In January of 2012, I posted a link to my Commonwealth Club talk on the LinkedIn Stanford Engineering private group.  A climate denier (who has a Ph.D. in physics!) decided to challenge my talk.  Other people also joined the discussion.  While it is a long thread, it does highlight some of the arguments that deniers use and possible ways to respond to such disinformation.  The bottom line belief of this particular denier was that almost all climate scientists are “dishonest, confused, or overconfident”.

While I did not expect to change the denier’s mind, I did keep responding for the benefit of the other members of the group who were following the thread.

Because the group is restricted, I can’t provide a link to the thread, so I have reproduced it below.

From LinkedIn Group: Stanford Engineering Alumni, Faculty and Staff


Dan Miller • My recent talk on climate change at the Commonwealth Club is now online: http://fora.tv/2011/11/18/Dan_Miller_Boom_or_Bust


Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, the science of climate is far from settled. I am sorry, but your repeated statement that our planet has "just the right amount of CO2" is hollow and misleading. While there was some warming in recent times, as there were warming and cooling periods in the past, the climate science does not offer any compelling explanation why it stopped in the last decade. 

I agree that the alleged global warming scare presents tremendous opportunities for some, and it's fine with me as long as one exploits these opportunities at one's own risk and expense.


Dan Miller • Vacslav: Your statement that "the science of climate is far from settled" is incorrect. While science, by definition, is never "settled", there is more of a scientific consensus on climate change than there is for almost any other scientific issue, including gravity. Every single major scientific body in the world -- without exception -- including the National Academy of Sciences, has stated that climate change is real, is due to increased levels of greenhouse gases, and requires immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (http://www.nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf). Furthermore, warming did not stop in the last decade. While 1998 was a particularly warm year due to a very strong El Nino, 2005 and 2010 were tied for being the warmest years in recorded history (see http://climate.nasa.gov/keyIndicators/).

You should check out http://skepticalscience.com/ so you can learn in more about the science of climate change and why the arguments of deniers are wrong.

We are ignoring the warnings of climate scientists at our children's peril. I doubt you would put your child on an airplane if the plane's mechanic told you the plane was not safe to fly. We should not ignore the warnings of climate scientists.


Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, but of course the consensus you mention is mythical. Yes, there was an attempt to establish a sort of "consensus" by dishonest scientists, it never materialized. 

It does not serve your case well when you call those engaging in the process of honest scientific inquiry "deniers". One should care less about statements by "major scientific bodies" than about completeness of scientific facts and rigorousness of methods. While there is much to discover in the science of climate, I don't deny that those who believe in climate change should be able to prepare themselves for the inevitable - at their own cost, naturally.


Dan Miller • Vacslav: If you think that a consensus of the world's major scientific bodies is a myth brought on by dishonest scientists, then there is not much more I can discuss with you. 

It's funny how in the 1800's, when the Greenhouse Effect was first discovered, there weren't a lot of people coming out to deny it. It's also funny that no one has disproven the Greenhouse Effect in the last 170 or so years since it was discovered. You would think that some enterprising "honest" scientist would like to make a name for themselves by disproving such as established part of science.


Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, perhaps you are right, there is not much we can discuss.

I find no scientist "denying" the greenhouse effect now. The issue is much more complex.

Dan, it is much more complex that simply belonging or not to the so called "consensus". It's a scientific matter and can and should be the subject of the honest scientific research and discussion.

And research and discussion in the atmospheric science is far from over.

Therefore, I find nothing funny in the fact that a group of people declare the matter "settled" and call everybody else "deniers". Science, Dan, is not a democracy - vox populi means nothing in science, nothing is settled by a "consensus" or even by a majority.

In fact, Dan, consider this funny fact: scientific process is done mostly by deniers. You know, those enterprising honest scientists like Galileo.


Dan Miller • Vacslav: As I said, science, by definition, is never "settled". There is a tremendous amount of new scientific work going on right now in the climate field.

But what do we know now with a reasonable level of confidence?

* That CO2 and other greenhouse gases warm the planet.

* That in the past 200 years or so, greenhouse gases have increased by about 40%, mostly due to human activity (i.e., burning of fossil fuels).

* That the average global temperature has increased over that period by more than 0.8C and is continuing to increase (2010 is tied with 2005 for the warmest year in recorded history).

* That the world is already responding to the warming (earlier blooming, more intense weather, etc.)

* That past history (paleoclimatic) and scientific modeling both show that we are headed for catastrophe (an increase of +3C to +6C or more by 2100) if we continue to proceed on our path of unabated burning of fossil fuels.

While it is possible that a "Galileo" will come along any day and show something to the contrary -- you could say the same about any scientific field -- it seems to me to be immoral to allow the predicted catastrophe to unfold on our children simply because there is a small chance that the things won't be as bad as the scientists say. Our course, so far, it appears that scientists have been conservative in their predictions and things are actually unfolding faster than predicted -- the melting of the Arctic ice sheet for example.

Some people would like "proof" of a catastrophe before we act. But, I think you will agree, there can be no such proof in science. The highest level of confidence in science is called a "theory"! The type of thinking that requires proof of disaster before action is taken led to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. See my article on that:



Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, 

* Greenhouse gases and CO2 obviously cannot "warm" the planet. Warming of anything is the phenomenon related to the balance of energy. The particularities of this balance still contain many unknowns. 

* Yes, greenhouse gases concentration did increase as they increased in the past many times, due to processes unrelated to human activity. 

