After I discussed Lomborg’s latest book about climate change in my previous post, it came to my attention that there is a website dedicated to its flaws at http://www.lomborg-errors.dk/ . Initially I was very concerned because it indeed shows some very serious issues about the book and Lomborg’s methods in general.
Upon closer inspection however, it turns out that the critique completely misses the point. The same goes for Ackermans paper ‘Hot, It’s Not – Reflections on Cool It!, by Bjorn Lomborg‘ and the other critics that I’ve been able to find so far.
What they are not seeing, is that Lomborg is proposing a paradigm shift. Or at the very least, they don’t understand the paradigm shift. I demonstrate this later on, but let me first explain this new paradigm. Please pay attention, as paradigm shifts tend to be hard to get if you are not used to them.
- A new paradigm for looking at climate change? (part 1)
- Introduction to the new paradigm
- How to properly use this paradigm in your critique of Lomborg
- Debunking Cool It Critique (part 2)
- My personal take home messages from Cool It
- How bad are Lomborg’s Errors?
- Polar bears
- Heat and Cold deaths
- Melting glaciers
- Sea level rise
- Hurricanes and extremes
- Final score Lomborg versus Fog
- What’s with the precautionary principle? (part 3)
- What about Ackermans paper?
- The organizational perspective
A new paradigm for looking at climate change?
The way I interpret Lomborg is as follows:
Climate change is not inherently good or bad. It is only the effect of climate change on issues that matter. For any particular issue, climate change is not the only factor that influences it. When dealing with an issue, we should focus on the most effective ways to do so.
If this doesn’t strike you as new, please read it again. If you don’t understand what I am saying here, please leave a comment and I will try to rephrase it somehow.
Introduction to the new paradigm
When two scientists look at a problem from completely different angles – i.e. paradigm – it is almost as if they are speaking two different languages. They both can’t make any sense of each other. Have you ever noticed how people who don’t speak your language properly always seem less intelligent? That’s human nature and it doesn’t help the situation.
What does help is a translator and both parties trying to learn each others language. I hope to contribute to that end in this rather lengthy blog post.
Let’s get started with a simple example, before I go through the critique in more detail. The numbers and assumptions in this example are not important; they are like your high school math examples. Remember the smart kid in class that always took these examples too seriously and asked annoying questions? That might have been me, so let’s not do that here shall we?
Imagine the Dodo is still be out there and that we interact with it in our traditional way: club them to death on a massive scale just for the fun of it. Now it turns out that if global temperatures increase by two degrees Celsius, 5% of the dodo population will die every year in heat waves. Your objective is to have as many dodos as possible in 2100. Environmental groups, governments and big oil companies have settled on a deal giving you $50.000 dollars to do this. What would you do?
Allowed assumptions (trust me, I’ve seen worse assumptions in some peer reviewed papers):
- There are 1000 dodos in the year 2000.
- Dodos do not have babies
- Dodos are immortal except when it comes to clubbing and heat waves
- Currently, 100 dodos are clubbed to death every year
- For a beer ($5) you can convince somebody not to club
- Temperature goes up by 0.02 degrees per year (2 degrees per century)
- For one degree Celsius above 2000 levels, 2.5% of dodos die (5% for 2 degrees)
- Reducing temperature by 0.01 degree costs $100
- No inflation or economic growth
- No change in human population
- Measures stop if dodo goes extinct or when you run out of money
I created a simple Google Spreadsheet to simulate four different solutions. You can find it here.
Solution 0: doing nothing
Temperature will increase by 0.02 degrees per year, clubbing proceeds at 100 dodos per year. This will result in the dodo going extinct in 2009. Total cost is $0.
Solution A: keep temperature stable
Temperature will not increase, but clubbing continuous at 100 dodos per year. This will result in the dodo going extinct in 2009 after which the climate measures are suspended and the temperature increases at 0.02 degrees per year again. Total cost is $2000.
