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Things I thought were obvious!

Posted on 2 January 2015 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from And Then There's Physics

I hope everyone had an enjoyable and pleasant New Year’s eve, and I hope everyone has a great 2015. The more I get involved in the whole climate debate, the more I start to realise that things I thought were obvious, are not obvious to everyone. This may explain why it is so difficult to discuss this topic with some; you’re not even working from the same basic assumptions. I don’t expect much will change, but I thought I might highlight some of those things that I thought were obvious, but that may not actually be obvious to others.

  • The destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of species is something we should be aiming to avoid or minimise.

I had assumed that the above was something that most would agree was relatively obvious. The natural world is both amazing and also a crucial part of our own survival on this planet. Unnecessarily risking damage to ecosystems on which we rely seems incredibly foolish and would seem to be something we should be avoiding. After discussions with Richard Tol on my previous post, it would seem that some (maybe even many) do not agree. It appears as though some think that we can adapt to virtually anything. I find it hard to believe that this is true, and I would really like to know if scientists who study the natural world agree.

  • The climate change issue is really about risk, not about certainty

Something else I had thought was self-evidently true, was that climate change is really about risks that we might face, not about showing that we will definitely do so. It is possible that we might warm less than we expect. It might even be possible that the changes will be beneficial, rather than damaging. However, this doesn’t change that we might warm even more than we expect and that the changes could be extremely damaging. Therefore, it seems obvious to me that the real discussion should be about what we might face through climate change and the risks/costs associated with minimising these climate change risks. However, it does appear that there are some who think that we need to show that climate change will definitely be detrimental before we should consider doing anything about it. Not only is this not how one does a risk assessment, it also sets a virtually impossible target. We cannot know with certainty what will happen in the future. The best we can do is consider what might happen under different possible scenarios and consider, given that, how we should proceed. One could be generous and assume that some just don’t realise how one should undertake a risk analysis. The more likely alternative is that some are just setting impossible targets so as to make it difficult (virtually impossible) to act to address the risks associated with climate change.

  • Better estimates for climate sensitivity are not necessarily all that relevant.

This comes from reading what Matt Ridley writes and from brief (rather pointless) discussions with Nic Lewis. It appears as though they are amongst a group who seem to think that what we need to do is find the best possible estimate for climate sensitivity and then base policy on that estimate. The problem here (as I had thought was obvious) is that if the analysis does not rule out – with high confidence – climate sensitivities that might lead to damaging impacts under future emission scenarios, then you can’t simply ignore this possibility. This is related to the whole risk assessment issue discussed above; one doesn’t ignore a possible risk simply because things will probably be fine. As I understand it, you need to consider the chance that things will not be fine and balance that with what would be required to minimise that possibility.

  • This isn’t about survival of the species, but survival of our civilisations

This may be obvious to all, but sometimes it’s not clear that it actually is. Climate change probably does not present a true existential threat. Whatever happens, there will probably still be life, and humans, on this planet in the coming centuries. The real issue is whether or not the planet can continue to support a human population in excess of 7 billion people with a general standard of living that is – ideally – better than it is today. If all we were worried about was the survival of the species, then climate change doesn’t present much of a risk. If, however, we would like to maintain – and improve – the lives of the descendants of those on the planet today, then an increased risk of heatwaves, significant changes to the water cycle, ocean acidification, and other possible changes, do present a real risk.

I’m not an expert on risk analysis, so maybe I have got some of this wrong. The above are just things that I had thought were relatively obvious and yet have found that many seem to think otherwise. I may well be biased. I’ve lived for more than a year on 4 different continents, and have seen many amazing places and environments. I really appreciate the natural world, and see it has having both intrinsic value as well as being crucial for our own survival. However, maybe others have experienced the same as me but, for reasons known only to them, don’t see it the same way. My understanding of the evidence is that climate change presents real risks and that this suggests that we should be acting to minimise those risks. Others seem to disagree.

So, maybe everyone has the best of intentions and just see different ways to achieve the same basic goals. Sometimes I do think that there might actually be multiple ways of achieving the same thing. We don’t know what will be best, or most effective, and – hence – there may be more than one plausible way forward. However, this would seem to require that none of the options actually violates, or ignores, physical reality. Given that, it’s hard to see how those – for example – who are arguing for the increased use of coal, are not doing essentially this (well, unless their goal is to increase the risk of climate change doing extreme damage). I do think the whole climate change discussion would benefit from people clearly defining their underlying assumptions, their goals, and illustrating that they understand the possible consequences of their preferred way forward. Sadly, it seems obvious that this is not what is going to happen, and maybe this is something obvious on which we can all agree.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 72:

  1. Climate denial can't be separated from gun ownership, free-market anti-tax faith, gated communities, redistricting, libertarianism, and the US Supreme Courts Citizens United decision.  All of these social movements suggest a mindset that can, in fact, ignore the commons, with enough wealth and power.  "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you" comes with its own logic in a World of 7 billion people and an unspoken but deeply held belief that everyone else should just go away.  Powerful news agencies now preach this idea that everything would be OK if people would just keep the nose to the grindstone and mind their own business.  Hence, although I think there's going to be an unacknowledged general push to transition the economy toward non-fossil sources (with everybody acting in the interests of their own self-preservation), arguing for it, celebrating it, advocating for it, is going to be subject to knee-jerk reactionariism, as people trained to 'read between the lines' (i.e. insert Faux News bias into your mouth) continue to find clues in such talk of a 'deeper threat to the union'.  So, I guess what I'm saying is that if you're waiting for the lowest-common-denominator to recognise the logic of your (plainly reasonable) arguments above, its not going to happen.  Continued general improvements will have to move forward steadily and broadly, victories celebrated quietly, so as not to arouse the passions of a public stoked into fury over 'Green is the new Red' preaching.  For some time into the future, this is going to remain 'the crisis which cannot be named'.

