the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Problems With The Precautionary Principle For AGW

Posted by Jeff Id on February 11, 2010

Dr. Leonard Weinstein,
.
The idea that we should do something just in case it might warm enough to cause major problems brings up the counter point that we should actually do something in case it cools significantly instead. The reason the choice should favor the precaution for cooling is due to the fact that cooling may have much larger negative effects than warming (at realistic levels). Crop loss due to cooling would cause mass starvation. Warming would possibly cause some groups to relocate from very low-lying areas, or need to build water barriers, but this is far less likely to occur on a short time scale. Increasing glaciers would threaten land, where retreating glaciers would make land available. Human history has indicated that warm periods were generally productive times, and cold times much worse. Since the temperature is presently tending to dropping, and since we are in fact near the end of the present interglacial period (as compared to the several previous ones), worrying about cooling is potentially the far larger problem, especially with a growing population.

44 Responses to “Problems With The Precautionary Principle For AGW”

  1. “Every time it snows, people say global warming is a hoax.”

    Actually, every time it snows, AGW advocates say it’s a sign of warming.

    And when fires rage out of control, that’s a sign of warming, too. When anything happens, that’s a clear indicator of warming.

    We have a theory (AGW) that claims it predicts everything. I had a theory like that when I was five years old. Whatever was under the Xmas tree proved that Santa Claus was real.

    There are only two things AGW theory can’t predict: weather and climate.

  2. Mark T said

    The problem of the precautionary principle, in general, is it can often be used to support either side (or either of many sides) of an argument. IMO, arguments that drop back to the precautionary principle are intellectually lazy. They are a cop-out to further the ends of an agenda in the face of losing the arguments that would support such ends.

    Mark

  3. Gary Novak said

    Why just two alternatives for the precautionary principle, when there are a myriad of concerns that the governmenet takes up? There’s no precaution in keeping genetically modified food off the market, while tests show it kills laboratory animals. With food and medicine, the government kills first and asks questions later.

  4. Mark T said

    Because bifurcations are rather common in poor arguments. It is no surprise the precautionary principle relies on a bifurcation (at least, in principle).

    Mark

  5. RB said

    I’ve read enough of Weinstein to realize that he is a spin doctor, amazingly enough for someone with a strong track record in another field. IPCC AR4 chapter 6 is very certain (>99% probability) there is no risk of the next ice age.
    It is virtually certain that global temperatures during coming centuries will not be significantly influenced by a natural orbitally induced cooling. It is very unlikely that the Earth would naturally enter another ice age for at least 30 kyr.
    Indeed, the “split the difference” approach will argue for protection against global cooling, notwithstanding the fact that there is no looming threat. I don’t think the doctor is intellectually lazy, he is just agenda-driven.

  6. David C said

    Climate Science has more to do with Haruspex (reading the entrails of sheep) than it does with science. Think about it, the data (guts) are real but must be interpreted by one skilled in the art of divination. The art is not accessible to the untrained. The condition of the data become somehow teleconnected to the outside world. Finally, the entrails can predict virtually anything. Some science!

    David C

  7. Mark T said

    RB said
    February 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    IPCC AR4 chapter 6 is very certain (>99% probability) there is no risk of the next ice age.
    It is virtually certain that global temperatures during coming centuries will not be significantly influenced by a natural orbitally induced cooling. It is very unlikely that the Earth would naturally enter another ice age for at least 30 kyr.

    Hehe, given that the actual cause of ice ages is still not fully known (and hotly debated), such statements amount to nothing more than false certainty. Ask yourself this: how did they calculate >99%? They didn’t, they “winged it” as it were. Equally lazy as using the precautionary principle.

    You should trust, btw, that I wasn’t necessarily castigating Dr. Weinstein for the precautionary principle, I was merely pointing out the problem I have with its application in general. My comments apply equally to all those that use it, and it is used excessively by the warmist crowd. Dr. Weinstein’s usage simply points out its flaws.

    Mark

  8. RB said

    Sorry, Mark, I don’t know on what basis you think they “winged” it but the references and the reasoning based on which the statement was made are included in the AR4. I’m sure the it may not mean much to the ‘don’t believe govt scientists group’ but this is a much higher confidence interval in whether or not the recent temperatures are higher than anytime in the last 1000 years. Its a total waste of time to worry about cooling in the next few centuries.

  9. RB said

    bad grammar all over the place.