* Whether temperatures increases and by what amount It's obviously a matter of debate as our tools of measurements did not stay the same and the methods of the measurements change. Satellite measurements do not confirm that 2010 is the warmes t year, on the contrary, they show a temperature plato or a slight decline in the last decade.

* I don't know what you mean by more intense weather - certainly historical records confirm that many "intense" phenomena occurred hundreds, thousands or millions of years ago. Records indicate devastating natural phenomena since the beginning of the written history. Whether they are more intense or not is a matter of a debate and scientific inquiry. 

* Scientific models of the climate disagree in their predictions and most of them cannot even "predict" the past, which is no surprise, considering their reliance of many fine-tuning parameters. 

There is no need to wait for Galileo - the facts and the theories to the contrary are already there. 

Dan, we stated our differences and there is not much we can say in this venue. I wish you a happy new year and all the best.


Dan Miller • Vacslav:

* Greenhouse gases, of course, alter the energy balance of the Earth and this results in warming. While there are still uncertainties (mostly related to "fast" and "slow" feedbacks), the basics of this phenomenon has been understood for nearly two centuries.

* While greenhouse gases have been higher in the past (many millions of years ago) due to causes unrelated to human activity, the current increase can be easily be tracked back to burning of fossil fuels. Also, the current increase is happening at a rate hundreds of times more rapidly than in the past.

* Temperatures have increased and will increase if we keep emitting greenhouse gases. How could it be otherwise? What information do you have that shows our current understanding of the Greenhouse Effect is incorrect? Your reference to satellite data disagreeing is an old controversy that has been addressed:


* As you know, climate is the long term average of weather. So if there is an increase in the amount of severe weather (e.g., droughts, floods) then it can be attributed to climate change -- even if there was severe weather in the past. For just one example, this year (2011), there were at least 12 billion dollar plus weather events in the U.S., where the past record was 9 and the average was 4. There are many, many other indicators.

* Models do a decent job of "hind-casting" though, as I said previously, these models may be too conservative.


One thing I do agree with you on is that it appears that will will not agree on climate change. I find our exchange interesting because a mistrust in climate science is one of the factors that is preventing necessary action to reduce emissions.

Happy New Year to you too.


Charles Brunner

 • Dan & Vacslav - I'm finding your thread very interesting. I have a few things I'd like to share. 

I'm trying very hard to find a paper that my father shared with me a few years ago, but am not having luck finding the reference - perhaps you'll be familiar with the premise. I'll continue to search for the reference, however. 

Basically, the author showed that heat retention as a function of CO2 levers was asymptotic and found that we currently reside in a region where there is no meaningful increase in heat retention due to an increase in CO2. Meanwhile, water vapor is a huge contributor to heat retention. 

I personally do not reject the notion of climate change; I am, however skeptical of the notion of man-created signficance in climate change. 

The study open system thermo-dynamics shows us that (Net In) - (Retained) = (Net Out). We are all sitting here discussing how to control the "Retained" number when in fact miniscule. The sun is for all intense purposes, is net in - if you want to complicate the model you can include heat from the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Any change in the Sun's energy output will create plenty of changes in our climate that we can neither fully predict nor fully control. Further, its not a direct percentage increase because of the complexity of radiation heating (sun shine) to surface convection (weather paterns) and radiation cooling (night time heat loss). 

Even accepting that CO2 is a source, I find it bothersome economically that we should impose a carbon tax for the simple reason that unless a good way to impose it on goods globally occurs, such policy will simply create shifts in manufacturing towards countries that reject both emission controls and taxation, which in the end creates a worse, not better situation. The only way to do this is to impose taxes on imported goods based on anticipated pollution in countyes 

I'll finish with one last thought. Much of our science is funded through public grants. If research says that warming is out of the control of policy makers (i.e. not man created change, or worse no change at all) it presents a much less interesting case for the individuals directing money towards the research. Remember how almost all the housing economists said prices were stable and would continue to rise? If what the majority said was always true my next door neighbors house would be worth $1 MM.


Dan Miller • Charles:

The CO2-warming relationship is logarithmic, so initial increases in CO2 cause more warming than later increases of the same amount. But we are constantly increasing the amount of CO2 we put in the atmosphere and the warming predictions I spoke about in my talk take this logarithmic relationship into account.

Water vapor is, indeed, a powerful greenhouse gas, but is very short-lived so it is controlled by the longer lived greenhouse gases, predominately CO2. CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. Water vapor varies on a daily basis. For more about why CO2 is the driver of global warming and not H2O, see: 


Again, we have increased CO2 by about 40% since the industrial revolution. It is clear that this increase comes from the burning of fossil fuels (scientists can tell where the CO2 came from by looking at isotopes in the CO2, also the oxygen content of the atmosphere has dropped slightly, consistent with the burning of fossil fuels). No one has offered a plausible explanation about where the excess CO2 came from, except for the burning of fossil fuels (hint: it's not from volcanoes).

If the U.S. would implement a Clean Energy Dividend, it would be quite straightforward to get other countries to do it too. All we would need to do is put a tariff on goods created in countries without a CED or similar price on carbon pollution. Since these other countries would rather keep the carbon fee themselves, rather than sending it to us, they will quickly implement a fee.

So, we know that the warming is real and is caused by man. We also know that we need to reduce emissions dramatically if we are to avoid catastrophe. So it is the proper place of government to take steps to protect our people, economy, and civilization.


