Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Report from the G8 meeting on climate

An interesting article about the recent G8 meeting on climate can be found here.

A few quotes of note:
Several said they had never known such a positive atmosphere. Nobody doubted the reality of climate science anymore.
This continues a trend that I've noticed recently. Those opposed to action now rarely attack the science. Their arguments tend to be more diffuse, with more of a focus on economic and fairness issues.

The Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky, told the BBC that the US was now acting urgently to tackle greenhouse gases - then later admitted that the country's emissions would continue to rise.
The statement that the U.S. is working hard on climate change is as accurate as the statements "We will be greeted as liberators" and "The insurgency is in it's last throes". The U.S. is, of course, doing essentially nothing.

So, for all the positive mood of the meeting in this spectacular northern Mexican city, surrounded by towering limestone mountains, it is hard to be optimistic.

The UK Environment Secretary David Miliband said there had been real and practical progress but warned that the pace of action had to be much faster or CO2 emissions by 2050 would be 137% higher than in 2003.

"Business as usual", he said, was not an option.

One delegate told me he thought the pace of political ambition on emissions was so slow that we had a 1,000-1 chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

He later sent me a text message to assert that he had been overly pessimistic. The odds, he said, were only 100-1.

The chances were bad, he said, but it was still worth fighting on.
I'm not as pessimistic as this delegate, but I agree that we are at present far away from any workable program to stabilize atmospheric CO2. Perhaps the 2009 inauguration of a new President will change that.


George Landis said...

Ah yes, the "new" President will change everything eh Dr. D? Amazing how naive the liberals can be when they think they have won something. Wait and see, it WILL be business as usual even if Algore was elected, and that doesn't worry me in the least, since there isn't much of a problem to deal with anyway, that's why the UN is so good at working on it, reminds me of how well they did with Iraq, Iran, Darfur, and North Korea over the years. LOL

Mark UK said...

And there we have the issue don't we. No debate about science. Just the Right not wanting to agree with the liberals. Fact is just like ozone depletion, cigarettes and lead in the end action will be taken because the public demands it. If even a guy running for governor in Texas starts using global warming in his election campaign things are changing...

With regard to the UN I have to agree that the current administration did a much better job in that. They invaded a sovereign country based on no evidence in the process making sure they lost almost all of their international partners and managed to make Iraq into a real success...

Then the US managed also to remove the two biggest stabilisers of Iran (Iraq and the Taleban) in the Middle East. Good going! Resulting of course in the situation where Iran and North Korea know that the US is so tied up in Iraq that there is no way action will be taken against them.

Splendid! If only the Bush administration was willing to take such pre-emptive action against climate change...

EliRabett said...

mark uk has it right. It is not that a new US president would change everything. It is that the current one has messed things up so completely that the ability of the next president to do anything will be greatly limited and the best possible may be to staunch our bleeding.

Eric said...


Over at Prometheus, Roger has described at great length the many institutional problems that he believes contribute to climate policy gridlock, and has downplayed the Bush/Cheney/Big Oil factor as a significant roadblock. Certainly there are a great many folks on the left who argue that replacing a few key republicans would open the door to significant progress. You seem to be leaning the same way. Care to elaborate on why and how you think a more liberal administration will get the ball rolling? For some of us it does not seem as self-evident as the Sierra Club would have us believe.


Andrew Dessler said...


I actually don't think that a liberal administration makes regulation most likely. What is the best bet? A McCain administration. He is clearly interested in AGW and takes the problem seriously, and he can get the votes of Republicans that a Democratic President would have some trouble getting.

That said, I do think that if a Democrat is elected, we'll see some action on this. I tend to believe that a huge part of the problem is the present administration, and if that changes we'll see some action.


David Graves said...

Regarding public policy choices (as oposed to the state of the science), I would like to pose the question to Mr. Landis. Ron Suskind has titled his latest book on the administration's foreign policy "The One-Percent Solution". The title comes from the Vice-Presisident's assessment that even threats with a one percent chance of being credible need to be countered with the utmost energy, diligence and ultimately, deadly force.

If that is the standard of our response for threats to our way of life, why is the standard of response so much higher for the threat posed by climate change?

George Landis said...