  10. Leonard Weinstein said

    RB,
    I have no agenda but the truth. Please show examples of spin by me rather than clear discussion, rather than just making an unsupported claim. I do not claim to be omnipotent, I only use known facts, or the best information I can find, and do my best to reasonably present logical conclusions. Some facts I have used were less certain, but that is true with both sides, and is due to new information continually being found. Also the claim by the IPCC that it is virtually certain that there will be no looming cooling threat is strange, since the last 7 inter-glacials lasted 10,000 to 20,000 years, and the present one (the Holocene) started about 18,000 years ago, had a reversal (Younger Dryas) and went to full interglacial nearly 12,000 years ago. How the IPCC concludes their claim of no probable problem for 30,000 more years suggests a real likely error to me, and they have been wrong on so many other claims (or the summary sections just did not properly represent the actual science within the main parts of the report). The cause of the major ice ages may be due to many factors, including orbital variation, and IPCC only considered the one. Even there they assume they know levels of orbital variation that would trigger a return to an ice age, and I do not think they know enough to make such claims.

  11. RB said

    DR. Weinstein,
    The last time I saw spin by you was in saying that scientists claim that most of the temperature increase since 1850 was due to human causes, when the scientific (IPCC) claim is only about the last 50 years or so, more so since the 1970s. A quick glance at AR4 shows a bunch of references in Section 6.4.1.8, mostly based on orbital reasons it appears. I don’t know on what basis you dismiss these studies outright other than painting IPCC in broad-brush strokes.

  12. Mark T said

    RB said
    February 11, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Sorry, Mark, I don’t know on what basis you think they “winged” it but the references and the reasoning based on which the statement was made are included in the AR4.

    Stating any level of “certainty” for something is either a statistical claim or an opinion. If it was “reasoned,” as you state, then it is opinion, not fact.

    I’m sure the it may not mean much to the ‘don’t believe govt scientists group’ but this is a much higher confidence interval in whether or not the recent temperatures are higher than anytime in the last 1000 years.

    That’s something that can be calculated based on the data we have. I’m not saying it has been calculated properly, but it can be calculated.

    Its a total waste of time to worry about cooling in the next few centuries.

    Really? Did you calculate the certainty?

    Mark

  13. RB said

    You said they “winged it”, did you calculated the certainty?

  14. RB said

    calculate..grr

  15. Mark T said

    Your post, RB, is proof of my assertion that the IPCC willfully misuses statistics to their advantage and the general public is not aware of this. The average person does not understand what a confidence interval is and likewise does not understand why so many of their claims based on certainties are bogus. You cannot assign a level of certainty, or probability, or a confidence interval to a statement that was arrived at purely through reasoned thought, even if the reasoning is otherwise sound (unless the claim is 100%, TRUE, or 0%, FALSE, as a result of pure logic). That such statements even occur in the IPCC AR4 is testament to that body’s lack of commitment to scientific principles.

    Mark

  16. Mark T said

    RB said
    February 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    You said they “winged it”, did you calculated the certainty?

    What? You don’t make any sense. The IPCC did not calculate a confidence interval, therefore they are offering nothing more than a number they guessed at, by definition.

    Mark

  17. Mark T said

    RB said
    February 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I’ve read enough of Weinstein to realize that he is a spin doctor,

    and then

    The last time I saw spin by you was in saying that scientists claim that most of the temperature increase since 1850 was due to human causes, when the scientific (IPCC) claim is only about the last 50 years or so, more so since the 1970s.

    That’s pretty weak, even for you, RB. One weak example, one that isn’t really all that hard for Dr. Weinstein to support (the IPCC is not the only scientific opinion out there), and apparently that is enough “to realize that he is a spin doctor.” You’ve done the very same thing you accuse Dr. Weinstein of.

    You’re a joke.

    Mark

  18. Um….
    Who is the “precautionary principal” mentioned in the title?
    Just asking…

  19. RomanM said

    #13 RB

    Mark is right. They winged it. The “probabilities” are not probabilities in an reasonable interpretation.

    The IPCC numerical values of certainty are not based in any way, shape or form on scientifically valid calculations. They are nothing more than self-assessments made by one or more individuals of the strength of their own beliefs in the “correctness” of the assertions that they describing. If you think that a scientifically sound method was used to calculate these “probabilities”, you should be able to locate a description of the the mathematical methodology used somewhere at IPCC. Where is it? Good luck in trying to find it.

    The intent was to try to standardize the format for statements of “certainty” of belief throughout the report, but the numbers really are quantitatively meaningless. Think about it – exactly how does someone determine that “there is no risk of an ice age “with a probability greater than 99% (not 90% or 98% or 99.99%!). The numbers don’t actually represent a quantity, but they do suggest to someone who doesn’t know better that real science was used and the the matter at hand has been settled to an appropriate degree of certainty.

  20. Mark T said

    The numbers don’t actually represent a quantity, but they do suggest to someone who doesn’t know better that real science was used and the the matter at hand has been settled to an appropriate degree of certainty.

    Exactly!

