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Cartoon: the climate contrarian guide to managing risk

Posted on 4 March 2014 by dana1981, John Cook

Climate change is fundamentally a risk management problem.  Whether or not you agree with the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming, there is an undeniable risk that the consensus is correct and that we're causing dangerously rapid climate change.

Frequently, climate contrarians argue against taking action to mitigate that risk by claiming the uncertainties are too large.  One of the most visible figures to make this argument is climate scientist Judith Curry, who said in 2013,

"I can't say myself that [doing nothing] isn't the best solution."

This argument represents a failure to grasp the principles of basic risk management, as illustrated in the following cartoon.

When it comes to managing risk, uncertainty is not our friend.  Uncertainty means it's possible the outcome will be better than we expect, but it's also possible it will be much worse than we expect.  In fact, continuing with business-as-usual would only be a reasonable option in the absolute best case scenario. 

Doing nothing is betting the farm on a very low probability scenario.  It's an incredibly high-risk path that fails to reduce the threats posed by the worst case or even most likely case scenarios.  This is a concept Judith Curry understood in 2007, when she wrote,

"The rationale for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide is to reduce the risk of the possibility of catastrophic outcomes. Making the transition to cleaner fuels has the added benefit of reducing the impact on public health and ecosystems and improving energy security ... I have yet to see any option that is worse than ignoring the risk of global warming and doing nothing."

Judith Curry of 2007 got it exactly right.  Unfortunately she and her fellow climate contrarians no longer seem to grasp these fundamental principles of risk management.

Failing to mitigate global warming by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is fundamentally equivalent to continuing to smoke cigarettes, driving without a seat belt, or refusing to buy homeowner's insurance.  Each situation represents the failure to take action to reduce the risks of a very dangerous outcome.

Even if you personally have doubts about the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming and the threats it represents, there's a good chance you're wrong.  You may also doubt the medical science consensus that smoking causes lung cancer, but acting on that doubt by continuing to smoke is a risky decision.  The difference is that in the latter case, you're only risking the health of yourself and those in your proximity.  In the case of global warming, you're risking the health of entire ecosystems and future generations.

From a risk management perspective, mitigating the undeniable threat of catastrophic climate change is a no-brainer.  So let's stop delaying and denying and get to it.

The font in this cartoon is Klima, a free typeface for the climate movement by Matthew Anderson. The cartoon is free to be republished with a high rez version available.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 77:

  1. Nice!

    It's true: contrarians bang on about the costs of dealing with climate risk but are perfectly happy to pay insurance for payoffs they dearly hope they'll never have to receive. 

    The world as a whole spends several trillion dollars per year on insurance, all of which money we each individually hope is ultimately wasted, never to be seen or heard from again in our own lives. 

    Our minds are more than a bit of a mess when it comes to dealing with hazards and risk.

    Looking at the intersection between people paying for insurance versus those with non-functioning or absent smoke alarms in their homes is an interesting perspective on human psychology: paying to protect property computes in our squishy wetware, paying or experiencing minor inconvenience to save lives does not. 

    W/climate change we see an enormous hazard that is beginning to quantify into dismal risk numbers but it's just so darned inconvenient to deal with. Let's think of something else instead.

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  2. The Dr Judith Curry "What-Me-Worry" Climate Policy™ also, IMO, omits the fact that the most effective means of attenuating or moderating the risks of climate change is mitigating climate change, rather than simply hoping for the best. A worst-case scenario depending on business-as-usual carbon emissions isn't going to happen if we avoid business-as-usual emissions.

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  3. dana1981 and John Cook,

    First, to set the record straight, you omitted the first half of Judith Curry's comment:

    ""All we can do is be as objective as we can about the evidence and help the politicians evaluate proposed solutions," she says. If that means doing nothing, "I can't say myself that that isn't the best solution."

    Note the word "if", which is rather important to the context of the quotation.

    Second, "doing nothing" can absolutely be the best (i.e. most rational) solution, if the expected costs of taking action exceed the discounted present value of the uncertain future net benefits that would result from the action.  Again, note the word "if".