Dan Miller • Charles: Regarding the sun. It, of course, is the main source of heat and energy on Earth. But it is not the main cause of global warming. In fact the sun has been relatively cool recently (it goes through an 11 year solar cycle) and 2010 was still the warmest year in recorded history. The climate "forcing" caused by solar variations is well understood and is a small (but still important) part of the variation in warming. 

Changes in the amount sunlight reaching the earth was the cause of the ice age cycles that occur over roughly hundred thousand year periods. But those changes in sunlight intensity were caused by very slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun (changes that occur over tens of thousands of years). The changes we are seeing in warming now is happening hundreds to thousands of times faster than the previous natural changes. Also, if it were a natural cycle, we should be slipping into another ice age about now. Instead, we are warming at an astonishing rate.


Charles Brunner

 • Dan: I would think that the WTO would take issue with the CED as it is really a tariff. 

As a seperate question, since you acknowledge that CO2 removal has accelerated benefits (but really since we are still putting more it, its more like decreasing benefit from mitigation) what is appropriate for a carbon tax level? As a student of Economics, I'm all for eliminating externalities, but I've never seen a number that was well justified. 

Further, I follow that water is a greenhouse gas, but short lived as vapor, however, the argument presented seems conveniently confused. Water traps more heat, but then allows it to release with rainfall, yet somehow, CO2 compounds with this to make thinks accelerate. I liken this to singing the praises of compounding interest and then going to the bank every month and pulliing out all the interest as soon as it posts. 

Lastly, has anyone predicted what the eventual equilibrium will look like. I'm open to global warming, but the hotter the plannet gets, the more heat it will radiate into space, and if CO2 does have diminishing affects with concentration, then where does that leave us? 2 degrees Celsius, 5, 0.5? I don't know if you have any answers, but I welcome any references you might have to models on the subject.


Dan Miller • While this is not my area of expertise, I do believe that CED and related tariffs are legal under WTO.

The appropriate level of the fee is probably in the $100 to $200/ton CO2 range. This would raise gas prices by $1/gallon or so but, remember, most people will earn more under CED than they pay in higher energy and product prices (because of the famous 80/20 rule). The fee would probably start in the $10 range and grow over 5 years or so. At $100+/ton, there will be technologies available that can capture and sequester CO2, even directly from the air.

While you may be confused about what roles CO2 and water vapor play in warming the planet, climate scientists understand them quite well. I suggest you look online for further information, starting at SkepticalScience.com.

As I mentioned in my talk, scientists at MIT predict that there is a 50% chance that temperatures will increase +5C (+9F) by 2100 under our "business as usual" path we are on. And the MIT scientists didn't include the impacts of melting permafrost in their study! And of course, the temperature will keep increasing after 2100 if we don't act. If you read the book "Six Degrees" by Mark Lynas, you will see that very few of us are around when the temperature increases by +5C~+6C. A brief summary of the book is here: 



Vacslav Glukhov

 • Charles, this is a link to the research article "Contributions of Stratospheric Water Vapor to Decadal Changes in the Rate of Global Warming":http://www.sciencemag.org/content/327/5970/1219.abstract . Note that authors conclude that "stratospheric water vapor is an important driver of decadal global surface climate change". Notable is the authors' use of the word "probable" in their abstract, which acknowledges that our understanding of climate is limited.

Externalities and Pigovian solution are probably fine concepts as long as one operates with a single, known, proven cause, and a single, known, proven and quantifiable and monetized harm - and even then you can still have Coase's argument as a possible solution. Much less is known about the climate, the causes of its change, and whether and how they are harmful and to whom, if at all.


Dan Miller • Charles/Vacslav: Here are some comments on the Stratospheric Water Vapor article that appeared in RealClimate.org (a blog site for climate scientists). Note the first sentence.

"First of all, this is a paper about internal variability of the climate system in the last decade, not on additional factors that drive climate. Second, this is a discussion about stratospheric water vapour (10 to 15 km above the surface), not water vapour in general. Stratospheric water vapour comes from two sources – the uplift of tropospheric water through the very cold tropical tropopause (both as vapour and as condensate), and the oxidation of methane in the upper stratosphere (CH4+2O2 –> CO2 + 2H2O NB: this is just a schematic, the actual chemical pathways are more complicated). There isn’t very much of it (between 3 and 6 ppmv), and so small changes (~0.5 ppmv) are noticeable.

The decreases seen in this study are in the lower stratosphere and are likely dominated by a change in the flux of water through the tropopause. A change in stratospheric water vapour because of the increase in methane over the industrial period would be a forcing of the climate (and is one of the indirect effects of methane we discussed last year), but a change in the tropopause flux is a response to other factors in the climate system. These might include El Nino/La Nina events, increases in Asian aerosols, or solar impacts on near-tropopause ozone – but this is not addressed in the paper and will take a little more work to figure out.

Update: This last paragraph was probably not as clear as it should be. If the lower stratospheric water vapour (LSWV) is relaxing back to some norm after the 1997/1998 El Nino, then what we are seeing would be internal variability in the system which might have some implications for feedbacks to increasing GHGs, and my estimate of that would be that this would be an amplifying feedback (warmer SSTs leading to more LSWV). If we are seeing changes to the tropopause temperatures as an indirect impact from increased Asian aerosol emissions or solar-driven ozone changes, then this might be better thought of as impacting the efficacy of those forcings rather than implying some sensitivity change.