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  2. One thing I believe is obvious and understood by everyone, but is never admited by those opposed to the developing better understanding of this issue is:

    "Many people are simply not interested in limiting the benefit they can personally get for themslves in their lifetime. They will argue against any understanding that would constrain their freedom to do as they please no matter how clearly unacceptable what they want to do may be."

    That simple unacceptable attitude applies to many matters, not just climate science. Some people deliberately refuse to better understand things that are 'not in their interest'. Those people will never be convinced to care about consequences someone else will face. And the current socio-economic-political system of deceptive creation of temporary popularity and profitability encourages people to choose to develop and hold on to that unacceotable attitude.

    The power of misleading marketing and the ability to create unjustifiable impressions is a serious problem. Susan Cain pointed to some of the changes of attitude that occurred in the 1800s in her book "Quiet: The Power of Intorverts ...". She pointed to a transition of society from admiration of substantive credibility to adoration of image.

    So a major challenge to helping others better understand an issue like climate change is to find out if the person is even willing to better understand the issue. If they are not you might try to challenge them regarding their resistance, but perhaps the better use of your effort would be to move on to someone more receptive to better understanding the issue.

    Everyone does not need to accept the better understanding of what is going on. Those who will not willingly limit what they do just need to face imposed limits on their behaviour, no matter how wealthy they are at the moment.

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  3. Is this a science disussion forum website or a socio/political website?

    The problem isn't people being self interested. The problem is that anthroprogenic catastrophic runaway greenhouse has not sufficiently made it's case. People will never accept the theory when there exists so much accepted common sense science that refutes what self interested politicians and gravy train riders bleat out to people with no respect for the people's intelligence.

    For example - the oceans will gradually acidify when atmospheric c02 continues to rise. So why did the Cambrian Explosion happen when c02 was between 2,000ppm and 8,000ppm. That's just something you can't make disappear from common knowledge. These are the simple reasons why anthroprogenic catastrophic runaway greenhouse will never take in the minds of the majority. 

    Branding the majority of humans as being predominantly self interested economically above their own planet is misinterpreting the data - if I can put it that way.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please read and comply with the comments policy. It would also help if you studied some of the material here (eg "CO2 was higher in the past")

    [Rob P] -  "So why did the Cambrian Explosion happen when c02 was between 2,000ppm and 8,000ppm"

    This is a frequent problem, people who think they understand a particular aspect of science when in fact they don't. You cannot acquire the prerequisite knowledge by reading spoof science sites like WUWT or Climate etc. Of course you could prove me wrong by informing readers what the carbonate saturation state (i.e. corrosiveness) of the ancient oceans was back then. I'll be waiting......  

  4. gac73 @3, the problem not that so much of climate science disagrees with "common sense science".  Typically when experts disagree with "common sense" the normal reaction has been to trust the experts.  There is a simple reason for that - the experts know so much more than we do about the subject.  For example, they know that the ocean acidifies in the face of rapidly rising CO2 because the CaCO3 washed into the ocean from chemical weathering of rocks is used up.  Over long periods, with increased CO2, there is increased warmth and hence increased precipitation so that more CaCO3 is washed into the ocean.  So, high CO2 is perfectly compatible with relatively lower ocean acidity than is current - but rapidly rising CO2 will still cause an ocean acidification problem.

    We recognize, as I previously suggested, that "common sense science" is based on very limited knowledge.  That those who relly on it don't know enough to know that the scientists are wrong; and what is worse, don't even know that they don't know enough (which represents a stunning sort of arrogance IMO).  But when we are invested in the scentists theory being wrong - whether because it challenges our love of motor sports, or our adherence to an extreme free market ideology, or calls into question just how much good we in fact handed onto our grand children after a long life of productive contribution to the community, or some other reason - we suddenly think our ignorance gives us enough knowledge to know better than the scientists.

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  5. I suspect many people reject «the science» (maybe I should refer to it as «emerging awareness of reality») when they feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason, with its consequences. An example: in the 1950’s, when I was a teenager, on several occasions I heard adult White people say words to the effect of “If I am no better than [derogatory work for Black people], then who am I better than? My dog?” I do not refer only to unintelligent, uneducated, or bad people. Many years later most of these same people were far less uncomfortable (if not altogether comfortable) with folks of a swarthier persuasion.

    Some attitudes changed due to reason, or to religious awakening, or to experience. In all cases it involved coming to comprehend that manifestly different folks offered no real threat.

    It is interesting to note that many anti-climate demagogues couch their propaganda in terms of climate scientists and others intending to change society into what they hold to be unappealing forms. They advise paying attention to pronouncements that they say provide no discomfort. Like Paul Simon’s reference to Comfort Words in «The Boxer»: “All lies and just; still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…”

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  6. gac73@3,
    The description of the purpose of this site makes it clear to me that it is about developing a better understanding of what is going on regarding climate science and is specifically striving to address the deliberate unjustified attempts to discredit climate science or fool people regarding what is understood regarding climate science.

    Regarding your comment about the certainty of climate science (and not specifically a reply to you but more an observation of beliefs that are 'out there'), shouldn't people who want to benefit from an activity be required to prove with certainty that there will be no harmful consequence to other life and that the entire human population could develop to enjoy that activity if they choose to rather than fighting to maintain the ability to benefit more than others can? And shouldn't the measure of improved ways of living be the ability for humanity to continue living that way into the distant future? And if an unsustainable and damaging activity is allowed to be done shouldn't it be cutrtailed as soon as possible with the vast majority of the benefit being the development of a sustainable better future for all with no one who already has their basic needs met benefiting from the activity? Why is there an expectation that more certainty is required regarding the unacceptability of the clearly unsustainable and clearly damaging burning of buried hydrocarbons? Again I am not referring to you personally. I am referring to what can clearly be seen to be going on around this amazing planet we all should share the joy of life on.