    Lastly, this never was a binary question of "do something" or "do nothing". There are countless actions which could be taken, each of which has its own expected costs, projected future benefits, probability of success, and uncertainties around each of these. Each action has to be evaluated on its own merits, and not all actions are mutually exclusive. Some actions will rank higher than others, and the "do nothing" option will rank somewhere in that continuum.

    Where "do nothing" ranks is currently unknown. I think it's a low probability that "do nothing" ranks highest, but that probability does exist.

    If the evidence and an objective evaluation of proposed solutions shows that "do nothing" is indeed the best option, then I'd be in favour of doing nothing (which is exactly what Curry said). Why wouldn't you?

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  4. RussR, if you expand the context even further, by reading the whole article, you will find that Prof. Curry's position is essentially that there is so much uncertainty about the science that we cannot justify action on that basis.  So she has already assumed that doing nothing is as good an approach as any, i.e. the "if" is more or less taken for granted.

    However the point of the cartoon is (rather obviously) that this uncertainty does not justify doing nothing by showing other examples where positive action is justified even where there is high uncertainty of a negative impact, because the cost associated with being wrong in taking no action is much higher than the cost of taking action needlessly.  This is the whole point of insurance - we don't buy it because we think our houses will brun down, be we buy it because we cannot bear the cost if it did burn down. Likewise it is worth taking action to mitigate against climate change because we cannot bear the costs associated with the upper tail of the uncertainty, even if we think this is unlikely to actually happen.

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  5. Russ R. - Curry also stated, in rather stark contrast to the science as summarized in IPCC AR4 WG2, Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability:

    "I don't know how concerned I should be about it — on what time scale that might happen, whether that's 100 or 200 years, what societies will be like, what other things are going on with the natural climate," Curry says. "I just don't know what the next hundred or 200 years will hold, and whether this will be regarded as an important issue. I just don't know." [Emphasis added]

    A climate contrarian, indeed. Even the moderate impacts are large enough to be an issue, and that is the very low end of estimates - a realistic risk estimate will be much higher. Curry seems to think that the precautionary principle used in all other aspects of life just doesn't apply here. 

    Now, as to the evaluation of proposed solutions, the evidence indicates that mitigation is several times to perhaps an order of magnitude less expensive than "do nothing" adaptation. Again, Curry fails to use the precautionary principle. 

    Inaction, "business as usual", is a choice as much as any other policy, something frequently missed in these discussions. The mass of evidence indicates that "business as usual" is perhaps the most expensive option we have. And yet Curry (now, although not in 2007) continues to suggest that we "do nothing"...

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  6. Central estimates of CS combined with a BAU emissions path is already bad enough. The fact that there is a potential for higher CS should be downright frightening to everyone. Including Dr Curry.

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  7. Russ R:

    It must be said that assessments of mitigation measures, and of likely risks/impacts from climate change/global warming have already been done.

    Examples:

    IPCC AR4 Working Groups 2 (Impacts) & 3 (Mitigation)

    The Stern Review

    These reviews are, of course, several years old (the WG2 and 3 reports for IPCC AR5 ought to be out soon, I imagine) and have likely been overtaken by events (such as the precipitous decline in Arctic sea ice). Perhaps there are more recent reviews, but as it is these are both, to my knowledge, both comprehensive and conservative.

    IIRC they both indicate some mixture of mitigation efforts is superior to do-nothing business as usual.

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  8. Russ R @3 - perhaps you missed this in the above post:

    Doing nothing is betting the farm on a very low probability scenario. It's an incredibly high-risk path that fails to reduce the threats posed by the worst case or even most likely case scenarios.

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  9. My question to Dr. Curry would be:
    At what point would you conclude something needs to be done? 
    The point is that when it is utterly obvious we are in trouble, isn't that a bit late?  Yet I have little doubt that is exactly the path that will be taken because it is a consistent horizon effect.  That is you push the bad news far enough into the future that it no longer seems a problem.  Unfortunately, the problem you can't see just keeps getting bigger and bigger 5 miles down the road until it absolutely can't be ignored, and likely can no longer be addressed. 

