As the formal release of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change draws nearer, quite a few skeptics have been going public to say that the evidence is now overwhelming. Here, for example, is Michael Shermer, who, appropriately enough, writes the Skeptic column for the Scientific American. He’s no fan of eco-alarmism, but he is a skeptic in the true sense of the term – someone who demands convincing evidence but is willing, when presented with such evidence to change their views. And here’s Sir David Attenborough.
There may still be a few more such announcements to come. But it’s clear by now that the evidence is more than enough to convince genuine sceptics. Those who refuse to accept overwhelming evidence are more correctly described as denialists.
If the accumulation of evidence isn’t enough to convince former ‘sceptics’ to change their tune, how about the embarrassment of being associated with the clown show that is denialism in 2006? To take a few of many examples, how about:
* The Lavoisier Institute’s Bob Foster, predicting global cooling on the basis of work done by well-known astrologer (and all-round cycle crank), the late Theodor Landscheidt;
* The Competitive Enterprise Institute ad campaign on the theme ‘CO2: they call it pollution, we call it Life!’; or
* ‘long range weather forecaster’ (ahem) Ken Ring, who says that “CO2 is also nearly twice as heavy as air (molecular weight 44, that of air 29) so it cannot rise anywhere beyond haze level of a couple of hundred feet.” His work is published by the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (via Tim Lambert?
At least Ring and Landscheidt are or were sincerely deluded. The same can’t be said of the CEI, which is at the centre of the dark nexus between global warming denialism and the tobacco lobby, symbolised by people like Stephen Milloy, Fred Seitz and Fred Singer.
Of course, not all the scientists who accept the evidence on global warming are sensible. Given that there are thousands of scientists working on the topic, this is inevitable. There may even be some as silly as the examples listed above (though I’m not aware of any). But take them away and you still have thousands of serious scientists and tens of thousands of papers supporting the scientific side of the argument. Take away the Lavoisier Institute, CEI and the rest from the anti-science side and you have nothing.
In this context, it’s interesting to note a failed attempt by Ron Bailey to split the difference, counterposing the CEI ads and Al Gore’s presentation of An Inconvenient Truth. While he’s taken some pretty dubious stances, Bailey has more concern for his credibility than the clowns mentioned above, and, after taking a hammering for his obfuscation, he quickly recognised that the CEI was truly indefensible.
147 thoughts on “The last of the sceptics”
i was just watching lucas heights live, via webcam on a site called ‘screw this thing called earth’ and i distinctly saw with my very own eyes a purple breasted hopping pocker fly straight into the stack, slap, and it slid, dead down the side.
i suggest an immediate moratorium on all buildings higher than three feet for fear of killing more of these rare purple breasted hopping pockers
also, anyone that thinks market economics applies to nuclear power has their head up their arse,
smiths, are you sure it wasn’t a computer-generated projection of the impact of the rare purple breasted hopping pocker?
Way back when Dogz, who obviously has more time on his hands than I, asked me to show the figures that demonstrated that a combination of renewables was clearly cheaper than nuclear for Australia.
I’d start here http://wwf.org.au/ourwork/climatechange/cleanenergyfuture/
A quick contrast with the costs of nuclear in the US, and in France once stripped of government subsidies, makes the case pretty clear.
Obviously the authors are not unbiased, but I have yet to see anyone challenge their calculations. What is more they are really quite conservative in assuming no major developments in renewable technology by 2040. Given the progress that has been made in solar and wave in the last few years it’s quite clear that these technologies will fall in cost.
Of course it is possible that breakthroughs in nuclear power will reduce the cost there as well, but given the billions of research funding that has been thrown at nuclear over the decades there is no reason to expect a dramatic fall in costs soon. One the other hand, technologies such as Sliver are demonstrably successful in the lab and just need mass production.
StephenL, I could not find any analysis of the nuclear energy option for Australia in that report. Did I miss something?
John Humphreys, “nuclear power is perfectly marketable. All activities have externalitiesâ€¦ that doesnâ€™t mean that such activities canâ€™t be best coordinated by the market. This is so obvious Iâ€™m suprised it needs to be said.”
Indeed, I am surprised you say what you say because you have already stated your policy recommendation on this thread when you wrote: â€œAs for nuclear, I say remove any restrictions and let nuclear live or die by the market. â€?
