My attempt at logic

logic by David Masters
A climate scientist’s lucid and insightful take on ‘Climategate’
[Via CEJournal]

Mike Hulme, author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change, has moved the ball far downfield in an excellent column in the Wall Street Journal. Hulme is a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia — home of the Climatic Research Unit, which is at the center of the email controversy. And his column crystallizes the overarching issues better than most other things on the subject that I have read.


One of the interesting comments left by Raven:

If AGW was really the greatest crisis to face mankind that required an immediate response then the activists would be calling for us to build nuclear plants as fast as we can. They would also be demanding strict population controls.

We don’t hear anyone talking about those options because they cross a line that people are not willing to cross no matter what the science says.

What those examples illustrate is science cannot and should not be used to demand actions that go against our values. The climate debate now is not about science – it is about values. The are many people who feel that the oppressive state apparatus required to regulate carbon is too instrusive and threatens personal freedoms. They feel as strongly on this point as many AGW activists feel about nuclear power.

Raven presents some interesting arguments here I’d like to rephrase a little. The statement goes “If climate scientists really believed that global warming was happening, they’d be pushing nuclear power. If they are not pushing nuclear power, I can conclude that they must not believe global warming is happening. “

This is a logical argument called modus tollens. It looks like this. Premise – “If p then q”. Conclusion “If not-q is true, then not-p is true.” In this particular case the conclusion does not follow, as not-q can be shown to be false (i.e ‘they are not pushing nuclear power’ is false).

Activists do discuss the need for nuclear power.

I wrote about James Hansen’s interview in the Houston Chronicle a few days ago. James Hansen is arguably the most well known climate scientist/activist in America if not the world. Getting arrested is always a good activist credential. Yet, in the interview, Hansen stated:

Q:We talked earlier about the need to reduce coal emissions and unconventional fossil fuels. Absent these, what is our best mix of alternate energy generation to replace fossil fuels? (Oakden Wolf, jef)

A: At the top of the list has to be energy efficiency, but you do need energy. The next thing on the list has to be renewables, but I don’t think renewables can do the job at a cost the public is willing to pay. Germany is now getting seven percent of their energy from renewables and it’s affected the energy prices enough that some companies are moving to other countries. Renewables are not yet as cheap as fossil fuels.

I think you need to include nuclear power in the mix, and you need to do it in a way that allows nuclear to compete economically with coal for baseload electrical power. The truth is the next generation of nuclear power, the third generation which companies are proposing now, is inherently safer than the second generation.

Yet even with the the deficiencies of the early generation, the safety record of nuclear power is not matched by any other major industry in the United States. Even wind power there have been 30-some deaths in the making of wind turbines. Nuclear critics, anti-nuclear, have been so effective in the U.S. it has just not been possible here.

But for China and India there is just no way the Sun and wind are going to provide the energy they need. We’ve got to allow nuclear energy to be in the mix, and the United States should be in a leadership role. We still have the best nuclear experts in the world and we should take advantage of that at this point.

This is just the most recent example. I can find others from different activists if needed.

Since not-q is shown to be false, no firm conclusions can be made at all. Anyone trying to present the sort of conclusion Raven does is arguing illogically; the conclusions do not necessarily follow from the premises.

Okay, enough of my attempts at providing logic to a problem that is essentially purely emotional at this point. This can be seen in Raven’s second point that is often brought up – that threatened personal freedoms are a good reason to oppose any fixes for the climate change problem. Regulation of carbon will be too oppressive and should thus must be fought.

It is the emotional ‘Live free or die’ call to arms. This is a nice rallying call but truthfully, only those that do not die ever get a chance to live free.

My emotional response is that at least if we are being oppressed, we are still alive and have a hope for freedom someday. With extreme climate change, we could all die, and then have no hope. (When making emotional arguments, it is always best to use extreme conclusions. They are more, umm, emotional.)

Let’s look at the worse consequences of the two camps. (Yes, these are kind of strawmen but it is a thought experiment at the moment). One believes that AGW can alter the planet enough to have major consequences on human communities, perhaps the extinction of mankind as we know it. The other worries about fascism and a totalitarian regime, with possibly large numbers of deaths due to oppression.

Here is a modified Pascal’s Wager. We have two actions – Climate change can only be controlled by oppressive regulations and these oppressive regulations must be fought. The regulations can be right or wrong (i.e. they either control AGW or they do not). Fighting can produce 2 results – they win and the regulations are overturned or they lose and the regulations continue.

Regulations control climate change Regulations do not control climate change
Fighting overcomes regulations —– +
Fighting does not overcome regulation +++
So, there are 2 negative consequences of all these possible interactions. One is if the fighting overcomes the regulations, regulations that would have controlled climate. Then, in a worst case, we would likely suffer tremendous dislocations of societies across the globe, perhaps even human extinction.

The other is that if the regulations are not fought, we will face an oppressive regime for no good reason (the single -). In this scenario, there is little or no effects of climate change on human cultures but oppressive regulations create totalitarian regimes, with great human suffering.
Worst case for these two – all humans are dead vs. many humans dead from totalitarian dictators.

But mankind has shown itself table to escape the depredations of dictators again and again. Human civilization could recover eventually with little long term effects. Not so much from the possibility of extinction.

So, the best solution might be to fight the regulations and lose or perhaps not to fight the regulations at all. In the worst case then, we would only have to deal with oppression, which mankind has survived many times in the past.

The worst solution would be to fight the regulations and win. In the worst case here we might not survive at all.

Okay enough elitist logic and such. Everyone is bored except for a couple of math geeks who will probably write that I screwed things up.

So here is my emotional fear from all of this. AGW is real and can present huge problems for humans. But the regulations that are being proposed are not sufficient to actually solve the problem.

What then? Nothing in the table above matters. Whether we fight them or not., we still lose.

So we would get oppression and still have extinction facing us. I’d feel a lot better if people were not fighting the regulation from a place of negation but from a place of “we have to make this work.”

The worst of both cases – bad regulations that do not work and climate change that is not controlled resulting in both oppression and extinction. Not a happy story.

Luckily, I am a pretty hopeful person and know that we have shuffled through some real problems in the past, including a bottleneck in the human population about 70,000 years ago. I really do not think this will happen but, unfortunately, I do figure the probability of my biggest fear occurring is still non-zero.

[Listening to: Union Maid from the album “Big Iron World” by Old Crow Medicine Show]
[Listening to: Get Ready from the album “461 Ocean Boulevard” by Eric Clapton]