The study includes an estimate of the effect of the observed stratospheric water decadal decrease by calculating the radiation flux with and without the change, and comparing this to the increase in CO2 forcing over the same period. This implicitly assumes that the change can be regarded as a forcing. However, whether that is an appropriate calculation or not needs some careful consideration. Finally, no-one has yet looked at whether climate models (which have plenty of decadal variability too) have phenomena that resemble these observations that might provide some insight into the causes."



Dan Miller • Vacslav: 

I don't understand the part of your argument where you say because there are so many unknowns, we should not proceed with government action to reduce carbon emissions, etc. 

Imagine you are the head of the World Court and I come to you and say that I want do an experiment. I want to double the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to see what happens (perhaps I think it will help agriculture). Then a large group of climate scientists testify that based on historical data and scientific models, they are quite confident this would lead to disaster. I then say there is much uncertainty in what the scientists are saying and further research is needed before what they are saying can be "proved". I even find a small group of (non-climate) scientists to say everything will be fine. 

Will you let me proceed with my experiment?


Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, I don't think we can turn the climate debate into Pascal's Wager sort of argument. 

When making policy decisions we must consider arguments for and against, possible implications, costs, risks and uncertainties involved in our decision. It is here where our cognitive biases often work against us. Quoting from Daniel Kahneman's latest book: 

"... a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in. We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events. Overconfidence is fed by illusory certainty of hindsight". 

The hypothetical World Court is seeking a solution to the problem that has very little to do with reality. We are not conducting an experiment. We feed ourselves and we feed those who can't - yet - feed themselves. We provide sanitation to our cities, communication to our villages and towns, transportation, clean water and air. We are saving prematurely born babies and prolonging lifes of our elderly. We are providing ourselves means to satisfy our quest for happiness, and tools to seek a better future for ourselves and our children. I don't think we are asking somebody - much less the hypothetical World Court - to please let us continue doing this. We just do. Because we can. 

We know that we don't know much about our uncertain world and that scientists often correct their theories and predictions. Government actions are sometimes necessary, but governments are not known for making smart decisions. 

That's why we often inclined to proceed with caution, not with government action.


Dan Miller • Vacslav: My hypothetical question is directly routed in reality. We currently are on a path to double CO2 within this century. Should we let that proceed? We do have a choice in the matter (at least, hopefully, for a little while longer). 

There are other ways to feed ourselves, provide transportation, etc. without destroying civilization in the process. My suggestion is to put a price on carbon that takes into account the negative impacts that it causes. Why would you be against that? If, in your quest for happiness, your burning of fossil fuels will cause harm to my children, why shouldn't you need to pay for that at the time you burn the fuel? If you needed to pay for the costs you incur on others, you would make a different set of choices. In other words, if the external costs of fossil fuels were included in their price, then the "market" can make the right decisions. 

Again, you continue to argue that since their is some uncertainty in the scientific process, that makes it OK, somehow, to ignore the direct warnings of climate scientists. My World Court example was an attempt to show you why that is a specious argument. 

What if your oncologist tells you that your biopsy is back and, while he is not 100% sure, he is confident that you have a malignant tumor and you need to have it removed. Would you ask him to first prove that you will die before you choose to have surgery? Remember, he gets paid more if you have the surgery, so you have a reason to distrust his opinion! 

Regarding you discussion of the limitations of our minds, you (and all of us) suffer from "optimism bias". You want to believe the outcome that is best. When it was first reported that "a plane has hit the World Trade Center", many people assumed it was a Cessna. While it is nice to be optimistic, it doesn't always serve us well. 

For more on psychological issues that cause us to ignore climate change, I suggest you view the talk at ClimateDenial.org.


Charles Brunner

 • "The appropriate level of the fee is probably in the $100 to $200/ton CO2 range. This would raise gas prices by $1/gallon or so but, remember, most people will earn more under CED than they pay in higher energy and product prices (because of the famous 80/20 rule). The fee would probably start in the $10 range and grow over 5 years or so. At $100+/ton, there will be technologies available that can capture and sequester CO2, even directly from the air." 

Not knowing how the other half live, I can't speak with authority, but I imagine the average american's CO2 footprint is relatively well bound. I'm also generally opposed to the idea rebating to offset such taxes. As I think it creates a step in the wrong direction if the desire to alter behavior to force more conscious decisions where actions impact others. 

I know you have a history of knowing me, but I've been telling friends for the last several years we should raise gasoline taxes by $1 a gallon (in part to fix the crumby raods, which in of itself would reduce CO2 emissions for that who care). However, this goes mainly to the fact that I think mandating fleet efficiency is the worse (yet more politcally viable) way of trying to spur innovation. 

My personal concern is that if the impact is overpriced, we suffer. Or if its priced correctly, but the rest of world fails to follow suit (as they did with Carter's action to stop the re-refining nuclear material - another move that has hurt the anti-greenhouse movement) then we might reduce our consumption but the rest of the world runs us off the cliff anyway.


Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, 

Precisely because the negative effects of carbon are unknown or uncertain, putting the government set price on carbon emissions will definitely do more harm than good. 

Following the treatment of the situation first suggested by Ronald Coase, there is another possible solution. Namely, let the confident pessimist pay those who are less confident and more optimistic not to emit greenhouse gases. The net effect on climate is the same as in the solution you are suggesting, but the cost is borne by those who are confident that carbon emissions need to be priced.