Mr. Graves, the answer is quite obvious, Ron is a left wing Democrat political operative who hates George Bush and all things conservative and Republican, so his motives are not objective by any stretch of the imagination. Secondly, even if his absurd politically motivated assertions were true about foreign policy (much evidence shows otherwise BTW), environmental/economic/business policy are quite different than external terrorist and miltiary threats in the subset of foreign policy you refer to. You can't possibly think AGW is on par with being blown up by the Islamic fanatics who want to destroy America and have acted numerous times to try.

Mark UK said...


Could we be a bit more realistic. Terrorists might want to destroy America, they never will. How many terror attacks were there before 9/11 on American soil by foreign terrorists? None. How many have there since been? None.

AGW will impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people and cause great droughts in parts of the world where agriculture is already on a fine balance. Many, many more people are likely to die because of climate change than terror attacks.

Then there is the economic impact on the USA of climate change.

It was OK to attack Iraq even though the outcome was extremely (and still is) uncertain and even though there was no link to the 9/11 attacks? Yet when it comes to AGW all of a sudden 100% evidence is required of every part of the issue and the argument is that we should not take any action because the result of those actions is not 100% predictable...

It's a joke. No, a new president is not the whole answer, but it is part of it. I also hope for a more unifying President. Not Mrs Clinton for one as that would even more divide the USA.

Bill F said...

So how much did Al Gore get accomplished as 3rd in command (behind Hillary) of the "most environmentally friendly" administration in the last 30 years? Very little. Why? Both parties cater to business interests. The big myth in politics is that republicans favor business and democrats favor the little guy. They ALL favor business! When the big business interests in the US want something done about AGW it will happen...until then, it won't matter which party is in control of the white house or congress.

David Graves said...

I posed the question I did as a means of understanding Mr. Landis' means of analysis of the best response to evolving evidence. Instead a thoughtful response, we are subjected to a rant, an irrelevant load of bile that may make Mr. Landis feel better, but that leaves me completely in the dark as to what Landis' believes might happen on the off chance he turns out to be wrong. It seems to me there is a disproportionate downside if denialists are wrong, totally beyond the scale of the downside to human well-being if those who believe that AGW is a threat turn out to be wrong. Is that reduced to terms that won't bring out the Mr. Hyde in George Landis?

George Landis said...

Why Mr. Graves, I had no idea you were posing a real question whwre you actually were interested in my answer, when you quote biased, ridiculously partisan authors or websites (as some do) I took it to be a rhetorical question with no interest in my answer. My answer to your question of what might happen if I am wrong and AGW is a huge threat to civilization as we know it, is this: I don't know. Do you? Can you tell me with some (50% chance or greater) certainty what will happen? If you are wrong and this is a tempest in a teapot, I know with 100% certainty what will happen, if I am given the actions you propose, as with the McCain-Lieberman bills where careful, rigorous economic analysis was used to determine the 100% certain economic damage to the US economy.

This is the point in every debate I have had with AGW believers, where it all breaks down, because they don't know or won't say what actions they propose to handle the satanic gas. So what are your's kind sir? If I knew that perhaps we have no disagreement, as I would encourage and favor regulations on real pollution that may actually have the side effect of reducing CO2.

Dr. J said...

Dr. D, I think the far more interesting trend I have seen emerge over the last few years is the, in my opinion, unholy alliance between some industry and business groups and the more radical environmental and lobby organizations. A story from yesterday is yet another example of this,


In this one, the big insurance companies have a vested profit motive in increasing rates to handle possible AGW disaster costs, of course long before anything happens, cute huh?

In another example, many of the electric utilities are busting a gut to get their CO2 regulated, and joining forces with people like the Pew Center for Climate, a well funded left leaning environmental lobby group, run by a former Clinton EPA appointee (she's not a scientist, but plays one in the media).

These examples show two industries who not only live in regulated worlds, but who encourage and welcome regulation, as long as they are involved in setting the rules and manipulating the administrators, as with FERC and the insurance boards of the states. This is good for their business, it creates huge barriers to entry (a la Porter), and allows them windfall profits far beyond normal business environments. Thus I think this co-opting of the AGW forces to their profit motives could be a powerful future force far beyond politics and much more effective.

David Graves said...

