Judith Curry says it’s okay

In a recent post, I highlighted an interview with Michael Mann in which he discusses possible tipping points. These are essentially rapid and irreversible (at least on short timescales) changes to our climate system. Judith Curry, however, has a recent post called did the AR5 take the dangerous out of AGW in which she discusses the section in the recent WG1 report that discusses potentially abrupt or irreversible changes.

The basic conclusions of the report are in the table below. It only shows potential changes that could happen in the 21st century. A number of things are possible, but quite few are unlikely. A number, however, seem to have a low confidence which I take to mean that they’re not sure. It does seem likely that the summer Arctic sea ice will disappear by mid century (at least under high forcing scenarios).

So, what does Judith make of this? Her post ends with

The most scientifically interesting, and societally relevant topic in climate change is the possibility of abrupt climate change, with genuinely massive societal consequences (the disappearance of Arctic sea ice and regional forest diebacks arguably don’t qualify here). The IPCC has high confidence that we don’t have to worry about any of the genuinely dangerous scenarios (e.g. ice sheet collapse, AMOC collapse) on timescales of a century. These collapses have happened in the past, without AGW, and they will inevitably happen sometime in the future, with or without AGW. Are the IPCC overconfident in their conclusions on these also?

So, the disappearance of the summer Arctic sea ice and regional forest diebacks don’t qualify as societally relevant. Okay, I would regard these as significant, but what do I know – I’m not a climate scientist like Judith. Fortunately, according to Judith, there is high confidence that we don’t need to worry about any of the genuinely dangerous scenarios on the timescales of a century (and, apparently, such things happen anyway without AGW).

So, it seems that Judith thinks that nothing too catastrophic will happen during the 21st century. The 22nd on the other hand …..

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76 Responses to Judith Curry says it’s okay

  1. Latimer Alder says:

    I’m quite happy to leave worrying about a possible and theoretical ‘problem’ 100 years in the future to my great^n grandchildren. We have more urgent things to concern us.

  2. And I think that’s amazingly selfish and short-sighted. But hey, maybe that’s just me.

  3. Rachel says:

    Latimer Alder,

    Suppose a group of terrorists launched a missile at London devastating the city and killing millions of people. That’s pretty bad right? I would call this unethical. Would you?

    What if, instead of launching the missile at London, they sent it up into space where it orbited the Earth for 200 years at which time it changed direction and headed for London where it devastated the city and killed millions of people. Is that unethical as well? Does it matter whether those millions of people live today or 200 years from now?

    I don’t think it is morally relevant whether those people are alive today or 200 years from now.

  4. Given that there is always some uncertainty in science, maybe you should include a small (maybe < 5%) chance that it falls back to Earth in 200 years but fails to detonate. Then maybe Latimer can explain if his reasoning is that he really doesn't care about future generations or is simply gambling on the small chance that all these thousands of scientists are simply wrong.

  5. As long as she doesn’t grotesquely misrepresent the science (arguably her main business these days), one should be rather happy. After all, she can advocate for whatever policy option she likes. No one is forced to care about the future. However, advocacy is not a right exclusively reserved to her … something she seemingly struggles to accept.

    To be honest, I have absolutely no problem with people who are openly selfish, as long as they fully accept the science AND the associated risks. It’s these people with whom I happily discuss potential policy options. Sadly, there aren’t too many of them around.

  6. Rachel says:

    Ok, what’s that in science-speak? Highly unlikely, very unlikely or exceptionally unlikely?

  7. Yes, I tend to agree. I would rather people accepted the evidence and then argued, given that, what we should do. What I guess I object to about what Judith is suggesting is that she appears to be ignoring some of the risks. She may be right that we are unlikely to cross some catastrophic climatic tipping point in the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean (as I suspect you would agree) that we shouldn’t worry until much later. Much of what we do in the next century will influence what happens in centuries to come. Also, of course, we can have what many would regard as catastrophic events without them needing to be associated with formally defined tipping points.

  8. IPCC definitions appear to be virtually certain (99% – 100%) and extremely likely (95%-100%) 🙂

  9. verytallguy says:

    I live in a house with an ash tree outside where nutchatches nest every year. I’d guess it’s about 100 years old. I’m glad the person who planted it didn’t have anything more urgent to concern him in 1913.

    A man doesn’t plant a tree for himself. He plants it for posterity.

  10. dbostrom says:

    That’s a thought-provoking perspective.

    We’re leaving a nasty mess to deal with. Further along the lines of space, it’s not at all clear we’ll be able to enjoy LEO, MEO and even synchronous orbits not so far down the road. As usual the problem is a feckless disregard for the future. See “Kessler syndrome,” orbital debris in general.

    I’ll go out on a limb and hypothesize that some of the same people who are dismissive of climate change are nonetheless still able to become exercised about other forms of trashing the planet.

  11. BBD says:

    @ dbostrom

    it’s not at all clear we’ll be able to enjoy LEO, MEO and even synchronous orbits not so far down the road.

    It does make you wonder, especially if we do have crack at Big Orbital – solettas and SPV arrays etc – which will inevitably produce stray nuts and bolts aplenty.

    Oh well, just another headache for the kids. Let’s hope they’re up to it!

  12. I perfectly agree 🙂

  13. dbostrom says:

    It would take some work to prove it but I think it may already be the case that “Big Orbitals” won’t be feasible unless we do some housecleaning* first. The first very large object we put up might well trigger the cascade effect delineated by Kessler.