Dan Miller • Vacslav: The negative effects of carbon are certainly known and are not uncertain. Should others believe you or the collective conclusion of every major scientific body in the world? So, climate scientists have spoken and have provided their supporting evidence. You simply state that you don't believe them and you don't want to pay for reducing carbon pollution. How could a research institution like Stanford function if a sizable number of its students or faculty simply dismissed peer-reviewed scientific research without providing alternative theories that can be tested?


Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, coming from natural - physical and applied - sciences, I find it rather eccentric when the effects of natural phenomena are declared to be void of uncertainty. 

Yes, there was a group of scientists - some of them dishonest, some confused, some simply overconfident - which attempted to manufacture the impression of a consensus in climate science. Their activities are now well known and well documented. This group's credibility in the scientific debate related to climate science appears to be lost forever. What will happen next is - return to normalcy in this branch of science, where alternative theories, arguments pro and contra, data and methods are discussed openly, in a honest debate, and with integrity. The flaws in the peer-review process are being addressed as we speak, as I understand, including the newly established review process of the IPCC report. 

Given the body of scientific evidence, including sizable peer-reviewed work, I find it premature to speak about climate science void of uncertainties. Paradoxically, at this point those scientists who declare that climate is less certain appear to be more informed than those who are more confident in unidirectional "climate change" and its causes.


Don Bain • Vacslav, I am interesting in your belief that "a group of scientists - some of them dishonest..." What is your basis for concluding some were dishonest or confused? Is there a motive hypothesis with your conclusion?


Dan Miller • Charles: I think you are saying that the average American will not be able to reduce their carbon footprint? But they will -- automatically -- with CED. Power generation companies will switch from carbon-intensive fuels such as coal to renewables (and natural gas on an interim basis). Also, when the carbon fee gets high enough, most power generators and fuel supply companies will offset their carbon footprints with CO2 sequestration (because it will be cheaper than paying the fee). 

While I agree with you that the government needs more money for schools and infrastructure, I do think the CED needs to rebate 100% of the money collected in order to (1) make it politically feasible and (2) make the fee high enough to really reduce carbon pollution. 

I don't think you need to worry much about setting the fee too high. First of all, it will phase in over time and, as I mentioned, the cost of carbon capture and sequestration will put a ceiling on the fee (since you can use CSS to avoid paying the fee). I would worry a lot more about not implementing CED or something similar soon. The impact of rising temperatures and extreme weather are already having negative impacts on the economy and future impacts will not be pretty.


Charles Brunner

 • Dan, 

Unfortunately, you misundersstood part of what I said. I agree the average American can certainly do plenty to reduce their footprint, where I disagree is in your assertion that the "average" American would not pay more because of the 80/20 rule. Further, with the exception of profit maximumization in the supplying firms, I think if the average American receives, lets say $100 dollars from the dividend, and pays an extra $100 dollars in costs in daily activity, then I would not expect consumer paterns to change. Unfortunately, the average consumer does not optomize nearly as well as producing firms. 

I find it ironic that you'd defend the 100% rebate position, as improved infrastructure would actually reduce our footprint, as cars would run better (less braking, less leaking, anytime something breaks in the suspension hard goods must be sold), less loss across power lines (thus requiring less generation). Also, would the CED be per person, per household or per taxpayer. Because if its per person, then its yet another disincentive to keep families small, which as I understand it, is the most obvious source of increasing carbon footprints.\ 

In the meantime, I'll start shopping for beach front property in the Sierras for my grandkids.


Dan Miller • Charles: I believe (but haven't confirmed) that the numbers are something like $3000/year/person rebate and the AVERAGE cost increase per person is about that. Take a look at income distribution (which loosely relates to carbon use) and you will see that the average person uses much less than the average amount of carbon.

If you believe in market forces, people will use less dirty energy. Energy and products based on fossil fuels will cost more and clean energy and products will be more competitive. It is not expected that people will make changes for altruistic reasons.

I gave you the reasons that I think there needs to be a 100% rebate. But if the CED is implemented, it will create an economic boom that will increase revenues to local, state, and federal governments. I also agree that we should increase regular taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The rebate is to every adult citizen on a per capita basis, with 1/2 shares for up to 2 kids. Payments would be made monthly to each citizen's bank account so they don't need to incur higher prices first, then get paid back a year later.

Regarding beachfront property, one thing that people don't realize is that once sea level rise kicks in, there never will be stable coastlines again (until we hit about 270 feet sea level rise after all the polar ice is melted). So you won't be buying beachfront property anywhere because it will be under water a decade or so later. I suggest renting.


Dan Miller • Vacslav: So every major scientific body in the world -- without exception -- believes in global warming and you think all those scientists -- thousands of them -- are all dishonest, confused, or overconfident. That's one mighty conspiracy theory!


Charles Brunner

 • Dan, to be fair, every scientific body, and every scientist are two very different statements. My favorite example being the electoral college - just because every elecoral vote in California was cast for Obama does not mean everyone in California voted for him - the same would hold true for Idaho and McCain in 2008. I can easily create a scenario where every science body endorses climate change and yet a minority of those groups believe the statements generated by each organization. 

Also, to his point, there has been a record of some scientists selectively using data to better fit their data. To be fair, this happens in all fields of science, and is also considered a big no-no, though it continues to happen, again, in all fields. 

I don't claim to believe that everyone did this in climate science, or its a conspiracy of that sort. But I also fail to believe that every heralded piece of climate science is bulletproof. 

And to clarify your other statement, I should start looking for land at ~ 300 ft above current sea level for that good beach front property? 

