is often too much emphasis on trying to find a “forcing function” other than CO2 to try to explain the supposedly-measured warming; he particularly noted that the studies that try to link the temperature variations to minor variations in solar output are (my words here) trying to create an overspecified representation of the system. If you look at the temperature changes claimed for “global warming,” these variations are tiny when compared even with the daily variations in temperature. The “null hypothesis” is that there is no need for external forcing to produce the observed behavior; the atmosphere is dominated by turbulent fluctuations, and the observed effects do not require specific causes.
These comments landed close to home for me personally, since this is actually my own experienced view on this topic. The entire argument from the AGW side treats the climate system as being deterministic, and the counter-arguments often slip into the mode of seeking another “driver” for that determinism. The problem is, the climate system is clearly statistical in nature – and in statistical systems you can observe “effects” (more like what you think are effects) that do not require specific causes.
We should persevere because we’re right. Nature is dominated by negative feedback mechanisms. Again saying something that I personally had long ago concluded, climate variability is so intrinsically large as to preclude the ability to even find AGW at the small levels that are being claimed for it. And, of course, nature just doesn’t follow the models….
There was a Q&A period after the talks, where spectators were able to ask questions of both President Klaus and Professor Lindzen. Most of this was fairly anodyne, but I’ll try to note a few highlights – usually in comments thusly prompted from the two gents.
President Klaus noted (pre-empting a question I was going to ask) that compared with twenty years ago, there has been an enormous reduction in CO2 emissions in eastern Europe – due entirely to the collapse of communism and the elimination of all those big, dirty, inefficient Soviet-style industrial projects. (The EU has deviously tried to use the 1990 base values for CO2 emissions as its starting point for percentage-reductions – since the EU now includes many of those countries; this is such a cheat that President Obama’s “climate envoy,” Todd Stern, has told them to forget about it.)
President Klaus noted that he hadn’t given much thought to “negative feedback” until hearing Professor Lindzen’s talk this evening. He noted that this is a marvelous observation, indicating that we really need better popularization of good science and good scientific principles.
President Klaus noted that a recent poll in his homeland found that only 11% of Czechs think that it’s possible for humans to intentionally modify the climate. (School-improvement advocates – find out why the Czechs seem to understand reality.)
Claudia Rosett (the famous reporter) asked about the UN’s trouble-making in this sphere. President Klaus noted that he has only bothered to go to the UN once, and that we should take this as representing his opinion of the organization.
Professor Lindzen noted that one big thing that needs to be done is to make sure that the general public understands the enormous impacts (financial and otherwise) that “reductions” will have on us.
President Klaus closed by noting that right now, the battle is not a “scientific debate,” but a battle of science vs. ideology.
As things were breaking up, and I was chatting with someone, I suddenly found myself standing in front of President Klaus, so I took advantage of the opportunity to ask the question I wanted to ask during the Q&A. I asked if the recent “gas crisis” – which really made it clear that Europe has become far too dependent on Russia for its energy supplies (and yes, I’m looking at you Germany for foolishly bowing to your Green Party nitwits and closing down your nuclear plants) – would cause the notion of an “alternative energy future” in Europe to be exposed as dangerous nonsense…. “dangerous” in the particular sense that the ultimate reality would be incredible dependence on Russia (and Russian whims) for energy supplies. He said that in his opinion, this shock wasn’t enough (at least this time) to change the debate in Europe.
Well, I hope that’s a good “meal” for everyone. I want to proofread this, post it, and pack it in. We start bright and early on Monday morning with a breakfast session. The main speakers will be newly-minted California congressman Tom McClintock – a long-time solid conservative from the Golden State – and Lawrence Solomon, Canadian journalist and author of The Deniers.
After that, we split up into four parallel tracks, which appear to be two on science and two on politics. I’ll be covering the science, and Moe will be covering the politics. Hopefully we’ll be able to get posts onto the FP during the day, rather than having to wait until evening. We’ll do our best.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ from NYC….