    In general there’s been sincere effort to bring this problem under control. Unfortunately it’s the case that a single thoughtless act such as China’s FY-1C demonstration can cause the same amount of pollution as decades of more benign trashing.

    *Unfeasible at present, possibly forever.

  14. Nick says:

    Dr Curry is superficial as usual. She cannot rule out SLR acceleration–which is already statistically robust– moving fast enough to effectively dictate ‘abrupt’ adaptive responses on vulnerable coasts, so setting the concern level threshhold at ‘sudden’ ice-sheet collapse really does not suffice. Her definition of ‘genuinely dangerous’ just does not cut it. Her contempt for others work is brazen.

  15. Jim Tantillo says:

    Not necessarily selfish or short-sighted. You might want to read up on future generations, e.g., Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Parfit#The_future

  16. I’m not quite getting the logic of that. All I can see Parfit arguing is that if we decide to make major changes then the people who will be alive in 300 years time will be different to those who would have been alive then had we done nothing. This doesn’t really seem like an argument for doing nothing since the people alive will always be our descendents. Not quite sure how you’re concluding that Parfit is arguing that not careing about our descendents is not selfish or short-sighted.

  17. Rachel says:

    Kessler syndrome is very interesting, thank you. I hadn’t heard of it before. There are some parallels with the global warming problem in that it is beneficial for the present generation to do nothing about it while the problem escalates for future generations. I believe they call this intergenerational equity. I had a little look around and it does look like some groups are working on a solution to this problem though, which is good to see. http://www.technologyreview.com/view/423302/nasa-studies-laser-for-removing-space-junk/

  18. Rachel says:


    I read a book review recently about Derek Parfit’s most recent book which is a follow-up to Reasons and Persons. I haven’t read either but the book review got me interested in his latest piece of work.

    Your comment seems to imply that Parfit is arguing that we can be selfish now and not worry about future generations. From what I read in the book review, that is not what he says in his recent work at all. Here’s a quote from the review which includes a quote from his book:

    When Parfit does come to the question of “what matters,” his answer might seem surprisingly obvious. He tells us, for example, that what matters most now is that “we rich people give up some of our luxuries, ceasing to overheat the Earth’s atmosphere, and taking care of this planet in other ways, so that it continues to support intelligent life.”
    Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/does-anything-matter#8eodpKbXyoJmcCFJ.99

  19. andrew adams says:

    I can see (at least) three pretty obvious flaws in Curry’s argument.

    Firstly, as I said in a comment there and as Wotts alludes to above, the fact that certain “abrupt or irreversible” consequences are not expected to occur this century doesn’t mean there are not other potential consequences which do not fall into the “abrupt or irreversible” category but would still be serious and could happen in the shorter term.

    Secondly, her argument is largely a straw man as the particular phenomena which the IPCC considers extremely unlikely to occur this century, ie the collapse of the ice sheets, the collapse of the AMO and the sudden release of large amounts of methane, have as far as I am aware always been considered risks over centuries, not in the short term, so the argument for urgent action on climate change has never been based on these things being an immediate threat. I know there has been some argument about the “methane bomb” recently but I think it’s still largely considered a rather “fringe” view.

    Finally, there are various other potential “abrupt or irreversible” consequences where the IPCC has low confidence in our ability to predict when or if they will occur. Curry seems to conflate this with there being a low probability of them actually happening, but this is not logically correct, as Sou points out here


  20. Yes, I noticed Sou’s post. I agree, Judith’s interpretation of “low confidence” seems to be incorrect. Mis-interpreting uncertainties seems to be quite standard sadly.

  21. Jp says:

    “I’m quite happy to leave worrying about a possible and theoretical ‘problem’ 100 years in the future to my great^n grandchildren. We have more urgent things to concern us.”

    God I despise people like that. Another record broken in Australia: September hottest on record. They seem to get broken on a yearly basis. Forget about 100 years, in 50 years or less that generation will rightly come to despise the deniers as well when the effects and science are beyond question to any rational person and the real story is revealed to them about how a bunch of politically motivated and self-serving people did all they could to misrepresent the science and stymie any action to mitigate the problem.

  22. You highlight another issue with what Judith is presenting in her post. It isn’t just about catastrophic climate events, it’s about changes to local climate that can be extremely damaging (heatwaves in Australia being one example).

    My own prediction for the future though (assuming the media doesn’t change) is that in 50 years time the media – or a certain influential portion of it – will still be blaming climate scientists, but it will be because they didn’t make a sufficiently convincing argument, and those who are currently regarded as “deniers” will be lauded for attempting to force climate scientists to be more rigorous. Sounds a bit cynical maybe, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the rhetoric doesn’t change to something like this quite soon (already you hear people saying “if you weren’t so alarmist, people might take you more seriously”).

  23. Rachel says:

    These are my thoughts exactly: I think the scientists will get the blame for failing to adequately communicate the risks. I’m not saying I agree with it – I think they have been trying to communicate – and I actually think it would be very unfair if this is what transpires.

  24. Tom Curtis says:

    Jim Tantillo, Parfit’s arguments as summarized by wikipedia suffer from several logical flaws.

    I’ll start with his argument against total utilitarian views (ie, the idea that ethics requires us to maximize total utility). It is essential to his argument that per capita utility is approximately linearly related to available per capita resources. The result is that per capita utility falls by the same margin for each doubling of population. It is, however, very easy to set up scenarios in which utility is not a linear function of available resources. One example is per capita utility being set as the natural log of 10 billion / population. In that scenario, there is a peak total utility with a population of 3.7 Billion. Either increasing or decreasing the population reduces total utility. The important point here is not that that formula is plausible. Parfit’s argument is intended to apply across all future scenarios. Therefore the existence of any scenario in which the argument fails invalidates the argument. As it happens, there is good empirical evidence that suggests that utility functions do approximate to the logarithm of available per capita resources so that my scenario has at least the right shape (although being hypothetical is useless for predicting an actual ideal population).

