Friday, June 13, 2008

"At our present level of ignorance..."



I was sent this short article published in the Wall Street Journal - and I want to share it with you:


JOHN R. CHRISTY: My Nobel Moment (2007 Nobel Peace Prize)

I've had a lot of fun recently with my tiny (and unofficial) slice of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But, though I was one of thousands of IPCC participants, I don't think I will add "0.0001 Nobel Laureate" to my resume.

The other half of the prize was awarded to former Vice President Al Gore, whose carbon footprint would stomp my neighborhood flat. But that's another story.

Both halves of the award honor promoting the message that Earth's temperature is rising due to human-based emissions of greenhouse gases. The Nobel committee praises Mr. Gore and the IPCC for alerting us to a potential catastrophe and for spurring us to a carbonless economy.

I'm sure the majority (but not all) of my IPCC colleagues cringe when I say this, but I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming we see. Rather, I see a reliance on climate models (useful but never "proof") and the coincidence that changes in carbon dioxide and global temperatures have loose similarity over time.

There are some of us who remain so humbled by the task of measuring and understanding the extraordinarily complex climate system that we are skeptical of our ability to know what it is doing and why. As we build climate data sets from scratch and look into the guts...

Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals (such as scientists) and the tools available to us. As my high-school physics teacher admonished us in those we-shall-conquer-the-world-with-a-slide-rule days, "Begin all of your scientific pronouncements with: 'At our present level of ignorance, we think we know . . .'"

21 comments:

MgP said...

Compare and contrast how the Greek recipient Zerefos reacted for the same award. A very thorough discussion and several links, inc. the reply of Zerefos to his accusers can be found here

An-Lu said...

@ mgp
Once again, greekish misery and meaness, blown by the local mass media, at its best...

AK-47 said...

I'm afraid that the line between scepticism and denial propaganda is thin.

Really thin.

harrylogue said...

" Global warming " & - in a broader sense - envirowakism is a conspiracy of the leftists international against the US.

Euro politicians sign treaties which they will not honor,for the pols themselves have no honour...

Reactor69 said...

Claiming that we can't know for sure is one thing. Using exactly that to grant ourselves total irresponsibility is quite another.

And since, "at our present level of ignorance" of course, we "think" that greenhouse gases is indeed a factor of global warming, that's all we have to work with. Otherwise, following the article's author purely theoretic mentality, even if you die screaming and crying by stabbing yourself, you can't really prove that you felt pain during the procedure. Let's inhale some weapon-grade uranium too, then! They say that afterwards you glow in the dark which is pure fun!

Reactor69 said...

There is "knowledge" and "usage". Both are fueled by motives. Human motives.

doodler said...

There is a difference between forewarning and panic. Nobody in his/her right mind says we should not take all possible measures to reduce pollution and waste. But we should go on studying the problem and measuring the cost - e. g. the Kyoto agreement proved impossible to implement and the cost/benefit calculation was negative.

Reactor69 said...

Even though I agree on studying and understanding a problem at hand before taking any serious action, I'm afraid we've reached a point where trial and error, at any cost, is the only way to balance the situation to viable degree, not only on a national or racial level but on a species one as well.

To quote Mr. Christy, if "Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals" concerning the global climate system, I strongly believe She can be a really tricky bitch when it comes to the ways an ecosystem works and the consequences of even the slightest change in its mechanism. I won't say "external" change for we are part of it.

As far as I'm concerned, it's not the things that we, mankind, are going to have to live with in the future that depresses me, it's the ones we'll certainly live without. Our species proves itself -scientifically- way more effective than the meteor that eliminated the dinosaurs. But, of course, none can tell what's next and none can value...

MgP said...

@doodler: maybe you will find interesting the views expressed in a recent publication on YaleGlobal from Brookings Institution, a liberal think-tank. Here is an excerpt:
The prevailing uncertainty about global warming is no argument for doing nothing about it. Clearly human activity is raising global concentrations of carbon dioxide. Virtually no one seriously suggests that mankind can continue to emit increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without any adverse consequences. But arguing that climate change is such an overwhelming problem that it must be stopped no matter what the cost is also untenable. A climate policy that fails to take cost into consideration will ultimately be rejected by almost all governments.

irlandos said...

If we matter and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
If we don’t matter and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
But if we don’t matter and it matters, then it really matters.

Irish saying

tam-tam-tam said...

I don’t think that Mr.John R.Christy suggests that we can ever justify ourselves towards the enviroment (towards nature’s representative,since the environment’s disturbance is mostly a political issue…) using our ignorance as an alibi for our actions and our attitude.I can’t explain to nature’s representative that my fault is less than my neighbour’s fault (and of course a lot less than the fault of the megatheriums of business and politics)so that I get less punished.The problem is,the environment doesn’t have any logical representative (like we do) to whom we could explain ourselves so that we end up to an agreement of some kind(like we do).Nature’s representative is no other than the repercussions themselves.

kerveros said...

