Category Archives: politics

What the government shutdown can tell us about the politics of climate legislation

This past Friday, the Diane Rehm show had a discussion about the recent shutdown of the Federal Government as Republicans tried to defund the Affordable Care Act.

There was a brief exchange that illustrates a dynamic I have been harping on for years, with respect to the idea of getting Republicans to vote for climate legislation. The panel is talking about the shutdown and the goal to defund the American Care Act, but the dynamic discussed would apply equally to voting for some sort of cap and trade, carbon tax, or fee and dividend program to cut domestic emissions.

Lori Montgomery:  We’ve reported, you know, endlessly, ad nauseam that Boehner himself, you know, told his rank and file not to try to fight Obamacare on the government funding bill. That was his preference. But you had this campaign led largely by outside groups, like the Jim DeMint-run Heritage Foundation and Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, who are Tea Party-backed guys. All summer, they were beating the drum against Obamacare. And they turned the heads of enough Republicans that Boehner could not proceed with a clean CR.

Ari Shapiro:  Lori… referenced outside groups which are a huge factor on this, which has gone under-remarked upon. Any Republican who acknowledges reality, that Obamacare is not going to be repealed, that at some point government funding is going to have to go into effect, that they probably will not get their fullest of demands. Any Republican who comes out and says that right now has a target painted on their back by some of these conservative groups that are very intent on funding primary challengers to force Republicans to adhere to this ideology that says we won’t budge.

[S]o many of these Republicans represent these blood-red districts where the demographic trends are going in the opposite direction from the rest of the country. The rest of the country is getting more diverse. It’s getting younger. These districts are getting more white. They’re getting older.

They represent districts where Romney beat Obama by a huge margin. And so the American people that they are representing do not necessarily look like the rest of the American people, and they have no incentive to negotiate with Democrats because that just means they’ll get primaried and kicked out in the next election.

Jeff Mason:  Well, and exactly. It also means that they won’t get punished for what some people think is really irresponsible behavior. It’s quite the contrary. What they’re seeing is that their political base is quite happy with the government shutdown and quite happy with the stand they’re taking on the Affordable Care Act.

Image courtesy of Flickr user “Fibonacci Blue”, used under Creative Commons

So we’re left with this. Even though there are Republicans who were amenable to funding the government rather than shutting it down as a last ditch attempt to sabotage health care legislation, they are constrained by outside interest groups who will primary them at the first sign of ‘appeasement’, and they’re also seated in districts with an increasingly fringe constituency, who are scared, angry and feel like they have lost control of the country.

The same seems to be true for the time being on climate legislation. Polling shows that while people don’t like what they imagine “ObamaCare” to be, they actually quite like the specific provisions of the actual Affordable Care Act. Similarly, polling shows that climate change isn’t perceived as a terribly immediate problem for the average voter, but specific actions relating to mitigating climate change are quite popular. But any Republican that shows a willingness to work on climate legislation is risking ideologically/industry-backed outside groups funding a primary challenge from their right, and their constituents are increasingly out of touch with the country on support for common sense actions on climate.

There are some people who would have you believe that this opposition to the Affordable Care Act, as well as climate legislation, is an organic, bottom up, ‘will of the people’ type thing. The irony of course is that the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act was a conservative/Republican idea created as a market-based alternative to feared universal health care. Similarly, cap and trade was a conservative, market-based alternative to command and control options for pollution regulation, and until relatively recently, embrace of cap and trade (or a carbon tax) was a standard Republican position. The opposition to the Affordable Care Act and climate legislation does not stem from some organic, principled, groundswell of belief about what is best for the country, but rather is a form of tribal identity politics, which is fueled by special interests and think tank astroturfing and discourse policing.

Same sh|t, different year

Image courtesy of Flickr user “epSos.de”, used under Creative Commons.

Hey, look!

It’s Daniel Sarewitz recycling a column from back in 2010 about how Republicans and science don’t mix and how it’s everyone’s fault but Republicans‘.