    Turning to the average utilitarian views (ie, the idea that ethics requires us to maximize average utility). Using my prior scenario to illustrate, at the population for peak total utility has an average utility just 1/20th of that for a population of 10, and 1/5th that of a population of 100 million. However, the assumption that levels of per capita material production could be maintained at near constant levels with massive declines in population is not plausible. Industrial production requires multiple specialized inputs from people dedicated to their tasks. That in turn requires multiple other people to produce the other goods those specialists need, and to transport it etc. Absent such specialization, technology must inevitably slide to a lower scale. With a population of 10, it must slide to that of hunter gatherers. Therefore it is almost certain that the peak average utility will require a large population – probably within one order of magnitude of our current population. Parfit may be inclined to dispute this, but to the extent that he must his argument depends on empirical facts; and hence cannot be made without empirical support of the claim that maximum average utility will be reached with a population of 10.

    Therefore, the best that Parfit has done is shown that there are logically possible scenarios in which either Total Utilitarianism, or Average Utilitarianism fail. He has given us no reason to think those empirical conditions exist, and therefore no reason to consider either as ethically dubious guides.

  25. Tom Curtis says:

    So your prognosis is that in 50 years time, when scientists predictions are shown to have been accurate, the scientists will be blamed for making their accurate predictions unbelievable because accuracy was too “alarmist”? Sounds about right.

  26. Yup, that is what I would expect sadly. I was wondering if there was a way to counter that, but without controlling the media, I suspect there is no easy way to overcome what I suspect a certain portion of the media will likely do (i.e., create a narrative in which it is still the climate scientists’s and the IPCC’s fault).

  27. Rachel says:

    Ok, I have to correct myself slightly, my conclusion is the same but my reasoning is the opposite. I think they will be blamed for not being alarmist enough.

  28. Rachel, you may well be right. I suspect there will be attempts, one way or another, to pin the blame on the scientists and the IPCC. I’m not sure how this will be done but would be surprised if it wasn’t at least attempted. You already see aspects of it already (being too alarmist, predicted an ice age in the 1970s, losing trust by advocating for certain policies). So, already people are judging the science by their perception of the behaviour of certain people, rather than by the actual evidence. At the moment, however, the motives may be slightly different. Now, it may be more an attempt to undermine the science by trying to reduce the credibility of the scientists. In the future it will likely be an attempt to shift the blame from those who undermined the science today to the scientists themselves for (as you say) not being alarmist enough or not making a sufficiently convincing case.

  29. “God I despise people like that.”

    So if there are people in poverty, today, trying to climb out of their holes via the use of fossil fuels, you’d ‘despise’ them for trying to harm your grandchildren’s security in prosperity (attained through your use of fossil fuels today)?

    Much of pious environmentalism, that masquerades as some form of stewardship, appears to only be energy protectionism arising from fossil fuel use.

  30. This seems to be a typical argument. We need to use fossil fuels in order to bring those in poverty today out of poverty. Why? We’ve had fossil fuels for more than 100 years. It’s getting more expensive. Hard to see how it’s going to get better for those in poverty now than it has been in the past. Other sources of energy exist. They may not yet be as efficient as fossil fuels, but they’re getting cheaper. Acting to prevent the development of such alternatives would seem to be doing more harm than good. Additionally, using fossil fuels normally means importing which then means paying another country to provide what’s needed for your energy. Many renewables can be developed and maintained locally. This means that they can not only provide energy but can also drive local employment.

    Now, to be clear, there may well be aspects of my argument that have flaws. However, at least I’ve made one. Maybe you could try doing the same rather than implying that any attempt to reduce fossil fuels use is simply going to reduce the chance that those in poverty today can improve their lives.

  31. BBD says:


    Much of pious environmentalism, that masquerades as some form of stewardship, appears to only be energy protectionism arising from fossil fuel use.

    Where’s the evil “environmentalist” master-plan that says “we” are trying to keep the peoples of the developing world in poverty by denying them access to fossil fuels? Where is that?

    My understanding is that the over-arching goal is for the developed world to reduce *its* use of FFs while assisting developing economies to build energy infrastructure as little dependent as feasible on FFs. This to be accomplished by direct aid – both financial support and technology transfers.

    It looks to me as though the “evil environmentalists kill the poor” meme is exceptionally dishonest, self-serving framing. A real low point in the near-universal hypocrisy of conservative/libertarian special pleading for the energy industrial status quo.

  32. You’ve not made an argument. You’ve just stated an opinion. Just as I did. You may perceive your own opinions as sound argument and know them more intimately. The same applies to what I, or anyone else, might say.

    Beyond all this however, there are several flaws in your points. Firstly, how expensive renewable energy sources are, depends on the pre-existing state of wealth. Almost all countries flirting with ‘alternate’ sources of energy today have attained, on average, a higher level of prosperity, and that via the use of fossil fuels or nuclear energy. In other words, after having secured high density energy sources.

    Whoever talked about preventing development of alternatives? The boondoggle rolls on in the US with federal governmental support for such things as wind, solar, cellulosic ethanol, corn ethanol, algae … what not. Who’s seriously fighting all this? Opposition seen is in the UK where the country committed itself to electricity targets which amounts to a mandated market for renewable energy sources. I wonder what more is needed.

