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Robert J. Shapiro
Chairman, U.S. Climate Task Force

Robert J. Shapiro

Robert Shapiro, Under Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration, is chairman of the U.S. Climate Task Force and Sonecon, an economic advisory group. ALL POSTS

What's Really in Doubt?

There are plenty of uncertainties in the current state of climate science, but there are no serious doubts about the four propositions basic to the push to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: 1) activity is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from burning fossil fuels; 2) atmospheric concentrations of those gases have been rising since industrialization; 3) those concentrations gradually raise temperature across much of the world; and 4) rising temperatures eventually will produce serious environmental changes. In short, climate science leads to a policy imperative for steps to reduce GHG emissions.

The doubts go to the details of this scenario, namely, how high those concentrations can go before they trigger irreversible climatic changes; and when and in what particular ways will those concentrations change the world's climate. These questions create daunting political challenges for any approach to reducing GHG emissions.

Historically, it's always hard for governments to convince people to bear short-term costs in order to get some long-term benefit - like social security -- and virtually impossible to get them to bear those short-term costs in order to avoid a larger long-term cost. The scientific uncertainties about the precise timing and character of the long-term costs of climate change make that challenge even more daunting.

The only realistic solution is to reduce those short-term costs -- and here, a carbon-based tax has distinct advantages over a cap-and-trade system. The carbon-based tax approach can reduce people's short-term costs by recycling the revenues as tax relief, such as cuts in the payroll tax, and all without reducing the program's impact of GHG emissions.  As is now evident in both the European Trading Scheme and the Waxman-Markey bill, however, the typical way to reduce people's short-term costs under cap-and-trade is to create large exemptions from the cap, which in turn sacrifices much of its environmental punch. The only winners in that case will be those who still deny the basic science of climate change.

By Robert J. Shapiro  |  October 14, 2009; 4:09 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg     Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Some say 'In short, climate science leads to a policy imperative for steps to reduce GHG emissions.'

By how much? How quickly? How certain are we of 'success' with our intervention?

Posted by: SteveofCaley | October 18, 2009 11:04 PM
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Good work. He's made up his mind and now he'll pause a moment for us to accept it on faith. It's a shame that the real-world data does not fully support his argument or hypothesis... not just with the current unseasonable cold spell... but 10+ years of cooler temps despite rising levels of human activity. Instead, he and many other followers of the Global Alarming Goracle rely mostly on amplitude of messages as a substitute for actual facts in context. As a response, we should a) apply rigorous scientific examination of real data and not b) near-religious prophecy of what might happen once the facts get behind the theory... elevating models created to predict particular outcomes to match those initially conjured up in the minds of so-called scientists who replaced the Scientific Method with the PR Event Method... followed by casting aspersions on those who don't follow the daisy chain of claims and accept them as facts... beyond a doubt.

Posted by: dbsinOakRidge | October 18, 2009 8:21 PM
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PHIGGITS,

OMG. Reasoned discussion threatens to break out in place of shouted talking points.

Yes, there are conservative forces in science, in the form of funding decisions, faculty hires, and so on. However, there are also high rewards for being the pioneer who breaks the consensus and introduces the next big idea. This is why science is itself a non-linear system, with long periods of "normal science" interupted by paradigm shifts (following Kuhn).

However, comparing the conservative forces within science to those within the energy industry, the sunk investment in the status-quo infrastructure, and the amount of money available to promote a message and buy political access and favor, I judge that the scientific consensus is more likely to track the "truth" than the industry consensus. In the end, the goal of industry is to accumulate profits, and incentives are skewed to favor immediate profits. In science, the goal is to accumulate credibility (so concludes Martian anthropologist of science Bruno Latour), and being the next youthful wonder is much less satisfying than being the next Durac, Volta, Newton, etc.

Chrichton's evidence is gathered to favor one side of the debate. Dissent is robust and pervasive. In my personal experience, "consensus" is not used to block questions. Rather, some dissenters want to create the artificially high hurdle of unanimous agreement for acceptance of the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis. This is unrealistic for a complex investigation of a complex system.

Models are built to be tested and discarded. The best are retained and tested again and again. It's a sign of an active and open science, not a conspiracy.

Posted by: j2hess | October 18, 2009 6:32 PM
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The political tasks are not just daunting, they are impossible. What we are left with is politicians paying political lip service to the idea of reducing ghgs but the actual reductions will always be passed on the next politician in line.

Posted by: edbyronadams | October 18, 2009 3:06 PM
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This guy is a shill for the global warming fraud squad. He yells alarm about CO2 but carbon dioxide comprises less then 1/2 of 1% of the atmosphere and there is no proof of any rise in CO2. These people are scammers and should be sued for fraud.

Posted by: nuzreporter | October 18, 2009 8:49 AM
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Mr. Shapiro makes a more reasonable presentation than most panelists, though not beyond a bit of criticism. It is almost surely true that increased concentration of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere will increase the energy retained by the planet. However, this is but one single factor among many which together determine global temperatures. E.G. consider jet airplanes, which add substantial CO2 and also stratospheric ice crystals which reflect surprisingly large amounts of the sun's energy back into space. I'm happy enough to agree that its probably not a good thing for Nature for mankind to be pouring our waste gases into the atmosphere with such abandon, but its not a forgone conclusion in my mind that this will dominate climate change in the future.