    Another similar issue is population.  A biology teacher once pointed out that it may take, say, 300 generations of bacteria to overwhelm a petri dish and then collapse.  Yet by the 299th generation, the dish may only be half full.  When crises come, they often come harder and faster than can be handled.  But not to worry, this whole AGW climate change thing is a hoax, right?!

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  10. Even the most ardent ACW denier would still benefit from trying to use fossil fuel more efficiently so "doing nothing" might be seen as doubly foolish.

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  11. John Cook and Dana highlight a very salient and important tactic that is being used by dismissives and obstructionists like Curry. 

    Think about it, if Curry truly believed what she tells he fellow obstructionists, then she would not have house insurance, would not wear her seatbelt, would not wear a life jacket in a boat and would smoke a pack a day.  So Curry's contrived rhetoric is really just a ruse to misinform and confuse and feed fodder to radicals and obstructionists.


    If Curry truly believed her own words, if she were sincere in her public statements and courageous, she would say what she really believes, which is for the USA and others to not take meaningful action to reduce our GHG emisssions.  Instead we are left with her word salad.

    Curry should also know that in reality uncertainty cuts both ways, yet she has foolishly convinced herself that uncertainty acts only in the direction of least risk and impacts. 

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  12. I give talks on climate change and find that deniers make up only 1 or 2% of the audiance who are mostly older white male business men. When I go on the internet the proportion goes up tp 50% and they are simply repeating a small number of tired old attitudes which have no basis in fact. From this pattern I deduce that the internet deniers are nearly all paid proffesionals. There are not that many climate change sites so it would be easy to swamp them with a relatively small number of people. But how many? I am not a mathmatician but it should not be hard to calculate how many there are bu the relative proportion of deniers compaered to the number of people on the site, The Huffington Post has a big readership and the proportion is relatively low while the Gaurdian gets ahigher proportion.

    Could somebody do a calculation and work out how many there are? I think it would be somewhere between 50 and 100.

    As an interesting sideline The Daily Caller has 98% deniers which shows that they have almost no natural readership at all and the journalists have to fill the comments section to make it look as though they have an active readership.

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  13. Climate Bob's observations intrigue me.  I've always felt that a contributing factor to the different proportions on the internet is that people who feel they understand the science and believe what the majority of the scientists are telling us don't see any reason to 'debate' the issue, so they don't waste their time!  In my local newspaper blogs the pattern seems to be just a few deniers that TALK LOUDLY AND FREQUENTLY, while the general population will post "what planet are you coming from?" types of responses and move on...

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  14. Strictly against site policy to block quote but Knaugle's remark bears repeating:

    A biology teacher once pointed out that it may take, say, 300 generations of bacteria to overwhelm a petri dish and then collapse. Yet by the 299th generation, the dish may only be half full. When crises come, they often come harder and faster than can be handled.


    Emphasis mine. Like Knaugle I too think we fail to appreciate how everything can appear to be normal until we collide with the wall of system limits. All too often this is not an approach but an impact.

     

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  15. Greg Craven - aka wonderingmind42 - put together a couple of videos about risk management and how it pertains to climate science for his "How it all ends" Youtube video series. They are well worth watching (again).

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  16. I would agree with Climate Bobs comment - the few and the loud make up the majority of pseudoskeptics. Reddit recently starting blocking deniers on their climate threads, and moderator Nathan Allen said that:

    ...We discovered that the disruptive faction that bombarded climate change posts was actually substantially smaller than it had seemed. Just a small handful of people ran all of the most offensive accounts. What looked like a substantial group of objective skeptics to the outside observer was actually just a few bitter and biased posters with more opinions then evidence...

    More opinions than evidence, more time than apparent sense. It doesn't take a lot of people to generate obfuscating noise. 

     

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  17. Great stuff. you could do a simialr cartoon for the contrarian guide to science. Age of the universe, evolution, continental drift, etc - there are probably a small percentage of people with some science training who are creationsist (I worked with a geneticist once who did not accept evolution), and this could be used to argue there wasn't consensus. 

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  18. In Australia we have a Government that is in total denial of the science that proves AGW.

    I can see the hypocrisy in their eyes as they placate drought affected farmers with yet another inadequate support plan. They know that we know that they know that it is all a sham.

