A Question for My Fellow Ricochetti

 

I’ve got a question I’m trying to answer, and it occurs to me that someone here might be able to help me. One of the things I like most about Ricochet is the thoughtfulness and intelligence of the members. Another thing that impresses me is the diversity of this crowd. So I’m going to toss this out there and see if anyone has any thoughts to offer.

I wrote a post not too long ago about the need for a civil dialog across the political divide. A fellow in New York City, one of these young, hyper-educated computer entrepreneur types, read it and invited me to participate in a new podcast he’s launching soon. He wants his first episode to feature someone from the left and someone from the right holding a civil discussion on matters about which they disagree.

The person on the left is another hyper-educated individual — Ph.D. from MIT in machine learning, something like that — who recently left Google to found a climate change advocacy organization in D.C. I’m the person on the right. We’re going to have a civil conversation, which I am going to assume will be centered around climate change, though that hasn’t actually been stated. The conference call will take place this Wednesday afternoon.

This isn’t intended to be a debate, but rather a conversation, a discussion, a meeting of minds. That’s the hope, anyway: ideally, we’ll each come away understanding the other’s perspective a little better. I’m an old dog, and I can’t honestly say that I want or expect my own views to change. (I think that’s probably true of most people, old dogs or not.) But I intend to do my best to listen, and to take a pleasant, non-confrontational tone.

I’ll get to my question for you in a moment.

My general thinking on climate change is pretty simple, and goes as follows:

  • I’m agnostic about anthropogenic climate change. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we’re warming the planet; might surprise me a little if we aren’t.
  • I’m skeptical that we can project with any significant confidence the state of the climate 80 years from now, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that we’re getting very good at modeling the complex dynamic system we call climate.
  • I am more than skeptical that we can effectively model the several other complex dynamic systems involved in making cost/benefit analyses of various climate change mitigation strategies over a similar time scale. These include patterns of land use, agricultural production, technological evolution, urbanization, global distribution of poverty, etc. Eighty years is a very long time in terms of technological and economic development. (Step back to 1940 and imagine what futurists thought 2020 would be like; how much do you think they got right?)
  • Given that I believe we can’t realistically evaluate the economic consequences of climate change 80 years from now, perhaps not even the sign of those consequences, I can not begin to justify imposing large-scale controls on current energy policy. While it’s difficult to model complex systems, history is full of examples of what happens when you create concentrated authoritarian control structures — and that’s what would be required to transform our energy economy as the climate change alarmists seem to desire.

I am ignoring two things, both of which are important in the discussion but neither of which is central to my argument. One is the impracticality of actually changing the future climate in a predictable way — at least, of doing so without crippling the global economy. The other is nuclear power, which I believe all climate change alarmists should eagerly embrace — believe so strongly that I distrust the motives or the intelligence (or both) of any climate change alarmist who doesn’t support nuclear power.

So my argument revolves around the assertion that we are not capable of making reliable long-term predictions about complex systems, and that climate mitigation strategies require us to make such predictions about several independent but linked complex dynamic systems. My question is this:

What examples do we have of anyone making successful predictions of the long-term behavior of complex systems?

Say that long-term is on the order of 50 years, give or take. Complex systems are “complex” in a relatively formal way, involving multiple interacting factors that are difficult to measure, the interactions of which may be poorly understood, chaotic, and involve feedback mechanisms.

Economies, political and social movements, markets, and technology-driven change all exhibit the behavior of complex systems. They are difficult to predict because they involve a lot of independent elements (often, people) making individual contributions based on an evolving range of factors. They are difficult to precisely describe, precisely measure, and accurately predict over any but the shortest time frames. They may exhibit sudden and chaotic changes in response to relatively small inputs (the shooting of an Archduke, for example).

In contrast, sending a rocket to the moon, designing a super-computer, making the next breakthrough in material science or battery technology or solar power or advanced medical imaging — all of these things may be complicated, but they are not complex. They are achieved by solving a large number of well-defined problems, with each solution contributing to the final goal. These systems are not characterized by chaotic behavior, subtle feedback loops, or factors that are difficult to define or measure.

We are very good at making predictions about non-complex systems, even fairly complicated ones, over pretty much any time frame. But I can think of no truly complex system about which we’ve ever successfully made an accurate long-term prediction. Hence my question.

Any thoughts?

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  1. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I can’t help being pessimistic about anything involving the left.  And I think they deserve it, after decades of proof.

    Well, overall I don’t predict a positive experience.  I think if it were me, I might start with asking “the other side” if they’re as certain now as they were certain of “the coming ice age” in the 1970s.  And maybe “if these climate models are so accurate, why don’t they ‘predict’ what has already happened when they are run in reverse?”