It seems to me, there aren’t many who volunteer to die for your beliefs.
“But, one last time: Katz, the untested assertion I am referring to is not that US insurers wonâ€™t offer unlimited liability to the US nuclear industry, but that US nuclear power generators are unwilling to operate without it”
But Dogz, that only applies to post 1957. The nuclear industry could have built their reactors without private insurance or legal indemnification before 1957. This isn’t a hypothetical Dogz. The nuclear industry did no such thing.
Now let’s venture into the wacky world of hypotheticals.
After 1957 I suppose the following may have happened: the nuclear industry, having been featherbedded by the federal government, saw the error of their previous supine ways, imbibed a bracing dose of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and resolved to act on the courage of their own convictions. Reposing enormous faith in the safety of the nuclear industry, they are prepared to stare down the naysayers of the insurance industry and self-insure against the enormously overstated dangers of their industry. But the nasty old Federal Government got in their way.
Oh come on Katz. 1957 was 50 years ago. Nuclear energy was brand new. It is hardly surprising private investors balked without some sweeteners.
These days, with a bit of lobbying, they can maintain their Federal featherbed. But that doesn’t mean they’d all pack up and go home if it was taken away.
If we want to know what has happened since 1957, why don’t we look at other nuclear countries?
“But that doesnâ€™t mean theyâ€™d all pack up and go home if it was taken away.”
I’m in awe.
This statement represents a miraculous triumph of faith over reason.
You keep on believing that.
Everyone needs a hero Dogz.
Clearly you are under a lot of pressure to defend your viewpoint on a number of fronts.
Do have a good night sleep and attend to your productivity and when you have a chance consider that you may not understand the issues or the counter arguments as well as you think you do.
Katz, the nuclear generators are big companies making big profits, and they’ve only paid out $151M on insurance claims in the last 50 years. Packing up because they can’t get unlimited liability insurance seems pretty unlikely.
Anyway, we seem to have driven this little discussion to a standstill. Can we change the subject?
Change of subject:
So far the argument is limited to insurance in terms of monetary pay-outs. Conceptualising insurance in terms of monetary (financial) pay-outs works quite well in many situations. For example (setting aside details such as moral hazard), fire insurance, taken out by an individual or by a company on behalf of its shareholders, works quite well because a house, which has been destroyed by fire, can be rebuilt within a period of time that is relevant in relation to the life span of the insurance holder. (Even major junks of cities can be rebuilt and there are historical examples.) But, what is the ‘value’ of financial pay-outs, however large, for the survivors of a nuclear accident if all that can be bought with the ‘money’ is contaminated food? (â€œCome, come, bright green glowing lettuces going at bargain prices!â€?)
So, the conceptualisation of insurance for the purpose of â€˜survivalâ€™ (â€˜survivalâ€™ is point raised by a commentator on this thread) in an unbiased global world (ie no society is discriminated against hence the number of nuclear power plants may be â€˜largeâ€™, hence Katzâ€™ point on compounding risk of accidents) requires that the pay-out of insurance is defined in terms of material things, including plants and animals. Thinking along this lines and taking the thoughts to the limit, leads to the conclusion that insurance of this type requires another planet earth. If this alternative planet earth would exist and is accessible, then there is no point in worrying about global warming. If it does not exist, then nuclear energy as a response to global warming makes no sense to me.
Why is it embedded in the DNA of the left that nuclear energy will inevitably lead to global destruction? Or is it just a generational thing?
Dogz, “Why is it embedded in the DNA of the left that nuclear energy will inevitably lead to global destruction? Or is it just a generational thing? ”
Would you kindly reference your source material for your conclusion.
Thinking along this lines and taking the thoughts to the limit, leads to the conclusion that insurance of this type requires another planet earth.
Your words, EG. We only need another Earth if we destroy this one.
I can’t follow your explanation.