    This IS the new normal. And yet they ignore the science and act as if everything was the OLD normal.

    Do not judge by what they say. Judge by what they do! Bert

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  19. Aside from the impacts of climate change that nearly all professional scientists agree will manifest, there are other reasons for action:

    1) mitigation of the social upheaval that will follow the declining availability of fossil fuels,

    2) mitigation of the social upheaval that will follow when geopolitical conflicts arise as a result of the declining availability of fossil fuels,

    3) mitigation of the effects of losing the non-energy industrial feedstock benefits of fossil carbon,

    4) mitigation of the polluting effects of the extraction and use of fossil carbon.

    Only an insane person would advocate business as usual in buring fossil carbon, given the inevitable brick wall of consequences toward which humanity is rushing.

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  20. John Cook,

    taking Judith Curry's quote out of context, then introducing Risk Management cartoons like the above appears to be presenting a straw man argument against her. I think it is clear from the 2007 comment that Judith Curry does understand the "fundamental principles of risk management". I don't know about her "fellow contrarians" because you have not provided any evidence that they misunderstand risk management.

    In Judith Curry's case I think the best thing would be to focus on why she feels the evidence for Global Warming is so uncertain.

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  21. Harry Twinotter - Prof. Curry doesn't understand the fundamental principles of risk management if she thinks that uncertainty is a justification for taking no action.  The principle of minimum risk decision making says that you compute a weighted sum (more accurately an integral) over all possible outcomes weighted by their probability of ocurrence and pick the strategy with the lowest expected risk.  If there is high uncertainty, this integral is likely to be dominated by outcomes in the tails of the distribution (i.e. unlikely but severe impact).  The possibility of those events justify action to mitigate them.

    On the other hand, if there were less uncertainty, and we could rule out the possibility of these "unlikely but severe impact", we might then have a justification for doing nothing.

    Uncertainty is not our friend.

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  22. Lets be clear here. Taking action to reduce the extent of climate change produced by human activity is mitigation not insurance. The advocates of the do nothing approach could quite easily sell that policy as an insurance strategy: concentrate on as much economic growth as possible now so that in the future we are rich enough to overcome all of the issues arising from climate change. This would mean that the public have a choice between two 'insurance' options, each with seemingly equivalent claims to be right.

      For a long time, I've thought that the way to move forward on the mitigation path is to sell insurance against the (supposed) costs of mitigation being a waste of money. That is, people can buy insurance that pays out a lump sum if it turns out that (man-made) climate change predictions turn out not to be correct. These policies would have to pay out in a relatively short time say, 2050. So what measures could be used to determine if the insurance should pay out or not? I propose that they should cover the following:

     

    1) That temperature has increased by more than a stated amount

    2) A test that emission of CO2 from human activity has contributed to the majority of that temperature increase.

    3) A test that the increase in temperature (either directly or by change in climate) has caused economic cost above a certain level. This could be costs on a global level and all economic costs or a single region or area of economic activity which is then extrapolated to a global scale.

    If nothing else, the exercise of coming up with examples for the three tests above will be a productive one (for people from both sides of the debate).

     

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  23. The "do nothing approach" cannot be sold as insurance.  The reason that insurance works is that the chance of all of the policyholders making a claim in the same year is vanishingly small.  Thus the insurance company only need to have funds to meet the claims made by the appropriate proportion of the policyholders.  In the climate change scenario on the other hand, it is likely that a very large proportion of "policyholders" will make a claim, so even with economic growth, we still won't be able to meet the costs.  There is no point in taking out an insurance policy with a company unless there is good reason to think they will have the resources to meet your claim, should it be made.  In this case, there isn't.

    I agree that mitigation isn't exactly like insurance (analagies are never exactly representative of the true situation, the idea is to convey similar concepts to help explain the issue).

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  24. "There's a small chance my house might burn down."

    "Uncertainty Mutual sells a homeowner's policy, except they don't tell you the cost of your premiums in advance, the deductible is ambiguous, and they can't guarantee that your losses will actually be covered.  Oh, and you don't have the option of cancelling your policy."

    "I can't say buying their insurance is worth it."