    What is clear is that a few, far from the majority, put their self interest so high above the development of a better future for everyone that they have deliberately been playing a deceptive public relations gambit to delay the development of, and broader acceptance of, the better understanding of what is going on. Those people have a lot to lose if effective measures get put in place that would limit their ability to continue to unacceptably benefit.

    The most powerful and wealthy who do that are unlikely to change their mind. It is quite certain that they know how unacceptable what they do is. And they also know how to temporarily tempt other people into sharing deliberately fabricated and completely unjustified beliefs regarding issues like climate science and the harm of burning dug up hydrocarbons (and the harm of tobacco and alcohol, and the dangers of overuse of chemicals to kill forms of life that are inconvenient for humans, and the unsustainability of making plastic things, and so much more profitable damaging activity that can be made temporarily popular in spite of the developing better understanding regarding their unacceptability).

    Globally, it is appears that the majority actually want 'everyone' to have to behave better. And it is clear that the biggest trouble makers have the most to lose if they are effectively forced to behave better and care to share, hence their motivation to try to get away with unacceptable misleading marketing to prolong their ability to benefit from unacceptable behaviour. Winning one election in a nation any way they can get away with gives them 4 or 5 years of regionally unrestrained ability to try to do as much damage as possible (restarined only by things like public protests that effectively change public perception and civil disobendiance that effectively blocks what they try to get away with). Thankfully those types currently holding the reigns of power in Canada and Australia and having significant influence in the USA have not got the global power to keep meetings like Lima and Paris from happening. All they can do is try to make those meetings as unsuccessful as possible.

    I believe it is possible for everyone to better understand what is going on. There really is not that much of a mystery behind the temporary successes of the people who currently mask who they really are by hiding behind the political Conservative banner around the world. Most of them carefully appeal for the temporary support of people who may be inclined to not want to accept climate science or any other developing better understanding that is contrary to their personal pursuit of what they want to get away with.

    Success in climate science can be seen to be constantly developing the better understanding of what is going on even if that is challenged by the fact that it highlights the biggest trouble makers among us as the damaging people they actually are. Many of them do not care about reducing the global harm done by human activity or want the development of a sustainable better future for all because being wilfully uncaring was a competitive advantage that allowed them to become wealthier and more powerful. And that way of being is what they hope to continue getting away with. They simply need to be seen for the damaging uncaring people they are. And the type of people they actually are is being made clearer by the continued improved understanding of climate science and so many other issues that are contrary to their interests.

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  7. Thank you SO much for this important prologue.   This is key, and yes often overlooked.   

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  8. Re gac73: The problem with citing "common sense science" is that it often doesn't really make sense of the real world.

    Take gac's example of the Cambrian Explosion during CO2 levels of 2,000ppm to 8,000ppm. Notice that gac did not make any mention of how CO2 got that high, or the timescale involved, e.g. how long it took to reach that high a CO2 level during a period of Snowball Earth glaciation, and how long it took to fall to a lower level through the formation of cap-carbonate sediments during the Cambrian.

    Time during which, as Tom Curtis pointed out, silicate rock weathering produced sufficient CaCO3 to both mitigate ocean acidification and to reduce atmospheric CO2; time during which marine life evolved to deal with a more, then less acidic ocean. Nor did he mention the fact that the sun was several percent dimmer in the Cambrian than it is today, which means it took a higher level of CO2 to produce the same increase in greenhouse warming than it does today.

    It seems gac's "common sense science" doesn't take any of these factors into account, only the simple fact that CO2 was much higher during the Cambrian than it is today. And from that gac concludes that all was fine. Well, it was, but Earth was not quite the same planet that we live on today, was it? Nor was it inhabeted by the same species it is today.

    So much for "common sense science," but then gac does lace his drive-by comment with the phrases "self interested politicians and gravy train riders" and "anthroprogenic catastrophic runaway greenhouse", even as he decries the socio/political nature of this post, so it's clear gac isn't really interested in the science anyway.

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  9. I can never help to wonder if I am to be part of people when one mentions insulting people's intelligence. And then there is that newfangled "common sense science", a concept begging for definition if I ever saw one. Are there degrees in it? Like a scale following the sensibility of the common sense according to how many beers have been consumed before exercising it? I wonder...

    Common sense would be to ask oneself the following question: what would happen to all the life currently existing if conditions were suddenly (say, no hurry, over 500 years) to become what they were during the Cambrian explosion? Interesting thought experiment that is. One could say that we really don't know what could happen, but that there was such a thing as the Cambrian explosion so it couldn't be all that bad, right? So we might as well party on, right?

    Common sense, for sure...

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  10. Philippe: Like beauty, "common sense" is in the eye of the beholder.

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  11. Is "uncommon sense" the opposite of "common sense"?

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  12. Since this evolving into a 'socio/political' discussion (to borrow gac's phrase) I'll offer my .02 cents, for whatever it's worth....

    I am part a close group of 20 or so friends, age range late 20's to mid 30's. As you can imagine, we have many lively discussions on a wide range of topics that directly affect our lives (jobs, healthcare, family planning, etc). We are a very diverse group, and not particularly Conservative, and don't hold back with our opinions. 

    When we do talk about Climate issues (which is not very often) there is a distinct shift in the 'atmosphere' (pun intended). There are usually 3 sides involved, the side (most of my friends) just roll their eyes and lose interest, then there is me with my strong arguments for action to stop Climate Change and finally a very vocal 2 or 3 friends that oppose any such action for all the usuall reasons.