I’ve stated how I evaluate the proposal that nuclear energy production constitutes an appropriate response to ‘global warming’ such that risks associated with nuclear energy can be fully insured. I excluded ‘money illusion’. I took into account that there is no certainty about the extent of the human activity induced global warming (your point in an earlier thread) nor are the consequences known with certainty (my understanding of public information aimed at non-specialists). I took into account the possibility of no nuclear accident ever and I took into account the possibility of a number of nuclear accidents spread over the world, which is ‘large enough’ to avoid the jump to conclusion that the accidents are no more than locally confined accidents comparable to the occasional house being lost to fire. I don’t know the probability distribution and it would not be ‘fair’ to introduce my personal beliefs about this probability distribution. Hence the ‘second planet earth’ required arose from the requirement of getting complete insurance.
You tell me how a skeptic (with the ‘right’ DNA and without a ‘generational thing’) would evaluate the proposal.
Dogz said that Pr Q “previously labeled all sceptics as either dogmatic, ideologues, or paid-off.”
The article that Pr Q refers to about Attenborough says:
“Attenborough had remained silent on the subject of global warming during the debate on its validity. â€œI was very sceptical,â€? he admits. His outlook changed when climatologists showed him graphs linking the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with rising temperatures.”
So Attenborough was skeptical while he was ignorant of the facts but not when he became knowledgeable. I think when Pr Q “previously labeled all sceptics as either dogmatic, ideologues, or paid-off” he was refering to people who were skeptical in spite of knowing the facts of the issue and actively declared their skepticism.
“In light of this we now find that there is such a beast as a â€œgenuine scepticâ€?.”
And such a beast is ignorant of the facts of the issue.
“Well, all I can say is weâ€™ve been here all along.”
Since you’re claiming you’re like Attenborough was then we now know that ignorance is the basis of your skepticism.
“And weâ€™re not the clowns.”
Interesting. A professed ignoramus claiming he’s not the clown.
EG, I don’t follow your reasoning. To me it looks as though you are claiming that we need a second Earth if we are to pursue the nuclear option. Regardless of how you arrive at that conclusion, the only basis I can see for it is that you think there is a significant probability that if we go down that road we’ll screw up the first Earth.
Chris O’Neill: there’s a lot of assumptions in that little chain of reasoning of yours. The likelihood that your final conclusion is correct decreases exponentially with each one.
Fair enough if you don’t follow my reasoning. I assume you are unfamiliar with the literatue on complete and incomplete insurance (even if moral hazard is not a problem). If you wish, I can try to expand on it with more words or refer you to the relevant literature.
You are incorrect in your presumption that I think there is a significant probability that “if we go down that road (nuclear power to deal with human activity induced global warming due to CO2 emmissions) that we’ll screw up the first Earth” [terms in brackets added to convey the context].
The fact is, as I stated, I don’t know whether or not the probability of the worst case scenario is zero. That is, I don’t have data to resolve this uncertainty. You are not going to get me to pretend otherwise or to get me to mix up wish-full thinking (blind faith, hope, avoidance of unpleasant possibilities) with knowledge by means of entangling me in some strange ‘perceptions boxes’ (ie your two preceding posts).
I can’t imagine you (or anybody else) would have data of the type you wanted in earlier posts to reduce your reservations about global warming.. But I am prepared to be proven wrong.
So, what is to be done about your strange questions a few posts back? Should we treat them as irrelevant, an accident, to be sent to the ‘delete box’?
Fusion is where it always has been, twenty years away. While major technical breakthroughs are always possible, and I certainly support fusion research, I wouldn’t be putting my bets on fusion.
To quote Wikipedia (from ‘Fusion power’):
“Unfortunately, despite optimism dating back to the 1950’s about the wide-scale harnessing of fusion power, there are still significant barriers standing between current scientific understanding and technological capabilities and the practical realization of fusion as an energy source. Research, while making steady progress, has also continually thrown up new difficulties. Therefore it remains unclear that an economically viable fusion plant is even possible.”
Thorium based reactors hold considerable potential as relatively safe and affordable sources of energy, and we should definitely check them out properly, but uranium based reactors are bad news all round.
x^N is less than 1 iff x is less than 1.
Hand waving does not constitute a proof that x is less than 1.
“Hand waving does not constitute a proof that x is less than 1.”
nor that it equals 1.
Seeker, my reference to Fusion was in response to concerns about what to do when the Uranium runs out (which I assumed included Thorium running out). That is several hundred years hence, which should plenty of time for us to master fusion.
