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Heads or Tails

Cf. Pascal’s Wager


  1. Cow flatulence aside, if man made global warming is true, then the only solution is fewer men, is it not?

  2. Jonathan Webb says:

    Sorry Jonathan, but nonsense. We don’t know what the future holds. However, it will be much easier to cope with disaster if we’re prosperous. He could make the same whiteboard arguments about alien invasion with a comparable risk analysis. That is an unknowable one.

    You know that we are in a cooling phase right now, don’t you. Possibly a renewed ice age. Oh yeah, I forgot, it isn’t global warming, it’s climate change. In other words, something that can’t be disproven. In other words something which isn’t science.

    Look for my upcoming tome from Korrektiv Press, “The Age of Madness”.

    • Jonathan Potter says:

      You could make the same argument about alien invasion, but that would indeed be nonsense because there is no serious evidence that there is imminent risk of it. What makes this guy’s white board argument valid is that there is a serious debate about the risks, with a large contingent of scientists who have studied the question saying we need to take action. There is no comparable contingent of scientists saying we need to do something about alien invasion. The same goes for Pascal’s wager. It assumes the weight of considerable evidence for God’s existence — but it also acknowledges human uncertainty. I don’t think that’s nonsense.

      • “there is a serious debate about the risks, with a large contingent of scientists who have studied the question saying we need to take action.”

        Are you including the emails proving that most of these “scientists” are artificially inflating the risks or in some cases just plain making them up as they go – even going so far as to state that they know it’s false as they present it in their models but they need to make it look like a crisis to get people to act?

        Also, are you including the fact that most temperature models were taken at airports *which because of the great concentration of convective material – i.e. tarmac runways and asphalt parking lots – generally run higher than the actual average temps?

        Also, are you including the neo-marxist quasi-religious attitudes among the non-Christian scientists and politicians who are pushing the case for global climate warming change.

        Also, are you taking into consideration the hypocrisy of many invovled in this Ponzi Scheme to End All Ponzi Schemes?

        Just a few columns and rows our guy forgot to include, I guess…


    • Jonathan Potter says:
      • I can’t speak for the rest, but Whitman is a renowned RINO.

        Not that that term means much anymore because the GOP doesn’t mean anything anymore – but just so no one gets the impression that she drives around with a gun rack and copies of Rush Limbaugh books flying out the bed of her pick up…


  3. Quin Finnegan says:

    There is definitely something fishy about the article by Ruckleshaus, et al.. While it is true that most scientists think that some sort of climate change is occurring, there is dissent about the causes. So when I read a sentence like “There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts”, I’m bothered by a couple of things. One is that “credible scientific debate” sounds unnecessarily pejorative by delegitimizing any dissent from the outset. Scientists themselves would (or should) welcome debate rather than try to quash it. Another is that information about “basic facts” tends to get blurry, and fast.

    In the article linked to above, the authors go on to list several signs of global warming, and (to their credit) are careful not to claim that it is the result of human action. Why then, do they begin the next paragraph by saying “The costs of inaction are undeniable”? They haven’t claimed (again, to their credit) that global warming is due to human activity, because that can’t be proved. That “the costs of inaction are undeniable” concerns future action (or inaction) and by definition cannot be proved or disproved, and that “undeniable” sounds pretty shrill. Why is it undeniable? The cost of action, on the other hand, really is undeniable, and yet by failing to mention this “basic fact”, the authors effectively accomplish another form of denial.

    Then come the scare tactics: “And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”” Something has to be done now, which means, “even if your dissent is legitimate, we don’t have the time to deal with that right now.”

    Note also the way “locked in” is echoed by the phrase “political gridlock” in the next paragraph. Now it isn’t just climate change, or even dissenting opinion: political debate itself is characterized as the problem. And what is the way to work through “political gridlock”? President Obama “will use his executive powers”. Are we supposed to believe that this isn’t political? Why isn’t this also considered political? Is it because the authors use the word “inarguably” in the next sentence? What about those people who do argue against the premises of this debate? It seems pretty clear that, as far as the authors are concerned, dissenters merely contribute to “political gridlock”.

    On top of that, the authors claim that they know just how the terms of the debate should be set: “Rather than argue against his proposals, our leaders in Congress should endorse them and start the overdue debate about what bigger steps are needed …”

    Ignoring arguments actually brought forward and then assigning in advance the terms of any future debate is simply arrogant.

    I’ve seen good arguments in honest debates about climate change: most anything written by Bjorn Lomborg, as well as this September article in the LA Times (neither author is a skeptic on climate change).

    This article isn’t one of them.

