IPCC Good News, Bad News.

Good news: Pachauri is reappointed for another term as head of IPCC. Whether or not this would have been a good idea under ordinary circumstances, it was pretty much necessary. Anything else would have just encouraged the jackals squealing for blood.

Bad news: Andrew Sullivan quotes Jim Manzi quoting IPCC:

This is the crux of the problem with McKibben’s argument: According to the IPCC, the expected economic costs of global warming are about 3 percent of GDP more than 100 years from now. This is pretty far from the rhetoric of global devastation that McKibben, and so many others, use.

The question raised obviously is the authority of this claim. Did the IPCC make such a claim? In what context? (Manzi does not provide a reference.) Is there any basis for this claim? What is the confidence interval?

For myself, I have always thought of WG I as authoritative, and WG II and WG III as speculative. Much of the damage to the reputation of climate science has emerged from attributing WG II speculation to “climate science”.

I will probably change everything I’m doing in my professional life if anyone can convince me that the 3% prediction is reliable. I think there’s very little chance of that, but Manzi is right on this point: “One of the great strengths of TNR, in my opinion as an outsider, is that it has made a habit of facing up the strongest arguments of its ideological opponents.” Well, I stopped following TNR fifteen years ago on the grounds of its exasperating blindness on middle east policy and a divergence of interest in general, but I support the principle. So, is there really some way to limit the damage to an unmeasurably small modest reduction of growth?

I have to say my BS detectors are pegged on this one. It will be interesting if blame for this really attaches to IPCC.

Amusingly, Sullivan takes the bait:

But since when did conservatives only care about “economic costs”? I respect Manzi’s cost-benefit argument, and his policy pragmatism. But there is a moral dimension to real conservatism, even a spiritual one, that does not treat the planet as something to be used, but as something to be a sensible steward of.

Maybe so. But if we really believe that “growth” remains possible for a century, it necessarily follows that the probability of real environmental crisis is small. This is not despite, but because of, the fact that the economy is part of the environment.

In future, only actual consensus positions should be reported as such by IPCC, please and thanks. Any clues where Manzi got his idea and what we can do about it?

That all said, I like Sullivan’s concluding paragraphs:

The earth is something none of us can own or control. It is something far older than our limited minds can even imagine. Our task is therefore a modest one: of stewardship, the quintessential conservative occupation.

Conservatives do not seek to remake the world anew. We do not hope to impose upon it some abstract ideological “truth” or bring about some new age for humanity. We seek as conservatives merely to live up to our generational responsibility and to care for the inheritance we have in turn been given. This ecological vision is a Burkean one, which is why Toryism’s natural colour is as much green as blue.

Confirming that the present day Republican party is not conservative.

Update: Plenty of sensible caveats (see comments) notwithstanding, I’d be enormously relieved to see that we are talking about a cost of 3% per century. This works out to a hair less than 0.03% per year.

This year’s cost would be 18.3 billion dollars at that rate. Since costs are expected to accelerate, we can refute the estimate if we can find 18 billion in losses this year.

Estimates from the Pakistan flood losses alone range from 9 billion to 43 billion.

Can we put this down to climate change? I think history will do so. But for present purposes it doesn’t matter. All we need to do is find excess weather/hydrosphere/cryosphere related costs. and Pakistan surely qualifies. This means that we are already bearing the brunt of business-as-usual climate change.

That is, if the estimate is correct, this year would be worse than average in terms of climate related costs averaged over the next century. I think that implies changes much smaller than the WG I consensus, which expects accelerating change. Therefore it would appear to be inconsistent with the rest of IPCC.

Note also that in comments Brian Schmidt points out that this appears in AR4 only as a quotation from AR3 upon which some doubt is subsequently cast.

In any case the idea that a problem like climate change separates out linearly from other problems itself seems highly dubious. I retain my opinion that Manzi’s reasoning is based on a very flimsy premise.

Update: The MIT newspaper makes a similar case. The economists really seem to be getting this wrong; that being the case it makes a lot of sense that a lot of hostility is coming our way. Really, if the premise is correct we are totally barking up the wrong tree, but I just can’t imagine what sort of reasoning could support the premise. It certainly makes the resistance to action far more understandable.
Again, my impression that we are paying attention to the wrong part of the puzzle is reinforced. The physical science doesn’t matter if the economics is so far from what many of us expect. Nor does the environmental science.
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Who Watches the Watchmen?