Solution B: stop clubbing
Temperature will increase by 0.02 degrees per year, but clubbing stops. Dodo population decreases steadily to 525 in 2049 when the money runs out. After that, the clubbing continues and the dodo is extinct in 2054. Total cost is $50,000.
Solution C: do both
Temperature does not increase and clubbing is stopped. Dodo population remains stable at 1000 until in 2041 when the money runs out. After that, the clubbing continues and the temperature starts to rise, causing the dodo to go extinct by 2051. Total cost of $50,000.
Solutions 0 and A both result in the dodo going extinct by 2009 and they do not use the full budget. It is safe to conclude that they are no good.
Solutions B and C fail to save the dodo from extinction, but do manage to keep the dodo around for another half a century. The important differences between these two is that even though solution B delays the final extinction by a couple of years compared to solution A, the number of dodos is lower at most times for B.
Since you have completely failed your objective, it is tricky to judge which solution is better, but it is clearly either B or C.
If you were forced to choose between either controlling temperature, or controlling clubbing, you should definitely go for the latter.
The best solution is probably a combination of both measures and more modeling would be required to figure out which combination.
How to properly use this paradigm in your critique of Lomborg
If this example was unleashed into the scientific community, it would receive very strong criticism from all sides.
Lomborg and the energy industry would probably argue that lowering the temperature is far more expensive and that even the slightest attempt at reducing temperatures would result in a quick extinction of the dodo.
Greenpeace would say the negotiations were unfair and demand that the government puts in much more money to save the poor dodos. They would also be very upset about the clubber bailouts. They will probably release a slightly modified version of this video.
Animal lovers would demand severe punishment for clubbers in stead of beer bribes.
Ecologists would demand that the model at least includes reproduction. At that point a strong debate will take place over the proper estimates for reproduction. If this debate gets overheated than people who suggest a high birth rate are seen as climate change deniers.
Still others would rigorously point out that I have completely mislead the world by stating that the cost of scenario C was $50,000 while the actual result was $50,400 due to a severe bug in the model.
This would go on forever and most of the critique would be completely legitimate.
However, it misses the point.
All critics seem to have in common that they do not phrase their answers within the same paradigm. They invariably do not explain how their critique influences the solutions to the issue being discussed. They either take the focus away from the issue and back to climate change in general or only focus on the effect of climate change on the issue.
I will use the example of Greenpeace hypothetically protesting against buying beer for dodo clubbers. I will show how they would likely present their argument and then explain how they should properly do it.
Expect a quote from them along the following lines:
Rewarding people who do bad things is bad! We should punish them and use the money for alternative energy! How dare Sjors present such a ridiculous scenario?!
What they neglect to do here is explain how to save the dodos. They should do their own research on a modified model and add the results to their press release:
In stead of paying $1000 dollars per year to clubbers, we have put the clubbers in jail and invested in alternative energy. We were able to buy a very small wind mill for $50,000, which reduced the yearly temperature increase by 0.0001%. We find no significant difference between our results and curve B before 2049, but after that our result is dramatically better. We end up with about 100 dodos in 2100, whereas solution B predicted complete extinction by 2054. We saved more dodos for the same price!
Now the discussion is using the same language and now we can start comparing options. Critics could now argue that you can’t just put clubbers in jail for 100 years and that buying a $50,000 windmill had absolutely no effect. They will then propose a scenario where the clubbers are sent to jail, but there is no subsidy. Using the same model they will find that this solution has the same result as the hypothetical Greenpeace plan, but is $50,000 cheaper.
It is crucial to guard against fuzzy reasoning where people all of a sudden start taking about additional factors, without actually accounting for them in a quantitative way. For example, one might argue that the proposed investment in alternative energy will create jobs. Such reasoning is misleading however, since the original argument was about saving dodos, not about creating jobs.
If you want to include jobs into the equation, that’s fine, but then you must first rephrase the objective to something like: “Create five jobs and save the dodos.” It may then turn out that there is more than one way to create these jobs and save the dodo.
You may of course disagree about the validity of the paradigm itself, but this is not currently happening, simply because none of the critics show any sign of understanding it, as I will show later on.