25 February 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

Two members of the US Congress, Representatives Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush, have called for a hearing on two recent papers in Nature.  In their letter to the Republican chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Energy and Power Subcommittee Waxman and Rush write:
We believe it would be irresponsible for the Committee to ignore the mounting scientific evidence linking strange and dangerous weather to rising carbon levels in the atmosphere.
Waxman and Rush explain what they think is implicated by the Nature papers:
The potential implications of these results are illustrated by multiple recent weather disasters. In the United States, severe flooding in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee killed dozens and caused widespread property damage last year. Some scientists see evidence that the bitterly cold storms that gripped our nation this winter could be tied to climate changes3 Internationally, unprecedented floods in Pakistan last year submerged one-fifth of the country, killing thousands, and devastating livelihoods.4 Similarly, floods following heavy rains displaced hundreds of thousands of people in northeastern Australia and damaged the agricultural and mining sectors5 In Russia, yields of wheat and barley in 20 I 0 fell by 30% following a summer of record-breaking heat and drought6 This month, the United Nations warned that the worst drought in decades threatens the wheat crop in China7.
The over-hyping of this issue has left Waxman and Rush exposed out on a thin, weak limb.  If they are lucky, their call for a hearing will be ignored.


  1. Why should claims by AGW calamity true believers and promoters by ignored?
    The best cure is for them to get a full well lit hearing.
    The recent meme of climate fear hypesters- that the recent weather events are proof of a CO2 caused crisis- is bunk when reviewed in any reasonable way.
    Yet the strategy of the AGW community- to repeat false claims until well accepted in the public square is not only ethically wrong, it is one that leads to bad policy.
    Why should it be ignored?
    It should be exposed for the untrue propaganda it is.
    This exposure would seem to be a good role for an honest broker.

  2. For a representative democracy to function, the people need to remain convinced that their concerns are being taken seriously, irregardless of whether those concerns have any real basis.

    In the US that means hearings on a whole host of nonsense. In the UK that means a ministerial grilling during 'question time'. In South Korea that means a fist fight on the floor of parliament.

    The existence of the 'Tea Party' in the US is a symptom that a large segment of the population doesn't believe it's concerns are being taken seriously.

  3. Far be it from me to make claims of attribution but it looks like these honourable members of congress "trust" the same climate blogger as Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman "trust".


  4. Hey Roger,

    I have been giving a lot of thought to the notion of insurance as a social construction. Coupled with 'disasters are/will be worse due to climate change' as a social construction, seemingly creates a very profitable situation. The models that are being used to evaluate disaster and therefore catastrophe risk are fixed high. Therefore, if I make a bet on these odds- that no disaster will occur- my odds of being right are better then the modeled risk implies. Such risks seem to be favorable and profitable (e.g. investment in a cat bond). So this is the first thing.

    The second thing, the US, from my very superficial understanding, derives much of its global power through the the global market by manipulation, innovation, and purchasing power.

    The third thing would be the very quick and widespread movement of the insurance industry into the fostering of insurance mechanisms under the auspices of climate change adaptation. This is favored by the UNEP, world banking powers, and supported by some noteworthy science organizations. It appears that much of our global economic system relies on the trading of risk. While most people's gut reaction to the spread of insurance is the argument of moral hazard, as the pharmaceutical industry has shown, there is no money in a cure. Therefore, the creation of more instances of expensive risk is- in the market as it is currently socially constructed- profitable.

    So, one thing that I struggle with now which is somewhat of an ethical dilemma: Does it behoove the US to foster the disaster-climate change social construction in order to garner national support for the participation in these new market changes that are fixed with favorable odds? This seems so manipulative and unethical that is chilling. It also seems similar to the mortgage situation that the world is still recovering from. Lastly, the system will also fix premiums higher then need be. However, it does also appear that the world is moving in this direction. One can then foster the construction and reap the benefits, or not and miss an economic opportunity. I suppose one should ask who will see such benefits and if such benefits will extend as far as to the base of the pyramid (i.e. "The People"). As one that would rather see the nation and the world move in a more responsible manner I don't think it is right and I suppose here I have found my job security. But if I were a decision maker dealing with a struggling economy and competing against other rising national powers with billions more potential premium paying policyholders, I don't know the answer. Especially, if I knew my career could be over in 2-4 years.

  5. The problem Waxman and Rush have is that any reputable scientist, even one firmly in the 'AGW increases the frequency of extreme weather camp', will decline to make any sort of definitive statement that any particular weather event is linked to AGW. They will couch their statements in terms of probabilities and uncertainties, and it won't translate into the sort of soundbite that Waxman and Rush want. In fact, to the average layperson, it will sound very much like waffling.

    And, of course, the GOP will be able to call some highly respectable experts on the other side, to compound the confusion.

    Agreed; it's a terrible idea.

  6. Willis Eschenbach has some interesting comments about the two Nature papers at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/24/nature-magazines-folie-a-deux-part-deux/ and

    If his analysis is anywhere near the truth (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), those two papers will fare very poorly when examined in detail.

    It seems that E&E is not the only journal to have problems doing an effective peer review.

  7. Charlie,
    When this disaster finishes unfolding E&E will be standing head and shoulders above Nature.