American Elephants

Government Causes Catastrophes: Ordinary People Solve Them. by The Elephant's Child

hu–bris  n.Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.

Headline from Scientific American:Effective World Government Will Be Needed to Stave Off Climate Catastrophe.”

The author says:

Almost six years ago, I was the editor of a single-topic issue on energy for Scientific American that included an article by Princeton University’s Robert Socolow that set out a well-reasoned plan for how to keep atmospheric carbon dioxideconcentrations below a planet-livable threshold of 560 ppm. The issue came replete with technical solutions that ranged from a hydrogen economy to space-based solar.
(um— greenhouses keep their atmospheric carbon dioxide at 1,000 ppm. planet remains livable, plants grow more enthusiastically).

If I had it to do over, I’d approach the issue planning differently, my fellow editors permitting. I would scale back on the nuclear fusion and clean coal, instead devoting at least half of the available space for feature articles on psychology, sociology, economics and political science.

The problem to be fixed, you see, is all the damned people. They’re not cooperating. We need a “constitutional moment” at the upcoming 2012 U,N,Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in June to reform world politics and government. Among the proposals: a call to replace the largely ineffective U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development with a council that reports to the U.N. General Assembly, an attempt to better handle emerging issues related to water climate, energy and food security.

To be effective, a new set of institutions would have to be imbued with heavy-handed, transnational enforcement powers. There would have to be consideration of some way of embracing head-in-the-cloud answers to social problems that are usually dismissed by policymakers as academic naiveté. In principle, species-wide alteration in basic human behaviors would be a sine qua non, but that kind of pronouncement also profoundly strains credibility in the chaos of the political sphere.

The whole global-warming/sustainability has fallen into such disrepute that the true believers are getting quite desperate. The largely ineffective U.N. will have to get really “heavy handed”with “trans-national” enforcement to scare the people enough that they will continue to fork over their money and their support. Unexpectedly, all the wind farms and solar arrays, electric cars haven’t eliminated any carbon dioxide. Cap-and-trade is dead as a dodo. Carbon sequestration is over. The Carbon market is out of business.

“Those who claim to care about a livable climate for the future,”says Master Resource, “should strive to understand the mechanisms by which industrial capitalism has already created the most livable climate in history.”

The mass-production of sturdy, weather-proof buildings … the universal availability of heating and air conditioning … the ability to flee the most vicious storms through modern transportation … the protection from drought through modern irrigation … the protection from disease through modern sanitation–all of these have led to a 99 percent reduction in the number of climate-related deaths over the last century.

It has been enormous hubris that has led some scientists to assume that they can duplicate, in a computer program — even very large computers — the nature of worldwide climate. The climate programs cannot successfully “predict” today’s climate, let alone 50 and 100 years into the future. Meteorologists can predict the weather by studying weather patterns, and get it right, maybe for the rest of the week, and they don’t always get that right.

Politicians are elected on their ability to impress a crowd, and be generally what my father use to call “glad-handers”— amiable, glib, likeable and able to give an effective speech. Some rely on props like Grecian columns and special logos, others rely on flags and bunting. This is no indication of their understanding of science, history, world affairs or economics. And it is unfortunately often absent. Those marble halls and the attention of “the Media”is inclined to imbue politicians with hubris — presumption and arrogance.

There are very few things that government can do well, and protecting us from changing climate is not one of them. It was only 40 years ago that the panic was about a new ice age, and “nuclear winter.” Our government’s record of trying to force us into a “clean energy economy ” is rife with fraud, waste and debt, and the worst of crony capitalism.

Individuals, on the basis of profit and loss calculations, do pretty well at deciding what changes they need to make in their businesses and in their personal lives to adjust to the situation. They require only freedom to solve big problems. Think the settling of North America, the settlement of the American West, the transition from a horse and buggy society to the internal combustion engine. We didn’t need the federal government to ban horses, nor to license wagon trains. The Greenies grew fat and comfortable on the bounty of taxpayer money that flowed to them. Now those funds are drying up, and they are in a major panic as to how to keep the funds flowing.

In their overweening arrogance, they think they are smarter than you are, and they should be able to set the terms and direction for your life. “Effective World Government” is an oxymoron.


