Posted by Jeff Id on January 13, 2011
Guest post by John Pittman, but before that I have something to add.
I accepted this post on John’s past reputation without even looking at the content. John doesn’t share my political views on many things so this post was a surprise. Without a doubt I’m getting older, so it is not often that the perspective of my own opinion is changed, John has done exactly that.
I think the failures of Copenhagen and Cancun are going to be the start of a series of failures, though, hopefully not expensive ones. There will be two main classes of failure, but the root cause will be the same. The two failures will be first, ineffectual, expensive “feel-good” or moral “rent-seeking” projects, and the other will be continued failure to reach a binding substantive agreement. Over at Dr. Curry’s blog , they are looking at the issue of defining the relevance of practitioner and other forms of knowledge. There is an error by some on either side with equating problems as part of good versus bad on a singular aspect of the issue. I will make the argument it is systemic, and pervading, and such discussions will not be fruitful since they are misidentifying the problem.
I am including some definitions. Not that I want you to think that my definitions are noteworthy or even correct. But rather, so we can spend time on analysis and not talking past one another. They may be thought as differencing definitions. The first is to put ecologists and other environmental professionals in a group of people concerned with the science, and business. The other group, I label as environmental activists who are concerned with the science, and preservation of nature. To show the difference, the professionals’ response to the activist point of “it” being manmade and therefore not natural is to ask “Do you mean that man is some kind of god, being supernatural?” This is an important distinction often missed in the hurly burly of the political process.
Though some may think this distinction unnecessary or even unnatural, it is necessary to understand the distinction to understand the methodology of what I present. I am going to start with a study I did on a paper on a very long time ago, and some recent events to demonstrate why I think we should be anticipating failure, and thus prepare ourselves to limit the expense of the failure.
The paper, I can’t remember the name, was back in the paper library world, was about how the estimates of cost-benefit analysis from environmental professionals employed by business differed from estimates from environmental activists that produced estimates for NGO organizations such as the Sierra Club. The authors used projects that had been completed, and run for a number of years, so that the validity of the cost benefit ratio could be computed or estimated reasonably. It was found that the difference was about an order of magnitude. In particular, it was found that environmental professionals tended to underestimate benefits by a factor of two and/or overestimate costs by a factor of two, the activists the opposite, such that the average was about an order of magnitude different.
The authors maintained that they thought that the professionals should be more liberal with their estimates such that they started with an estimate closer to what should be realizable. I used a simple (perhaps, simplistic is more accurate) game theory model to show that the professionals should not. The reason and model were based on negotiation. The assumption is that if the professionals achieve a “victory”, then a non-ideal realization occurs that rewards preservation of capital at a cost to the environment; whereas, a “victory” by the activists means wasting capital that could benefit society for little or no measurable environmental good. Thus, if both started equally away from the true point and negotiated correctly, the ideal was more likely to occur than either of the two scenarios which yielded inefficiencies.
Later, a colleague obtained his doctorate showing efficiency in environmental disputes through conflict (advocacy). He agreed that an unfair advantage typically resulted in inefficiency. One of the interesting factoids of both works was the role of the regulated, business and the actual practitioner, engineers on one side about what could be done, the regulators in the middle, and the science by scientists, and the environmental activists, on the other side advocating. With the regulators taking a neutral position, neutral means sticking to a typically strict reading of the regulations or law, an efficient compromise was usually obtained.
As our host has pointed out before, there is a political element involved in the UN; and its approach here, has changed this balance. The precautionary principle errs on the side of inefficiency towards the environment. As we have witnessed as individuals, and on blogs, is that the environmental activists have been using this and the preemptive push for climate change legislation to try to bludgeon the West into signing an accord. So, far it has failed. I maintain it should fail, since we can reasonably predict that based on past working human endeavors, efficient allotment occurs when there are equal seats at the table.
Who has not been seated at their normal place? It is engineers that represent business and the conservation of capital. The gist of the precautionary principle is to use uncertainty, not as a stop point, as is typical in high risk, high uncertainty in order to preserve capital, but to force the expenditure and err on the side of environmental safety. But this is not how the systems were developed. Nor does it allow for an efficient allotment of capital. This is why JeffID is correct and has always been correct in pointing out the problem is political. The political forces at the UN threw out the system that had shown it worked, and has tried to replace it with command down authoritarianism.
I do not find it surprising that we are at this point of failure and stalemate. One of the first similarities I noted among the skeptics was just how many were either “boots on ground professionals”, engineers, or both. I find it amusing when climate scientists complain that they are not being listened too. The actual system that has provided so much in terms of advancement, value, and efficiency was thrown out with the Rio agreement. It is a statement before the problem, as has been pointed out. It contains a socialistic based wealth redistribution described as being the responsibility of the advanced nations without acknowledging that the program that is being mandated for implementation is the opposite of what has worked.
One of the dirty little secrets, about environmental crime on the mass scale, is that it has been committed by the poor and the communists. Yet, armed with the Rio Declaration, the UN, lawyers, and NGO’s are trying to convict the governments and people whom the evidence shows have been the best stewards of the environment, as the criminals using the meme of climate justice. Even worse, the model they us to use, is one that failed, while de-legitimizing the model that has worked.
For a convincing take on the worth of the argument, I will steal one of the arguments that the climate change advocacy groups make. Their argument, would you go to a cab driver for medical advice. My question is why are you climate change advocates going to politicians and failed communists for solutions that are business and engineering problems? Yes, they will try to conserve capital, which is part of their job. Put it on its head: why insist in spending too much money, or spending money incorrectly?
JeffID is correct; the real problem is about politics. Not in the normal sense, but the post Rio Declaration sense. Why have we gone backwards to a failed system, when we had a working system? Why are we talking about advanced nations being tried and convicted of crimes in the name of climate justice, while we turn our eyes away from the economic crimes that were visited on the Chinese, the Cambodians, most of Africa, and most especially North Korea? Do not the starvation, the deaths and premature deaths caused by these ineffective and corrupt governments in their past, and many still in the present not also count?
There is an argument that skeptics are often scientifically naïve. Let’s agree to it for argument sake. Do not the Rio Declaration, and Chavez at Copenhagen show just how economically naïve the UN and the NGO advocates are? Further, with all the graft, underutilization, and cost overruns of solar and wind, do these not show how naïve this same group is about engineering. Their solutions don’t work. They seem oblivious what an anathema “don’t work” is to an engineer. But what did you expect when you took two of the most proven segments of our society out of the equation that is in their area of expertise?