Memo to Mr. Landis:
From: David Graves
Re: Rhetoric and the Kitchen Sink

I brought up the notion of the 1% risk threshhold not to elicit your beliefs about on Ron Suskind, Thomas Ricks "Fiasco", Seymour Hersh or anybody else's opinions or reporting about the present administration, the war in Iraq or any other extraneous (to this blog) topic. That discussion does not have a place here. What I was trying to do is understand your analysis of how we as a society should proceed given the imperfect state of our knowledge and our flawed ability to predict the future. Get it (yet)?
The point is neither you nor I has a crystal ball. I am not asserting that either of us does. What I am trying to understand is what level of downside possibility you think it reasonable to act on with some provision of something other than business as usual.

Energy efficiency is one way to address the threat of AGW. You seem to believe such an investment is a destructive waste of money. What about the geopolitical issues of where our petroleum comes from? I think any patriot (and I include both of us in that category) would like to make Hugo Chavez, the Nigerian kleptocracy and our friends in Iran a little less in control of our destiny. If we invest in advanced coal-fired power generation, perhaps we can stop pollution our ecosystems with mercury. That they give the oppurtunity to consider sequestration at some point in the future seems to me useful, since we don't yet know enough about sequestration technology's efeectiveness or cost. To preclude the possibility of sequestration when we don't know enough seems reckless stupid or both. I could go on.
You don't know if your house will burn down yet I bet you have homeowner's insurance and maybe even a fire extinguisher. You probably wear a selt belt too.

David Graves said...

Dr. J:
I bet you believe in the free market. Just a guess, but humor me for a minute. The situation you describe would indicate that the casualty insurance business behaves like a cartel, not a free market. If the situation is as you say, then a) there's a conspiracy amongst insurers and reinsurers and/or b) there's a business opportunity for a compnay that wants to take on the risk to make a pile of money by attracting business by charging lower premiums. Isn't b) how capitalism is supposed to work?

Dr. J said...

It is Mr. Graves, but you see a regulated market is not a free market, rather more like an oligopolistic or monopolistic market model. Insurance and electric utilities are still primarily regulated markets in most of the world (including most of the US), thus not free in the true capitalist sense. Therefore it is much easier to manipulate these markets by the few large players, take a look at how many companies you can buy electricity or property casualty insurance from where you live. Then see if you can get a much cheaper deal from any "competitor" than you currently have. You will find the price differentials are small, that's because the rates are regulated. So if you think that these companies have little to gain from creating and manipulating regulations on various things that greatly impact their profits (since capitalist competition is restrained to non-existant), then you are being a bit naive.

David Graves said...

Ah but you miss the importance of the reinsurance market. As with many businesses, there is a cycle where periods of higher earnings attract more competitors. Higher earnings in casualty insurance have inevitably attracted companies willing to rite business at lower premiums to attrct business. Average premiums go down until there is an event requiring payout on the policies. For many global insurers and reinsurers, those losses of late have resulted from the recent hurricane seasons in the US. If insurers had strong pricing power, why would they leave a market entirely (as in Florida), leavin a stae agency to cover the otherwise uninsurable? And who is teling the reinsurers how they might price theri risk coverage? Ask the folks at Lloyd's, or General Re or Munich Re or Swiss Reto explain to their investors why their earnings lately have been in the dumper for the risks they assumed related to climate. They don't care if Katrina and Rita were stronger because of climate change, all they know is they got an unwanted haircut, and they aren't eager for another one or two.
You might want to do a little homework on how the insurance business works on the property and casualty side. Go visit Bermuda and look at all the big shiny buildings reinsurance has built.

Mark UK said...

When it comes to insurers they actually have a very good handle on climate change and the results. it might be the hurricanes that make the vening news but it is the smaller less newsworthy items that show what is going on...

Increased flooding, increased cases of damage by hail storms, increased drought related problems. All those predictions made by climate change scientists that are laughed at by Dr J and his fellow deniers. The insurance industry sees the results of climate change in the bootomline. And yes, it is the re-insurance industry that is key. they are starting to move away from some areas.



George Landis said...

Mr. Graves, I think we should strengthen existing laws and actually enforce them on real pollution first and foremost. Let's win the battle of SOx, NOx, Hg, O3, etc. first. New source permits should not be granted unless strict laws are enforced on the emissions, not slaps on the hand. The unhealthy and extremely dirty diesel engines should be outlawed period. Coal should be banned unless it can meet strict pollution and efficiency requirements. Old coal plants should be shut down. Energy efficiency should be rewarded with numerous tax breaks and subsidies (not punished by phony, ineffective fuel efficiency standards on cars), alternate energy should be given the same subsidies and tax breaks and research tripled into new breakthrough technology. These things will all cost consumers money, but it will be money well spent to increase energy efficiency and sustainability, as well as moving away from the unstable foreign energy sources.