    Paying someone for what they have to sell, in return for money is trade. Both parties benefit in a fair trade. Paying countries to buy their crude is not an evil thing. It is fear-mongering from energy protectionists that makes you hate your sellers in the first place. For decades, US policy for instance was influenced by thinking that preferred leaving continental sources untouched or only gently exploited for fear of exhausting them. US policy is directly blamed for propping up and supporting dictatorships in countries that sell it crude.

    The path to environmental protection from human destruction via prosperity is one of, let us say, several possible ways. Yet, it is the one that has been done. There are reasons for it: hydrocarbon sources provide the cost, portability, energy density, divisibility (each person can fill their fuel tank to the amount they choose) and storage capacity advantages that no other sources can provide. So, instead of wasting generations and lost years and decades, fossil fuel access and expansion of their means of use to people, today, will ensure they will be on that path to protection tomorrow. That was what Western economies have accomplished. Expansion of use of other sources can follow with prosperity once you are up on your feet. And why not? They can even be done in parallel where they can: developing countries employ hydro-electricity all the time, though perhaps not to the extent and scale seen in developed ones. Low density crap like wind and solar are dead in the water. Where appropriate, they are fine, but talk of ‘powering the economy’ with such artifacts is just activist buzz words that are meaningful only to teenagers.

    To the point though, it must be remembered that environmental protectionism is nothing but economic protectionism in disguise. You may disagree, not intend it to be so, lead an exemplary life filled with recycling, composting, solar panels, rainwater collection, vasectomies and tubectomies, but it doesn’t matter. If your national GDP is high, it means you are part of an economy that uses fossil fuels and/or nuclear energy permitting such luxuries as environmentalism to flourish. Don’t despise those attempting the same path, because that is the only way to get there.

  33. BBD says:

    You haven’t read the words.

    First, I reject your dishonest framing: “evil environmentalists kill the poor”. Where is this plan set out? The only people I ever see making this claim are arguing for energy industry status quo in the developed world. This would be you, Shub.

    So where is the master plan? Where do the environmentalists engaged in energy protectionism (FFS!) state their aim to keep the developing economies poor by starving them of fossil fuels? Please back up your wild assertions.

    Nowhere did I suggest that entire economies be powered by wind/solar. This is what I wrote. Please read the words:

    My understanding is that the over-arching goal is for the developed world to reduce *its* use of FFs while assisting developing economies to build energy infrastructure as little dependent as feasible on FFs. This to be accomplished by direct aid – both financial support and technology transfers.

    A global endeavour with common purpose. But you have a problem with this. How interesting and illuminating.

  34. Shub, a lot of what I said was not opinion (unless you’re disputing the statements). I guess I didn’t reference everything with original citations, but most would not dispute much of the statements I made (fossil fuels will get more expensive, for example).

    So, I agree with some of what you say. Many countries have benefited from the use of fossil fuels. It’s clearly been a fantastic energy sources. I don’t think it’s evil. I don’t think trade is evil either, so I wasn’t suggesting that importing fossil fuels is fundamentally evil. I was making the point that comparing fossil fuels to renewables one should consider also how it impacts the local economy in terms of job creation. There may be situations where developing alternatives that are locally developed and maintained is preferable to importing fossil fuels. Simply finding examples where avoiding trading created problems doesn’t immediately that importing fuel is fundamentally optimal.

    You’re probably right that most countries who are adding renewables to their infrastructue have had a fossil fuel based economy to begin with. That doesn’t, however, preclude the possibility that, in future, an economy couldn’t develop using alternatives. Believing it’s impossible seems simplistic to me.

    Here’s a question for you though. You want to expand the use of fossil fuels so as to help developing economies. Are you proposing any particular help for these economies or simply suggesting that it should be available if they do get to the point where they can afford it? In other words, are you actually proposing helping them or simply making the help available through fossil fuels? If the latter, and if fossil fuel costs will continue to rise (as I suspect they will) how does this work? If it hasn’t helped them for the last 100 years, why will it suddenly do so now? What will change so that they can now take advantage of this fantastic resource when they couldn’t do so in the past?

    Here’s where I object to your comment though

    Don’t despise those attempting the same path, because that is the only way to get there.

    I’m not despising anyone or even preventing them from attempting to improve their lives. I don’t think anyone is arguing that we should stop using fossil fuels now and never use them again. The suggestion is that we should be increasing the use of alternatives. Also, how can you know that there is no alternative? Presumably there has to be or else our economies will all grind to a halt when we do finally exhaust recoverable fossil fuel supplies.

  35. BBD,
    The previous post was in reply to wotts, above yours. It was a cross-post. I saw your comment after posting mine.

    Nevertheless, I think hanging around in Deltoid appears to short-circuited some arguments. The “environmentalists kill the poor” argument is used by libertarians when referring to DDT and malaria, because, in the process of caring for the egg shells, the greens missed the fact that human babies were dying off in the millions. With respect to fossil fuel use, the argument is about “the poor improving their lot” and environmentalists standing in their way.

  36. BBD says:

    With respect to fossil fuel use, the argument is about “the poor improving their lot” and environmentalists standing in their way.

    This is the dishonest framing I am rejecting, Shub. You are simply being evasive and refusing to substantiate your wild assertions.

    You also mistakenly conflate climate scientists with “evil environmentalists” in your desperate attempts to defend the energy industry status quo in the developed world.