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  25. RussR pushing an analogy beyond the point needed to explain the important concept is a well known rhetorcial technique used to evade the point being made.  It is sad that this sort of behaviour is so prevelant in discussions of climate.

    Mitigating against climate change has some similarities to buying insurance, in that uncertainty does not warrant inaction, but it is also different in someways.  This is not a complicated message conveyed by the cartoon, and most people will be able see the similarities without fixating on the differences in order to ignore the central message.

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  26. Russ R wrote: "Uncertainty Mutual sells a homeowner's policy, except they don't tell you the cost of your premiums in advance,"

    Actually, there have been a number of studies on the costs of mitigating global warming. They all show that, like life and health insurance, the longer you wait the greater the risks and the higher the costs.

    "the deductible is ambiguous, and they can't guarantee that your losses will actually be covered."

    The analogy breaks down here as paying to mitigate the impacts of global warming will not give you money to cover the costs of the impacts which have already been unleashed. It isn't so much 'health insurance' as switching to a healthy diet and exercise... your health will be better, but any damage already done does not miraculously go away.

    "Oh, and you don't have the option of cancelling your policy."

    Really? Once we start a carbon tax or cap and trade or funding for renewable energy research we can never stop? How strange then that these things already have been stopped in various countries. Arguments hold more weight when they are not demonstrably false.

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  27. I think a better analogy than buying house insurance is to replace all the wiring in your  home. This would mitigate the risk of a house-fire rather than just compensate you for losing your home. 

    Of course skeptics might object that the house might catch fire anyway from another cause and, since the old wiring has worked well for sixty years, why go to all the expense? Plus, all those intrusive government electrical safety codes are a blow to personal freedom. And how about the poor?

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  28. Andy @27, that is a great analogy!

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  29. Excellent and concise messages: The arguments against the message are selfish and small. The critics argue that since "I", the only and most important, may not see the results of making a livable world for posterity, then investing effort in mitigating the potential catastrophe is not worth the effort. This is besides the obvious absurdity of pretending that there is no problem when all indications increasingly demonstrate the potential.

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  30. The more we hammer at these ostriches, the more they push back.  Perhaps we should tell them to forget climate change.

    Forget climate change

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link. (Since you comment here regularly, please learn how to embed links properly. Thank you).

  31. William... You can find the "link" tool on the second tab, titled "Insert", above the comments box. You can use the tools there to post images and to hot link text.

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  32. CBDunkerson@26,

    "Actually, there have been a number of studies on the costs of mitigating global warming."

    Do any of these studies show actual real-world costs, instead of abstract projections?   I would be more than happy to show you real-world evidence of the public having been misled about the costs of mitigating global warming, only to discover the true costs once the policy was enacted.

    "Really? Once we start a carbon tax or cap and trade or funding for renewable energy research we can never stop? "

    I'd also be happy to show you, backed up again with real-world examples, that not all mitigation policies are as easily reversible as a carbon tax.  Some have blown huge amounts of capital that can never be recovered, while others have incurred future costs that will be locked in for decades.

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  33. Russ:

    If you have real-world examples it would save us all time if you linked them in you post, instead of making promises to supply them later.  As it is you have made empty, unsupported assertions.

    Composer at 7 has already linked the Stern report and IPCC AR4, AR5 has not been released yet.  Please only link peer reviewed material as a response to IPCC reports.

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  34. michael sweet,

    Thank you for your concern, but my comment wasn't addressed to you.  Nor was it addressed to Composer99, because I'm not arguing with him/her. 

    My comment was addressed to CBDunkerson in response to his/her argument @26, which cited nothing more specific than "a number of studies".   Taking that as the bar for argumentation on this issue, I thought I'd leave it to him/her as to whether he/she will accept my counter-argument at face value, or demand more specific evidence.

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  35. Russ R. - You have indeed been pointed to a number of studies (here and also here), as per my previous post, discussing carbon pricing wrt the Federal deficit, energy costs, gas prices, household impact, discount rates, etc. 

    Now, what are your examples? Because I have to say that an unwillingness to provide evidence gives the appearance of handwaving on your part. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] While discussing risk management, then please continue. However, further discussions on the costs associated with CO2 mitigation, should happen on the topic CO2 limits will harm the economy

  36. Saith Russ R.:

    I would be more than happy to show you real-world evidence of the public having been misled about the costs of mitigating global warming, only to discover the true costs once the policy was enacted.

