Thursday

The New Global Energy Economy

Along with the U.S. Australia opted out of the Kyoto Treaty.
Per capita, Australia is the most polluting continent on the planet. Like the U.S. there are entrenched interests in maintaining the status quo.

Australia has now revised its official position on global warming and declared the debate over. Their leaders now admit that being frank about the reality of global warming is in the best interest of the citizenry.

Terry Gross interviewed scientist, Tim Flannery on his new book The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5293273

What Flannery says isn’t new. He echoes his peers at large. “As greenhouse gas levels rise, the Earth is nearing a global climatic tipping point.”

As the ice caps melt there will be clear winners and losers. Life for polar bears and penguins—not so good. As for the rest of us--unknown.

Some obvious winners will be those on the forefront of the new energy economy. Wind technologies alone grew at a rate of 20 percent last year.

Where is the United States positioned in R&D for new energy sources?

The President’s 2007 budget includes gestures: $148 million for the Solar America Initiative and $44 million for wind energy research.

According to climate watch groups, the U.S. will need to spend from $100 billion to $300 billion alone to protect coastal property from erosion as sea levels rise. http://www.theclimategroup.org/index.php?pid=373

This gets depressing fast. In fact Tim Flannery said midway though writing the book he found himself feeling decidedly bleak. It wasn’t until he began researching and implementing solutions that his outlook for the future brightened. It’s amazing what retrofitting your house with solar panels (without the use of power tools) will do for your spirits.
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8 Comments:

Blogger Sterling Smith said...

The book you quote above is actually the opposite view of Michael Crichton. It sounds like this Flannery guy actually believes in the theory of global warming. So, I guess I'm not seeing the point.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Tracy O said...

Sterling, Michael Crichton is a fiction writer. I think I mentioned before that I always find it interesting when people give MC's opinion more weight than the majority opinion of our leading peer reviewed scientists. :)

6:36 PM  
Blogger Sterling Smith said...

Oh, I thought you were agreeing with Michael Crighton's assessment of the situation when you said that, because that's basically the point that he's making -- i.e that the science behind the theory of global warming should be advanced based upon methodical peer-reviewed science, not from political movements.

I've been reading up on the whole issue and I've decided that I'm going to have to agree with MC on this one.

From what I've seen, it's tough to get any definitive answers from the scientific research.

You might disagree because we do have huge amounts of data on the subject from widely-varying fields. It is specifically because of this that there is a problem with any analysis of this huge data set.

Remember when we talked about the multi-variable problems of analyzing the causes of the decrease in crime in the 90's (from that tipping point guy)?

The global warming theory is an even more complex multi-variable problem. One that cannot even begin to be analyzed with the best computers we have out there (and that is assuming for the moment that the simulations are written correctly to which there is major disagreement among scientists.)

And don't even get me started on the politics behind this. You can deny that politics are involved, but again from what I've been reading -- oh boy -- there is way too much politics (and politicians) involved with the whole thing for me to not be skeptical about it. When people take a sides on scientific issues based on their *political* leanings, then I'm very suspect of whether or not they really have understood the issues or are just "believing the hype".

Until I read the "State of Fear", I always took Global Warming for granted because of my very limited exposure (mostly from the media, because I never took a class on global warming in college). Once I started to "question the authority" of the science behind the theory, I became very skeptical.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Tracy O said...

Well, I understand what the politicians and entrenched interests have to gain by denying the problem.

I don't see what the scientific community at large has to gain by urging us to hurry up and get our collective heads out of the sand.
Other than the obvious...a eco stable planet.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Sterling Smith said...

There is much to be gained politically for coming out in favor of global warming. If those in favor of gwt can convince world governments that action must be taken now, by using the fear of a global catastrophe, then they will be first in line for the cash handed out when the government looks for a savior.

Who better to implement a solution than those who understand the problem best?