    You may think that you are being subtle and clever, but really what you are doing is so obvious as to be almost funny. Right down to the usual feeble attempt to delegitimise me.

  37. Shub, so not all environmental policies have worked as intended and it’s clear that any complicated decision will have consequences. You appear to have ignored, for example, that DDT is also implicated in human health problems.

    So we’re meant to believe that environmental policies will simply act to to harm those in poverty and that fossil fuels are this panacea that can only do good (or that’s what it appears that you’re suggesting). Do you really think everything is quite that simple? I certainly don’t. I certainly wouldn’t argue that fossil fuels are evil and that all environmental policies will turn out well. That doesn’t mean we should simply continue using fossil fuels without any regard for the future impact and that we should act to prevent any policies aimed at protecting the environment. Clearly we should aim to have sensible policies for future energy sources and should make sure that environmental policies consider all impacts. Everything requires a judgement and no decision is going to be perfect. Basing your view on “fossil fuels good – environmentalists bad”, with all due respect, seems remarkably simplistic (well, to be honest, “simplistic” is a polite way of saying what I really think).

  38. BBD says:

    Incidentally, repeating the lie about DDT and malaria does you great harm, even though you will pretend that you were talking about those nasty libertarians over there, not your own views. I don’t believe that either. Your eagerness to play vicious little rhetorical tricks is, as ever, your undoing.

    You should try to evolve, Shub.

  39. Great! More cross-posts.

    You didn’t despise anyone, ‘jp’ did and my reply stemmed from providing a more elaborate argument.

    In terms of helping developing countries, you are right to point out that hundreds of years have passed many of them don’t seem to have much to show. But fossil fuel use and prosperity is a complicated dance at which several of these falter. With all variables set aside, cheap fuel provision alone without the means to exploit the energy sources results in price crashes ending the cheap fuel provision (!). So, there is already a titration to be performed there. Layered on top are endemic socio-politcal issues like corruption, nepotism and government inefficiency. My own belief is that such factors will reduce in impact, eventually, as and when people gain confidence there is a piece of pie available for them and they can get it if they work for it (and its corollary that the piece can be bigger if you are better, and go for it). This itself means they see the effects of prosperity, palpably, within their lifetime. Fossil fuels are one part of the puzzle, no doubt an important one, but still just one piece.

  40. Shub, sure I agree that it’s complicated and that there many pieces to the puzzle. That’s why I find the “only fossil fuels can help – environmentalist bad” rhetoric so frustrating. It appears to be an attempt to make it seem as though the solution is simple when it clearly is not. It appears to draw a line that can’t be crossed. We can discuss anything as long as we agree that fossil fuel are the only way to end poverty and all that environmentalists want to do is drag us back to the dark ages. How does having such a fixed opinion about this help the debate about whether or not we should do something and if so, what it is?

  41. Tom Curtis says:

    1) The partial ban of DDT has not lead to the death of many people. The libertarians do attempt to use misinformation to vilify environmentalists in relation to DDT. In doing so they neglect the fact that DDT has never been banned for the control of malaria; and the fact that recent resurgences in malaria is because of evolved resistance to insecticides – not due to the ban. The anti-DDT limitation campaign is as honest as the anti-effective AGW policy campaign.

    2) The framing of opposition to CO2 emissions as inhibiting opportunities deliberately neglects the preferred policy of “greens”, which is an annually reducing global per capita emissions allowance. Because the emissions allowance is per capita, those struggling in poverty will be able to expand their fossil fuel use for the first thirty odd years of such a policy. They will be able to do so in a market where decreased competition from Western nations will reduce the cost of fuel, making it easier for them to do so. If emissions rights are allowed to be traded, they can do so while selling their unused permits to help fund their escape from poverty. Frankly, the meme is about as believable and honest as the contradictory meme, also much favoured by libertatians, that AGW is just a conspiracy to bankrupt the USA/West.

    3) This cannot bear repeating enough. Shub Niggurath has chosen as a name that of a being in a mythology which, within that mythology, purports to be “above good and evil”, and is in consequence merely evil. That choice of name indicates that Shub either does not think moral considerations hold on him (at best) or that he is evil in the same way as his chosen name sake. Therefore whenever Shub starts moralizing on anything, the proper response is simply laughter.

    Even if Shub’s choice of name was merely thoughtless, he – at the very least- admires a mythology of beings purporting to reject all morality. He cannot at the same time consistently moralize. You either accept morality or you do not. Pretending half the time is merely to use morality as a rhetorical device – ie, attempting to take advantage of your immorality to con people who still accept morality.

  42. BBD
    In the same breath, you say ‘where the f did environmentalists prevent the poor’ from using fossil fuels and then say developed countries should assist “developing economies to build energy infrastructure as little dependent as feasible on FFs” via “direct aid – both financial support and technology transfers”.

    This *is* energy protectionism. It amounts to fossil fuel protectionism. Want to prove me wrong? Show me environmentalists who advocate petrol and diesel use in developing countries and show up protesting at the back-room negotiations between oil and coal economies and their suppliers. Show me environmentalists who advocate crude oil prospecting and exploration. Show me environmentalists who work to crash oil prices and keep it low so it hurts the oil executives margins. Because, I can assure you, owing to their unhealthy obsessions, greens do know and track how filthy rich oil companies and oil-producing economies like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela are.

  43. BBD says:

    You still haven’t backed up your wild assertions and we both know you cannot since they are nothing more than dishonest, self-serving framing. As I pointed out, right at the start.

    You are still conflating “environmentalists” with climate scientists and policy makers.