EG, I dont believe there is a significant probability that global usage of nuclear energy will destroy Earth #1. Of course that probability is non-zero, but the same can be said of virtually any new technology.
So to me, anyone who claims we need a second Earth to mitigte the risk of nuclear energy use must believe that the probability of destruction is significant. Hence my remarks.
The generational question arises because my generation did not come of age protesting nuclear proliferation, and hence may have a different attitude towards nuclear energy than my parents’ generation.
Dogz, what possible nuclear accident could ‘destroy the earth’?
Dogz, Maybe your parents knew something that’s dangerous for you to forget.
Try googling ‘genetic’ and “chernobyl” and then click on “images”. But be warned, the pictures aren’t pretty.
Chernobyl didn’t end the world. There is still plenty left of the world to be contaminated by the results of other reactor accidents.
Now that’s a risk that you and I may be prepared to take. But the children in those pictures were never consulted. They hadn’t been born yet.
You may well argue that the burning of fossil fuels is productive of equally serious consequences. And I would say that I am coming to the conclusion that you may be correct.
You may well argue that the burning of fossil fuels is essentially benign. I would express some scepticism and ask whether you are supporting the development of nucleur power as a stalking horse to justify business as usual.
Until the hypothetical arrival of controllable fusion energy, it seems that the world will not have access to an energy source which is as stable and has as high a calorific value per unit of weight as our various fossil fuels.
The unavoidable conclusion would appear to be that for the foreseeable future the world will pay more and get less bang for its buck from its energy supplies.
Among almost countless changes Australians will have to get over their love of McMansions and start riding a bike to work.
Dogz, this is a world that your parents probably couldn’t imagine around the time that you were conceived.
Katz, all Chernobyl does is confirm that communism is a complete failure. But we knew that already.
Tom Davies: I have no idea what nuclear accident could destroy the Earth. I suspect none could. But I can’t assign zero probability to it happening, because of the “unknown unknowns”. But that’s in the same category as carbon nanotubes or any other unknown technology destroying the Earth – exceedingly unlikely.
Yet more disingenuousness Dogz.
True, more Antonovs have fallen out of the air than Boeings. Soviet engineering being what it was.
But Boeings have been known to crash.
I’m using the airliner analogy to suggest that no political system is immune from human and technical error.
Which leads to the unavoidable question for nuclear apologists:
How many crashed superior western-style nuclear reactors constitute acceptable losses?
How many crashed superior western-style nuclear reactors constitute acceptable losses?
None on the scale of Chernobyl. But you see, here in the West we have this quaint notion of government accountability. It works because we have an independent media that (by-and-large) likes to report the things our government doesn’t want reported and our politicians like being re-elected, so they tend to avoid doing things like approving construction of really crappy reactors that would come to the attention of the media.
I can’t promise you that a Chernobyl will never happen in the West, but you can be confident that the chances of it happening are very much lower.
1. The week or so secrecy imposed on news about Chernobyl by the Soviet government had very little impact on the damage done and the continuing danger of nuclear fallout. That damage was instantaneous and irreversible.
2. “I canâ€™t promise you that a Chernobyl will never happen in the West, but you can be confident that the chances of it happening are very much lower.” AGREED. But acceptably less likely? US insurance companies think not.
RE #1: I was refering to the role of western media in ensuring Chernobyls are not built in the first place, not their role in reporting disasters once they have occurred.
RE #2: Round and round again. US insurers don’t think the probability of a western Chernobyl is unacceptably high. They just don’t know what the probability is because their sample size is too small (zero). That’s going to be true of any generating technology that a) has the potential for large scale destruction, yet b) has been constructed well enough in practice such that no large-scale catastrophic events have occured.
The only way out of the dilemma is to either
a) build a gazillion superfulous plants in the hope that a few eventually explode so we can collect better statistics; or
b) never use any technology that has such a potential for large scale destruction, no matter how safe we make it; or
c) use the technology while continually improving safety.
Not sure anyone would advocate a). Obviously I go for c).
Erny: Indeed, I am surprised you say what you say because you have already stated your policy recommendation on this thread when you wrote: â€œAs for nuclear, I say remove any restrictions and let nuclear live or die by the market. â€? It seems to me, there arenâ€™t many who volunteer to die for your beliefs.