    The MO seems to be consistent, come up with some kind of existential panic, the solution to which is always the same: more government control.  Because “the science is settled.”  And what they really want is control, and power.  If not the “foot soldiers” then the people at the top for sure, and they get the “foot soldiers” to give it to them willingly.  And they’ll get the “foot soldiers” to give them YOUR control and power too, by force if necessary.

    But overall I suspect you’ll come up against something like “it’s for the children” and/or “if it saves one life…” and/or “we can’t risk being wrong” etc.  Speaking of which, if we’d followed that path in the 1970s, the polar ice caps would already be covered with soot or whatever to warm them up…  Because that’s what they “knew” just “had to be done” in the 1970s…

    This other guy might be arguing “it’s for the children” or whatever “in good faith” but so what?

    • #1
  2. JamesSalerno Coolidge
    JamesSalerno
    @JamesSalerno

    I did something like this for NPR last year. These “bridge the divide” events can be fun, just do your homework. Keep a cool head. Here are some points you should keep in your back pocket:

    There are marine fossils in the Sahara Desert. Obviously, climates have changed. Use that if they bring up “climate change denial.”

    Who decides what the proper temperature of the Earth should be? Polar bears? Mosquitoes? 

    If the Earth does get warmer, doesn’t that mean more agriculture? Less famine?

    There’s an old Simpsons episode where Disco Stu looks at a disco record sales chart from 1975-1977, and it goes straight up. He predicts that if sales trends continue….. you get the point. Our climate change models are based on the same narrow data. Humans have inhabited the Earth for a very, very long time. Shouldn’t we be using a wider data sample?

    Point out the intellectual weakness of using single-factor analysis. Every single thing a human being does “takes” from the Earth, whether that’s carbon emissions, or consuming fruits and vegetables. How do climate change activists feel about poverty? Why are poverty rates higher in countries that have less industrialization/modern technology? The strength of capitalism is in getting the most out of a resource while leaving minimal waste. If this is not something we should aim for, why not?

    • #2
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Acts Online News » The climate science debate illusion | Blog

    • #3
  4. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    There are two main themes I think about when looking at climate change:

    1. We have more capability to adapt to climate change than to modify it. Why is that strategy rarely discussed?
    2. Given that climate has always changed and has oscillated between warm and cold, why do we assume there are only downsides to warming? Snowball earth doesn’t sound like much fun.
    • #4
  5. JosePluma Coolidge
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    I always ask a series of questions about this subject:

    1.  Is the earth warming?  How much?
    2.  If the earth is warming, how much is caused by human activity?
    3. What are the negative effects of this?  (Question always asked.)  What are the positive effects of this?  (Question never asked.)
    4. What can we do to mitigate the effects of climate change?
    5. What are the costs of this mitigation?  Who bears that cost?  (Other questions never asked.)

    I’d also read Cool It:  The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming  and other works by Bjørn Lomborg.

    Final point:  Nuclear!

    • #5
  6. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Acts Online News » The climate science debate illusion | Blog

    That’s one I have saved too. :-)

    A fairly critical item in the strip is the deal with temperature changes and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  Latest data I heard is that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is coming from the oceans which are releasing CO2 due to warming up FROM THE SUN.  So it’s warming that is increasing CO2, not CO2 that is increasing warming.

    But either way, another name for CO2 is…. PLANT FOOD!

    • #6
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    kedavis (View Comment):

    A fairly critical item in the strip is the deal with temperature changes and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Latest data I heard is that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is coming from the oceans which are releasing CO2 due to warming up FROM THE SUN. So it’s warming that is increasing CO2, not CO2 that is increasing warming.

    Nonsense. Correlation = causality when it means we get to blame people for living like people as an excuse for a bigger government to make them stop living like people.

    That’s Science!

    It’s never causality when it goes the other way.

    But either way, another name for CO2 is…. PLANT FOOD!

    Seriously, it’s amazing that what plants breathe (or eat, or whatever) is THE BAD GUY now. What happened to being green?

    • #7
  8. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    Are you sure this is the issue you would want to debate? The person you would be going up against has more than a casual take on Climate Change, as it is now  their chosen career.

    If it is the topic you want to take on, then brush up on the top four or five climate scientists who have made it their life’s work to understand what contributes to climate alterations and who are best able to explain  how and why the thesis is incorrect.

    I think most of the people I have read that seem credible  about how the Climate Change Theory is dead wrong are totally convinced that it is extremely difficult to devise a model of the earth’s climate in any way that can actually be proven to work reliably for a long term.