Not wanting to interrupt this beautiful blog, there is an immense amount of research going on on the subject of global warming. But apart from subtle scientific research one cannot close the eyes to facts like these. Now as far as the scientific process shows that the only feasible explanation for this is human activity we have to take action. The result of this action would be saving the planet as we know it and thus the cost cannot be taken into account.
More info for the skeptics.

p.s. Note that the WSJ was recently acquired by the one Rupert Murdoch known neoconservative owner of the FOX news network and strong G.W. Bush supporter

ghost said...

I recently liked this video about what to do at our present level of ignorance. Enjoy!

doodler said...

@ghost

This is a clever but sophistic video. It assumes the worst possible consequences in case "b" (e. g. most scientists agree that the water level may change by 1 foot - and not three or six). Of course if you put the "End of the World" on the one scale any other alternative will weigh less...

kerveros said...

That is debatable, it seems.
In any case, there is no rational for inaction. Are we prepared to ignore science and risk any of the forecasted consequences at any level ?
Should we gamble with the fate of the world ?
Banks "manage risk" to protect our savings in times of market turmoil, Should we not apply the same principles in managing the environment and our fate ?

doodler said...

Nobody proposed inaction - but thoughtful action, cost estimates (not only financial) and no panic.

Reactor69 said...

For those who want to postpone -if not to avoid- taking decisive action, thought will always remain an mean to that, and that only. Can't blame them, though, for in very direct ways their interests happen to be our very own as well.

But interests are forming the present status and in this case nobody can't foresee the consequences of major climate changes on it, let alone their intensity. Therefore, I believe we should transform our interests to goals, this time taking the environmental factor into serious consideration. You are talking about the "cost"? What about New Orleans? Even measured in US dollars, it was devastating. One can figure out the loss in profit, but who can say for sure what the costs of adjusting will be?

On the... "cloudy" side -for rain also provides water- maybe it's high time something comes to rock the world and bring along a bit -or more- of chaos to the status quo, adding "ante" to it's end.
Nevertheless, it will certainly be interesting, maybe even fun for a while!
Personally, I'll be more than glad to watch colossal insurance agencies falling apart by "acts of God"! (Demonic lol!)

Yannis H said...

What is the crucial and turning point that one decides to act while in a constant stage of ignorance? Answer: whenever. We are not sure – I can live by this truism. But this doesn’t mean we should act as if nothing matters, nothing has changed, we-will-conquer-the-world-again-in-case-we-did-something-wrong, etc. In this case we act as if … we know.

I believe in taking seriously into consideration both sides of the argument, rather than trusting only those who talk of insufficient data – in the end analysis, all are scientists (and some are paid by industries. I cannot overlook this issue). So, the big question is: why choose side?

The basic question is too big for my knowledge – and I think it’s too big for everyone’s knowledge. I prefer not to take any part in the discussion – I listen when scientists talk about serious hazards and I listen equally well when other scientists talk about overestimating these hazards. I can hope for the best – but it doesn’t harm if I am aware of the opposite argument and pay attention in everyday things. In any case, I will not harm anyone – quite the opposite.

harrylogue said...

U can't play both sides.

Advocate of the truth & advocate of the (d)evil of envirowakism.

There is no middle ground.

Either u fall victim of the Big Lie of "global warming ",or u fight that lie to the end.

Politics made simple...

maharanara said...

Let us say we send the company to the psychiatrist. What hell find.

Aphrodite said...

Ok.

A big extrapolation from socio/psy “fields” to socio/politics “fields” (erm, reminds me of “strawberry fields”, a textbook case of a bashful midget fruit becoming a f@#$ing expensive undernourished and yet glowing gigantic mutant monster – that still grows & grows and hasn’t on its very own and single-handedly killed anybody yet)…

Here goes:

“According to the heuristic model, people may apply (abstract) rules (such as “length implies strength”, “more arguments are better arguments” and “arguments based on expert opinions are valid”) in judging the probable validity of persuasive communications, without fully absorbing the semantic content of persuasive argumentation.

Consequently, people may agree more with messages containing many (vs few) arguments, with messages that are longer (vs shorter), or with messages containing arguments that are embellished with statistics or ascribed to credible sources.”*


In short, “heuristics” is what “systematics” is not. But it is a pretty good way to go around sticky subjects, with everyone left semi-satisfied (and able to save face, credibility and earnings) in the end, even if this very end… doesn’t turn their way.

Surely beats leaving only a few satisfied (“HA! Was I right or was I right?!” but most sulking (“Granianianiah!”)…

The only problem:

in Greece “heuristics” theory is most of the times applied in handling information and guiding action as pure...

“bakalistics”…


(OMG without the 3 lols!)
:PPPP


*more on heuristics