    I say all this because I hope this will represent what I think is really happening in the Climate discussion these days. I don't think there are many that avoid the discussion because they don't want to deal with the consequences, they don't care because they are suffering from media fatigue on this issue and could care less. The few that do argue have been following things at least as long as I have, more that 5 years, and are well equipped to defend their point of view. These few make it very hard for me to gather support, the follow the growing list of exceptions to the main stream pov. That is why I read SKS, in hopes of countering their arguments, it doesn't always work though! :(

    I guess what I'm saying is that the reasons a large percentage of Americans don't care about Climate issues are many; apathy, studied skepticism, laziness, whatever. Let's not paint them all with one big brush.


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    Moderator Response:

    [Rob P] - I suspect your friends are likely to be in a comfortable space. It's easy to reject reality when it is not yet impinging on your lifestyle. That comfort will not persist given our current trajectory of fossil fuel emissions. Their two main choices will be to either accept the gravity of our predicament, and do something to help turn the ship around, or retreat further into their fantasy world.

  13. Regarding the "This isn’t about survival of the species, but survival of our civilisations" there was an Oxford expert survey on Global Catastrophic Risks. But perhaps somewhat suprisingly climate change was not in the top list of existential threats to humanity.

    However, I think this survey missed that different problems interact with each other. Even if a couple of meters sea level rise is not an existential threat to humanity, the greatest risk with climate change may well be that it risks starting conflicts including use of nuclear and future molecular nanotech weapons. This could also very well be the main risk for humanity.

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  14. jenna@12: perhaps, as this article suggests, you could 'turn' your skeptical friends by referring to risk.  As in, 'what is the consequence of your being wrong versus the consequence of my being wrong?'.

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  15. "I can never help to wonder if I am to be part of people when one mentions insulting people's intelligence" usual inclination is to reply,

    "then stop saying stupid things when the subject of climate change comes up"

    Which is generally unproductive in terms of eliciting a positive dialogue.

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  16. Appreciate the comment and context Jen,
    you wrote: '...this evolving into a 'socio/political' discussion...they don't care because they are suffering from media fatigue...I guess what I'm saying is that the reasons a large percentage of Americans don't care about Climate issues are many...'

    For what it's worth I agree with all your experiences and have come across similar mindsets.

    What is central to all arguments is the understandable media overload as you pointed out. This overload was the prime strategy employed to successfully counter the international scientific consensus that tobacco was harmful to human health; and they still do in emerging economies as you are aware.
    A strategy where the vested tobacco interest; that is employed professional lobbyists, dedicated advertising agencies, business or political partners who all colluded to create dissention, distrust and doubt.

    Naturally because of diversity of levels of education, experience, age, family history, politics region etc.etc. means the emotive triggers this professional group hit vary greatly. I call all that 'diversity and variability' simply a group or individual's 'life conditions'.

    This same tobacco industry strategy as you will have realised is employed on denial of the warming and acidification of our ecosystems oceans.

    Realistically unless you personally are involved as a working earth or climate scientist who specialises, publishes and carries the credibility these disciples have; countering the closed loops of denial science is generally fruitless. Circular reasoning chasing denial logic works like that. As the individual or group caught is affected by the ability to focus. They simply get confused by fallacious circular logic created by the attack on the consensus.

    When it is understood it's the international consensus that is the greatest threat to the carbon industries in this paradigm shift in energy production. 

    That is; simply making others appreciate that deferring to those who are experts as working earth and climate scientist is the clever decision.

    The interesting benefit in the exploration of the logic of deferring to experts is generally it unearths the emotive trigger hit by those professionally attacking the international consensus. This information in turn gives leverage to build on in any future discussions around the actual science.

    However this is where greatest issue in my experience dealing with the denial in North America is and what I have labeled 'team support' for the last five years. Where the individual or group falls into the simplistic Liberal or Conservative stance. This roughly speaking breaks into two further subcategories. Those who believe in creation or don't. As the last Gallup Poll in North America found only 21% of North Americans believe the bible is a fable.^ So the challenge of all the diversity in religious ideology comes attached.

    Once it is established this denial is due to political and or religious ideology. Then it is a matter of getting the individual to understand what their position is. 

    It must be said; the choice between ideology and science seems simple. But when others confuse science with ideology it gets very difficult.

    As any skilled critical thinker will tell you it is crucial to be able to recognise personal biases, setting them aside and analysing any information.

    No one will be forced into believing what we know are facts. It is only with all the interior questions answered or as the truism goes 'being honest with ourselves'. Without it, no amount of logic will convince anyone. So all we can sometimes do is establish an individual's biases firmly front and centre of their thinking.
    Make them own their biases, rather than defer to their 'team' as their default position.
    If change in thinking is possible it follows this awareness.

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  17. "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."

      Albert Einstein


    Thanks to Jim Eager, Tom Curtis and others. Now I know the rebuttal to yet another skeptic argument that I hadn't heard of before. 

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  18. Jenna @12

    Like you,  I am a layman who has spent much time learning all I can about the science.  And I have similar experiences talking to friends, co-workers about climate change.  You said your skeptic friends were also well equipped to debate you.  More likely is that they are well equiped with all sorts of misinformation that they are practiced at using in arguments.  Someone who spends 5 years at sites like WTFUWW is very well confused and willingly so.  "Skeptics" arguments often have just enough "truth" in them to make them plausable to a great many people.

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  19. @Moderator

    I respectfully accept the warning regarding the struck out statement above.

    But it doesn't change the fact that there are those who seek to exploit current circumstances on both sides of the arguement.

    Perhaps I should have chosen my words with a little more precision.