    Is it easy to create a global model of global climate change? Yes. Is it easy to create a global model of global climate change that is a truthful conception of all the many forces at work? No.

    For instance, in just the past 4 years, the amount of volcanic activity that has occurred world wide is off the charts when compared to the past 120 years, so that pushes the models currently relied on as so much horse puckey.

    Take a half hour and brush up on this topic here: 

    The carefully crafted “consensus” of man-made global warming has unraveled. See:

    Prominent Geologist Dr. Easterbrook Slams Geological Society of America’s climate statement ‘as easily refuted by data that clearly shows no correlation between CO2 and global climate change’ & American Meteorological Society Members Reject Man-made Climate Claims: 75% Do Not Agree With UN IPCC Claims — 29% Agree ‘Global Warming is a Scam’ & Meteorologists Reject U.N.’s Global Warming Claims: Only 1 in 4 American Meteorological Society broadcast meteorologists agree with UN

    Or the full link which discusses 999 other scientists who are diverging from the “official   story” at this link https://www.globalresearch.ca/more-than-1000-international-scientists-dissent-over-man-made-global-warming-claims/5403284

    Also my favorite factoid to drop on anyone who is into the “The earth is about to perish from our nasty human activities” is how if you use a 100 yard football field as the representation, nitrogen takes up 78 yards, oxygen 21 yards, and the dreaded CO2 takes up only the space of a single paint line that is used to mark the yardage. So yes it might well have increased by 40 % or whatever they are claiming since the industrial revolution,  but that is still a minute amount of CO2 compared to all the other stuff in our atmosphere.

    Anyway you have your work cut out for you. It is especially problematic for you  that we now live in a society where anyone to the Left of centrist policies feels that “what is important is truth, not facts.” (Joe Biden himself made that declaration.)

     

    • #8
  9. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Henry Racette: The other is nuclear power, which I believe all climate change alarmists should eagerly embrace — believe so strongly that I distrust the motives or the intelligence (or both) of any climate change alarmist who doesn’t support nuclear power.

    If  nuclear power isn’t realistically on the table for the moderator and the climate change advocate there’s no point.

    Well, it’s actually worse than “no point.”

    • #9
  10. Freeven Member
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    I recommend that, if you decide to do this, you somehow guarantee that you end up with a recording of the full exchange, even if you have to do it yourself.

    And, please, share with us how things go.

    • #10
  11. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    I think your point about nuclear power is one you should press. If the climate change alarmists really believe what they preach, nuclear is the only answer. Why are they pushing wind & solar when we know they cannot make a significant dent in carbon emissions? 

    • #11
  12. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Freeven (View Comment):

    I recommend that, if you decide to do this, you somehow guarantee that you end up with a recording of the full exchange, even if you have to do it yourself.

    And, please, share with us how things go.

    I agree, but mostly I would not participate. At this point the climate left has long since overwhelmingly demonstrated its lack of good faith. 

    • #12
  13. Jon1979 Inactive
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    You can also study up on the current lower level of sunspot activity and how that might be a sign we’re actually entering into a period of global cooling, similar to the 70 or so year Maunder Minimum, from 1645 to 1715. While it wouldn’t disprove the idea of man-made climate change (my personal feeling is the Earth is pretty good at healing itself from carbon-based changes in climate by man in very short periods of time), it would go into the question of how minimal an effect man has over climate, compared to the sun or Earth’s own internal volcanic forces.

    (If all else fails, I suppose you can ask how Greenland got its name, in terms of natural forces climate change, or the tree ring evidence in California of extensive Pacific Coast drought in the past where human industrial activity was non-existent.)

    • #13
  14. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    I think we are really bad at micro analysis for long term predictive modeling.

    I can think of at least one macro model that has been predictably right since it was written, but it may be hard to recognize it as a predictive model of multiple events without starting a different sort of debate… the Book of Revelations as applied to failed states/civilizations.

    • #14
  15. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    So a pro comes up against an amateur in a gun slinging contest that is billed as not a gun slinging contest. Wonder how that’s going to turn out?

    • #15
  16. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Thank you everyone.  I really had only the one question, which I put in bold. The fact that no one quite responded to it suggests to me that, like me, no one else can think of a good example either.

    • #16
  17. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Have does human activity impact climate?    Sure.  We have added another shuffle to an already well shuffled deck.   If we can say anything it’s that we are in a periodic warm spot in a 60 million year cooling trend.

    • #17
  18. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    The only kind of complex systems we seem to have a bash at planning are cities – because it’s about history, concrete form, economics, sociology, psychology, crime, environment, technological change, demographic change, politics internal and external, the production of culture, etc. etc. etc. 