Sarewitz wrings his hands:

That President Barack Obama chose to mention “technology, discovery and innovation” in his passionate victory speech in November shows just how strongly science has come, over the past decade or so, to be a part of the identity of one political party, the Democrats, in the United States.

Huh?

President George W. Bush, according to his own scientific advisor, “included science and technology topics in his State of the Union speeches to an unprecedented extent.”

Does that mean during the Bush presidency “science was part of the identity of one political party” namely the Republicans? Would anyone make such an idiotic claim? Yet, this is the quality of “evidence” Sarewitz marshals for his “argument”.

Sarewitz seems to really love telling science what it “must” do, and it’s all rubbish. Science “must” bow down to religion for no particular reason other than Sarewitz’s own deficit of imagination. Science “must” cater to the hostile desires of Republicans for the tautological reason that Republicans are hostile to science.

As I have mentioned previously, I don’t think Democrats have some sort of special relationship with science. Far from it. I emphatically do not wish to see science as a whole become associated with any one political party, purely based on hostility from an opposition.

There are good arguments to make about how we can go about increasing Republican acceptance of science. But those arguments involve changing the way Republicans relate to science, rather than changing the institution of science itself. The only thing science “must” do is continue to get results. How people make use of the process is a vital but secondary concern.

Mainstream American Republican/conservative political ideology and self-identification has to a large extent become inextricably linked to the belief systems of unfettered industrial capitalism and to a somewhat lesser extent fundamentalist Christian religion. Both of these worldviews are hostile to scientifically-demonstrated phenomena because of the perception that said phenomena contradict their underpinnings. This is not a problem for science. It’s a problem for those ideologies, or at least the way their adherents approach science.

Berating science and scientists for problems that lie elsewhere is an easy, Slate-y piece of contrarianism and hippie-punching, but it will do nothing to fix the conflict.

How do the Sarewitz’s of the world imagine science can be even more accomodating to religion on the topic of evolution? How many other originally Republican/conservative solutions (pigovian taxation, cap and trade, etc.) to environmental problems need be proffered to Republicans?

As Alex Pareene put it, “Maybe scientists should just declare that climate change can be fixed by eliminating the estate tax, or bombing Iran. That should do it.”

At what point does the hippie-punching give way to addressing the roots of the problem where they actually lay?

Matt Ridley and the Wall Street Journal misrepresent paper cited in Ridley column

Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) evaluated from paleoclimatic data (PALAEOSENS group, Rohling et al., 2012).

There’s more to say about the latest attempt to deny the mainstream estimate of equilibrium climate sensitivity (e.g. NRC, 1979; Annan and Hargreaves, 2006; Knutti and Hegerl, 2008; Rohling et al., 2012) by Matt Ridley (remember him?) at the Wall Street Journal later. But I just wanted to point out something rather troubling about one of Ridley’s and Nic Lewis’s (the source of Ridley’s claims) citations.

Ridley claimed:

Some of the best recent observationally based research also points to climate sensitivity being about 1.6°C for a doubling of CO2. An impressive study published this year by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Center and colleagues gives a most-likely estimate of 1.6°C.

I recalled the Aldrin et al. paper from the last time it made the rounds in the “skeptic” blogosphere, when Chip Knappenberger cited it as finding a “low” climate sensitivity.

The funny thing about the Aldrin et al. paper is that it really doesn’t find a “low” ECS at all. Their main result is an ECS of 2.0°C, which is completely consistent with the IPCC AR4 range. Moreover, they caution that their main result is incomplete, because it explicitly does not account for the effect of clouds:

When cloud behavior is included as another term, the ECS increases significantly, from ~2.5°C to 3.3°C depending on the values used:

Surely this wasn’t the Aldrin et al. paper Riddley and Lewis were citing as finding an ECS of 1.6°C.

The 1.6°C value literally never appears in the text of the paper.