It's amazing to think that there is really that much ice on the poles, especially considering that ice volume needs to be larger than the water volume - and 2/3 of the earth's surface being raised by 230 ft. I'll have to do the math later, but that's a LOT of water.


Dan Miller • Yes, there is a difference between every major scientific body and every scientist, but in this case, about 97% of climate scientists believe in human-caused global warming, so it's not the same as the Electoral College. So, I could have just asked Vacslav if he thinks 97% of climate scientists are dishonest, confused, or overconfident. That would still be one mighty conspiracy theory!

Regarding your reference to scientists selectively using data, I assume you are referring to what is sometimes called "Climategate". There were several independent inquires into that affair and they all found no evidence of any wrong doing by the scientists.


No one is saying that every single "heralded" piece of climate science is bulletproof. However, when taken in total, there are many, independent lines of evidence to show that climate change is real, is happening now, and is mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels. That is what all the major scientific bodies agree on. So, even if one study is shown to be questionable, there are hundreds of others that are not disputed in a material way. Also, no one has advanced alternative theories that have withstood the peer-review process and gained acceptance. Again, science can't "prove" anything, but is sure can give you confidence that you have a problem you should deal with!

There is a lot of ice in Antarctica. Do the math. It won't all melt for a long, long time. But until it does, sea levels will keep rising (unless we can get back to 350 ppm CO2).


Vacslav Glukhov

 • Dan, I find it inappropriate when a scientific body makes a statement declaring something as truth. Doctrinaire statements and credos are more pertaining to religion than to science. 

For scientific truth is not a state, it is a process. Scientific bodies are but institutionalized communities of scientists. They are presumed to exist to facilitate the process and to make sure that it is impeccable. True, lately some organizations issued statements advocating some particular views on climate change. These statements are irreconcilable with the spirit and the essence of the scientific process. They will be viewed as one of the sad and bizarre events in the history of science. 

If we ask any scientist whether climate is constant or changing - perhaps 100% will say that it is changing. If we ask whether climate is generally warmer than it was two hundred years ago or cooler - likely 100% will say that climate is generally warmer. The difficulty begin when we start asking whether climate is warmer than it was 500 or 1000 years ago, or whether it's warmer than 5 or 10 years ago - that's where the differences in opinion start to appear. And when you ask whether the observed changes can be attributed - solely or mostly or partially, and to what extent - to human burning fossil fuels - you will find the whole spectrum of opinions, theories and observations arising from what we call normal scientific inquiry. We will also find widely differing opinions regarding the effects of climate change among social scientists and economists. We can also find much confusion, controversy, sometimes overconfidence and dishonesty, the latter now well documented and well known. 

Dan, there are no "alternative theories". There are different theories of various descriptive power producing results of varying degrees of confidence. None of them gives answers, most of them pose new questions. And that's good. 

"Scientists are used to deal with doubt and uncertainty. All scientific knowledge is uncertain",said Feynman and continued:"...what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty...". 

What is certain is that until there is more confidence in climate theories, in models, in temperature reconstructions, and in observations - it is premature to make sharp policy decisions based on them.


Dan Miller • Vacslav:

I am not aware of any scientific body declaring the truth. As you know, science seeks the truth, but never achieves it. But that does not mean that science can't provide us with useful information that we can use to implement policies that can improve our lives and those of our children.

Let's take a look at the first paragraph of the joint statement of the international science:


"There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring1. The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems. It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities (IPCC 2001)2. This warming has already led to changes in the Earth's climate."

The very first thing they do is acknowledge the uncertainty you speak about. But there is enough evidence -- from many sources -- to know that the world is likely changing rapidly due primarily to our burning of fossil fuels. We also know that the consequences from a significant rise in global average temperature may severely impact food production, reduce biodiversity, lead to significant sea level rise, and many other negative impacts.

So you, based on a belief that the majority of climate scientists are "dishonest, confused, or overconfident", would like to wait and see if the climate scientists are correct even though they tell us we have very little time left to act if we want to avoid catastrophe.

While this whole thread may seem like an interesting academic exercise, I do not view it that way. There are many groups and individuals (including almost every Republican presidential candidate) that are arguing like you that we don't know enough and we should wait until we do (and they will never be satisfied with the conclusions of scientists).

If we were discussing black holes or muons, it wouldn't really matter. But your approach (which the government is currently following) is actually threatening the future of my children and all children.

So, in summary, if we follow my recommendations and act, but it turns out that you are correct and most climate scientists are dishonest, confused, or overconfident, then we will end up wasting money. But even then, we will probably end up reducing pollution, improving energy security, and preparing for peak oil.

And if we follow your approach and it turns out the the strong evidence that climate scientists believe they have turns out to be valid, then our children are doomed to a world of droughts, floods, famine, rising sea levels, mass extinctions, and extreme weather.


Vacslav Glukhov • Dan, the document you cite says nothing about catastrophic consequences you mention. Despite some flaws in the logic (one can't suggest that something is "necessary" when the cause is only "likely" and the consequences are uncertain and likely mild), the document is carefully worded not to create any false impressions of imminent catastrophes and the end of our civilization. It does say that there are uncertainties in our theories and models - so your statement that there's "just the right amount of CO2" in the atmosphere cannot really be substantiated according to the source you cite.

What you are suggesting is not simply "wasting money".

For money embodies human work, ingenuity, and opportunities. At any given time the amount of work, ingenuity and opportunities that can be wasted is limited. We thus must choose our objectives very carefully: that's what we usually do individually when we make our long-term choices.