It also seems to me that the political bent on this issue falls along harsh lines. Much too harsh for my taste. Traditional conservatives are coming out strongly against the theory, and the traditional liberals are coming out strongly in favor of it. It is so much so, that I am by this fact alone suspicious enough to urge caution before adopting a hardline stance one way or another. It seems that whether or not one believes in the relevance of the theory is directly correlated with their political affiliation. That is always bad news in my book. It has never been good for politics to mix with science. Although, I can see how the lines might be drawn based on the current philosophies of liberals and conservatives. Liberal causes have been generally in opposition to capitalism and large corporations and the global warming issue would hurt those entities the most. Conservatives have generally been in favor of more libertarian ideas like doing whatever one wants and the environment-be-damned approach so they would benefit from rejecting a global warming idea.

My scientific background and experience with complex systems analysis just can't comprehend a rational way around the multitude of problems with predicting a definitive global catastrophe based on this enormous multi-variable problem. It's beyond our current computational abilities to model such an enormous system as global climate. I'm not saying we'll never be able to do it, but not with the current state of technology. We probably have another 50 years before we'll have the capacity to model systems of this magnitude.

The following is an argument that I'm reluctant to use because it seems to have been adopted by the conservatives, but it is one of the few that actually do make sense. The computer models that we have today that allow us to predict localized weather are only 75-80% accurate (much lower than that after about 4 days out). They presumably have the same caliber of scientific minds working on the models that they have on the global warming predictive models, so why is one model so inevitable, absolute, and dire, and the other only about 80% at best?

It's a very interesting subject. But, I'm still not convinced that your interest in the subject isn't based on your political views. How much of what you believe is because of what you hear from your usual sources and how much is from a careful analysis of the data and research?

Personally, I didn't really have much of a belief one way or the other until recently when I started taking a good hard look at it. Then once I started to see the politics behind it, I was immediately dubious. Maybe I'm wrong, but without removing the political motivation I can't see how any real scientific discourse can take place.

8:13 PM  
Blogger GTV said...

The answer to this is simple... 99% of the population will sacrifice a better future for a better today... It stands to reason that the day Global Warming will makes a significant and tangible impact on the planet earth we will have all been dead decades ago. So, why do you care if the planet earth becomes a toxic wasteland in the year 2100? Do you honestly believe that your answer, which will be along the lines of "for my kid's kids and their kids BLAH BLAH BLAH", is something you'll sacrifice yourself over? Not a snowballs chance in HELL! You can't even truthfully state that you've FINANCIALLY secured your kid's kids and their kids future! I know your theory... I don't give a sh-i-t if my Great-Great Grandchildren are homeless and broke; as long as they can breath normally and won't disengrate after being in the sun for 5 minutes then I've done my job!

If you are TRULY passionate about the subject, then the only way you could possibly make some headway is to convince the higher-ups of something that nobody can convince you off... Sacrificing the benefits of your present for the betterment of your future.

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Who the hell are you?"

This is always an excellent question to ask when someone tries to convince you of something. The current question should be modified to read: "Who the hell is Micheal Crichton?"

Does this guy properly represent ANY science in his work? For example if I were to go through Jurassic Park for all his statements about DNA would they be correct? How many misleading statements would I find about Chaos theory? How many inaccuracies? How many purposeful misrepresentations? I mean did you READ Prey, what a load of crap? I do have a degree in Anth, so the little school learning I do have leads me to say that his book Eaters of the Dead is also based on crap. I don't know, but before I started using a writer of fiction as a reference on a matter of science I would probably think twice (and then not do it).

As far as I'm concerned this is Michael Crichton VS 75 percent of climate scientists.

Who the hell am I? Nobody. But I'm not asking anyone to believe me. I'm saying that there are people who do climate science for a living, and this article: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686 Seems to imply that they generally agree that climate change (warming in aggregate) is happening and that humans are involved.

If I had a tooth ache I would see a dentist.

If my car breaks down I go to a mechanic.

If I want to know something about a topic, I read a book written by an expert.

If I want to know about climate change, I would look to the consensus of the scientific specialists in climate.