12 Comments so far
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You speak of hubris. There is plenty to go around. At the dawn of the nuclear-power age, engineers were predicting that the cost of nuclear-generated electricity would soon be so low that it wouldn’t be worth spending money on electricity meters.

… the protection from drought through modern irrigation.

Yeah, while it lasts. Large areas of irrigated land around the world are dependent on pumping fossil groundwater (laid down eons ago) at way beyond their recharge rate. Levels of aquifers in the High Plains of the United States, the basin around Mexico City, southern Asia, are dropping rapidly. Areas of the Andes that used to be able to rely on snowmelt over the whole year are now seeing that vital source of water run out early. Whether you believe that the cause is man-made or natural, the problem is real.

Other irrigated areas are succumbing to the slow, but difficult-to-reverse problem of salinization:

It was only 40 years ago that the panic was about a new ice age, and “nuclear winter.”

Two un-related issues. The fear of “nuclear winter” was the realization that even if a nuclear war did not kill large populations through radiation, there would be additional millions, if not billions, killed as a result of less sunlight reaching the ground because of soot released to the atmosphere from all the fires that would follow a major nuclear war. The world had been there before: simply as a result of volcanic eruptions in Indonesia:

[I]n 1815, the eruption of Mt. Tambora, Indonesia, resulted in an extremely cold spring and summer in 1816, which became known as the year without a summer. The Tambora eruption is believed to be the largest of the last ten thousand years. New England and Europe were hit exceptionally hard. Snowfalls and frost occurred in June, July and August and all but the hardiest grains were destroyed. Destruction of the corn crop forced farmers to slaughter their animals. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry. Sea ice migrated across Atlantic shipping lanes, and alpine glaciers advanced down mountain slopes to exceptionally low elevations.

The fear of human-induced cooling was related to increases in atmospheric emissions of SO2 and particulate matter as a result of ever greater combustion of coal and fuel-oil. Indeed, the intentional release of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere is one of the leading means being investigated to arrest run-away global warming. (More hubris, I agree.)

Newer climate models try to take into account of the offsetting effects of tropospheric emissions of SO2 and particulate matter and of volcanic emissions. It is difficult.

And models are getting better at forecasting beyond a week. Long-range (several-month) forecasts of general temperature trends and precipitation are now getting to be surprisingly good.

We didn’t need the federal government to ban horses, …

Not the federal government, but many municipal governments at the turn of the 20th century were struggling with the problems caused by too many horses (and their droppings), and many ordinances were passed to try to deal
with the problem. One more advantage seen for bicycles and then motor vehicles.

Finally, I would disagree that “all the wind farms and solar arrays, electric cars haven’t eliminated any carbon dioxide.” There are many solar arrays in developing countries that are generating power off-grid — e.g., to recharge storage batteries. The alternative is usually diesel-powered generators. For most of the world, I would agree, the cost effectiveness of wind farms and solar arrays (i.e., the cost per tonne of CO2-equivalent avoided) has been very poor.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Yes, there is some solar power in areas where there is no other electricity. There are solar stoves and ovens as well, and those probably reduce some carbon dioxide by cutting back on wood fires. I’d be a little careful about believing in the melting glaciers. They claimed that that was happening in the Himalayas, and depriving the rivers in India, but it wasn’t true. Climate change is not caused by CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 is a natural fertilizer and makes plants grow. Good for forests and fields.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

If you could fix my URL links, I’d be much obliged. 🙂


Comment by Subsidy Eye

(?) Which? What? I see the problem, but I can’t fix it. Sorry.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

(?) Which? What?

I ended a URL address with instead of . So the rest of the text in my first message looks like a hot link (highlighted in red).

I’d be a little careful about believing in the melting glaciers. They claimed that that was happening in the Himalayas, and depriving the rivers in India, but it wasn’t true.

Indeed, more recent, better data have shown that the glaciers in the Himalayas are not retreating, as had been previously thought. But that the tropical glaciers in the Andes are retreating is, as far as I know, uncontested.

Climate change is not caused by CO2 in the atmosphere.

Don’t know what scientific source you’re using for this claim, but the warming potential of CO2 has been known since the 19th century. Indeed, the Swedish scientist who discovered it argued at the time that humanity should increase its CO2 emissions so as to make colder climates more habitable and able t grow more food. (At the time, neither he nor anybody else cared about what happened in tropical countries, or thought about changing rainfall patterns.) That is not to dispute that changes in solar intensity and other factors can also influence climate change.