I do like his idea of a carbon tax however, because it would tend to reduce emissions and it would raise revenue. These revenues should certainly NOT go to reducing payroll taxes however, but should instead go to reducing our ridiculous National Debt.

Posted by: simpsonth | October 18, 2009 3:06 AM
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J2HESS,

I appreciate your thoughtful response and agree with your characterization of how models are built in iterative fashion. My concern is that the climate models most often cited are still being adjusted substantially because they haven't yet been able to predict future results with even rudimentary precision. In fact, the errors have often deviated enough that the model itself is called into question.

I consider myself a conservationist, but the science here makes me nervous. By the way, I recommend Michael Crichton's last book, "State of Fear." The appendix at the end of the book describes the current climate (sorry for the pun) for debate very well. When dissent is shouted down or when "consensus" is used in place of argument, we are in trouble.

One last thing. Tenured professors still have great incentive to toe the party line as they pursue grants that would fund their research.

Posted by: phiggits | October 17, 2009 10:07 PM
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PHIGGITS,

The 'follow the money' was not an attack on you, it was a response to jameschristian who used precisely that phrase to argue that climate change science is driven by money. Readers can judge for themselves whether tenured academics or the energy industry, lobbyists and politicians are more influenced by money.

As to models, I don't do climate science, but I do statistical models. The influence of the various factors in a complex system usually can't be predicted in advance; it has to be determined empirically - which means tested against the data, the results used to determine the weights, and then the weights are used to predict the results in a second sample. Adjustment based on data is part of the normal process.

I also know that these models are broadly accepted within the scientific community, and that scientists get prestige by proving their colleague's models are flawed and coming up with something better. When it comes to following the judgement of the scientific community or an unknown commentator on the internet, I'll go with the scientific community until you can give me examples of broadly accepted models that are wrong.

Posted by: j2hess | October 17, 2009 7:09 PM
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"PHIGGITS, you've demonstrated that you don't understand how models are developed, tested, and validated, nor what in means to predict when using a statistical model."

Actually, I do. Nice try, but this is not complex. Models are only useful if they actually "model" the usually large, more complex real world systems they purport to represent. The models we are discussing have a very poor record of prediction, which is really the bottom line when it comes to a model's usefulness.

You'll have to do better than ad hominem attacks related to who is funding whom and implying that critics just don't understand the issue like you do. Surely you can point to a model that has successfully predicted temperature behavior without adjustments after the fact...no?

Posted by: phiggits | October 17, 2009 5:10 PM
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In response to James Christian, could you kindly name some of the scientists who have proof of global cooling and cite the publications of their scientific experiments and/or measurements? It is not enough to say there is "great evidence." We need to know what it is and where it can be found and, as is the scientific standard, replicated. Thanks. I am serious.

Posted by: babsygee2 | October 17, 2009 4:53 PM
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Follow the money?

People investigating global warming are generally academic scientists with tenure that assures them of holding their jobs regardless of what conclusions they reach.

People seeking to deny the evidence are usually connected to and funded by the oild and energy companies that profit the most from the status quo and have lost the ability to generate real innovations. Plus, of course, those individuals emotionally attached to the way things are and afraid of change.

PHIGGITS, you've demonstrated that you don't understand how models are developed, tested, and validated, nor what in means to predict when using a statistical model.

Posted by: j2hess | October 17, 2009 4:51 PM
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The computer models that are relied on for the dire predictions are wrong over and over again. The same people who make the models the basis for their draconian solutions would never invest their own money based on similarly shoddy financial models. I don't care about the conspiracy theories on either side. I just want to see a public debate of the actual science. All we ever hear is "the debate is over," or "thousands of scientists say," or "the science is clear." When will the folks making the GWG claims actually address the seams in the "consensus" science??????

Posted by: phiggits | October 17, 2009 12:43 PM
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RE: Comment by JamesChristian 17 Oct 09 4:03 AM

Thank you for an nice example of the unhelpful confusion promulgated by a few Climate Change science detractors. The sole fact (factoid, really) that you cite, among your various unfounded assertions, is a 1989 "cooling period". You also might want to point out that this refers to an anomalous five year trend -- ending in 1989 -- against a background of a longer trend from around 1950 to 2004 that indicates a dramatic spike in global temperatures.

For a sample reference please refer to wikipedia: File:1000 Year Temperature Comparison.png. Less glib "keyboning" (see jawboning) is advisable. Some of us prefer "real" science.

Posted by: Earthizen | October 17, 2009 12:32 PM
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Problem for this entire forum is that it ignores thousands of scientists who have as much evidence of cooling as the manufacturers of the "warming crisis" have of warming. Follow the money. Every advocate of the warming theory draws his endowment, salary and political control from the warming side of this issue.

Perhaps if Al Gore wasn't shilling for the theory that's building a personal fortune for himself and his pals, not to mention introducing the Left-Wing control over our lifestyles the Left has desired for so long, it could be better believed. Every single contributor in this series is in hock to the side of warming, albeit with minor lip service to the degree of warming, without ANY explanation to the fact that warming halted in 1989 and in fact cooling is now in great evidence. Sorry, Gents. It's a sham.

You may now resume your regularly smug and self-serving lecture to the rest of us now.

Posted by: JamesChristian | October 17, 2009 4:03 AM
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