What are you talking about? My position is perfectly consistent and perfectly clear. As stated above — remove restrictions and let the market decide. You have no reason to be surprised.
This is just so incredibly, mind-bogglingly stupid, that words begin to fail me.
Politicians would never approve a tunnel project that caused an apartment block to fall into it would they?
Politicians would never refuse funding for a levee that would prevent the loss of an entire city would they?
Politicians would never ignore a document titled Bin Laden determined to strike in US would they?
“So to me, anyone who claims we need a second Earth to mitigte the risk of nuclear energy use must believe that the probability of destruction is significant. Hence my remarks.”
I accept your statement as an explanation of your remark. However, I don’t accept your remark as a criticism of my argument because the question was not what “mitigates the risk of nuclear energry” but the question was: Under which conditions is complete insurance against the negative externalities of nuclear power possible. I have provided a sufficient condition (a second planet earth). You have provided none.
Dogz, my point is that fusion is not a certain technology, over any time frame. It is very unclear that containing, managing, and sustaining the volumes of ultra-hot fusion plasma needed to generate industrial amounts of electricity is even technically possible, let alone economic.
If you are going to argue that fusion might work in a few hundred years or so, I could argue that by then (and probably a lot sooner) we will have some pretty impressive renewable electricity generation and storage technology, (Incidentally, storage not generation technology is probably the main technical barrier to the widespread success of renewable energy.)
Or maybe we will have tweaked some existing microbes to produce vast amounts of ethanol or biodiesel, (and there is some interesting and very promising work going on in this area).
If we can come up with a way to permanently render the by-products of nuclear reactors unusable as weapons grade material (and there may be ways to to do this: see Wikipedia article ‘Fast breeder reactor’), then I would seriously consider some nuclear power, but not until then.
What the hell does that mean? Carbon nonotubes aren’t an unknown technology. They were discovered in 15 years ago.
Did anyone (apart from you) suggest that carbon nanotubes could destroy the earth? Did anyone (apart from you) suggest in this thread that anything could destroy the earth?
– you like to argue
– you exaggerate and lie
– you don’t know much about the things you choose to argue about
SJ, your debating style is to become increasingly abusive and personal over the course of the discussion. Far less than that has got me moderated in the past, but I guess you are on JQ’s side of the debate so he condones it.
At any rate, there’s no point in me continuing to respond to your personal attacks.
EG, your request for complete insurance against the risks of nuclear energy cannot be met. My point is just that that is not necessarily a reason not to pursure the nuclear option. Any new technology will have “unknown unknowns” – effects we don’t know about and hence potentially could cause catastrophic damage. Your position is essentially position b) in my response to Katz above (which is also Katz’ position as far as I can tell).
Seeker – fine. My point about fusion was in response to an argument against nuclear along the lines of “aren’t we just postponing the problem – what do we do when the Uranium [and Thorium] run out?”. Since nuclear buys us several hundred years, fusion – and as you point out many other technologies – should be sufficiently well-developed by then for this not to be a concern.
“Round and round again. US insurers donâ€™t think the probability of a western Chernobyl is unacceptably high”
We go round again because you’re confabulating again.
State Farm had TWO grounds for refusal of coverage.
You are acknowledging only ONE of them.
Now why might that be?
And, Jeepers, where was our free press when the Collins Class Sub was being built? Maybe they have an excuse: they couldn’t hear themselves think over the racket made by the “silent” engines of the Little aussie White Elephant.
Katz I am not confabulating. I agree there are two grounds for refusal of coverage. It is unknown probability plus catastrophic outcome that bothers the insurers. Unknown probability of inconsequential outcomes don’t matter. And known probabilities of catastrophic outcomes also “don’t matter”, in the sense that the insurance companies can calculate the price of the premium in that case (which may itself be unacceptably high but that’s another matter).
But that doesn’t mean US insurers think the probability of a western Chernobyl is unacceptably high, as you claim. It means they don’t know the probability of a western Chernobyl, and the outcome is too catastrophic for them to take the risk.
There were plenty of negative media reports about the Collins sub while it was being built. I’m not sure that Joe public cared. They sure would care about reports of a dangerous reactor.
SJ, as I’ve said earlier in this thread, no personal attacks please.