Tim Lambert asserts that the high profile article in the London Times claiming that former IPCC chairman, Prof. Robert Watson, says that IPCC has a warming bias, is flagrant and willful distortion:

Yes there is bias here, but the bias is in the media that only reports the errors that overstate the problem and also reports as errors things that are not errors at all. This seems pretty obvious and Robert Watson is no fool, so I asked him if The Times had accurately report his views. He replied:

The article distorted my statements – I was interviewed for an hour and it was obvious that the reporter wanted me to say that the authors were biased – I said I did not believe that.

Watson said that the authors were not biased, but The Times reported him as saying that they were. That’s outright dishonesty by Webster and Pagnamenta.

This is serious business if true, and is easily verified. If Watson will talk to a blogger (albeit as distinguished a one as Tim) he will talk to another major newspaper. The press had better get off investigating IPCC and start investigating its damn self.

The Fundamentals Haven’t Changed

There’s a transcript of a press briefing from Todd Stern, who was the US envoy to Copenhagen. Of course he’s trying to put a positive spin on it.

Naturally, some of the questions were about the new feature of weather weirding, the teapot tempest, of which there have been a few of late, especially on the east coast (burying Washington DC in several feet of thick fog) and in the UK. He handled this diplomatically (of course) but very well, I thought. His key claim is that “the fundamentals haven’t changed” which I think is the message we need to get across to the press.

QUESTION: …How much more difficult has your job been since the errors in the IPCC report came to light, both globally and –

MR. STERN: It was difficult already. (Laughter.) No, look, I think that the scientific underpinning for action on climate change, the fundamental science of climate change and the observed data, is quite overwhelming. I think that to the extent – and again, I make no comment one way or another about whether they’re mistakes – I just don’t know. But to the extent that there were any mistakes in the IPCC report, reports, assessments, or anywhere else, that’s regrettable. You don’t want there to be mistakes.

But what should not happen is that any individual mistakes, typos, whatever they might be, be taken to undermine the very fundamental record that exists from scientists all over the world and from observed data from all over the world that this is a quite serious and growing problem. So I think that that’s really the kind of underlying important point.

And nor should – and I think what you do see sometimes is that people who have an agenda that is directed toward undermining action on climate change grab whatever tidbit they can find and say, look, there’s no climate change, it snowed last week in Washington, there’s no climate change. That kind of stuff is nonsense. And the exploiting of this or that mistake that might have occurred in some part of long reports that pull together a lot of scientific data, again, I think is – I think it needs to be seen for what it is, which is a deliberate attempt to undermine. The fundamentals haven’t changed.

So, how about putting it, um, less diplomatically? For that I’d refer you to Charlie Petit whose summary is “one of the greatest outbreaks of institutional lunacy regarding scientific research since the Vatican told Galileo to say he’d made a mistake“!

Oh for the love of god, or Darwin, or whatever one exalts. I have to fully and somewhat proudly concede that when it comes to being objective, I am such as much as I can be. And I objectively believe that the global media and blogosphere convulsions over climate gate, IPPC-hate, Himalayan glaciers’ exaggerated fate, and global warming’s implied demise (despite the data) collectively reflect one of the greatest outbreaks of institutional lunacy regarding scientific research since the Vatican told Galileo to say he’d made a mistake about the Sun, Earth, and the moons of Jupiter. I for one am unsurprised and satisfied that what’s left of the US press, especially its cadre that covers science and environment regularly, is getting tired of reporting the same old same old about the IPCC’s now-revealed shortcomings in the fact-checking and executive summary department, digging up new, latest words about old data files and sloppiness at Britain’s Climatic Research Unit, and echoing the cackling from the bloggy fringe and elected GOP mainstream about global warming buried in an East Coast snow bank, and all of that.

Well said, Mr. Petit. What he said, Mr. Yulsman. Just because there are lunatics willing to spin a sort of a tale doesn’t make it, you know, actual news.


Image: Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition, painting by Cristiano Banti, via Wikipedia

What about the other 11%?

Commentary on the WGII SPM on Slashdot spans the usual gamut from snarky through self-importantly clueless to insightful, and as usual for nontechnical articles the comment moderation system is not especially helpful. My impression that the balance of Slashdot opinion was moving in the wrong direction is not confirmed this time; it seems to be about 25% informed and 75% ill-informed, with the ill-informed split evenly between worried, unworried, and more or less misguided difference splitting (a.k.a. Broderism).

One presumably skeptical question seemed genuine and insightful enough, though. What does “consistent” mean? It’s stated that 89% of the observational records showing significant change are “consistent” with warming. Does this imply that 11% are “inconsistent”? What does this mean for the “consistency” of the record as a whole?

I think we’ll be hearing this question again.

I didn’t see any answer in the SPM. Did I miss it?