Of course, it was entirely possible that Aldrin had published another paper on ECS this year finding 1.6°C that I was simply unable to find. I reached out to Bishop Hill and Matt Ridley for some clarification:

  1. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient Which Aldrin 2012 paper was Lewis citing on your blog?
  2. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Can you provide either the title or the DOI for the Aldrin paper you cited in your WSJ piece? Thanks!
  3. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak Environmetrics 2012; 23: 253–271 Panel A of Fig 6.
  4. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient The one that finds an ECS of 2.5-3.3K when it bothers to account for clouds (4.8)? LOL.
  5. mattwridley
    @thingsbreak wattsupwiththat.com/2012/12… Aldrin, M., et al., 2012. Bayesian estimation of climate sensitiv… Environmetrics, doi:10.1002/env.2140.
  6. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Did you personally read the paper? Where does the 1.6 number come from? Did you read section 4.8?
  7. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak Most likely values still only 2 ish. If we are to include cloud lifetime effect shld we include other highly uncertain effects?
  8. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient If you’re making a comparison to IPCC values, should use most apples-to-apples comparison, which Aldrin et al. discuss in 4.8.
  9. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient Where does the 1.6 value come from anyway? Literally doesn’t exist in paper.
  10. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak He got it by measuring the graph (It’s actually slightly lower I believe).
  11. mattwridley
    @thingsbreak lewis calculated it from aldrin’s paper’s data/charts and aldrin agreed it is correct
  12. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Aldrin agreed that apples to apples comparison with IPCC ECS estimates is 1.6K? Doubtful. Directly contradicts paper itself.

I posted the following to Nic Lewis at Bishop Hill’s blog:

I think that some readers, and probably the authors of a paper themselves, might find it at least slightly misleading for you to claim findings on their behalf that the paper itself does not actually state.

The main result from Aldrin et al., as reported by Aldrin et al., is an ECS of 2.0°C. The authors caution that this result probably isn’t an apples to apples comparison to other ECS estimates due to the unaccounted for cloud term, and find that the value increases to ~2.5-3.3°C with clouds.

Rather than report either of these values, you simply claim Aldrin et al. “an impressively thorough study, gives a most likely estimate for ECS of 1.6°C…”.

Ridley likewse claims, “An impressive study published this year by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Center and colleagues gives a most-likely estimate of 1.6°C.”

It would be easy for me to lob accusations of bad faith, as we don’t know each other and this is just the internet. Instead, I would encourage you, if your goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible, and try to make an impact beyond the “skeptic” and conservative blogospheres, to be more upfront about the scientific literature about ECS.

Ignoring the two main findings of a paper for values that you’re either estimating from a curve or are creating yourself based on data not used by the paper will be seen by at least some people to be misleading. Claiming that ECS cannot be estimated by paleo data is absurd, especially when so many are aware of efforts like the PALAEOSENS project and various paleoclimatic intercomparison groups.

I won’t attempt to read minds or divine motivations. I will simply suggest that what you have been doing thus far will cause some people to dismiss what you’re trying to say due to perceived dishonesty.

I hope you take this criticism in the constructive context in which it is being offered. There will be plenty of time for name-calling and insults later.

References:

  • Aldrin, M., M. Holden, P. Guttorp, R. B. Skeie, G. Myhre, and T. K. Berntsen (2012), Bayesian estimation of climate sensitivity based on a simple climate model fitted to observations of hemispheric temperatures and global ocean heat content, Environmetrics, 23(3), 253–271, doi:10.1002/env.2140.
  • Annan, J. D., and J. C. Hargreaves (2006), Using multiple observationally-based constraints to estimate climate sensitivity, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, 4 PP., doi:200610.1029/2005GL025259.
  • Knutti, R., and G. C. Hegerl (2008), The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes, Nature Geoscience, 1(11), 735–743, doi:10.1038/ngeo337.
  • National Research Council (1979),  Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  • Rohling, E.J., et al. (2012), Making sense of palaeoclimate sensitivity, Nature, 491(7426), 683–691, doi:10.1038/nature11574.

Christopher Monckton, birther – Part IV

Words fail. Previous entries here, here, and here.