    I don’t think this is going anywhere, for the usual reasons. You live in a warped, fantastical parallel reality.

  44. Tom Curtis says:


    “This *is* energy protectionism. It amounts to fossil fuel protectionism. Want to prove me wrong?”

    Wouldn’t bother trying. Your the one making wild, unsubstantiated assertions. Why should we do anything but sit back and laugh until you actually try to make a coherent case?

  45. Jim Tantillo says:

    @”Not quite sure how you’re concluding that Parfit is arguing that not careing about our descendents is not selfish or short-sighted.” With all due respect, I’m not sure how you’re concluding that I’m “concluding” anything about Parfit; I simply wanted to suggest that intergenerational justice is an incredibly complicated subject. Parfit helps to show why that is. That the discounting of future generations’ interests is neither (necessarily) “selfish” nor “short-sighted” is demonstrated in countless philosophical and economic analysis of future discounting: e.g., http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2009/2/v32n1-5.pdf . That I take it was the point of Adler’s original statement (“I’m quite happy to leave worrying about a possible and theoretical ‘problem’ 100 years in the future to my great^n grandchildren. We have more urgent things to concern us”).

  46. Apologies if I mis-interpreted your comment. Okay, I agree that it’s very complicated subject and clearly deciding what to do is non-trivial. Do we spend money now to mitigate against climate change or will that influence our economy in a way that actually does damage to future generations? If that is what Latimer was implying, then indeed it is possible that his comment wasn’t intended to be “selfish and short-sighted”. Having discussed this topic with Latimer before, though, I still think my response to his comment was apt.

  47. Jim Tantillo says:

    @Tom Curtis

    I think the more relevant aspect of Parfit’s discussion in Reasons and Persons has to do with what he terms “the non-identity problem.” Anything we do today will change the personal identity of future people, who would not have otherwise existed but for our actions today. This is a philosophical puzzle, but it does complicate discussions about “harming” future generations. The SEP entry on the non-identity problem is very thorough, but see especially the link here to the sub-section about “Depletion”: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nonidentity-problem/#Dep

    Again, this is not meant to imply or suggest that a concern for future generations is mistaken or misguided; rather that such concern is just a much more complex problem than most people understand.

  48. Jim, that is indeed a puzzle in a sense but I’m confused (in a way) as to the relevance. Any act we choose to do changes the possible future (unless there is no free will). So, the actual future generations are, in a sense, changing all the time and are only realised when we actually get to that instant in time. However, that doesn’t change, genetically at least, that future generations are our descendants. They’re simply one realisation of all possible sets of descendants. Why should this influence whether or not we choose to act in a way that ensures that what we do today doesn’t do undue harm to future generations?

  49. Jim Tantillo says:

    @Wotts “Do we spend money now to mitigate against climate change or will that influence our economy in a way that actually does damage to future generations? If that is what Latimer was implying, then indeed it is possible that his comment wasn’t intended to be ‘selfish and short-sighted’.” This is the $64,000 question, isn’t it?

    I don’t pretend to have the answers. But if you look at the final couple of paragraphs of Goklany’s analysis (and I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says in the paper), he argues that wealth generated today will help future people deal more effectively with *whatever* problems they face:

    “[B]y being ‘selfish’ in focusing on their problems, our ancestors not only helped themselves, but also helped us without necessarily explicitly attempting to do so. Think of this as the ‘invisible hand’ reaching across generations. In essence, today’s wealth, technology, and human capital are based on yesterday’s wealth, technology, and human capital. Reducing the latter would also have diminished the former. And so it will be for the future. . . . Accordingly, there is no ethical rationale for using a lower discount rate for future generations than for current generations. In fact, doing so devalues the very real problems today’s generations face in favor of future hypothetical problems that their wealthier and technologically more advanced descendants may or may not have to confront.”

    This analysis is not necessarily selfish or short-sighted. One might not agree with this argument, but one should not simply dismiss it as selfish or short-sighted. And again, Goklany’s point is largely the same as the one Adler made.

  50. Tom Curtis says:

    BBD, very interesting.

    My apoligies, Jim. I thought I was having a conversation with a rational person. My mistake.

  51. Parfit’s arguments cannot be dismissed that easily, Tom.

    Even if we accept it, it only leads to the conclusion that a pure utilitarian framework make ontological assumptions that break down when you take a longer view than usual.

    On the other hand, Parfit also argues that consequentialism is necessary for most if not all moral decisions. Citation upon request.

    Which means, at least to me and I’m no Parfit’s scholar, that consequentialism is necessary but not sufficient.


    I think this argument applies to the stance you take, Tom. Suppose for a moment that your view on Parfit’s argument is wrong. What will be your excuse?

  52. BBD says:

    What amazes me slightly is that we should argue about this at all. Given the rather clear implications arising from the climate science and environmental science.

  53. Jim, I agree that that argument is one that could be made and that could be interpreted as not being “selfish or short-sighted”, so I wasn’t specifically dismissing that argument (I don’t agree with it, but that doesn’t mean the argument couldn’t be made). I was more dismissing my interpretation of Latimer’s comment which, admittedly, is based on other conversations I’ve had with Latimer which have lead me to believe that his reasoning is not nearly as sophisticated as what you’ve presented. Admittedly I was also, maybe, just being a little dismissive so maybe Latimer’s reasoning is more sophisticated than I realise; he just hasn’t illustrated that yet.

  54. Tom Curtis says:

    My preceding post may have been a little abrupt.