    Afaik modelling (eg Central Place Theory) has focused on one of these aspects, but I can’t think of anything (sorry Hari Seldon) that has actually factored in more than one.

    Our attempts have yielded disasters as well as successes, but there you go. 

    • #18
  19. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Zafar (View Comment):

    The only kind of complex systems we seem to have a bash at planning are cities – because it’s about history, concrete form, economics, sociology, psychology, crime, environment, technological change, demographic change, politics internal and external, the production of culture, etc. etc. etc.

    Afaik modelling (eg Central Place Theory) has focused on one of these aspects, but I can’t think of anything (sorry Hari Seldon) that has actually factored in more than one.

    Our attempts have yielded disasters as well as successes, but there you go.

    But only if its macro level. I’m still going with we are bad at micro level modeling.

    Its a kind of “if you do this, that happens. I don’t really know why that happens when we do this, but it happens, so lets do this” vs “that happens because of these tiny variables that if we can manipulate the tiny variables, perhaps we can get the same result without having to do that thing.” Which usually ends up a disaster. Just ask Rufus and Mark Camp.

    Economic models are the epitome of micro models.

    • #19
  20. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Henry Racette: Any thoughts?

    You could add one bullet item about questioning the motives behind the pro-climate change crowd, and why they have to silence those who disagree.

    • #20
  21. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Morning Henry,

    I can not directly answer your main question.  My attempt is to link you to Judith Curry https://judithcurry.com, a climatologist who used to teach at Georgia.  She has a regular section called week in review in which she notes current research that has caught her attention.  What gets my attention is the complexity of the topic, https://judithcurry.com/2020/09/17/week-in-review-science-edition-121/.  This week she notes that there is new research that shows that previous research in the ability of the ocean to absorb CO2 underestimated this ability by half, https://www.pnas.org/content/117/18/9679.

    If you wanted a general prediction that failed you could point out Malthus, and all the predictions about how resources will run out and cause a catastrophe, how far off population doom was seen in Ehrlich’s “population Bomb”, and the bet that Ehrlich lost concerning rising costs of minerals to Simon. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon–Ehrlich_wager  This was the classic case of a credentialed expert doing a classic face plant.

     

    • #21
  22. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    I can not directly answer your main question. My attempt is to link you to Judith Curry https://judithcurry.com, a climatologist who used to teach at Georgia. She has a regular section called week in review in which she notes current research that has caught her attention. What gets my attention is the complexity of the topic, https://judithcurry.com/2020/09/17/week-in-review-science-edition-121/. This week she notes that there is new research that shows that previous research in the ability of the ocean to absorb CO2 underestimated this ability by half, https://www.pnas.org/content/117/18/9679.

    Oooh.  Is she the one who made so much sense on the old episode of the Harvard Lunch Club?

    • #22
  23. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    I think it was on one of the Remnant podcast a few months ago, Jonah went through a list, decade by decade, of how no predominant assumptions of the last 100 years lasted to the next decade.  Don’t recall the details off the top of my head.

    Also, push him on nuke power.

     

     

    • #23
  24. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    I think it was on one of the Remnant podcast a few months ago, Jonah went through a list, decade by decade, of how no predominant assumptions of the last 100 years lasted to the next decade. Don’t recall the details off the top of my head.

    I hope he didn’t ruin it by predicting that none of the current decade’s predictions would last.

    Oh, wait. He’s not predominant.

    Well, let’s not ruin things by making that the predominant prediction, ok?

    Or should we ruin things after all?  It might be kind of fun.

    • #24
  25. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    The Climate change issue consist of three questions:

    1. How much warming is and will be the result of human activity, specifically carbon emissions?
    2. What will happen as a result?
    3. What should we do?

     

    (1) The basic physics says that each doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere causes a little over one degree C rise in the average surface temp of the earth, say roughly 1.2. It is logarithmic–takes more and more to get the same warming effect.  “Alarmists” say that water vapor will significantly amplify the warming to turn that 1.2 degrees into 2.0 or more. How much temperature rises per doubling of CO2 is “climate sensitivity” and is the heart of the issue.  “Lukewarmers” believe that the warming will be only a little over the amount predicted by raw physics or about 1.4 degrees C.  The first IPCC report included models that used sensitivities over 5.0 which were patently silly but apparently included for shock value. The satellite data since 1979 reflects the 1.4 degree figure as reported by Dr. Roy Spencer:

    It is increasingly hard to entertain the possibility that warming was ever going to be of the magnitudes people claimed for the “consensus”.