    I don't know what else Russ R. has dug up, beyond the articles regarding Spain and Ontario that Russ R. shared in the re-post of Dr Abraham's The Guardian blog (the one he shares with Skeptical Science's dana1981). I'll be interested in seeing them (if CBDunkerson requests them).

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  37. KR,

    "You have indeed been pointed to a number of studies (here and also here), as per my previous post, discussing carbon pricing wrt the Federal deficit, energy costs, gas prices, household impact, discount rates, etc."

    All of which are no doubt excellent arguments against "doing nothing".  I'm not arguing with them because I'm not, nor have I been, arguing in favour of "doing nothing".  As I wrote above:  "Each action has to be evaluated on its own merits, and not all actions are mutually exclusive. Some actions will rank higher than others, and the "do nothing" option will rank somewhere in that continuum. Where "do nothing" ranks is currently unknown. I think it's a low probability that "do nothing" ranks highest, but that probability does exist."

    So you're wasting your time and effort arguing, and I'm not interested in wasting mine doing likewise.

     

    However, nothing in any of your comments responds to my original comment to John Cook and dana1981, who are misrepresenting Judith Curry by quoting her out of context, and drawing a cartoon to attack an argument that she never actually made. 

    If you can show me where Curry has ever actually said or written, without qualification, that "We should do nothing about climate change", I would concede that the quotation is not a misrepresentation.  

    Until then...

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  38. Interesting. What is your interpretation on this Russ?

    JC message to IPCC: Once you sort out the uncertainty in climate sensitivity estimates and fix your climate models, let us know. Then please do the hard work of understanding regional vulnerability to climate variability and change before you tell us what constitutes ’dangerous’ climate change. And let us know if you come up with any solutions to this ‘problem’ that aren’t worse than the potential problem itself.

    Source:

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  39. scaddenp,

    re:  "And let us know if you come up with any solutions to this ‘problem’ that aren’t worse than the potential problem itself."

    She's responding to the argument that "Global warming is irreversible without massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry."

    Like her, I wouldn't support any "massive geoengineering" projects without being near certain that the solution isn't worse than the problem.  Would you?

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  40. RussR wrote "Do any of these studies show actual real-world costs, instead of abstract projections?"

    Unfortunately we don't yet have data on real world costs of actions taken in the futrue, hence we have to make do with projections.

    RussR "Thank you for your concern, but my comment wasn't addressed to you."

    You are taking partin a discussion on an open forum.  This is a bit like people having a discussion around a table at a pub.  If you say something, anybody at the table is allowed to reply.  If you want to have a private discussion, email would be more appropriate.  In particular, if you claim to have information of interest to others at the table, it is not unreasonable for them to ask you for it.

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  41. Russ R. - 'Your claim that 'She's responding to the argument that "Global warming is irreversible without massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry."' is simply incorrect.

    The quote in question came from an NPR interview, and was reposted by Curry herself, and is in reference to "proposed solutions". Not just massive geoengineering (although that is in the spectrum of possible solutions), "proposed solutions" includes carbon taxes, incentives for renewables, and many many others. 

    Your claim is a strawman.

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  42. The IPCC isnt keen on geoengineering. Emission reduction is far better, safer, and arguably cheaper. The statement:

    "Methods that aim to deliberately alter the climate system to counter climate change, termed geoengineering, have been proposed. Limited evidence precludes a comprehensive quantitative assessment of both Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and their impact on the climate system."

    doesnt sound to me like advocacy for geoengineering.

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  43. michael sweet @33, KR@35, Composer99@36, Dikran Marsupial @40, and CBDunkerson (who never actually requested it).

    Recapping, I challenged the cartoon's insurance analogy  with this humorous bit:

    "Uncertainty Mutual sells a homeowner's policy, except they don't tell you the cost of your premiums in advance, the deductible is ambiguous, and they can't guarantee that your losses will actually be covered. Oh, and you don't have the option of cancelling your policy."

