The “carbon” scapegoat and “tomorrow” as a skill.

The oceans are drowning in plastic, the air sullied by “progress,” and yet we’ve never been more fussed about “carbon emissions” and increasingly “embodied carbon.” Poor carbon… because really, if we cared about global schwarming or whatever you wanna call it, we’d skip the bird-killing windmills and head straight for the shelf marked “weapons-grade geoengineering.” It’s doable too, as Bjorn Lomborgi points out :

The only way to have a swift impact on climate change is through geo-engineering. [...] Geoengineering is essentially putting sunshades on the planet, if you will. It’s artificially manipulating the temperature of the planet so that it cools down. We know we can do that because volcanoes do it. Back in 1991 Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines emitted so much sulfur dioxide from one volcano that it reduced temperatures about 1 degree Fahrenheit for about 3 years. So, you can–and these were global temperatures. So you can definitely do this kind of thing. That is your only real way of avoiding dramatic bad outcomes. [...] If, again, you actually want to protect yourself against runaway global warming of some sorts, the only way is to focus on geoengineering. And just to give you one example–and again, I think it’s important to say, we should not be doing this now–partly because global warming in not nearly enough of a problem, and also because we need to investigate a lot more what could be the bad impacts of doing geoengineering–but we know that white clouds reflect more sunlight, and hence cool the planet slightly. One way of making white clouds is by having a little more sea salt over the oceans stirred up. Remember: most clouds over the oceans get produced by stirred-up sea salt, basically: wave action putting sea salt up in the lower atmosphere and those very tiny salt crystals act as nuclei for the clouds to condense around. The more nuclei there are, the whiter the cloud becomes. And so, what we could do is simply put out a lot of ships that would basically chuck up a lot of sea water, entirely natural process, and build more white clouds. Estimates show that the total cost of avoiding all global warming for the 21st century would be on the order of $10 billion dollars. So, remember: this is probably between 3 and 4 orders of magnitude cheaper. So, typically we talk about $10-$100 trillion dollars of trying to fix global warming. This could fix it for one thousandth or one ten-thousandth of that cost. So, surely we should be looking into it, if for no other reason than because a billionaire at some point in the next couple of decades could just say, ‘Hey, I’m just going to do this for the world.’ And conceivably actually do it. And then of course we’d like to know if there’s a really bad thing that would happen through doing that. But this is what could avoid actually any catastrophic outcomes, not just cutting carbon emissions through more solar panels–which will, in any reasonable estimate have a negligible effect over the next half century.

Ok, so maybe we don’t care about the “climate” as much as we claim, but what about the fuzzy wittow animows, aren’t they endangered by us big bad humans ?

About polar bears: It seems very unlikely that we actually have good data that polar bears are decreasing. We’ve certainly seen a dramatic increase in polar bears from the 1960s, where polar bears might have had about 5-10,000 individuals in the world. Today we have somewhere between 22- and 28,000. Many, many more polar bears. And, there is no good evidence that they are actually declining. There’s no evidence that it’s decreasing. But, the important point here is: This is mostly because we’ve been much better at actually stopping shooting polar bears. But, remember: Right now, every year we still shoot somewhere between 300 and 800 polar bears. So, I mean, if you want to do something about polar bears there’s a much easier policy: Stop shooting polar bears.

Hmm that didn’t pan out either. What the hell… surely the weather must be getting more extreeeeeme ?!

If you look at some of these other things you mentioned: Droughts actually, the U.N. tells us there’s low confidence in the scale, even, of droughts. And, for the United States, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP; renamed USGCRP, U.S. Global Change Research Program) tells us droughts have for the most part become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the United States over the last century. So, we’re simply wrong on droughts. Again, in the future, there’s possibly going to be more droughts some places. Likewise, for floods: We’re actually not even sure globally whether there are more or less floods. The U.N. Climate Panel tells us they don’t even know: they have no confidence in the sign of the trend. Certainly, the cost of U.S. flooding has decreased over the last century–dramatically so. It’s probably decreased from–a typical cost back around 1903 was about 2% of GDP. Today that cost is back to 0.2%. So, we’ve seen a dramatic decline in these costs. Likewise for hurricanes. We’ve actually seen fewer hurricanes hitting the United States, not more. And again, it’s important because as you mention, a lot of people have the sense that there’s more and more hurricanes. What they are actually seeing–and I think this is important to point this out, once again, is more the CNN effect: that we see more and more of every hurricane that happens. And so we get the impression that things are getting worse and worse. But really what we are seeing is, we are seeing more and more of it. Actually, if you look at the continental land-falling of hurricanes in the United States, both the–all the hurricanes have been declining, not increasing. And also the strong or the major ones that are Category 3 and over also have been declining, not increasing. And again, this simply bears repeating: We get the impression from media that this is happening more and more; but in reality if you do the numbers it’s happening probably less and less. Certainly for hurricanes in the United States. But the reality here is we are getting a very bad picture from media, because we are only looking at how often do we hear about it. It’s a little bit like back in the 1990s, if you remember, everybody talked about how there’s more and more crime, while all the crime statistics were actually declining. But we saw more and more about these stories, about a person being raped or home break-ins, and all these terrible things happening. And they’re really all true. But we’re not going to be able to make good policy decisions unless we actually look at the data. And the data clearly told us back then we were seeing less crime, not more. And likewise, what we are seeing here is, typically, that we actually tackle climate catastrophes better and better. Not worse and worse.

Three swings, three misses… Damn it! Turns out that we know far less than we think we do about the world,ii because even in the Big Data Era, we possess only a tiny fraction of the possible information about our world and it will always be thus because the possible data points approach infinity and our knowledge is inherently finite.iii  So if we’re still worried, concerned, or even outright scared about carbon-climate-ism, there’s always the ol’ guide to circles, or to quote JP, we ought to set our houses in perfect order before we criticise the world.

Hot wars seem a thing of the past and trade warz the flavour of the day, but that doesn’t give us the right to scapegoat elemental molecules for our lack of vision for a better tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a skill. Practice it.
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  1. Archived.
  2. Even if we’re learning an awful lot about shopping and consumer behaviour, we haven’t the faintest clue how many species are being created every day. Yes, many are going extinct, although our certainty of this in necessarily limited and we’ve been proven wrong on several occasions when species “came back from extinction,” particularly for smaller species that we can’t tag/track as readily, but there are also many species being created that we don’t have the faintest clue about.

    I’m all for biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, which is why I’m in favour of limiting environmental pollution of air, water, and earth, but for very basic reasons of epistemic rigour and empirical skepticism, I’m completely against this nebulous “climate” bullshit for which humans have no serious frame of reference and for which tasteless rents are being extracted left, right, and centre.

  3. What else is “God” but epistemic opacity ? What, you have a better definition ? Take it up with Spinoza!

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