CO2 is a natural fertilizer and makes plants grow. Good for forests and fields.

Yes, ignorring nutrient and water limitations, CO2 boosts plant growth … up to a point. As explained in this article, “some plants already have mechanisms for concentrating CO2 in their tissues, known as C4 photosynthesis, so higher CO2 will not boost the growth of C4 plants.” This variability across regions and plant species is important. The article continues:

[E]xperiments suggest that higher CO2 levels could boost the yields of non-C4 crops by around 13 per cent.

However, while experiments on natural ecosystems have also found initial elevations in the rate of plant growth, these have tended to level off within a few years. In most cases this has been found to be the result of some other limiting factor, such as the availability of nitrogen or water.

The regional climate changes that higher CO2 will bring, and their effect on these limiting factors on plant growth, such as water, also have to be taken into account. These indirect effects are likely to have a much larger impact than CO2 fertilisation.

For instance, while higher temperatures will boost plant growth in cooler regions, in the tropics they may actually impede growth. A two-decade study of rainforest plots in Panama and Malaysia recently concluded that local temperature rises of more than 1ºC have reduced tree growth by 50 per cent.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Subsidy, I am extremely careful with sources. Mostly, I go direct to the climate scientists. I get the impression that you go direct to Google. I would not use the Christian Science Monitor as a source, for example, nor any of the other links you offer.

There is a great deal of disagreement in the area of climate and energy. I am firmly on the side of the skeptics. Skeptics do not doubt the existence of global warming, but are skeptical about the idea that it is anything to be alarmed about. The earth is always warming and cooling, and what we have seen is well within the realm of natural climate variation. There is no evidence that we can do anything other than adapt. For information on the effects of CO2, go to And sorry, I stand by my sources.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

EC, my point about Andean glacial melt is that it exists, whatever you attribute it to. You have not provided any links to refute that claim. Here is one scientific paper on the topic.

As for the radiative forcing value of CO2, decades of research has provided more and more precise numbers on it. See, for example, links to various scientific papers here:

That CO2 may have been a lagging indicator of climate change in the past (especially if the climate change was due to something else) does not negate the possibility that rising CO2 concentrations would accentuate the greenhouse gas effect.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said “authoritatively:” Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of their disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the earth keeps warming at the current rate.” The earth hasn’t been warming at least for the last decade or so and may continue to cool for decades to come. Nobody knows.The new GRACE satellite confirmed that the Himalayas are fine. I haven’t seen anything about the Andes, but I vaguely remember reading that the IPCC was relying on Greenpeace rather than glaciologists.

The website you cite was unknown to me but is run by a warmist with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. I have no way of knowing whether the papers are correct or not, and no time to investigate more thoroughly. Here’s Dr.Tim Ball, Canadian climatologist with a couple of pieces on his view of CO2 levels. And there’s a wealth of material at CO2 Science.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Was I defending the IPCC? They have written some stupid things in support of biofuels in the past. As you have said, in the past, and I generally agree, science is not a question of majority voting.

I know too well the IPCC’s embarrassment over the issue of glaciers in the Himalayas. And the IPCC issued an apology over the error. But those who insist that climate change isn’t happening, or deny the warming effect of increasing CO2 concentrations (how much that effect is, of course, is still subject to some uncertainty, especially once one takes into account biological and oceanographic interactions), love to point to such errors as proof that all the science that lends support to the idea of anthropogenic global warming must be entirely bogus. That, in itself, is an extreme view.

If you are going to dismiss a website with links to academic papers because “it is run by a warmist”, and yet expect other people to believe articles posted on a website set up by a “denier”, then the debate is never going to get anywhere. But perhaps that’s the aim in the first place: stalemate.

To get back to the Andes, my point was in any case about the loss of water available for irrigation in many parts of the world. In other words, in the future, many of the sources of water on which irrigated agriculture has been able to depend in the past (snowmelt in the Andes, fossil groundwater) are going to be less available in the future. Of course, irrigation efficiency can be, and is likely to be, improved. But one important way to achieve that is to start creating markets for water, not continuing to provide unlimited water at some government-administrated price determined to keep the farmers happy.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

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