    CBDunkerson conceded that the insucance analogy "breaks down" as it doesn't directly cover losses, but challenged two parts of my analogy (costs disclosed in advance, and no option of cancelling).  CBD did not cite specific evidence, but claimed there are "a number of studies" describing costs, and that actions like carbon taxes or cap and trade schemes can be reversed.

    I responded with two points...

    1. The studies are abstract projections, and I could provide real-world evidence of the public being misled by low-balled cost projections.
    2. I agreed that some policy actions are easily reversible, but would be happy to show evidence of others that are not.

    So, going at them one at a time:

    Real-world evidence of the public having been misled about the costs of mitigating global warming, only to discover the true costs once the policy was enacted:

    I didn't have to look far for this example, since I am presented with evidence of it every time I see my electric power bill.  In 2009, the Ontario government passed the Green Energy Act, that would replace coal-fired electric power with renewable wind and solar power.  They said the costs to ratepayers would be low:

    Energy Minister George Smitherman, at the time of the enactment
    of the Green Energy Act, stated, “I have been very clear
    about it. One percent per year, incremental on the cost of a
    person’s electricity bill, with corresponding capability through
    investments in conservation for people to lessen their use of
    electricity” (Hansard, 2010).

    After the GEA was enacted the story changed dramatically:  

    Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP), announced by the
    Liberal Party on November 23, 2010, states,
    Over the next 20 years, prices for Ontario families and
    small businesses will be relatively predictable. The consumer
    rate will increase by about 3.5% annually over
    the length of the long-term plan. Over the next five
    years, however, residential electricity prices are expected
    to rise by about 7.9% annually (or 46% over five years).
    (Ministry of Energy, 2010)

    Actual costs that are 3.5x to 7.9x higher than promised constitutes being "misled" in my book.  But that's not the worst of it, because the government still wasn't telling us everything.  Citing a peer-reviewed paper, Fox and Gallant (2011):

    "We have been able to identify omitted costs in the province’s
    LTEP of $60.94 per MWh. These omissions would raise power
    bills by 40% above the government’s forecast. Other areas of
    possible omissions have not been quantified because the data
    are not public.  Assuming a continuation of current policies, the average
    Ontario residential user’s annual bill will exceed $2,800 by
    2015 and $4,100 by 2030, compared with the current $1,700."

    If Ontarians had been told in advance what they're finding out now, I'd imagine they would have been much less supportive.  So, when I jested that "they don't tell you the cost of your premiums in advance", I had grounds for it.

    More to follow.

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  44. Russ R.:

    Your quotes do not, in and of themselves, show that rate increases are a specific consequence of the Green Energy Act without which they would never have occurred, nor does the text you have cited from Fox & Gallant (2011).

    Colour me skeptical.

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  45. KR@41,

    (-snip-).

    I took the time to read the blog post that scaddenp@38 linked to, entitled "Can science fix climate change?". (-snip-). I suggest you focus on the very first line: "Global warming is irreversible without massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry. – Fred Pearce"   Geoengineering was the subject of the blog post, and the quote that scaddenp provided was her conclusion.

    The quote you're refering to was from the NPR interview was an entirely different matter.  It said: "All we can do is be as objective as we can about the evidence and help the politicians evaluate proposed solutions," she says. If that means doing nothing, "I can't say myself that that isn't the best solution."  It had nothing to do with geoengineering or scaddenp's question.

    (-snip-).

     

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Inflammatory tone snipped.

  46. Composer99,

    If you're skeptical, invite you to actually read the Fox & Gallant paper and get back to me. Feel free to read other sources to familiarize yourself with what's actually happened in the Province of Ontario.

    I've had the benefit of actually living here and watching this unfold.

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  47. Russ R, Fox & Gallant estimate the costs of transferring to renewables on the assumption that all gross costs of electricity generation are also net costs.  That is, they assume that increased investment in renewable energy will not be partly offset by reduced investment in coal fired power plants.  That fact alone means that their headline result does not follow from their analysis.

    Further, I cannot make head nor tail of how they determined their final values.  They do not show their working at any point.  As you are citing them, presumably you have been over the numbers and have confirmed them.  That being the case, can you link to a spreadsheet showing how the numbers are determined. 