Fox “News” is Beyond Parody

On the heels of what I was saying about conservative conspiracy mongering about polling data

News Corp/Fox are beyond parody. Their own polls show the same leads they’re conspiracy theorizing about:

Via Talking Points Memo.

Reality’s “Liberal” Bias – Presidential Polling Edition

I’ve been trying to avoid discussing the 2012 Presidential Election in the US for a number of reasons. I don’t think the Romney-Ryan ticket has been as terrible as the addition of Palin to the McCain ticket was in terms of climate (and science generally). I also sympathize greatly with the reluctance of non-”movement conservative” libertarians to vote for either front-runner given Obama’s foreign policy and civil liberties record and Romney’s rhetoric regarding the same.

That’s not to say I don’t have my own preferences or believe that there is no real difference between candidates. Rather this election seems to me, far more than the 2008 election, to be about issues that likely have much more to do with differing visions of the kind of America one wishes to see, rather than based on issues of objective fact.

But the above tweet, from conservative journalist Robert Stacy McCain (no relation to the 2008 Republican nominee), seemed worth commenting on. This idea that polling itself has somehow become part of the evil liberal-science nexus conspiring against conservatives is echoed by other conservative pundits and outlets, such as Townhall, Rick Wilson of Intrepid Media, the Weekly Standard, radio host Hugh Hewitt, the National Review, Fox (about 27 seconds in):

and even by the Romney campaign itself!

It has gotten to the point where conservatives have constructed an alternate reality in which the “liberal bias” has been removed from polling, showing Romney with an enormous lead:

If that sounds familiar, you might be aware of Conservapedia- the alternative to Wikipedia cleansed of filthy liberal lies about evolution, relativity, global warming, homosexuality, and the Bible.

In reality, what has changed recently isn’t so much the polling itself. Rather, it’s that the media has finally begun picking up on what the polling has been saying for quite some time. Media members will openly confess that their institutional biases (towards “balance” even where none might exist, towards conflict, towards drama, etc.) are in favor of making the race seem closer than it is. And for the most part, the media has until very recently been portraying the 2012 election as very much up in the air.

Meanwhile, polling-based election forecast models with good track records such as 538 and the Princeton Election Consortium have been projecting a likely Obama victory for months.

From 538:

And from (my preferred source for election polling) Sam Wang’s PEC:

I know that there are people who think partisanship is a zero sum game. If “your team” isn’t winning, it’s losing. The “other guys” are the enemy. And on and on. My vision of an ideal politics is similar to my vision of scientific skepticism. There is a loyal (to the advancement of knowledge or well-being) opposition between dissenting viewpoints. One that seeks to converge on solutions to problems based on an accumulation of evidence, rather than ideology. It’s probably a silly hope. But it’s what I wish for nonetheless.

So while some may cheer on the embrace of epistemic closure among many conservatives, knowing that will ultimately prove poisonous, I am saddened by it for the same reason.

Votes should be earned because of the merits of policies, not because one party loses its mind while the other (barely) does not. I don’t enjoy living in a world where scientists are pushed into the hands of a political party because the other is alienating them with this kind of idiocy.

When a party can depend on a demographic’s vote merely because it’s not the “other guys”, it becomes less sensitive to constituent needs, and democracy as a whole suffers.

Just a thought for those who might believe the conservative turning away from reality is a good thing for their team.

My apology to the field of economics

Image courtesy of Flickr user “Marie Laveaux”, used under Creative Commons.

I didn’t pay that much attention to Paul Krugman prior to about 2008- not coincidentally, around the time of the Great Recession and the bizarre situation wherein political decision-making seemed to be completely divorced from widespread consensus on action.

In any event, while I recognize that his political views are not everyone’s cup of tea, I have found his insider’s glimpses into the differences between economics as a mainstream discipline vs. economics as portrayed in the public arena by turns fascinating and maddening.

He recently offered this discussion, of the kinds of disagreements economists have within the discipline as practiced in good faith, vs. the disagreements with those shaping the public discourse in media [all emphases mine]:

So, what is neoclassical economics? … We imagine an economy consisting of rational, self-interested players, and suppose that economic outcomes reflect a situation in which each player is doing the best he, she, or it can given the actions of all the other players. If nobody has market power, this comes down to the textbook picture of perfectly competitive markets with all the marginal whatevers equal.