  4. I have no particular expertise on these matters, but I do have a rough personal schematic for understanding the various aspects of the issue. There are a number of basic questions: (a) is warming/climate change occuring?; (b) do we know the causes?; (c) do we know what the effects will be?; and (d) do we know what effects will follow from particular policy proposals? It seems to me that those questions are progressively more difficult to answer, and that there is even controversy over the first. As such, I am doubtful about claims — on either side — that try to make the issue simple, and especially of those efforts to use political muscle to shoulder dissenters out.

    I’ve also spent a fair bit of time in the company of atmospheric physicists, and in my experience many of them have the air of the activist about them. This tends to augment my wariness of alarmist claims, but admittedly it is just anecdotal.

    Regarding the use of “climate change” instead of “global warming”, I think it is defensible. “Global warming” leaves the impression in the public mind that the earth is getting warmer globally — that is, everywhere — whereas in fact the claim is only that it is getting warmer on average, and that the practical result of this average warming is changing weather patterns: some places warmer, some colder, some stormier, etc. In other words, climate change.

  5. Chasing Ice was pretty dramatic.

  6. Jonathan Potter says:
  7. Ok, you win, human beings are causing climate change.. The CO2 level has risen drastically in the last 60 years and it’s so bad that the world as we know it won’t exist in a decade or two. So a carbon tax and few extra miles per gallon will fix it?

    What do we do when a couple billion people in India & China choose not participate in destroying their economies? If it’s happening because of man kind and the situation is a dire as some say, I don’t think we can do anything to stop it.

    • Jonathan Potter says:

      Uncertainty is the name of the game. Which is one of our specialties here at Korrektiv, along with existentialist tomfoolery.

      It seems to me that the destruction of economies is as overhyped by one side as the destruction of the world is by the other. But shouldn’t we at least make a modest effort to curtail CO2 just in case it’s as bad a deal as it seems like it could be? And encourage clean energy innovations that will also be economically beneficial? And (from the article linked above) devote some research effort towards “a narrowly-defi…ned niche role for a reliable backstop technology that can effectively knock down high planetary temperatures quickly in case of emergency”?

      • The article linked to above has an excellent précis, with this key sentence:

        “This paper attempts to explain (in not excessively technical language) some of the most basic issues in modeling the economics of catastrophic climate change.”

        Here is a typical paragraph taken from page 14 of a 28 page article (i.e., somewhat at random):

        Apologies for not being the smartest guy in the room, but this is excessively technical language, and I would submit that excessively technical language has more to do with the trouble we’re in than climate change.

        People have good reasons for being skeptical about climate change. One reason is that they look out their windows, or even go outside, and they see that the local climate isn’t appreciably different than it was fifty years ago. Another reason is that, as noted above, many climate scientists (Michael Mann, James Hansen, et al.). themselves carry a fairly strong whiff of activism with them. Which in itself is perfectly understandable—people should be vocal about what they believe—but when some of them then start monkeying with the data and suppressing open debate, you’d have to be foolish not to exercise a healthy amount skepticism.

        For others, yet another reason to be skeptical is the conflation of religious and scientific knowledge. That’s my particular beef with the premise of this post. Pascal’s wager was famously intended to demonstrate a rational basis for believing in God, or to be more exact, for behaving as if God exists even when you don’t really believe he does. As such, it is given in advance that you will never really know whether God exists—at least not in this life, which is the life of the inhabitant addressed by Pascal. We can and will know whether climate change comes to pass. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not a decade from now, but time continues to pass and science continues to improve, and I have enough lower-case faith in each to wager that we will someday know what we don’t know now.

        For that reason, we should not (I cannot) hold faith in or wager on the scientific method the same way that I hold faith in or wager on God. Please understand that I’m not saying that I don’t believe in science or that fides et ratio isn’t a cornerstone of the Catholic tradition. Of course I do and of course it is. But the reason Pascal’s wager matters, and indeed why the whole existentialist enchilada matters, from Pascal to Kierkegaard and beyond, is that we speak of faith and reason, and whatever else Heidegger and Derrida and others got wrong, they usually hold faith with that tradition. We don’t say that faith is reason—that way madness lies. And it isn’t a stark and running-through-the-streets raving kind of madness, but more of an emperor-has-a-fine-looking-robe sort of mad.

        Global warming sometimes, even often, seems to be the sort of reductive scientism Percy wrote against. We all recently read a book of his. We’ll have to read it again some time.

        • Jonathan Potter says:

          I’m glad you brought up Pascal’s Wager. I didn’t really have a major axe to grind with this post other than I thought there was an interesting similarity between Pascal’s line of thought and this guy’s. I do think there is an issue here of conflating religious and scientific knowledge that we should be wary of, sure. There’s also an interesting morbid human fascination with (desire for?) some kind of apocalypse.