Dogz, rather than making claims of hypocrisy, you might consider the possibility that I have better things to do than monitor long-running comments threads on a minute-by-minute basis.
Everyone, I think it might be better to move the discussion of nuclear issues to the post on this topic. That was my idea in posting it.
1. “It means they donâ€™t know the probability of a western Chernobyl, and the outcome is too catastrophic for them to take the risk.”
2. “There were plenty of negative media reports about the Collins sub while it was being built.”
And yet nothing happened. Australia ended up with the world’s most expensive alarm clocks.
So much for salvation Murdoch-style.
Katz, since I haven’t changed my argument, I assume by “Finally!” you mean you finally understand 🙂
If the press brings stuff to the attention of the public, and the public doesn’t care, that’s hardly the fault of the press. We get what we deserve.
JQ, SJ has been a naughty boy this entire discussion. You disciplined him immediately that I raised it, so either you do monitor closely or my accusation of hypocrisy was enought to spur you into action.
Thank you for acknowledging that ‘complete insurance’ cannot be obtained (because there is no second earth). This means, a policy combination of advocating ‘the nuclear solution’ (to ‘save’ the earth from C02 emission enduced global warming) and ‘freedom of choice’ is non-sense unless ‘everybody in the world’ has your preferences. But this is not true because on this thread alone, at least two people have indicated that they would not be prepared to ignore the potential harm for future generations).
You are incorrect in your presumption about my ‘position’. I used the theory of incomplete markets (of which complete markets is a special case) to check on the logical consistency of the policy proposal advocated by you (and others).
The parallel argument, carried by Katz, on empirical observations about the behaviour of the insurance industry is compatible with my conclusion obtained from analytical economics concerned with non-dictatorial resource allocation.
EG, why do you need all that theory? Complete insurance is rarely available for anything. It clearly was not available for the burning of fossil fuels, otherwise there’d be a great big greenhouse fund built-up into which we could dip to solve the CO2 problem.
Absence of complete insurance is not a reason not to pursue a particular policy.
Personally, I think not considering the nuclear option will cause irreparable harm to future generations. My irreparable harm cancels your irreparable harm, and we’re back to democracy.
“why do you need all that theory?”
Because it is a cost-effective way for me to get clarity on what are the fundamental issues.
“Complete insurance is rarely available for anything. It clearly was not available for the burning of fossil fuels, otherwise thereâ€™d be a great big greenhouse fund built-up into which we could dip to solve the CO2 problem.”
You agree that market prices were, in some sense ‘wrong’..
“Absence of complete insurance is not a reason not to pursue a particular policy. ”
No, it is the ultimate reason for not pursuing the particular policy (nuclear to deal with CO2 emissions).
“Personally, I think not considering the nuclear option will cause irreparable harm to future generations. My irreparable harm cancels your irreparable harm, and weâ€™re back to democracy.”
No. So far my personal preferences have not entered the discussion at all.
The second part of your argument sounds like the old ‘utilitarianism’. Please consult the game theory literature which deals with ‘non-transferrable utility’.
You agree that market prices were, in some sense â€˜wrongâ€™..
If you demand that all externalities, even unknown ones, are factored into market prices then all market prices have the potential to be wrong. So what should we do? Prevent anyone from ever doing anything new because we can’t necessarily price all effects? Like I said way upthread, that may be a bureaucrat’s or luddite’s dream, but it ain’t going to cut it with the rest of us.
Besides, what do you think the overall balance sheet for fossil-fuel burning looks like? Our access to cheap energy over the last 150 years has been the chief force driving modernization, and hence dramatic improvements in living standards. I’d say even with catastrophic global warming we still owe a lot to fossil fuel.
No. So far my personal preferences have not entered the discussion at all.
My remark was directed at your preferences or the preferences of those you quoted thus:
â€˜freedom of choiceâ€™ is non-sense unless â€˜everybody in the worldâ€™ has your preferences. But this is not true because on this thread alone, at least two people have indicated that they would not be prepared to ignore the potential harm for future generations
Dogz, you’re also on a warning. Calling me a liar/hypocrite is a good way to get yourself moderated again or barred permanently. If you don’t like the way I run the blog, please go elsewhere.
Since no-one much took the hint, and we seem to be well into circular mode, I’m closing this one down.
Comments are closed.