    The point I made above is actually neutral, neither for or against the science of anthroprogenic catastrophic warming. The point that I am making is that the case has not been made in a manner which the majority are willing to accept. The majority are and always will be creatures of common sense appeal. Counter intuitive evidence is not something that the majority accept easily. So when there exists a common sense perspective, that is intuitive, it appeals to the majority i.e The Cambrian Explosion and c02ppm 5 to 22 x higher than today.

    I am very interested in the science, which is why I am here on this site. But I'm not here to discuss politics or economics, despite my intense interest in both of those areas as well. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [Rob P] - so, in other words, you admit that you have no idea what the carbonate saturation state (corrosiveness) of the oceans were back then. One thing is for sure, it cannot be calculated with only one known parameter of the ocean carbonate system. See Zeebe (2012).

  20. Unfortunately this is an anthropcentric discussion that is misleading about what sound decisions can now be made by people. the reality is that technolgical systems do the work, positive and negative. The objective to 'avoid or minimize destruction of ecosystems' does not take into account the fact that industrialized civilization is irrevocably destorying ecosystems at a high rate. Irreversible climate change is already under way. The best we can do is make smart decisions about the use of  technolgical systems to mitigate or adapt to what is happening. But, for example, closing down coal-fired power stations will not be a popular decision. The discussion about 'climate sensitivity' presumes people can make sound decisions even when they do not understand the stark reality. The discussion of 'survival of the human species' does not take into account the irreversible aging of the vast infrastructure that provides the goods and services that society has become so dependent on. What will people decide to do when, for example, the grid can no longer supply electricity and fuel for cars, airliners and ships runs out?

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  21. I approached this a little differently some 5 years ago and thought well, I need to live this life if I expect others to.  No one pays attention to obesity advice off an obesie physician, for example.  So we did.  We moved to a milder climate (adaption will ensure migration is necessary), we reducued our emissons by living off the grid, reduced our emissions by not flying for holidays, not driving, not owning a meat eating pet, cutting back on meat comsumption and growing lots of our own produce. I gave up my job, enforced penury does marvels for comsumption reduction.  At first I thought look at all I am giving up and that's exacty why people don't want to move to a low carbon life.  It's taken me years to realise everything I have gained.

    What I do know now after living an ultra low emissions lifestyle, is that the people understand and accept the science are the problem, they refuse to mitigate, blaming others (politicans, business etc) for their own profligate emissions. 

    We have not yet begun to counternace the changes we need to make, Ted Trainer aside, and it's already to late.  Until people actually start living a low emssions lifestyle, engaging with freinds and peers about why and voting only for politicans who are serious about climate change, we will never get anywhere in regards emissions reduction, just more yak yak.

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  22. Unfortunately those who are most affected both by climate change and who are most affected by the lack of the cheap and reliable power that fossil fuels supply, are not represented at this web site.  Comments made here are exclusively from those with comfortable lives, probably (but by no means definitely) economically relatively untroubled and who owe their comfortablr lives to the cheap and reliable power that their society has enjoyed from the burning fossil fuels.  The discussions above on socio-economic problems and differences are laughable in the context of the terrible problems faced by so very many in the world who lack access to clean water, medical care, sufficient food, education and all of the other trappings of life we in the West, take not only for granted but as our God given right.  These people live in low emissions societies but would welcome without any question the advantages they could get from the cheap, reliable energy provided by burning fossil fuel.  I would be very, very interested in posts from those in these societies.

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  23. Why would such energy need to be in the form of fossil fuels? Or are you just trolling?

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  24. @Rob re William

    Fossil fuel is abundant and cheap. It is affordable for third world countries that must lift the living standards of empoverished communities.

    Renewables are at this point unreliable, expensive and costly to maintain on a scale required to provide energy to hundreds of millions of people.

    Fossil fuels are supporting the exponential economic growth in China and has lifted millions out of abject poverty.

    Until renewable energy can be obtained as cheaply or at lower cost, fossil fuels will be the playform that continues to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty.

    I highly doubt that William is a troll for merely expressing his point of view.

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  25. Fossil fuels fail on cost. They are prohibitively expensive compared to renewable forms of energy even if one excludes all the many lives lost each year to particulate pollution, and the medical cost of treating those that survive, because fossil fuels are warming the atmosphere and oceans and are causing seawater to become corrosive. Furthermore, rising sea level will drown many of the poor island states and nations such as Bangladesh. These are costs that must be borne at some stage, and pretending that they don't exist isn't a particulatrly convincing argument.

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  26. No, Rob Painting, I wasn't "just trolling".  Why would you make such a comment?  Do people from the developing world post here?  It is true that Renewables are becoming cheaper than fossil fuels but are you suggesting that developing countries should rely  on renewables as the sole source of  their energy supply?  Surely not, for, as yet, renewables do not supply the constant baseload power required to develop an economy.  And do renewables provide the cheap transport options that oil does?  

    I was trying to look at the position of the developing world through unbiased eyes not through the prism of the privileged Westerner.  Perhaps it is that  you refer to as trolling.  And on that, my thanks to gac73@ 24 for the comment "I highly doubt that William is a troll for merely expressing his point of view".  It is refeshing.

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  27. Rob and William,

    Why worry about Bangladesh when there are so many problems in the USA (or Australia if you live there).  Miami is designing new sewers to attempt to keep high tide out of the city center.  This will work as long as it never rains during high tide.  Beach nurishment costs hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the USA.   Much of that work is required because of sea level rise.  As sea level rise increases it will become impossible to protect the beaches.  The only question is how long before low lying areas are no longer defensible.  Already inland states complain that they do not want to subsidize insurance rates anymore.  If insurance goes to market rates the Florida real estate market will plummet.

