Good News Bad News

I was flattered to receive a review copy of Chris Mooney’s new book, Storm World.

I haven’t read it all, but so far I agree with the very favorable RC review.

Matt Huber is not given a lot of space, but the space he gets hits the nail on the head. You can (well, probably) take this quote from him to the bank, folks. As I mentioned earlier, this ties up a lot of loose ends in paleoclimate:

“The good news is the world may have a tropical thermostat that helps keep the planet cool. And the bad news is that that may be tropical cyclones running around all the time.”

That’s the physics fact to take home if you don’t have time to read the book soon.

There’s a lot more to this book, though, and it’s wonderful to see such good work in science journalism.

unusual Texas meteorology (Austin Statesman)

Here’s a little more detail on our atypical summer from our local daily news source, the Statesman. (Note, if you are visiting from the Future, welcome. Sorry that these stories may already have expired. I hope you are comfortably cool and dry in the Future.)

“June comes in as the third- or fourth-wettest month of the year,” said Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose. “But usually the rain occurs earlier in the month.”

Rose said a ridge of high pressure usually forms after the first couple of weeks of June, preventing storm systems from moving across the state. But this year the ridge of high pressure has split to the east and west, allowing a stationary upper-level low-pressure system to spin over the state, drawing in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

Rose said the forecast for the summer looks wet.

“Long-term models say this pattern may be over Texas for a couple of weeks and bring scattered activity to the area,” Rose said. “This pattern is not typical at all for June.”

While the 19 inches (revised upward) in Marble Falls in 24 hours was very local, similar problems are occurring elsewhere in Oklahoma and Kansas as well as in Texas. Here’s a map of recent flooding in Texas:

Local humorist John Kelso on the benefits of the local climate shifting toward more rain, which he calls “global dripping”:


When you get to work in the morning there’s not some jerk in the elevator asking, “Hot enough for you?”

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on sunblock.

That overpriced $750,000 loft in downtown Austin you just paid for might be worth it, since it’s on the third floor, which may save your carpet.

Pet grooming is easier. You can shampoo your dog and just set him outside to rinse.

Update: Another month has passed, basically raining most of the time. I blogged further on July 27.

Weird weather

18 inches of rain in 24 hours, yesterday, just upriver from us at Marble Falls TX. The flood control people (the LCRA = “Lower Colorado River Authority”) are going bonkers trying to smooth this event out and parcel out minimal flood damage. More rain is expected in the Colorado basin this week.

Such rainfalls are not unheard of in Texas, but usually they are associated with tropical storms, which this one isn’t.

Here’s hoping we don’t get one of those soon.

No individual event is caused by climate change. By definition, “climate change” loads the dice in favor of certain types of events. Theory (Allen and Ingram, Nature 2002, v 419 pp 224 – 232) indicates an increasing likelihood of such severe local precipitation events in the foreseeable future.

Update: more here.

Is Economics a Science?

If the question “is climatology a real science?” is fair game, the question “is economics a real science?” cannot just be dismissed as subversive. What we really know, how valuable our conceptual models are and how reliable our computational embodiments of them are, are questions everyone offering expertise should be willing and able to answer.

It appears that a few economists are asking the question of one another. Here’s a brief article in an online economics periodical called Economists’ Voice. Consider the abstract:

How do economists know what they know? In a call for a new empiricism Barbara Bergmann asserts that economists mainly make it up.

Alas, Bergmann’s plea for evidence-based economics is adorned with the following motivational exhortation:

If we had some realistic ideas about how business people arrive at their decisions on investment in plant and equipment, our ability to formulate policies that would stimulate growth would improve.

(Emphasis added.)

Sigh. Naturally. Of course there is not even the slightest hint of re-examination of the idea that the objective of macroeconomic management must be to stimulate growth.

Regardless, the article closes with the observation that a pioneer in the use of observations in economics does not teach the technique to his students on the grounds that this would be likely to “ruin their careers”.

See also this letter in response in the same publication.

Newsweek: Sun not relevant to climate

Newsweek asks the following question and alleges that “the sun” is the right answer.

I was at first going to blame this on the lack of clarity of the phrase “global warming”, an old hobby horse of mine, but I actually can’t think of any meaningful sense in which there is a correct answer provided.

