Thursday, December 3, 2009

Climate Church Indulgencies

From time to time I write about the global warming thing, so if you've been with me for a while, you'll have noticed that I don't have an opinion one way or the other about if it's really happening, and if so if it's man-made, since I've never made the effort to study the matter. On the other hand, ever since the early 1970s - that's many long years before anyone thought the world was heating up - it has been my consistent opinion that churning gazillions of tons of junk into the atmosphere can't be a good idea; the fact that the main beneficiaries are the Saudis is an additional reason not to like the setup.

I've also been consistent in saying that the solution should be forward looking, not backward looking. Don't turn off all the lights, kill all cars and shut down the airports; rather, find cleaner, cheaper ways tap energy and apply it. (If someone would figure out how to replace airplanes with "Beam me over, Scottie", I'd be most appreciative).

Today's Guardian has an article about one James Hanson, who seems to be the fellow who invented the whole subject of global warming. As you might expect from a scientist, he's got no patience for the politicians:

Hansen is also fiercely critical of Barack Obama – and even Al Gore, who won a Nobel peace prize for his efforts to get the world to act on climate change – saying politicians have failed to meet what he regards as the moral challenge of our age. In Hansen's view, dealing with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world of elected politics. "This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill," he said. "On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%."

This black and white unworldliness, a fierce focus on one issue to the detriment of all others that face mankind, may well be what enabled Hansen to succeed in his crusade. It also underlines why cynical, compromising politicians may be more appealing types than fanatic scientists. Further on in the interview, however, he makes a startling point about cap-and-trade:

He is scathing of that approach. "This is analagous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what's happening," he said. "We've got the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual and then these developing countries who want money and that is what they can get through offsets [sold through the carbon markets]."

The Economist, which I read regularly, is a staunch advocate of cap-and-trade. To me it has always seemed pure humbug. Rather than investing trillions in developing better technologies, it suggests a fiendishly complicated and nontransparent system in which the trillions move endlessly through banks, copiously shedding commissions as they go, and at the end of the process a polluting factory in, say, Germany, pays some fellow in Indonesia not to cut down trees. The polluter still pollutes, and the trees are nice. How have we moved forward?

Apparently Hanson agrees. Who'd have thunk.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to see coal power plants required to stick a greenhouse at the end of their chimneys.

Not so enthused with the 'Make Al Gore a Billionaire' carbon bs.


Lachlan said...

The indulgences racket has been going on as part of the climate change scare for a while, in the form of "carbon offsets". People like Al Gore make you feel guilty for killing the planet by living the good life, then offer to sell you a convenient (unverifiable) offset to wash away your sins. Here in Victoria, Australia, many trees planted as carbon offsets recently got burned up by bushfire, re-releasing all that nasty carbon. So now they have to make sure they replant trees corresponding the carbon lost to the fires. I'm sure they'll do all those calculations correctly. Of course, the main objective is achieved regardless - the people who paid for the trees still feel less guilty, even if the trees are ashes.

Australia only very very narrowly avoided having a cap-and-trade system actually made law two days ago. Even it's proponents admitted it couldn't change the climate at all (because Australia's CO2 emissions are tiny anyway). The economic equivalent of 20 million people wearing hairshirts.

t34zakat said...

Professor Richard Mueller on 'Climate-gate'
Fall 2009 lecture 28 0:18- 9:30

Mueller is convinced about the reality of global warming, but he's upset by the amount of molding of data that's been going on.

For anyone with a casual interest in physics (including nuclear weapons and reactors), those lectures are well worth listening to.