When choosing our objectives we must be aware that ridiculously small sums of money can immensely increase living standards of millions of children in underdeveloped countries: they can provide them with clean water and sanitation, provide their teachers - with incentives to show up in the classroom, and provide their governments - with assistance necessary to build strong and efficient institutions required to support viable economies. Yet we find that there is not enough money to save these children who are suffering right now, right before our eyes.

We also must understand that calls for any immediate action - however well intended - can result in more, not less suffering - precisely because our understanding is limited, precisely because there are unintended consequences - more of them if the system on which we should "act" is more complex.

An extra dollar, pound and euro that one is forced to pay at the pump because of someone else's fears of possible catastrophes (likely imaginary or mild) is diverted away from real opportunities, diverted from technological, social and cultural advances, diverted from people's choices of objectives, diverted from serving real, not imaginary, needs of real suffering children.


Don Bain • Vacslav,
This thread has been enlightening. I have some questions: Is the rationale for acting in the face of non-zero risk different for this subject than others? For example, we enact various national electrical codes for fire prevention, and their practices force us all to pay more for approved devices, materials and methods -- which diverts money. And my mortgage company requires I buy fire insurance to hedge their risk on my house built to comply with the electrical code. My house catching fire is very uncertain. Or, we accept building codes that address earthquake forces, that are highly uncertain and likewise spend more on buildings than we would otherwise. Nature provided a "use case" of codes vs. no-code in the dramatically different level of devastation and loss of life between earthquakes of the same magnitude in the bay area vs. Haiti. Airplanes, medical devices, and so on, all are engineered to address non-zero risks the consequences of which if viewed on a global scale might heartlessly be characterized as "mild" compared to the needs of "real suffering children."

All of the above, including the subject of this thread, possess non-zero risks with consequences and all have uncertainty. You are a successful quant. Run the Monte Carlo simulations. After you see the data, would you seriously advise your clients to hedge at zero?


Dan Miller • Vacslav:

I understand your concern. And if we were talking about taking a stable system and suggesting to alter that system without first understanding the consequences of that change, then I might agree with you. That was the point of my "World Court" example. But that is not the case with climate change. We have taken a stable system and we are altering it as quickly as we can. I am suggesting that we put a price on carbon pollution so that we slow the changes to the formerly stable system and avoid the unintended consequences that you also hope to avoid.

While there may be many unknowns, climate change is already here. Jim Hansen has just released a paper that shows that "Very Hot Days" (2 sigma events) in summer are now occurring ten times more often than they did in the 1951 to 1980 base period. Because of that, he says we know "with very high confidence" (but not with certainty) that global warming "caused" the recent heat waves in Moscow and Texas.

I care as much as you do about providing food, shelter, and medical care to those in need. But allowing climate change to advance unabated is a fools bargain. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of people affected by drought in Africa -- or the farmers and ranchers in Texas. Those who want to avoid paying for the damage caused by their carbon pollution are taking resources away from others. It is time to correct this unfair and dangerous situation.


Vacslav Glukhov • Don, while I believe that there can be different institutional arrangements regarding building codes, fire safety rules, etc, I think it's good to have rules and codes that embody our knowledge and experience in the areas where risks are preventable and quantifiable. The tragedy of Haiti was not in the absence of building codes per se, but the absence of any institutional arrangements enforcing or promoting the codes.

Purely engineering tasks such as airplane design and construction etc, deal with fully or almost fully quantifiable risks. Note that, despite fully quantifiable consequences and known probabilities, commercial airlines do not provide passengers and pilots with parachutes. In situations where risks are preventable and quantifiable the cost of prevention must be commensurate with the size of consequences and their probabilities. Insurance as a viable business is based on this idea: actuarial methods and databases are meant to quantify risks both in their extent and in probability. Risks associated with climate change are not actuarial - yet.

Apart from purely actuarial, insurable, hedgeable risks, other types of risk are notoriously difficult to tackle.

There are risks of extreme low probability and extremely devastating consequences, such as bursting of the Yellowstone Caldera, or opening of the new Siberian Traps. Catastrophes like these can happen tomorrow. Yet, their probability is extremely low, and economically and even physically we are not really prepared to deal with such extremities. Perhaps someday we will sufficiently advance technologically and economically to be able to start thinking about these risks as preventable at a reasonable cost.

Then there are uncertainties - "what we don't know we don't know", non-hedgeable and uninsurable risks associated with limitations of our assumptions, with imperfect observations, and with variability of factors of our models. Generally it is not possible to superimpose such risk with an equivalent actuarial cost. Such is the state of the climate models today.

So, Don, even when risks are non-zero – there can be situations when I would advise my client not to hedge: when the cost of setting up the hedge is higher than my client can afford - as the case of passenger parachutes.

Dan, we can agree that climate is changing, but there are different opinions regarding the causes of this change and whether the climate system is generally stable. It is true that recent decades are warmer than in 1950-80, but so were the two decades between 1930-40. The cause of misery in Russia, as in Haiti, is not in global warming per se, but in the absence of efficient institutions capable of insuring and protecting against preventable natural risks, and in the absence of institutions effectively dealing with real disasters. An attempt to slow down climate change, however well intended, futile or not, will do nothing for these miserable people in Haiti and in Russia.