    Mark

  21. Curt said

    #18 Karl:

    I think it was my high school principal. He was overly concerned with safety…

  22. Curt said

    #19 Roman, #20 Mark,

    I’ve run into several people in the blogosphere who have stated in apparent total sincerity that these probabilities in the IPCC reports have been determined by strict regression analyses. Wrong on so many levels, but it’s out there.

  23. […] Cambio Climático | Leave a Comment  Es un post del dr. Leonard Weinstein en The Air Vent [–>]. Muy corto, muy directo, y muy implacable. Contra uno de los argumentos de melón de los […]

  24. Mark T said

    Curt said
    February 11, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Wrong on so many levels, but it’s out there.

    And yet we hear from RB that Dr. Weinstein is the spin doctor. Sigh. As with that actually thoughtless guy in the other thread, I’m guessing RB just doesn’t get the problem with such statements. Of course, so-called “respected scientists” made up the certainty values in the first place, so who can blame them.

    Mark

  25. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Guys, I think your discussion will go silly if you do not define the average global temperature increase/decrease that will provide more detrimental than beneficial effects and at what certainty and under what assumptions for man’s capabilities to adapt. I know you would not need cooling anywhere near to the extent of an ice age to get some rather serious detrimental effects without some major adaptions by man.

    Part B of this would be what is the optimal temperature, and does that optimal temperature change over time and why is the optimal temperature selected optimal?

    By the way, Jim Hansen has indicated that ice ages in any time frame are no longer a problem. He claims if man does not inadvertently do it, a single factory pumping the right GHGs into the atmosphere can.

    Another question: What is the correct time frame for man to consider when it comes to climate change and its possible effects on man and how do you arrive at that number?

  26. Peter of Sydney said

    Yes, the AGW alarmists do give the impression that global warming is the cause for anything and everything, including perhaps the next ice age. It sort of proves how stupid they are. I’m more interested in killer asteroids. Given we have had such impacts in the past, we should apply the precautionary principle and immediately start doing something seriously to protect us from another impact.

  27. Maurice J said

    AGW is not a Theory, it is a NULL HYPOTHESIS, always has been, always will be. AGW has never had and still does not have ANY Empirical Evidence to support it period.
    Look out for the next scam, here comes the Ice Age…AGC (Anthropogenic Global Cooling) LOL
    No, lets call it Anthropogenic Global Chicanery, then the dishonesty can apply to Warming Cooling Taxing Scamming Unlimited.

  28. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Leonard Weinstein (Feb 11 14:26),

    Even there they assume they know levels of orbital variation that would trigger a return to an ice age, and I do not think they know enough to make such claims.

    Button pushed.

    There is no evidence that Ice Ages are triggered. Interglacial episodes are triggered and then decay back to the glacial state. One glance at the Vostok ice core record is enough to show that. It’s possible that ghg’s could delay this for a time. But you won’t get a return to conditions prevalent in the early Cenozoic (much less a return to the even warmer conditions of the Cretaceous) for the transient, on a geologic time scale, fossil fuel spike in CO2.

  29. Leonard Weinstein said

    RB,
    Since the stated warming from 1850 to the present was about 0.8 degrees C, and since the warming for the last 1/2 century was nearly 0.5 degrees C, and since essentially all of that is claimed to be due to man, how do you disagree with me. It appears that 0.5/0.8 is greater than 1/2. The fact that there was cooling for part of the period 1940 to 1970 is claimed to be the aerosols overcoming the GHG for that period, but the claim I quoted is for the last 50 years, and is correct as stated. Please come up with a better example.

    DeWitt,
    We do not know enough to make any definite claims on trigger vs decay. The present interglacial and one 3 cycles ago had fairly flat interglacial periods and did decay more slowly than they rose, and the two in-between were more of a large single spike. The point is that in a moderately short time the interglacial periods effectively ended. I think the presence of water vapor and CO2 at the end delayed the ramp down, while the lack at the beginning caused a more rapid rise. In both cases, something (orbital, Solar cycle, or something) caused (or use triggered) the start of the change.

  30. Jeff Id said

    #29 I was going to get the RB one for you but you seemed to be having so much fun.😉

  31. Curt said

    The ironic thing for me is that I have seen several papers from scientists who believe in extreme climate sensitivity to GHG concentrations claiming the only reason we are still firmly in an interglacial period now is the human invention of agriculture many millennia ago, with the resulting deforestation, methane emissions from rice paddies, etc. Otherwise, the interglacial peak would have been just a blip like the previous two. Are other scientists who likewise believe in high GHG sensitivity really 99% certain this is wrong?…

    I agree with Kenneth that global cooling would be a serious problem long before Canada was 90% covered by mile-thick glaciers. I’m in the camp that believes that moderate warming, even from present levels would be of net benefit to humanity, and moderate cooling, would be of net detriment.