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  48. Russ, fair on context for my quote.. However If that means doing nothing, "I can't say myself that that isn't the best solution."  seems entirely relevant to the quote. It ignores that uncertainty cuts both ways and ignores the precautionary principle. Frankly it sounds more like the chant of "we dont to pay for energy and absolutely dont want to pay more tax". 

    This economy-first ("cant do anything that might have negative impacts on economy") is usually what you associate with  a right-wing ideology. Interestingly, right wing ideology is usually also keen on respecting others rights and taking full consequences for your actions. Almost all the enhanced CO2 contribution to the current atmosphere is from Western emissions. A disproportiate amount of the impacts will happen outside the West. Will the West accept the consequences of the emissions and pay for this? Frankly I think going there would be an absolute quagmire and it constituents yet another risk with doing nothing. Better to mitigate emissions.

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  49. Russ R @39, the statement quoted by Scaddenp @38 comes at the end of a discussion of geoengineering, but is clearly not intended to be limited to geoengineering.  Specifically, she denies that the IPCC even has enough information to know that potential climate change is dangerous; and she couches her advice on policy terms in the most general language.

     

    As an aside, I will note that Curry is contradicting herself if she is applying the quote to geoengineering, and specifically the geoengineering that Pearce suggests may be necessary.  Specifically, early in the he post she quotes herself, writing:

    "In this book I outline the reasons why I believe this particular climate fix—creating a thermostat for the planet–is undesirable, ungovernable and unreliable. It is undesirable because regulating global temperature is not the same thing as controlling local weather and climate. It is ungovernablebecause there is no plausible and legitimate process for deciding who sets the world’s temperature. And it is unreliable because of the law of unintended consequences: deliberate intervention with the atmosphere on a global-scale will lead to unpredictable, dangerous and contentious outcomes."

    (My emphasis)

    However, the geo-engineering proposal she argues against is just the reduction of CO2 concentrations back towards c. 1950-2000 levels.  If reducing CO2 levels from c.  550 ppmv to c. 320 ppmv will "...lead to unpredictable, dangerous and contentious outcomes", then of necessity, so also will increasing CO2 levels from 320 to 550 ppmv.  Indeed, even more so as when increasing CO2 we are taking it to levels not recently experienced, and hence to a climate state on which we have little direct data.  In contrast, the reduction will be to a climate state that we know better than any other.

    Finally, Curry's quote essentially says that an organization set up to provide an exhaustive assessment of the current state of information on the science, effects and best policy responses on global warming should completely shut up about what are the best policies (given current information) unless they have perfect information.  That means her preference is for ill informed policies based mostly on self interest rather than the best informed policies available.

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  50. Russ,

    Fox and Gallant use prices for wind and solar power installations that are from 2010.  Since the cost of both has dropped by over 50% since then, they are out of data and no longer apply.  For a recent cost estimate see this wind industry site, solar is about the same right now.  This op-ed peice from Gallant (written last month) lists a number of items that raise your electricity costs.  Only a few relate to renewables (none in the first five).  He specifically mentions that the contract with Samsung has been renegotiated, which addresses your concern about not being able to stop after you start.

    It is confusing when you mix costs from renewables with costs from industry subsidies and fuel cost increases.  Please site a reference that separates out the renewable expense from your other costs.  Some of the costs you cite are from increased coal prices.  It is not apparent how much of your increase  in electricity costs is from renewables.

    This Wikipidea article (from about 2011) documents about $3 billion dollars per year of health costs from coal alone in Ontario.  There are additional large costs from acid rain, mercury and other coal pollution.  You will see lower general taxes from savings due to lower coal use since much of fossil fuel costs are paid from general revenue instead of from the electricity bill.

    This Clean Technika article documents large consumer savings from wind energy during heat waves in Australia (caused by AGW) because fossil fuel electricity costs less since it has to compete with wind.  The savings on the hot days paid for the wind subsidy for the entire year!  They claim that a fossil fuel plant was written down because it cannot make much money competing with wind.

    It is good that you have finally cited data to support one of your positions, even if it is a little out of date.  Please link to data to support your other claims.

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