Some economists really really believe that life is like this — and they have a significant impact on our discourse. But the rest of us are well aware that this is nothing but a metaphor; nonetheless, most of what I and many others do is sorta-kinda neoclassical because it takes the maximization-and-equilibrium world as a starting point or baseline, which is then modified — but not too much — in the direction of realism.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, very much true of Keynesian economics as practiced (leave aside discussions of What Keynes Really Meant and whether we’re all apostates). New Keynesian models are intertemporal maximization modified with sticky prices and a few other deviations (such as balance-sheet constraints). Even IS-LM loosely appeals to maximization arguments to derive the slopes of the curves, while analyzing outcomes by comparing equilibria.

Why do things this way? Simplicity and clarity. In the real world, people are fairly rational and more or less self-interested; the qualifiers are complicated to model, so it makes sense to see what you can learn by dropping them. And dynamics are hard, whereas looking at the presumed end state of a dynamic process — an equilibrium — may tell you much of what you want to know.

That sounds remarkably like any kind of modeling in systems sciences. I was thinking physics/oceanography/climate, or ecology, but Krugman follows through on this idea with an analog he’s cited before:

These motives are the reason why other fields facing similar concerns adopt similar strategies. As I wrote long ago, evolutionary theory — the biological kind — looks remarkably like neoclassical economics.

Indeed.

Hearing Krugman lay out the pretty reasonable basis that modern mainstream economics starts from, I wondered to myself just how I came to think so poorly of the field. And the answer of course was economists and economic pundits making absurd claims across all manner of media.

And Krugman cuts to the heart of that:

They claim to reject neoclassical economics, but their alternative is not an alternative model but a lot of verbiage; they talk at the economy, and imagine that by so doing they achieve a higher level of sophistication and realism than economists who try to express their ideas in terms of little models.

And they’re kidding themselves; all they’ve done is hide their implicit models and prejudices behind a dust cloud. And that’s one reason they have been so disastrously wrong at every stage of this crisis.

The economists that I was so disgusted by were not ones who simply used mainstream or even alternative models and arrived at conclusions that differed from my preferred outcomes- they were talking heads from the Wall Street Journal, doom mongering on Glenn Beck’s clown show. They pretended to be speaking plain truths that didn’t rely on “suspect” models, but of course were using models of their own- laughably unconstrained by reality, internal consistency, or the body of evidence of their field.

Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?

Imagine if the field of climate science was judged by the talking heads or blogologists who eschew physics-based climate models as fraudulent, perversely talk about how a warmer MCA means we have nothing to worry about from unchecked increases in radiative forcing, or make endless predictions of cooling just around the corner that never come true.

Whether or not mainstream economics ultimately contends with the biogeochemical limits of a finite system, I shouldn’t judge it against the worst of its mouthpieces.

No one could have predicted

Remember how a few years back, supporters of aggressive climate mitigation legislation were castigated for being shrill, tribal, hippies? And how if only we tried a “third way” of making incremental progress with opponents of greenhouse gas limits, a bipartisan tide would lift us all to new clean energy heights?

Good times.

[Via]

Christopher Monckton, birther – Part III

This is not a spoof or comedy bit. This is Monckton appearing for BirtherReport.com. Wearing a US flag shirt. And a cowboy hat. And a (prop?) gun.

He also titillated Heartland‘s annual climate denialapolooza with similar birther antics.

Back in March, Monckton went full-fledged birther on the Dennis Miller show, claiming the President’s birth certificate is a forgery

Previously, Monckton hinted (at a Koch-funded Tea Party rally) that he believed that President Obama was born in Kenya. While he later claimed to be joking, Monckton rejected the idea that the President was definitely born in the US.

Prior to that, Monckton conflated Obama with the mass-murdering terrorist Osama bin Laden, and claimed Obama and others seeking to mitigate climate change would “kill tens of millions” in a keynote speech hosted by the Heartland Institute.