23. Which of the following does NOT contribute to global warming?

Greater output from the sun

SUVs, or Sport Utility Vehicles

Rice paddies

Don’t know/Refused

The Deniers: Flattering Stories from National Post

The National Post of Canada, which had an interview with Richard Lindzen on Earth Day on which Eli has commented, has featured no less than 27 stories about people they call “The Deniers”, puff pieces about various scientists who heroically (despite threats of industry funding and press attention should they persist) urge us not to worry too much. Update: Or so the Post claims (see comments). Actually not all of the 27 really disbelieve the scientific consensus. Thanks, Belette.

Rolling Stone Magazine on Climate Change

Rolling Stone is running some climate change stories.

Global Warming: A Real Solution by Robert F Kennedy Jr

Al Gore’s Fight Against The Climate Crisis by Eric Bates and Jeff Goodell

Al Gore Speaks: selected audio clips

The Secret Campaign of President Bush’s Administration To Deny Global Warming
by Tim Dickinson

Slide Show: Inside the Bush Administration’s Denial Campaign Against Climate Change

I’m not expressing unbounded enthusiasm for all of this but it’s all interesting.

President Klaus’s Definition of "Environmentalism"

Well, the man, (who I am reminded is the president of a medium sized country), isn’t shy, really. You can find lots of Czech President Klaus’s opinions on his own website.

I’m particularly intrigued by his catalog of the features of environmentalism in his speech to the Cato Institute. Let’s look at his characterization:

The followers of the environmentalist ideology, however, keep presenting to us various catastrophic scenarios with the intention to persuade us to implement their ideas about us and about the whole human society. This is not only unfair but extremely dangerous. What is, in my view, even more dangerous, is the quasi-scientific form that their many times refuted forecasts have taken upon themselves.

What belongs to this ideology?

disbelief in the power of the invisible hands of free market and belief in the omnipotence state dirigism;

disregard for the role of important and powerful economic mechanisms and institutions – primarily that of property rights and prices – for an effective protection of nature;

misunderstanding of the meaning of resources, of the difference between the potential natural resource and the real one, that may be used in the economy;

Malthusian pessimism over the technical progress;

belief in the dominance of externalities in human activities;

promotion of the so-called “precautionary principle“, which maximizes the risk aversion without paying attention to the costs;

underestimation of the long-term income and welfare growth, which results in a fundamental shift of demand towards environmental protection (this is demonstrated by the so-called Environmental Kuznets Curve);

erroneous discounting of the future, demonstrated so clearly by the highly publicized Stern-Report a few months ago.

To paraphrase an old punchline, well, he may be crazy but he ain’t stupid.

(Compare presidents of certain actually large countries…)

It’s an interesting list. While I don’t really consider myself an ‘environmentalist’ I imagine Klaus would. While I am innocent of some of these opinions many of them do describe my beliefs.

Other than the vile, contentious and almost entirely worthless idea that people who advocate environmentally based policies are essentially totalitarian (“dirigists”) I think Klaus’s list raises interesting points about the role of economics in policy.

The ideas deserve some deeper consideration than the perfunctory dismissal they get here, though. I’m sure dismissing these ideas out of hand flies at the Cato institute, but perhaps the rest of us would like to consider why these are bad ideas.

Some of my immediate reactions

  • Again, my opposition to CO2 accumulation does not originate in a megalomanic desire to stamp out human freedom and dignity, and I doubt this motivation is common among others who have the same concern. That particular piece of the opposition’s model is so much at odds with the real world and so deleterious to civilized conversation that it’s right to call it crazy.
  • I agree with Klaus that the ‘precautionary principle’ as usually stated is unworkable.
  • There is a bit of a polemical parlor trick in his last accusation: “erroneous discounting of the future”, by which he means “inadequate discounting of the future”. The casual reader may take this the other way.
  • Klaus takes no notice of the extent to which a correct (market-driven) discount rate proposed in the last point acts against the validity of his second point, the tired libertarian dogma that private ownership takes better care of land than collective ownership. One can understand how a central European might reach that conclusion, but it’s really quite shallow and doesn’t stand up to investigation. It somehow presumes the underlying dynamics of selfishness, crassness, laziness and secrecy is unique to the Soviet system and cannot happen under capitalism. Mr. Klaus should consult with the residents of Bhopal in reconsidering this opinion. It’s an informed and participatory society exercising its vigilance through regulation and enforcement that protects the environment. That is, the best protection occurs neither in totalitarian societies nor in libertarian ones but in social democratic ones.

That’s not all I might have to say about this list. I think most of these ideas are worth discussing (I can’t quite parse the third one; I suspect something lost in translation which perhaps Lubos can help with) and except for the gratuitous insults in the first point none of them is a slam dunk either way.