    China would not have agreed to build out renewables if they were not suffering through choking smog.  Reports of children with lung cancer from the smog are common.  Reports of Companies installing solar power in India because fossil energy is unreliable are also common.  For homes in many developing countries solar is the only choice, no grid exists.  You are claiming that they will be better off building two systems.   First a fossil grid and then a renewable grid.  Why pay twice for the same service?  They will save money by building the renewable grid first.

    Texas would not be the state with the most wind energy installed in the USA if wind was not the cheapest way to generate energy.  The argument about baseload is a red herring.  Actual economic studies show that renewables can provide baseload power.  Currently utilities subsidize night time rates because they have excess baseload they cannot use.

    William, your argument amounts to claiming that people are too stupid to be able to build out renewables.  What do you expect civilizations in the future to do after all the fossil fuel has been burned??  Perhaps they will be smarter than we are.  That time is not so far in the future.  China and India already have difficulty sourcing their coal.  Should we wait for all the carbon to be gone before we implement the replacement?

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  28. Gac73 and william

    There is no such thing as common sense science. Common sense is not science. Science is observation, hypothesis, collecting and tabulating data, verifying, peer review and then other scientists accepting the hypothesis so that it becomes a part of mainstream scientific theory. What you call common sense science is either basic science or not science at all.

    The basic science of climate change is that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels are increasing to levels not seen for millions of years. This increase in CO2 is and will heat the planet, and this heating is and will cause a climate shift. Despite all their rhetoric, the denier hypothesis, in simple terms, is that increasing greenhouse gases won't warm the planet. Unfortunately, deniers don't ever seem to be required to prove their hypothesis with peer reviewed research.

    So far we have seen arguments that deny warming, nothing strange is happening, or it's all just natural. None of this rhetoric stands up to significant peer reviewed scientific scrutiny. Now the latest argument from the climate doubting community seems to be that increasing the CO2 level and changing the chemistry of the earth's atmosphere doesn't matter, even though it is a greenhouse gas and will heat the planet. They cite times in the planet's history when CO2 levels were high, like around the Cambrian, when trilobites were the dominant species, or during the Cretaceous when, for a time, dinosaurs roamed Antarctica. Mind you the configuration of the continents was different and the Sun's radiation was significantly less than it is today. But that doesn't seem to matter to a denier despite the reality that at no time in human existence have CO2 levels been as high as they are today. Also, at no time in the Earth's history has the CO2 levels changed as quickly as they are today. While the worst case IPCC scenario would cause some fairly extreme changes in climate, which will seriously impact significant parts of the planet, there has never been the suggestion it would cause a runaway greenhouse like there is on Venus. It may, however, severely impact ecosystems that are important for sustaining humanity at its current standard of civilisation.

    As for the "coal is good for humanity" argument that Australia's PM Tony Abbott seems so fond of, it too doesn't stack up as a long term solution to alleviate poverty in the Third World. A simple calculation based on known fossil fuel reserves world wide and consumption rates used by high emitting nations like Australia and the US, indicates that fossil fuels are not a viable long term energy solution to their problems. If they consume fossil fuels at the per capita rates that the high emitter nations do, then there would only be about 50 years of fossil fuel energy left. Also, this would put the CO2 levels to well over 1000 ppm with all the global warming consequences that that would incur. The only long term solution are renewables. Unfortunately, no-one seems to know what an economy will look like in a mainly solar powered, wind turbine world. This is because solar panels and small wind turbines, which have a lifetime of decades, on the roof of every self-sustaining energy household does not easily fit the current corporate mine/power company/consumer model for supplying energy.

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  29. Manacan @28.  Can't see where I used the term "common sense science" or even implied that I believe in it.  I'd be grateful if you could point to the comments I made that lead you to the  conclusion that I did.  I am aware alternatives to fossil fuels are being used to some extent in the cement and aluminium industries but, with the exception of hydropower,  these have not yet entirely replaced  the use of fossil fuels nor seem likely to in the near future.  I'm surprised  you don't comment on the role of nuclear power.

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  30. Fossil fuels are cheap only because the vast majority of their associated costs are hidden or "externalized." If these costs were factored in, FF would become more expensive than renewables. Beyond a certain point, hiding becomes impossible. We're running a huge credit card bill on our planet, the debt is cumulative and will not go away. We're in a race, in which Thermodynamics always win. We're just having the attitude that it's ok because it's a generational relay race and we'll have handed the stick over when the finish line is crossed, so someone else will have the sour feeling of no winning...

    For what it's worth, my electricity is from hydro.

    I've lived in countries of the kind mentioned by commenters above. By far their worst problems are human problems: corruption, cronyism, misallocation of resources, leaders who don't give a rat's about their people. The West caters to it so long as they benefit. It is no less physically possible to implement sustainable solutions in these countries, just more difficult because of the human factors of governance.

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  31. Incidentally, anyone throwing around ridiculous concepts such as "common sense science" should not be expected to be treated kindly on a site where a lot of moderators/contributors have a record of peer-reviewed publications...

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  32. William @26.

    You will really have to try a lot harder if you wish to "look at the position of the developing world through unbiased eyes not through the prism of the privileged Westerner." If a society is as you describe @22 lacking "access to clean water, medical care, sufficient food, education and all of the other trappings of life we in the West, take not only for granted but as our God given right," the adjective "developing" would be a bit of a misnomer as 'development' has jet to begin. The best options for providing power within such societies are probably renewables which, once set up, do not depend on the arrival of the next coal truck from the coast. "Base load" or "transport options" are hardily applicable for the initial power needs of such communities.

    And the relevance of such societies to discussion of AGW mitigation is low when compared with societies that are actually developing.

    Even so, the total CO2 emissions of all societies beyond the 'privileged West', when the carbon footprint of goods manufactures for export are factored in, their emissions remain the smaller part of today's emissions. So to suggest that there is some reason for the west to re-evaluate its position in light of the situation facing the developing world (or some paret thereof) is at best exceedingly foolish. At worst, it is trollish.