Note:  Monckton’s birtherism- along with his claims of inventing a cure for HIV, of winning a Nobel prize, of being a member of the House of Lords, etc.- is simply crank magnetism in action. Those who are cranks in one area are very seldom cranks in that area alone, be it because they’re shilling for special interests, indoctrinated in an unscientific ideology, or they’re just a bit touched. We see this time and again with Dick Lindzen’s and Fred Seitz’s smoking-cancer denial, Baliunas’s, Michaels’s, Singer’s,  Happer’s, and Seitz’s CFCs-ozone depletion denial, Roy Spencer’s creationism and “DDT = a holocaust” claims, and on and on and on. Those that deny the reality of anthropogenic warming rarely limit themselves to that delusion alone.

The point here is not source degradation. Their arguments, such as they are, should be and are refuted on their merits elsewhere. But for those who like to keep track of such things, crank magnetism just gained another data point.

Christopher Monckton, birther – Part II

For those outside the US, “birtherism” is the conspiracy among the paranoid conservative base that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake. Some believe that this is because Obama wasn’t born in the US, others believe it’s because it conceals his “real” father, others believe it has something to do with the race his parents claimed for him, etc. The point is, all that is required to be a “birther” is to believe that Obama’s birth certificate isn’t real.

Previously, Monckton hinted (at a Koch-funded Tea Party rally) that he believed that President Obama was born in Kenya. While he later claimed to be joking, Monckton rejected the idea that the President was definitely born in the US. Prior to that, Monckton conflated Obama with the mass-murdering terrorist Osama bin Laden, and claimed Obama and others seeking to mitigate climate change would “kill tens of millions” in a keynote speech hosted by the right wing, anti-regulation, climate denialism front group Heartland Institute.

Yesterday, Monckton went full-fledged birther on the Dennis Miller show, claiming the President’s birth certificate is a forgery:

I mean, hey you got a president who has a false birth certificate on the Internet, on the White House website…

I don’t know whether he is Kenyan or not… The point is that if I were you, I would want to make absolutely sure that he was born here before allowing him to be elected. And the birth certificate that he put up on that website, I don’t know where he was born. But I do know that birth certificate isn’t genuine…

It appears in layers on the screen in such a way you can remove quite separately each of the individual dates. You use Adobe Illustrator and each of the individual dates is in its own separate layer. This thing has been fabricated. Sheriff [Joe] Arpaio of Arizona has had a team on this for six months. And he has now gone public and said there’s something very desperately wrong with this and of course nobody is saying anything because the entire electorate has been fooled…

I’m no birther [sic], don’t get me wrong… I haven’t a clue where Obama was born and I wouldn’t want to entreat into the private grief behind investigating. But the point is, is what he has done on the White House website is he has put up a document which he is plainly a forgery and I would regard that as a very serious matter.

Par for the course, Monckton doesn’t appear to understand the basic definition of a word he’s using. What he is engaged in is the definition of birtherism.

Monckton’s birtherism- along with his claims of inventing a cure for HIV, of winning a Nobel prize, of being a member of the House of Lords, etc.- is simply crank magnetism in action. Those who are cranks in one area are very seldom cranks in that area alone, be it because they’re shilling for special interests, indoctrinated in an unscientific ideology, or they’re just a bit touched. We see this time and again with Dick Lindzen’s and Fred Seitz’s smoking-cancer denial, Baliunas’s, Michaels’s, Singer’s,  Happer’s, and Seitz’s CFCs-ozone depletion denial, Roy Spencer’s creationism and “DDT = a holocaust” claims, and on and on and on. Those that deny the reality of anthropogenic warming rarely limit themselves to that delusion alone.

The point here is not source degradation. Their arguments, such as they are, should be and are refuted on their merits elsewhere. But for those who like to keep track of such things, crank magnetism just gained another data point.

UPDATE:

Whether or not you like his policies, at least you have to give the guy credit for keeping his sense of humor throughout this nonsense: