Saturday, October 20, 2007


DANIEL B. BOTKIN's Attempts to Delude On Global Warming

The introductory paragraph of Global Warming Delusions launches its premise with the evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin. Most evidence suggests the contrary. And then the author begins to demonstrate the wealth of contrary evidence:

  • It is implied that extrapolating the rate of species extinction over the past 2.5 million years is a more trustworthy predictor than "his year's United Nations report on climate change and other documents say that 20%-30% of plant and animal species will be threatened with extinction in this century due to global warming -- a truly terrifying thought. me: Has nothing changed that might change the dynamics from the average of the past?
  • Tropical diseases such as malaria will not spread; one researcher says so, the changes to date do not correlate well with the temperature changes. me: But can the correlations improve when the temperature changes become greater? Perhaps not.
  • Temperature and rainfall are not the key factors explaining habitat shifts. Proof: mockingbirds are becoming more common in Manhattan because there is a new food source. me: And just what climate change does this demonstrate was not influential? Or does failure to be the only factor imply that something cannot be a factor at all? Why don't I remember that from school?
End of development of the "most evidence" argument; already.

After a brief summary of his career, to establish his credibility in the field, the author switches to what some people he knows have told him they think makes it morally acceptable to exaggerate. Fine, such discussions are not new, and not likely to ever disappear (at least not before we do). However, it is not at all clear that that in any way demonstrates that the U.N. report exaggerates; to decide that a certain deception would be morally justifiable (in the minds of people who did not publish the report in question) does not prove that such deception has been practiced (nor are all men Socrates). By the way, recent arctic melting suggests that the projections used in the U.N. report are, if anything, overly conservative.

The next "it's best to presume nothing has changed" argument pretends that computing power, algorithmic efficiency, and model quality have not improved very rapidly over recent years. The implication that the models are not using the available data from the past 2.5 million years for calibration, and to check the models' predictive power in the past, is astounding:
The climate modelers who developed the computer programs that are being used to forecast climate change used to readily admit that the models were crude and not very realistic, but were the best that could be done with available computers and programming methods. They said our options were to either believe those crude models or believe the opinions of experienced, data-focused scientists. Having done a great deal of computer modeling myself, I appreciated their acknowledgment of the limits of their methods. But I hear no such statements today. Oddly, the forecasts of computer models have become our new reality, while facts such as the few extinctions of the past 2.5 million years are pushed aside, as if they were not our reality.
To his We should approach the problem the way we decide whether to buy insurance and take precautions against other catastrophes -- wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes. I would suggest he read "In Nature’s Casino by Michael Lewis to better appreciate whether we are as good at managing our risk coverage as he seems to assume, naively.

Just before closing (I can't call it concluding, really), he chooses to mention the orangutans, endangered by deforestation. While I agree that it would be sad if we fail to find funds to purchase those forests before they are destroyed, and thus let this species go extinct, it is not at all clear to me that any such failure is likely to be because in this panic we are going to spend our money unwisely, we will take actions that are counterproductive, and we will fail to do many of those things that will benefit the environment and ourselves. And while we're at it, maybe we can buy some icebergs and snowbanks to prevent the extinction of polar bears.

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Your arguments against what Daniel Botkin is saying are not very complete and seem to be crafted from the point "I don't care what Daniel Botkin says -- I'm not going to believe him". The key questions here are "did this happen before and, if so, what were the results?" To these questions, Daniel Botkin says "yes it did happen before and the results were not that bad." This fundamentally changes the global warming debate from "the world is warming and we have to do something about it" to "the world is warming, but maybe we don't have to do anything about it".
i agree with the post and appreciate the arguments you made, but think there is even more material here to work with. botkin is much more language than science in his argument. he implies over and over that we need to "believe those crude models or believe the opinions of experienced, data-focused scientists." he seems to have forgotten to write that today the vast majority of "experienced, data-focused scientists" agree with the models.
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