The Evidence of Failure
Posted by Jeff Condon on January 14, 2011
By John Pittman
I think there is enough evidence to show that the IPCC has failed. I am not talking about the perceived tactical failure of Copenhagen or Cancun, but a more fundamental failure on their part. In Anticipating Failure, I wrote about how environmental issues have been successful resolved. One of the other dirty little secrets that is not proclaimed is that such programs based on Clean Water Act, “Superfund”-CERCLA, “Community-Right-to-Know”, Clean Air Act and Amendments, etc., is that they have been successful. Making sure that there was measurable harm, and a framework of doable activities fairly administrated has made the air, the water, the land, and the groundwater safer and cleaner. The system(s) does have its problems and costs, its successes and failures. However, in general, it has been a success.
I want to frame the conversation in terms of successful control. I think a general agreement we could entertain is that if control is not established, or obtainable, one cannot claim success. In a control situation, one common practice is to make sure that if you say X will happen, X will happen. If you determine that it is 2X or 0.5X, it should cause you to reexamine not only your methodology for the original determination, but also what you implemented as control. Pretty basic reasoning. You could frame it as a cost; you planned on spending one million dollars. Would it matter if you could get if for $500,000, or that halfway through, it gets changed to $2 million. Obviously, the magnitude is important.
Recently there has been what I consider evidence that the system has failed. Not Al Gore declaring the “science is settled”, right before it hit the scientific fan, not the PR fiasco of trying to declare what an acceptable scientist is rather than the science. I am talking about McShane and Wyner 2010 , McKitrick et al (2010), and Lucia’s graphs. What they agree with is the overestimation of the effect of CO2. Some more, some less, some change each month, some are papers. The important part is that they are different in methodology that gives us a Bayesian inference that estimates a factor that could be in the 2 to 4 range from reality that we would expect from environmental activists with out them fudging or defrauding, choose your pejorative verb, the data. Simply, the assumptions for conserving the environment would tend to do this. But this is not the failure.
The failure is the response. If this was a scientific issue, an engineering control problem, or cost/benefit analysis, an adjustment would be made. Think about it. If we are off a factor of 2 as we would expect of the environmental activists, and we corrected this to a more realistic number what the effect would be.
We would have more time. The rule is cheap, fast, or good; you only can choose 2 of the 3. We would rid ourselves of the “we have 150 days to save the word” because we have up to a century. Or take solar and wind, with the time to develop to make them cheaper, the time to deplete fossil fuels such that they are more expensive, solar and wind could be economically viable. The world would have time to become rich. Rich nations can afford a clean environment; communists and the poor do not or cannot. The problem is smaller, more likely to be solvable or controllable. This should be a time of resolution that we can and will make a good, cheap solution to a problem.
However, the reality is that the silence is deafening. What the reality shows is that the supposed scientific environmental approach was hijacked for a political outcome. Whether it stays this way, or not, is the question. Even more amazing is that if you consider the low ball estimate already in the IPCC, it would indicate that we should definitely work on determining if the response to 2xCO2 were this low or lower. Yet, it appears that the contemplation of the catastrophic is the preferred course. As an engineer, believe me, small problems are better, easier to solve, and cheaper, especially environmental problems. The bigger the problem the more one should be tearing it down to make sure the conclusion is correct.
Note that this tearing down to the make the problem smaller is not to mean there is not a problem. Rather the reverse, the problem is real, but it is solvable. The solution is also more likely to be made into reality; the better you can solve it. A much more palatable outcome than “we are all going to burn” and go broke and starve while doing it.
So why I am I singling out the IPCC? Look at Copenhagen. The massive jetting of politicians expending huge clouds of CO2 to sign a document to limit CO2 emissions. The demonstrations of the NGO’s because they did not have a seat at the table at what was supposed to be scientific accomplishment, not advocacy. The lack of critical voices being given the authority, responsibility, and the grants to make sure the problem wasn’t smaller. The acclamation of a communist speech about other’s guilt, whom he, himself profited and profits from the fossil fuel consumption to a standing ovation. All of this, instead of professionals trying to limit economic damage and environmental damage, which would include scientists, engineers, politicians, activists, and yes, the public. Not the obvious errors in the IPCC work, themselves, but why they were there and why they were defended.
Yet for all these obvious problems, ones that you would think would need to be corrected or limited severely, this is what the Rio Declaration established. This is why I argue the problem is systemic, and not the emails, but rather, if the emails had not occurred, something would have to have been invented to explain the failure. Thankfully it was not a success. We can ill afford such “successes” as Copenhagen wanted to establish, and the Rio Declaration legitimized.