          But somewhere else Percy says, in relation to the wager, that Pascal was the last sane philosopher. I also think there’s sanity in applying the same sort of reasoning to other areas of behavior where we don’t have certainty but we do have strong evidence that one course of action could save us and that the other course of action *might*, if not doom us at least bring about a mess of trouble. Webb’s response that this is all nonsense and madness strikes me itself as a little mad, as does a lot of the ideologically motivated reaction against the way a majority of climate scientists interpret the data.

          As for the emails cited in that Wall Street Journal article, I agree with one of the lone, sane dissenting commenters, Jeb Jones:

          “Historical data should be made public. Data collected by a researcher should be made public after a short time during which the researcher has ‘first dibs’ at presenting the analysis of the data that he or she collected.

          “These emails certainly show a concern that the climate change deniers are using junk science and trying at every turn to find something in valid research to distort for their own purposes. The emails certainly do not show the climate researchers that wrote them in the best light. Unfortunately the zealousness and big-oil money behind the climate deniers makes it almost a certainty that they will try and twist anything into one of their talking points – so sadly, these climate researchers have been reduced to this pass.

          “These researchers are not making any big money unlike the oil and gas companies that are out to delay and confuse for as long as possible while their profits keep rolling in at the expense of our environment. There is no incentive for a conspiracy of scientists to defraud, unlike the other way around.

          “In the end this bit of news, like all the arguments of the climate change deniers, amount to the same thing. Poke a little hole here, a tiny hole there, raise a few doubts, and claim that the sum of their arguments is that anthropogenic climate change is one big fraud. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. If you want to prove climate change is a fraud, then develop a scientifically valid climate model of your own (without all the flaws you see in the ones put forth by those you call “alarmists”) that accounts for all of the climate data, without requiring an anthropogenic component. Oh, but you can’t, can you. So while there may be tiny holes here and there in the models we have, they are the best we have and they ALL point to climate change. All the little jibs and jabs you take are either minor flaws or pure fabrications that don’t alter the overall picture, no matter how loudly you say that they do.

          “I’m not saying to stop finding those little holes. We need them to be found and fixed – but you seem to think that what you have brought forward somehow disproves the premise. Sadly, it does not.”

          • Well, I’d like to throw my lot in with a guy named “Jeb”, but …

            Zealousness describes global warming alarmists as well as deniers, and it would be a mischaracterization to call all deniers “ideologically motivated” … there are many deniers who aren’t backed by “big-oil money”. The WSJ editorial based on these emails develops an argument that some readers may regard as twisting, but the authors of the emails published by the WSJ really are doing some twisting. They’re not writing editorials, either. They are scientists who should be interpreting data in the search for truth, not cherry picking some data and suppressing other. I readily admit that I can’t come up with a scientifically valid model for climate data, but I submit that, one, it isn’t necessary to develop one model in order to engage in honest inquiry about another, and two, there _are_ scientists who have developed other climate models: Richard Lindzen and Judith Curry to name two of the most famous. However big the money is at this or that oil company, there’s no money so big as that which can be had from the Federal Government. Solyndra and a number of other companies have bilked us for billions of dollars. Actions that _could_ save us _could_ doom us as well. The doom that might come with global warming isn’t any more real than the doom that might result from failed politics.

            I’m not saying that it’s all madness, but I don’t think it’s madness just to have a strong opinion on the matter. Nor do I think it’s candy ass to refrain from holding a strong opinion … I’m just trying to point out what I consider pretty specious arguments. Granted, I see these more on one side than the other, but I’m happy to be korrekted.

  8. But shouldn’t we at least make a modest effort to curtail CO2 just in case it’s as bad a deal as it seems like it could be? And encourage clean energy innovations that will also be economically beneficial?

    If it’s bad as many scientists say, I don’t think it matters what we do. That said, I do think reasonable measures to curtail pollution (which CO2 is not) is good and of course, I’m all for clean energy. That is a matter of stewardship and responsibility which is much different than repackaging socialism in form of crazy environmentalism.

    I guess to summarize my point, I am all out of panic.. I was born in 1975, the year that Time magazine had on it’s front cover “the coming ice age”. So in my lifetime, we evolved from death by glacier, to death by heat which has now morphed into death by “unpredictability”.
    What a way to cover your bases: if it’s hot= climate change, if it’s cold=climate change and if it’s mild well it’s an unexpected reprieve between violent swings in the climate. The earth’s surface has not warmed in the past 15 years btw, but they double down and say its worse than expected. I’m not buying it.

    What I am buying is your rendition of “To Old to Die Young” which was quite good..

  9. Jonathan Potter says:

    Is there a scientific consensus regarding the deleterious effects of human-generated CO2 in the atmosphere?

  10. Quin Finnegan says:
    • Jonathan Potter says:

      Thanks for this. I think the “nontechnical” (ha) piece I linked to is similarly squishy. Maybe squishy pragmatism is the most reasonable approach at this juncture.

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