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  33. M.A. Rodger @32

    I concur wholeheartedly. The societies that William describes will probably be currently supplied with electricity from a petrol or kerosene generator, supplied to local (town or village) distribution network which will be operational for a few hours each day. The fuel will probably be supplied by trucks slowly traversing potholed roads. There will be no transmission network or associated infrastructure (substations) thus rendering "baseload" irrelevant

    In such a scenario, small scale solar and/or wind installations are a significant improvement in life quality, especially if coupled with battery usages (such as electric bicycles). The installation can grow incrementally without large up-front infrastructure costs.

    There are interesting parallels with the telecommunications developments in the third world. Most, if not all, of Africa has mobile phone access (supplied by companies such as MTN), without having gone to the expense of building an extensive static copper/fibre infrastructure to support the now largely redundant land-lines.

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  34.  MA Rodger you comment "So to suggest that there is some reason for the west to re-evaluate its position in light of the situation facing the developing world (or some paret thereof) is at best exceedingly foolish.  At worst it is trollish"  Commenters on this site do seem a tad fixated on trolls.

    It appears to have escaped your attention that the failure so far to replace the Kyoto Treaty with one that is acceptable to all nations is that re-valuating its position is exactly what the developing countries want the West to do These countries argue that they should not be expected to forgo fossil fuel exploitation, which is what the West asks of them,  as the development of the West was largely facilitated  by the burning of fossil fuels.  

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  35. Re: william@22 and gac73@24 and beyond,

    I often present the case that since the impacts of burning buried hydrocarbons are unacceptable the only ones who should benefit in any way from such an activity should be the poorest of the poor. And they should only benefit for as long as it takes to rapidly transition them up to a sustainable decent way of living.

    Any 'developed' economy or society heavily reliant on the ultimately unsustainable burning of buried hydrocarbons (they are non-renewable) actually has no future, really isn't 'developed' at all.

    That perspective challenges the beliefs and desires of many people in the so-called 'developed' societies. So I agree with you about the real problem being the attitude of those type of people in developed societies. However, those same unacceptable attitudes exist in developing societies.

    The global GDP has increased many times faster than the global population. And every nation with desperately poor people in it has enough total wealth for the poorest to live a decent basic existence. The real problem is clearly the socio-economic-political system raging around the planet which actually encourages and rewards greed, and rewards intolerance that will vote side-by-side with greed.

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  36. "These countries argue that they should not be expected to forgo fossil fuel exploitation, which is what the West asks of them"

    It would be an extraordinarily daft thing to do, to encourage poor nations to expand fossil fuel consumption at a time when the very consumption of said fossil fuels is effecting dangerous change on Earth's climate and ecosystems. True, most wealthy nations are doing zip and in fact are increasing their emissions of CO2, but do you jump off a cliff because it's the trendy thing to do?

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  37. "Why worry about Bangladesh when there are so many problems in the USA (or Australia if you live there)"

    Rich people can move. Poor people not so much. 

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  38. william @34.

    Concerning trolls, your stance here does not appear constructive or come-hitherly, just like a troll's stance. I don't see where your pushing this developing world argument is going other than to present a contrary position. And you set your argument so poorly that it does not appear genuine to me.

    Concerning the replacing of Kyoto, it is wrong to suggest that such a follow-on to Kyoto was unobtainable because "the West" insisted that developing countries "forgo fossil fuel exploitation" which developing countries then refused to do. Rather, it was the US in particular that has struggled with making commitments to emissions cuts when developing countries had not been asked to make such commitments. Or perhaps it is more correct that the US has struggled to make any commitment whatever towards reducing its emissions.  Such a stance is difficult to countenance when the US is arguably the number-one emissions offender. And it was after all the US that failed even to ratify Kyoto.

    This argument you make on behalf of developing countries, are you then arguing that extra emissions to 'facilitate' economic development should be added to the allowable emissions from such countries? How many GtC did you have in mind to budget for such an allowance?

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  39. Rob Painting @ 36 and 37.  From your cosseted Western Worldview point  It may well be "extraordinarily daft" to ecourage poor nations to expand fossil fuel consumption but  the view point of the "poor nations"  is why should they forgo the economic advantage that the West enjoyed by doing just that?  This comment may, again, be viewed as trolling by commenters here but if so, perhaps any such commenter may like to look at the comments from these countries at Copenhage, Cancun and Lima.  Not sure if you're in Australia, I think you are, but here people are reluctant to move, say, from NSW to WA or vice versa to get work.. That doesn't really gel with your comment that rich people can move.  They may have the ability to do so but that certainly doesn't translate to motivation.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Pratter designed to antagonize other commenters is not welcome on this website. Either comply with the SkS Comments Policy or relinquish your privilege of posting comments. 

  40. william@39 said "the view point of the "poor nations" is why should they forgo the economic advantage that the West enjoyed by [exploiting fossil fuels]?"  I don't think that actually IS their viewpoint.  In any case, since developed nations built their development on the back of inexpensive fossils, its incumbent upon them to spurt the development of inexpensive non-fossils, and they are doing just that (not quickly enough, but still).  And what is inexpensive in Australia is now also inexpensive in India.

    This graph of solar PV prices compared to typical fossil sources shows the consequence of wealthy communities investing in expensive renewable solutions to kick-start supply-chain efficiencies.  It's quite dramatic.

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  41. You say Common Sense and I say Myths and Old Wives Tales

    Tomāto ....

    Tomăto .....

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  42. Several commenters have discussed the variety of types of people who are «Deniers». Regarding people who deny science matters other than CO₂ emissions, I know a young person who denies Evolution; is a passionate partisan of Young-World Creationism; is a climate activist; and is also a ΦΒΚ graduate, currently a grad student. Obviously not a person to be scorned. Also and just as obviously, a person outside the 3σ range.