    For those who have not followed BBD’s link, it is to a video posted by Jim Tantillo on his blog. The video purports to show a discussion between a “skeptic” and a “liberal”. It is immediately apparent that the “liberal’s” role is merely to set up the “skeptic’s” strawman arguments, then concede the point before moving onto the next. One example is given below:

    “Skeptic: How do you know those environmental scientists are right?
    ‘Liberal’: Because they are experts.
    Skeptic: At predicting the end of the world?
    ‘Liberal’: Yes, they have predicted environmental doomsday many different times.
    Skeptic: Have they ever been right?

    ‘Liberal’: It’s different this time.”

    Given that Jim has posted this video on his blog without comment, we can presume that he agrees with its contents, and its method of framing the debate. As he has posted other similar videos, it would be difficult to escape that assumption.

    So, if Jim wants to pretend to rationality – if he does not want to be revealed as a right wing wingnut who resorts to strawman arguments, misrepresentations and gross slander, he needs to defend the video he posted. He needs to show how the arguments used by the “liberal” in fact accurately reflect the arguments of those who accept AGW; and how the counter arguments of the “skeptic” are in fact justified.

    He can start by naming by name the climate scientists who have previously predicted other environmental disasters. The video he has posted, and therefore he, has slandered all climate scientists (except the 3% who happen to agree with him) as “predict[ing] environmental doomsday many times”. If he cannot name names, and show that those named are even 10% of climate scientists (which of course he cannot), he shows that his preferred method of debate is simple slander in the absence of evidence.

    And that consequently there is nothing to be gained by conversing with him.

  55. Jim Tantillo says:

    @Wotts “I was more dismissing my interpretation of Latimer’s comment which, admittedly, is based on other conversations I’ve had with Latimer which have lead me to believe that his reasoning is not nearly as sophisticated as what you’ve presented.”

    fair enough. and I appreciate your thoughtful responses all along. not easy issues to discuss.

  56. Thanks. To be fair to Latimer, I was also maybe be a little uncivil, but I think he can take it 🙂

  57. Thanks, Tom. As long as it leaves Parfit out of this, I don’t mind much, or I don’t expect anything else from Climateballers. And that includes Jim’s smug, for he quotes a section that ends with:

    > Depletion does not harm, or make things worse for, and is not “bad for,” anyone who does or will exist under the depletion choice.

    I’m not sure Latimer had this conclusion in mind.

  58. Tom Curtis says:

    Willard, you are being too brief for me.

    To clarify, I cannot speak to Parfit’s actual arguments as I do not currently have ready access to his books. However, the arguments as presented on wikipedia do have the flaws I indicate. If you believe otherwise, please show how they escape my criticism.

    I exempt from that his third argument, which I did not address. However, following Jim Tantillo’s second link, I found myself disagreeing with the first intuition before the article showed the role of that intuition in the argument. Therefore, IMO, the argument is also a non-starter and Wotts’ response is completely adequate.

    I do not see how the first two arguments show a problem for various utilitarianisms applied to decisions effecting the future unless you ignore my rebutals. Nor am I particularly concerned that Parfit is a consequentialist. For my part I am a deontologist, so I do not see how Parfit’s arguments can bite against my position even if we grant that they are sound (which they are not). So I do not see why I should need any excuse.

  59. “Wouldn’t bother trying”

    You wouldn’t bother trying because you couldn’t bother. Read the whole paragraph instead only the first portion in sks-ese.

    Look at your adjectives and your buddy BBD’s. Look whose expending energy on empty words and rhetoric.

    Why should there be any caps on per capita energy consumption? Keep your communist flags wrapped tight in your own pocket. Energy expenditure doesn’t kill anybody.

  60. dbostrom says:

    Presumably Parfit’s ideas are intended to operate within some reasonable bracket on a continuum? Or, is the reliance on fortuitous circumstances and an “invisible hand reaching across the centuries” a singularly poor and distorted interpretation of Parfit’s ideas?

    To my simple mind, it seems we can and do create a lot of wealth in a way that threatens to entirely foreclose large swathes of possibility for future generations. For instance, the industrial complex that created the hair-trigger “MAD” dominating the last few decades of the 20th century created a lot of wealth. Looking at the details of that history, it’s hard to ascribe the failure to use our capabilities to destroy to other than a compound miracle. I suppose a miracle could be said to be a manifestation of the “invisible hand reaching across the centuries” but it hardly seems a hand we should rely upon. Invoking miraculous invisible hands seems no better or reliable than attempting to perform magic; how many times will the magic work?

  61. dbostrom says:

    “Paying someone for what they have to sell, in return for money is trade. Both parties benefit in a fair trade. Paying countries to buy their crude is not an evil thing. It is fear-mongering from energy protectionists that makes you hate your sellers in the first place.”

    The term “heroin dealer” comes to mind when I read this. Trade, elastic concept of “benefit,” the moral neutrality of an atomic transaction, hatred of the vendor etc.

    Some might find methamphetamine a better metaphor; destruction is more or less imminent, partly a matter of opinion.

    There’s no “forward” in continued, indefinite addiction. It’s the missing “forward” that makes so many arguments in favor of fossil fuel use ring hollow. Indeed, “forward” is often denigrated in these discussions.

  62. Tom Curtis says:

    “Communist” now? You really are a laugh riot.

  63. BBD says:

    I still reject your dishonest framing and you are still unable to substantiate it. And your last two comments were incoherent as well as empty and verbose.

    If you are going to troll comments here, at least try to make sense.

  64. dbostrom says:

    “Energy expenditure doesn’t kill anybody.”