I hope someday our models will be able to describe observed climate patterns. They will be able to explain ice ages, the medieval warming period, the roman warming period, and the current warming period much better than they do now. Until then it is premature to say that those who want to avoid paying for somebody's vaguely substantiated fears are taking any resources from others.


Don Bain • Ahh, but there is actuarial data for drought, flood, extreme weather, disease, crop displacement due to temperature changes, crop losses due to increased pests, wildfires, flight cancellations/delays due to temperatures, etc. Even the French truffle industry was on 60 Minutes Sunday saying their yields have fallen to 35% of previous average values due to temperature changes. My ranch's ledger is full of expenses including feed in lieu of failed grass, damaged fences due to 400+ dead trees falling, broken water lines due to cracked ground, increased water, loss of stock, etc. as a direct result of the drought in Texas. That paper Dan linked a few posts above, by James Hanson, pins that drought on climate change.

Turning back to the early post in this thread on the psychology of climate change, we seem to evoke a different reaction to global climate change than we do for more specific and local phenomenon, like a drought in Texas. And we are getting quantifiable numbers for the local and regional effects. I stood for some time waiting to buy government insurance to hedge a fraction of the grass that is normally fed to animals, with a bunch of Texas farmers and ranchers. And I drove by the churches set up to provide assistance to hundreds families whose homes had burned in wildfires, and other churches set up to provide feed for the animals and livestock similarly displaced. Vaguely substantiated fears? No. The consequence data is coming in all around the world; it is local and regional. If you look at the data (data not models) in that Hanson paper cited above, you see periods where +3 sigma temperature events are covering 10 % of the earth -- with consequences that show up in actuarials.

I understand you "want to avoid paying." The bill is already coming due, but is not evenly distributed. Most unfair, the lags in the system mean the big bills will go to those who come after us.

One of my early posts cited the work of Amory Lovins, who has been advocating that we should get on with transitioning to a low carbon energy infrastructure on its own merits of cost savings and improved energy security. The transition will take several decades and will generate $5 trillion in economic activity, according to Lovins' calculations. Many people, including myself, can get excited about doing that independent of the climate discussion.

Finally, as an aerobatic pilot required by law to wear a parachute during training, I have to take issue with the parachute analogy. We have been talking about prevention here and I sense your fear that someone may ask you to pay for prevention. Mitigation will be a much greater cost. A parachute does nothing to prevent a crash.


Dan Miller • Vacslav:

Your statement that "Risks associated with climate change are not actuarial -yet." is incorrect. Munich Re, one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world, has analyzed loss data for decades and has concluded that "The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change" Furthermore:

Dr. Peter Hoppe, Head of the Geo Risks Research Department at Munich Re, said
"For me the most convincing piece of evidence that global warming has been contributing already to more and more intense weather related natural catastrophes is the fact that while we find a steep increase in the number of loss relevant weather events (about tripling in the last 30 years) we only find a slight increase in geophysical (earthquake, volcano, tsunami) events, which should not be affected by global warming. If the whole trend we find in weather related disaster should be caused by reporting bias, or socio-demographic or economic developments we would expect to find it similarly for the geophysical events."

So just saying that climate change is not measurable does not make it so. In my previous comment, I gave you a link to Jim Hansen's recent paper where he did a statistical analysis of increasing temperature and concluded that 2-sigma events ("Very Hot Days") have increased by about a factor of 10 and 3-sigma events ("Extremely Hot Days") have increased even more. As a quant, you yourself could analyze the same data and come up with the same conclusions. Using statistics, you could even calculate the confidence level of the claim that global warming "caused" the Texas heat wave, even though you keep claiming that it is impossible to know these things.

You have said you agree the world is warming but we don't know why. Again, scientists have said that they know -- with very high confidence (not certainty) -- that the current warming is mostly attributable to the burning of fossil fuels. After all, we know about how much fossil fuel is burned every year, we know how much CO2 that will (and does) add to the atmosphere, and we know precisely how much the atmospheric concentration of CO2 increases every year. Saying that because the climate varied in the past, we don't know that humans are causing the current warming is like saying humans can't cause wildfires because natural wildfires happened in the past (and still do).

Climate scientists have said that they know -- with high confidence (but not certainty) -- that the added atmospheric CO2 is causing most of the observed warming and that under "business as usual" emissions, the warming later this century will exceed +2C and likely will be +4C or higher. While you might feel that such changes to the climate will be "imaginary or mild", there is no reason to have confidence in your feeling. Claiming that climate scientists are either "dishonest, confused, or overconfident" is not, in my opinion, a valid argument and is not one that I want to base my children's future on.


Vacslav Glukhov • However regrettably, at some point this particular discussion - as any discussion - must end.

Dan, I really enjoyed this discussion and I would like to thank you for the opportunity to think deeper and to sharpen - in some respects, and to soften - in others, my views on the subject. I can't say our positions are reconcilable, but I do see that the dialog is possible. And this is more important at this point - to keep the communication channels open.

Don, I like your objection against the parachute analogy, but then again - whether the crash is preventable, or whether it's imminent at all or not - is debatable. I thank you, too, for the debate.


Dan Miller • Vacslav:

Thank you for your patience in explaining your point of view. This discussion will help me refine the way I present the issue to others and I hope it served as an educational experience for those who were following it.

I suggest you read Jim Hansen's book, "Storms of My Grandchildren" and let me know what you think. It is a primer on climate science and the impacts that climate change has had in the past and may have in the future. I would be happy to mail you a copy if you send me your address.

Best regards,

Exchange with Skeptics/Deniers