But hey, I'm just an office temp. There is no particular reason why anyone should listen to me. Please go ahead and reference whatever hack fiction writer you might prefer next time you want to understand a complex and esoteric subject.

I do read his work. Good story teller. Crappy on characters, crappy on the science, crappy on social commentary,... but good story telling, if you can get past all the crap.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Sterling Smith said...

Well, "anonymous" that was a lengthy diatribe that missed the point entirely.

You can spend as much time ranting about how Michael Crichton isn't a true scientist as you like and you are actually proving my point and agreeing with him, (probably without wanting to, I suspect).

Michael Crichton just happens to be a person who reported the inconsistencies in the data. He neither gathered the data, nor did he perform any of the science involved.

What MC did do was take off his political blinders for a moment and take an honest look at the information for himself. Then he was able to see the bigger picture without the "benefit" of his politics getting in the way of his opinion.

Political parties tend to give a preset opinion to their members and if one of the members doesn't toe-the-line on that opinion, they will be devoured by their party like Ted Bradley being set upon by cannibals. It works that way for both parties.

You make an interesting statement about how you come to your conclusions. You say, "this is Michael Crichton vs. 75% of climate scientists". For the moment, let's assume this is true. Then you're inferring that one-fourth of climate scientists would agree with MC's assessment of the science behind GWT. For me, this is more than enough to be skeptical even without taking into consideration the very real political motivations behind many who support or deny GWT.

And you're absolutely right that there's no particular reason why anyone should listen to you. Or Michael Crichton for that matter. The difference here is that MC gives sources for his information that can be readily verified.

Maybe he cherry-picked his data, as I'm certain anyone with a point to prove would be likely to do. In fact I took that as a given when reading the book. However, you can easily find a multitude of sources for yourself by a simple Google search on GWT. Even, dare I say it, sources MC left out.

What I'm saying is not to take MC's word for it, nor Tracy's, nor mine, nor anyone elses for that matter (but especially not those with obvious political motivations). Do the analysis for yourself and you'll find convincing arguments from both sides of the debate. You'll see that some of the same scientists that you mention above (those that subscribe to the GWT's veracity) make suspiciously weak statements when they are asked to lay their science on the line.

I agree with you partially about looking to the concensus of the experts in the field when you want to know something about a topic. That is kind of a throw-away statement, meant to imply that I don't do that. However, like you, that's exactly what I do. After reading lots of experts (not just the ones who agree with my particular preconception), I can see that the concensus on GWT boils down to one word: "maybe".

And it's not just one or two crackpot scientists out there who are saying there is no real proof that global warming is occuring. There are many that I've run across in my research on the subject. I've also run across many who assert that it *is* occuring. You probably have run across both yourself if you've done as thorough a study of the research as your 75% number implies.

If I were to give you a list of scientific experts who disagree with your preconceived ideas on GWT, then you would most likely give me another "in response" list that would impugn the scientists as hacks or wannabes. (There is plenty of information on the internet that can be used to impugn any scientist no matter what their view on GWT.)

My suspicion is that this kind of material is being churned out from political think-tanks on the opposite side of the issue and not from any real evaluation of the scientists work. My reply to this would be "consider the source".

As I type this, I'm still not in a position to take a particular side on GWT. For me the verdict is still "out" and will be for some time. I can see why you might think that I'm taking the opposing side as you on this. You'd probably use the tired old, "if you're not for me, then you're against me" argument.

If things are so dire that we can't afford NOT to act NOW, what then? What do we do? We can walk on egshells for the rest of our lives, living in fear that our future generations will die of solar radiation if we don't stop building SUV's and using petroleum products. Those might be good ideas, but the way to convince people is not to create fear by molding science to our purposes, but to educate.

In the end, I can only hope that science prevails and this issue is not decided in the arena of political opinion.


P.S. Personally, I also partially agree with you about MC and his writing. MC has always been a little too "out there" for my tastes. Read his autobiography, "Travels" for a really freaky view of his new-age hippy ideas. But, no matter how you or I might critique his work, his success speaks for itself.

6:41 AM  

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