    Trivially easy to rebut:


    Etc. Dismissing these findings as part of a Communist plan isn’t going to work.

    One particular ton of coal can’t be found piled on any particular body but fortunately none of us are childish enough to take the argument to that level.

  65. > However, the arguments as presented on wikipedia do have the flaws I indicate.

    No problem, Tom. Let’s start with the end with the Wiki section:

    If we consider the moral ramifications of potential policies in person-affecting terms, we will have no reason to prefer a sound policy over an unsound one provided that its effects are not felt for a few generations.

    If you say that A or B is better, you have to specify to whom that applies. In the moral quandaries we consider, we can abstract away that variable, as we always end up comparing the same agents. In intergenerational problems, this creates a breach which Parfit can exploit with his thought experiments.

    This you readily concede when you say:

    > Therefore, the best that Parfit has done is shown that there are logically possible scenarios in which either Total Utilitarianism, or Average Utilitarianism fail.

    I don’t think Parfit wants to say more than that. He’s basically building his prioritarianism:


    So I don’t think it’s essential for Parfit’s argument that “per capita utility is approximately linearly related to available per capita resources”. All Parfit’s need to show is that, however that function is defined, resolving it depends upon identity questions. In other words, as long as you apply the same function F to all frameworks you wish to inspect, you’ll end up with having to compare well-being of uncomparable entities.


    You can’t solve this problem by flaming Parfit or Jim Tantillo.

    If all Jim wants to say is that these issues can be complicated, we have to grant him that. We can even grant Jim that Latimer’s not necessarily selfish and short-sighted. After all, Wott’s point was not that Latimer’s position is necessarily so. I’m sure he’d settle for the opinion that it sounds like it, considering Latimer’s overall not too subtle views on the matters.

    Therefore, what you may try instead of flaming Jim Tantillo would be to show that Jim’s going a bridge too far in his interpretation of Parfit’s argument. That Parfit gets used by libertarians might very well go beyond the limits of justified disingenuousness. If you take a look at prioritarianism, you should see why they try to find a breach there: Parfit’s a non-egalitarian, and Cato and the usual think thanks tend to astroturf non-egalitarian arguments.

    I would bet that paying due diligence to Parfit’s argument should reveal that Parfit’s non-egalitarianism is not quite compatible with the libertarian flavours the Cato Institute oversells.

  66. Trivial?

    From the study abstract:
    “We attempted to identify all available data on causes of death for 187 countries from 1980 to 2010 from vital registration, verbal autopsy, mortality surveillance, censuses, surveys, hospitals, police records, and mortuaries. We assessed data quality for completeness, diagnostic accuracy, missing data, stochastic variations, and probable causes of death. We applied six different modelling strategies to estimate cause-specific mortality trends depending on the strength of the data…”

    Remind me again why a computer guy like you just takes these epidemiologic studies and data at their word.

  67. dbostrom says:

    Specifically what is the problem, Pantysgawn?

    “I doubt it” isn’t a very good argument.

  68. Do you understand the study you linked to?

    I can ask a few choice questions myself, but Mr wotts blog keeps itself clean. Well mostly.

  69. dbostrom says:

    The Goat produce a firmly formed disagreement, apparently.

  70. dbostrom says:

    It strikes me that there may be some misunderstanding about the name “Pantysgawn.”

    Implicit rejection of the combined expertise of the World Health Organization, the University of Washington, the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, the World Bank and a handful of lesser entities by the goat (“Shub Niggurath”) is just the latest example of the goat’s claim to superior knowledge in a plethora of disciplines, wisdom exceeding that of a host of acknowledged experts. The particular discipline in question here is epidemiology.

    This fractured persona described by a single name is confusing. When the goat speaks, are we hearing from the ultimate authority on economics? Ethics? Epidemiology? Geophysics? It seems only reasonable that each domain of knowledge claimed by the goat should be categorized, fitted within a taxonomy, named separately for our convenience.

    As this goat (“Shub Niggurath”) is said to be so fecund as to claim a thousand young, it stands to reason that the goat is well-supplied with dugs. We can think of each dug as a fountain of a particular brand of knowledge. The produce of each dug be the name of a particular type of goat cheese. For easy handling and to avoid unnecessary spoilage, it’s best that this knowledge be in the form of cheese.

    Pantysgawn is the name of a particular kind of goat cheese. Upon reflection it also seems susceptible to a rude interpretation. The taxonomy and nomenclature of the goat’s manifold streams of judgment are hardly mature so the term can easily be changed. There are many kinds of goat cheese, some of which leave no bad aftertaste.

  71. Rachel says:

    What a great word – Pantysgawn. Never heard it before – must be my uncultured upbringing. I have to say I can’t stand goat’s cheese though.

  72. Given the politicians ensure the scientists will be as conservative as possible, the real risk is that the tipping points are under-, not over-, estimated.

  73. Indeed, and – as others have already pointed out – people are already interpreting low confidence as meaning it’s not going to happen, rather than as uncertainty about what may or may not happen.

  74. BBD says:

    Noted that Shub has still not substantiated earlier wild claims.

    Noted that Shub simply moves on to new nonsense. This is diagnostic of trolling.

    Does Shub claim that emissions from high volume coal combustion have no impact on respiratory health and mortality among populations exposed to them? That’s what it sounds like.

    It appears that Shub is making yet another wild and unsubstantiated claim that contradicts a very large amount of evidence. Bit of a silly thing to do, even for a goat.

  75. That's MR BALL to you. says:

    Just to point out that a lot of these anti-environmental memes come from the same source:

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