    (2) Enormous quantities of nonsense about polar bears, hurricanes, and other scary outcomes are in publications whose editors should know better (which catastrophic thinking has been called “climate porn.”) Sea level rises (as it has since the end of the last ice age) at a rate of few millimeters per year.  The human contribution may be as high as 3 mm per year.  It is so small it is debatable whether a human contribution to climate change is detectable. All claims of “rapid” ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica must be quantified as to actual volumes and impact which continue to be negligible.  If warming remains small and gradual then there is ample opportunity for adaptation and this rise will not accelerate.

    Climate change does not affect all areas equally.  It raises the average daily minimum temperature more than the average high temperature and affects colder drier areas much more than the tropics.  In other words, the most noticeable change will be warmer nights in Siberia.  It is not obvious why this change is on balance more harmful than beneficial or largely neutral.

    (3) Drastic cutbacks in fossil fuel use have enormous ideological and aesthetic appeal which makes many people more inclined to believe (wish) that the problem was more serious and imminent than it really is. These kinds of approaches (a) will never happen in reality, especially given the position of India and China on the issue and (b) would accomplish little but at horrific cost.  The Paris Climate accord would cost many billions in the short term in economic losses to the US if we had agreed. (No, the Green Fairy will not deliver wealth in the form of Green Jobs and wondrous Green technology.) If every country including the USA delivered on its Paris promises (the Europeans did not reach Kyoto goals and would never meet those in the current accord but let’s pretend)  the net reduction in temperature by 2100 would be a fraction of a degree (0.05 according to Bjorn Lomborg) which is barely measurable. It is considered “denialism” and bad manners to offer the observation that it makes far more sense to plan and prepare for a gradually warming world while sustaining global economic growth.  That growth and wealth make the development of new energy technologies far more likely to appear and to be rapidly deployed.  In contrast, mandates to drastically cut fuel use simply impoverish the world and accomplish no significant reduction in warming. 

    The truth of those last two sentences usually just encourages the greenies to double down on catastrophic thinking, to try to declare a planetary emergency that overrides any and all economic considerations. Which is why discussions rarely remain reasonable.

    • #25
  26. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Henry Racette: What examples do we have of anyone making successful predictions of the long-term behavior of complex systems?

    The prediction that any managerial bureaucracy in government or private business will let its own self-interest dominate over other considerations has been shown to be true over the long term.  I am not aware of any exceptions.

    That’s kind of a wild and crazy prediction given that we don’t know what you mean by “complex” or “long-term.” But there it is.

    So if you give a government more money and power to regulate the climate, it will put its own self-interest foremost over any considerations of climate and public good. 

    • #26
  27. Boney Cole Member
    Boney Cole
    @BoneyCole

    See the official IPPC reports for the exact name of the type of models used for climate change prediction.  I believe they the official IPPC documents basically say the are inherently untrustworthy.  And then they average all the inherently untrustworthy model results, and somehow pour particular scorn on the seemingly most accurate model (Russian), while scornless of crazy ten degree warming models on the high end.  

    • #27
  28. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    What examples do we have of anyone making successful predictions of the long-term behavior of complex systems?”

    I’m not an intellectual (nor play one on TV) not have an advanced history degree. But I still can’t think of a successful predictions. I can think of a very unsuccessful prediction: that if LBJ’s Great Society. I think it had devastating consequences for individual liberty, self-determination, and keeping this republic as one of limited government. It instead exponentially expanded government and created millions of people beholden to its power. I don’t know if this quite qualifies as wholly complex, but I think social engineering certainly is at least a cousin to it. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a positive example. Maybe the other end if that with the fall of the Berlin Wall we do have an Eastern Bloc more attuned with democratic values? Good luck!

    • #28
  29. Jon1979 Inactive
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    I suppose you could say the Founding Fathers’ predictions for the worst of human nature requiring constitutional checks and balances from co-equal branches was an accurate forecast of how people would try to game the system to their own benefit in the future. But predicting that politicians will try to acquire power and abuse the system for their own personal gain is a lot easier to figure out than a 50-year global climate model, because people are more predictable than nature.

    • #29
  30. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    There is a way for a planetarium to show what the skies would be like tens or hundreds or thousands of years from now.  But that’s assuming no intermediate unforeseen anomalies.

    I think the closest thing to what you’re asking about is actually creating a model that accurately predicts how things look the further back in time we go.  The one example of this is the twin dynamo core of he sun which can predict solar cycles accurately back hundreds of thousands of years as well as into the future; but we don’t really know if it is true or not, because it’s a relatively new discovery.

    But looking forward and being correct?  The Farmers’ Almanac is very popular.

    • #30
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