What all that does NOT say is that we should regulate, measure, and reduce CO2 along some arbitrary, uncertain amount to produce some uncertain amount of cooling over some uncertain time frame. That is not the primary goal in my mind, it is energy efficiency, truly clean air that doesn't kill people directly, and a new portfolio of energy sources with more infinite and sustainable futures. So many can agree on these things, it is still a mystery to me why the liberals continue to pander to the CO2 God. That dog won't hunt, the other, more broad and acceptable reasons are all you need, aren't they? Or are you really just interested in destroying a couple of hated industries? Sorry, but that is the feeling I get from some of the AGW rhetoric. Many other people also question the pro-AGW motives here.

Dr. J said...

I'm glad you mentioned the RE market, this description by the NYT of the latest scandal (Berkshire Hathaway's company) in that crooked market is illustritive of what I am talking about when these companies manipulate regulators:

"Regulators say Reciprocal and General Re also used offshore accounts and companies to play financial shell games. For example, regulators say, Reciprocal shifted $112 million through a Bermuda company to General Re to pay claims. In a typical transaction like this, General Re would have been taking a risk that the cost of paying the claims over several years would exceed $112 million and the company's investment returns on the money would not make up the difference.

But the risk to General Re was eliminated by a promise from the Bermuda company, First Virginia Reinsurance Ltd., to reimburse it for any losses over $112 million, regulators say.

Reciprocal executives incorporated First Virginia in Bermuda in 1984, but regulators said the company was largely run out of Reciprocal's Richmond office. It is unusual for a company of Reciprocal's size to have an offshore entity like First Virginia, and the company made heavy use of it.

A long series of deals between Reciprocal and General Re from 1990 to 2002 were simply loans masquerading as reinsurance contracts, regulators say. They say that some of these transactions were devised to deceive General Re's regulators by artificially inflating First Virginia's ability to make good on transactions with General Re, and that Reciprocal itself guaranteed those loans.

When stealth loans did not do the trick, regulators say, Reciprocal simply went for old-fashioned cover-ups, by arbitrarily reducing estimates on potential claims and reporting some liabilities as assets. "

Now, what were you saying about how this poor industry has all these competitors chomping at the bit to come bring low prices to this highly regulated market?

EliRabett said...

If you actually think about the proposition that we should win the battle of SOx, NOx, Hg, O3, etc. first you get huge reductions in CO2 emissions.

First because diffuse sources such as automobiles and home furnaces will have to become more efficient to meet such requirements. Second because coal will become a much less used fuel as the cost of cleaning up the emissions rises..

Thus the power of unintended Lomborgianism.

There is an apples and oranges issue though which is often missed. SOx, NOx, Hg, O3 have short residence times in the atmosphere. The effect of any particular packet of emissions only lasts for a few years . Adding excess CO2 to the atmosphere now(and yes it is a pollutant in large enough does) has effects that lasts for centuries.

If you want a medical analogy, the former are poisons, the latter causes cancer.

ankh said...

One thing we need is better access to the data that the government has collected and not yet made available.


5 - 9 October 1998


"... Dollar for dollar, the most
efficient way to investigate arctic climate change is to make these historical data public and place them in a national archive. The primary data set at issue is ice draft data.
"The corporate knowledge of how these data were taken and what issues must be dealt with in resurrecting them is at risk of being lost as staff members at the Arctic Submarine Laboratory turn over. The data should be made public in as elementary a form as possible, that is, ice draft profiles with as much spatial and temporal information attached as security permits. Efforts to pursue this goal are under way but reach back only to 1986 and cover only the Gore box. Earlier data and the broader geographical coverage of the SCICEX box are desirable.
"Similarly, there are bathymetric data that have been collected over the years of submarine cruises that would fill in our map of the Arctic and would help us in deciding which area to map in the future. The geology and geophysics community is awaiting these data...."
--- end snippet ----

Oh, 1986 and the Gore box? Then Vice President Gore did get part of the Navy's Arctic sea ice data declassified. On the map, the area of the Arctic for which the Navy's files have been opened -- that's the Gore box.

David Graves said...

Correction regarding the Gore Box. In 1986 our Vice-President was George H.W. Bush, later to become 41. Al Gore was then a senator from Tennessee.