Thursday, February 17, 2005

What to do about Global Warming

At it's core the Global Warming debate is about public policy, ie what resources does addressing the potential risk warrant?

We have spent some time discussing the science, but there is no scientific debate. The hard sciences are not debating societies. Scientific knowledge advances on the basis of the most accurate data and theories that explain those data and accurately predict verifiable events.

I regard the National Geographic report as propaganda because of its claims of "scientific consensus." Quoting Crichton at the Caltech Michelin Lecture 1/17/03: "Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus."

Crichton's Caltech talk is called "Aliens Cause Global Warming." I'll be happy to
email a copy to anyone who asks.

Debate has no place in science, but is the stuff of politics. So let's turn to the public policy debate that should be occurring about what, if anything, we should do about global temperatures.

The European Union and several other countries have embarked on a path of reducing CO2 emissions by 5% below their 1990 level by 2012. This is the Kyoto Protocol. The problem is that Kyoto is a non-starter. It will do little to lower the rate of global emissions of greenhouse gas since China, India and the rest of the developing countries are exempted and are building coal-fired power plants and buying cars like there's no tomorrow. These countries recognize that stringent emission limits would be huge barriers to their economic growth and future development.

By 2012, when commitments under Kyoto to cut CO2 emissions expire, we will find that Kyoto provides no workable framework for future action. At the recent Buenos Aires conference, the European Union tried to prepare the way for Kyoto's extension beyond 2012 with tougher emission targets for developed countries and a commitment from the developing countries to emission targets. Instead the EU was rebuffed by the developing countries, notably India and China, who joined with the US and Italy (an EU member) to reject any move to extend the system of caps on emissions. Now, even the European Commission is backing off any binding commitment on future emission reductions after 2012.

This non-commitment is part of a strategic shift away from Kyoto's attempt to regulate emissions to a new paradigm of development and adoption of new technologies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. The United States advocates a technology-push approach in which emissions continue to rise in the near term and then are cut steeply beginning in about 20 years. Over that time, the US sees the development of new energy efficient technologies, the creation of low cost methods for capturing and storing carbon dioxide and the invention of low carbon energy supplies. This approach has the advantage of fostering economic growth in the developing countries, lifting hundreds of millions from abject poverty over the next 20 years.

This is the debate that needs to take place in the UN. The US Congress has been jawing about the Bush energy policy for nearly 4 years. What we need is action. Call your Senate and House representatives.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was pretty surprised when you wrote:

Debate has no place in science, but is the stuff of politics. So let's turn to the public policy debate that should be occurring about what, if anything, we should do about global temperatures. I'm pretty sure scientists have been debating their results and conclusions for thousands of years. Or as this page on early greek science says:

"An essential part of the Milesians' success in developing a picture of nature was that they engaged in open, rational, critical debate about each others ideas. It was tacitly assumed that all the theories and explanations were directly competitive with one another, and all should be open to public scrutiny, so that they could be debated and judged. This is still the way scientists work. Each contribution, even that of an Einstein, depends heavily on what has gone before."

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