Monday, March 10, 2008

Blaise Pascal versus the Bloggers for Exxon

From "Time To Shut Up And Act" by C.M. Burns (my emphasis in red and green and blue):
"We are not scientists
I am not a scientist and you are not a scientist. In the real world, the density of scientists is quite low. On the web, where real science can be found, the density increases significantly but in the worldwide climate-change-debate-o-sphere the density approaches zero. Science is not debating the big conclusions. Scientists are complaining about the media scare-mongering, individual findings are debated, methodologies challenged and the magnitude of predictions are doubted but not that greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed increase in global warming over the last 50 years. Read that last part carefully because that is the core of the IPCC consensus. Don't let anyone fool you into believing that there is some other scientific consensus - there isn't. Any stories you've heard about any other scientific consensus on AGW are the result of science illiterates doing the reporting or worse."

I first heard about this twenty-five years ago, talking to a physicist who was working on one of the climate-change computer models. He was sure of the conclusions back then, and we have had nothing but decades of further data added to the models, all of it confirming the same conclusion, and all of it predictive of what has actually happened (you know how much I like predictiveness). The models are as good a set of models as you are going to find.

There is no certainty, of course, but do the Pascalian math (Pascal's Wager probably doesn't work for religion, but is an excellent description of rational behavior: a rational person will go a long way to avoid even a very small chance of a terrible eventuality). The chance of the model being wrong is very low. The downside of failing to act is literally the worst conceivable outcome, the end of human civilization. There is not the slightest question that a rational person would act on the overwhelming scientific consensus in order to avoid even the smallest chance of the worst possible outcome. Unfortunately, the chance of the worst possible outcome isn't small at all.

The Bloggers for Exxon are excited that one cold winter disproves decades of a very successful model. This is pathetic. Even more pathetic is the 'progressive' wing of the Bloggers for Exxon, the group that says we should not do anything about global warming because some rich people might make money solving the problem. Obviously, we are in the middle of some very bad conspiracies where corrupt governments are actively mis-solving the problem with the biofuels scam, a scam intended to protect Big Oil while simultaneously enriching, using taxpayer dollars, the agricultural-industrial complex. The fact that biofuels is a massive fraud, and an extremely harmful one, does not mean we should give up. That's exactly what Big Oil wants.

I find it amusing that the libertarians (the current polite word for those with a fetish for the very rich) love what they call 'creative destruction', supposedly one of the great benefits of untrammeled capitalism, as long as the destruction only happens to poor people. The kind of reorganization of society which will be required to attempt to save the world will cause the kind of 'creative destruction' that will gore the oxen of a few rich people, and thus is inconceivable.

We have to start making rational decisions based on the best evidence available to us, evidence which is frankly very good. The downside of failing to act is so high that there is only one possible intelligent decision. There is no magic to it: we have to cut the emission of greenhouse gases, and do it by making it prohibitively expensive (using taxation) or illegal to emit the levels of gases being emitted now.