  32. Leonard Weinstein said

    #25 Kenneth,
    I do not expect an ice age or warming anytime in the reasonably near future. The point I was making was that we don’t know which is eventually coming, if any, but if we invoked the precautionary principal (which I think is crazy at our state of understanding) it would make more logic to favor worrying about cooling in preference to worrying about warming. You are now looking for specifics, and that totally misses my point. I do not favor invoking the principal at all. If we reach a point of true understanding so that we can set critical levels, this may change, but we ain’t even close.

  33. michel said

    The problem with the alleged ‘precautionary principle’ is that it is a FORM of argument that is invalid. All uses of it are invalid. All arguments of the form ‘if there is only the smallest chance of x happening if we do not do y, then we should do y’ are invalid. To see this consider the following arguments:

    If there is only the smallest chance that if we do not exterminate the anti-party clique, they will destroy the revolution, we should exterminate them all.

    On the other hand, there may be a small chance that promoting them to positions of power will save the revolution, in which case we should exterminate anyone who thinks that.

    If there is only the smallest chance that standing on our heads every morning will save the planet, we should all start doing it right away.

    If there is only the smallest chance that taking away all children from parents and raising them in collectives will lower child abuse, we should do it.

    If there is only the smallest chance that the MMR vaccine causes autism, we should stop using it right away.

    If there is only the smallest chance that rising CO2 will extinguish human civilization, we should take all necessary steps to stop it rising.

    If there is only the smallest chance that God exists and will damn us eternally for doubting it, we should believe.

    If there is only the smallest chance that Islam is right about the nature of the God who will damn us eternally, obviously we should choose to accept the God of Islam.

    But wait a minute, there might also be a small chance that the God of Christianity will also damn us eternally…

    I think we may be screwed.

  34. Anna said

    Could someone please explain to me what “winged it” means?
    (English is, as you can guess, not my native language, and Google translate didn’t help me here…)

  35. Chuckles said

    @34,

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wing%20it

    In the context above, it means a ‘wild guess’.

  36. RomanM said

    #34

    From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/winging+it

    wing it Informal
    To say or do something without preparation, forethought, or sufficient information or experience; improvise: She hadn’t studied for the exam, so she decided to wing it.

    I used the term in the sense of “improvise”, i.e., make it up as you go along. The numerical probability values were not based on the result of any scientific or statistical procedure, but rather pure creations by the authors of the report. Thus, they do not have any meaningful interpretation other than as someone’s idea about how strongly they feel about something.

  37. Anna said

    Chuckles and RomanM, thanks a lot for your answers, and for the good links!

  38. Mark T said

    Yes, “winged it” is essentially a guess, or better a WAG (wild assed guess). I used that term, rather than “guess,” because of Gerry North’s comment regarding the PNAS panel (was it that one?).

    When RB asked if I calculated anything for that, he proved rather succinctly that he was one of the “general public” I was referring to that attributed far greater meaning to statements of certainty couched with numbers than should be.

    Mark

  39. DougT said

    The post is an excellent example of the broader problem with the precautionary principle. A concensus level of precaution would apply to ALL factors of life, warming, cooling, crossing the street and everything else. One could not use this principle for only one thing and neglect it for everything else. Needless to say, a lot of things that we do now would not be acceptable under a consistently applied precautionary principle as they have a small potential (or real) risk of injury or death.

  40. Binned said

    What’s the difference between the Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager?

  41. Mark T said

    Pascal’s wager requires you to violate your principles if you are not a believer, i.e., it openly requires you to be a hypocrite. The precautionary principle does not.

    Mark

  42. Craig Loehle said

    An unreasonable fear of things unlikely to occur is called a phobia. This can be part of OCD. Many environmental fears are essentially phobias–fear of tiny effects such as that all food is contaminated and excessive fear of germs. According to this type of precaution, it is almost impossible to do anything. With a phobia, one easily ends up with greater risks and impacts through inability to act. Lomborg has pointed out the concept of opportunity costs quite clearly.

  43. Craig Loehle said

    The precautionary principle is an attempt to avoid weighting risks. If X if very likely and we can afford to fix it, but Y is unlikely and expensive, the precautionary principle is pulled out by advocates for Y to try to override the logical argument to fix X instead. It is a trump card played with abandon these days.

  44. Phil A said

    Why don’t supporters of the precautionary principle go around wearing suits of medieval armour all day in case an airliner drops on their head?

    Granted it’d be rather inconvenient, probably ruin their lives, the chances of the event happening are rather low, and it’s highly uncertain that it’d help much anyway. But when the potential consequences are this devastating, surely any true believer in the precautionary principle shouldn’t let that stop them from doing anything that might help even a little…? 🙂

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