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    Moderator Response:


  43. william @34:

    "These countries argue that they should not be expected to forgo fossil fuel exploitation, which is what the West asks of them, as the development of the West was largely facilitated by the burning of fossil fuels."

    It is odd.  I have a very considerable familly connection to Africa (dating from 1671), grew up partially in Africa, have close familly involvement in Africa both politically and developmentally, and am in regular indirect communication with Africans (I act as my mother's secretary in her direct communications).  Never-the-less I would not be so arrogant, as William is, to pretend I can speak for Africans, or tell the world what Africans are saying without direct quotation.

    When I do try to find out what the Africans are saying, I find that they are saying that "... with 96 per cent of African agriculture dependent on rainfall and 50 per cent of fisheries related jobs estimated to be lost by 2050, climate change poses unimaginable consequences to livelihoods in Africa. Thus, the ministers were forthright in calling for a new climate regime that is legally binding and which addresses the continent’s needs after the current regime- the Kyoto protocol expires in 2015." (Source)  I also find their negotiating position to be that they should urgently shift to renewable energy, but require funding assistance to do so (source, details of proposed scheme).

    Neither of these positions looks anything like the unsourced opinion William ascribes to them.  Indeed, what appears to be happening here is that a particular privileged westerner, ie, William, is seeking to put his views into the mouths of the third world rather than taking the care to find out what the people of the third world are themselves saying (which, I am sure, is a host of different and contradictory things just as in the West, but the informed and official positions seem quite clear).

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  44. Rob,

    While I am sure that you and many of the other posters at SkS care about Bangladesh (I am partial to Tuvalu also), it is my experience that most deniers in the USA do not care about other countries.  Since there are so many examples of people in trouble from climate change I use examples from Florida (where I live).  Students in my class care more about sea level rise affecting Miami than the much greater number of people affected in Bangladesh.

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  45. Actually I would like a clear statement from William on whether he accepts that FF have uncosted externalities which would substantially change the price if costed. If William does not accept this, then why not?

    Would he accept an alternative principle that future adaptation costs (starting immediately) resulting from climate change (especially those resulting in agriculture loss due to salt invasion from rising sealevel, land loss, and water cycle changes) be apportioned to countries in proportion to their cumulative contribution to change in climate forcing? Countries could chose whether to simply accept migrants and settle them, or pay for irrigation, desalination, flood protection, sea walls etc that would allow agriculture at pre-2010 levels.

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  46. @mancan18

    If you haven't read the post correctly, nor have reading the clarification post above, then I'll not bother making a point regarding your post that states "there is no common sense science"

    What I will say however, is that William didn't use any words remotely resembling the words "common" , "sense" or "science". I'm hoping that merely because I am the view that he stated regarding fossil fuel use in the third world, that you haven't just assumed he has used the same terminology on a completely different train of thought, that I used above?

    And by the way - despite the clarification above, there sure is a thing called common sense science. It's common sense to avoid statistical noise and it's common sense to respect error margins in data. This is something that I see regurlarly missing from claims made by particular people from a particular side of the AGW arguement.

    When claims made upon data that fails to respect common sense in science, you can't expect common sense people to buy it. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You are skating on the thin ice of sloganeering which is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

    [PS] Gac73 - you are making vague illusions to problems that you perceive with the science that without any supporting evidence so this comes across as mere sloganneering. Things that are "believed" as common knowledge in denier community often do not bear close examination. If you have points to make it would be better to illustrate with specific examples and support your assertions with references. Eg you seem to be claiming climate science is ignoring error limits and statistical noise.  A specific example of this problem would avoid the charge of sloganeering.

  47. GAC73,

    At last you are making sense!  The denial side of the AGW debate almost never respects error margins and rarely avoids statistical noise. For example, this RealClimate post details deceptive graphing, deliberate selecting the most error prone data to hide the increase and shows no error margins in a popular denier widget.   On the other hand, virtually every claim in the IPCC report has detailed error margins and claims are backed by statistical evaluations.  It is good that you agree with us on that.  

    Now that that issue is resolved, what else do you want to discuss?

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  48. gac78@46: "It's common sense to avoid statistical noise and... to respect error margins in data."  But that applies as well (and perhaps more forcefully) to economics than to hard science.  The (perhaps unnecessary) cost of Climate Change mitigation is variously estimated to be 0.5% to 5% of annual GDP (analysis easily found here at skeptical science).  Rough, but hardly earth-shaking.  Meanwhile, the cost of inaction starts at 5%, and continues out to 100%. (to quote this article about just sea level rise: "If governments fail to take any action, the annual cost of damage stands to reach... as high as $100 trillion").  So, when you wrap your error bars around that, its quite obvious what our course of action should be, regardless of hurt feelings among the Saudi's and Russians (aye, but 'there's the rub', isn't it?).

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  49. I am guessing that most agree that we humans are not very acute when it comes to envisioning non-linear change... I am puzzled when (as is often the case) the possibilities of climate-change fueled human extinction are fairly blithely dismissed as they are in this article. Yes, we are an adaptable lot and will likely figure out how to survive in the climate of a 4C or so world if it comes to that. But there are over 400 nuclear sites (this is not including actualy nuclear weaponry) on our globe and some are in highly fragile geo-political areas (India, Pakistan, Israel).  How can we possibly assume that the extremely complex and continuous monitoring required will survive in the, not unlikely, mass breakdowns of a 2C, 3C or 4C and beyond world? We can't.

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  50. Knowingly or unkowling, William is just here peddling the Lomborg, Tol and Breakthrough crowd party line that Eli is currently discussing over at Rabett Run. Maybe he should take it over there.

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