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Posts Tagged ‘SuperFreakonomics GW Controversy’

Worldwide Carbon Emissions No Longer Dropping — Is Anyone Surprised?

In our SuperFreakonomics chapter about global warming, a central argument was that greenhouse-gas emissions (and pollution in general) are an externality, and it is inherently difficult to control and/or price externalities. So, while it might seem sensible to encourage fewer emissions by taxation or price controls — or international agreements — the reality is complicated:

Besides the obvious obstacles — like determining the right size of the tax and getting someone to collect it — there’s the fact that greenhouse gases do not adhere to national boundaries. The earth’s atmosphere is in constant, complex motion, which means that your emissions become mine and mine yours. Thus, global warming.

If, say, Australia decided overnight to eliminate its carbon emissions, that fine nation wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of its costly and painful behavior unless everyone else joined in. Nor does one nation have the right to tell another what to do. The United States has in recent years sporadically attempted to lower its emissions. But when it leans on China or India to do the same, those countries can hardly be blamed for saying, Hey, you got to free-ride your way to industrial superpowerdom, so why shouldn’t we?

Does the Public Want Geoengineering? (And: Does It Need a New Name?)

As someone who has written about geoengineering (and been hit with the requisite slime for doing so), I was more than a little surprised to see the results of a survey about the public’s view of geongineering (abstract here; PDF here) by researchers at the University of Calgary, Harvard, and Simon Fraser University, and published in Environmental Research Letters. From the press release:

Research on geoengineering appears to have broad public support, as a new, internationally-representative survey revealed that 72 per cent of respondents approved research into the climate-manipulating technique…. Public awareness of geoengineering is remarkably broad. Eight per cent of the sample were able to provide a correct definition of geoengineering, an increase on previous estimates; however, 45 per cent of the sample correctly defined the alternative term “climate engineering”, adding weight to the argument that “geoengineering” may be misleading and difficult to understand.

The Incomprehensible Jargon of Science

We blogged recently about the challenges of communicating scientific uncertainty to the public, especially when it comes to climate science. The October 2011 issue of Physics Today contains yet another article addressing the very same concept. From the article:

Scientists typically fail to craft simple, clear messages and repeat them often. They commonly overdo the level of detail, and people can have difficulty sorting out what is important. In short, the more you say, the less they hear. And scientists tend to speak in code. We encourage them to speak in plain language and choose their words with care. Many words that seem perfectly normal to scientists are incomprehensible jargon to the wider world. And there are usually simpler substitutes.

We particularly like the table provided at the end of the article, titled “Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public.” For example, the scientific term “uncertainty” translates to “ignorance” for the general public; the article suggests scientists use the word “range” instead. Error, which the general public reads as “mistake, wrong, incorrect,” might be better replaced by “difference from exact true number.”

The Downside of Research: How Small Uncertainties Can Lead to Big Differences

Contrary to popular perception, most research yields very few conclusions with 100 percent certainty. That’s why you’ll often hear economists state their conclusions with “95 percent certainty.” It means they’re pretty sure, but there’s still a small margin for error. The science of climate change is no different, and, according to a Washington Post blog post, scientists are currently struggling with how to explain that uncertainty to the public. “What do you do when there’s a small but real chance that global warming could lead to a catastrophe?” asks Brad Plumer. “How do you talk about that in a way that’s useful to policymakers?”

Is Climate-Change Hysteria Bad for the Environment?

A new study called “Apocalypse Soon?” by the psychologists Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) finds that, for people who implicitly believe the world is fair, dire warnings about climate change may make them more skeptical about the concept.

Matthew Kahn Answers Your Climatopolis Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for Matthew Kahn, the author of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future. His answers, covering everything from water scarcity to Moscow’s recent heat wave, are below. A big thanks to Matt – and to everyone who participated.

How Cities Adapt: A Q&A With Climatopolis Author Matthew Kahn

There are plenty of dire predictions about what will happen to our cities if the worst predictions about global warming were to come true: flooding, droughts, famine, chaos and massive death. But Matthew Kahn, an economist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, sees a different future. He tells that story in his new book Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future.

Geoengineering: "The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come"?

In Washington, D.C., this morning, the New America Foundation (in partnership with Arizona State University and Slate) is holding a “Future Tense Event” called “Geoengineering: The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come?”

Horse Manure: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

A story told on pp. 8-11 of SuperFreakonomics – about the plague of horse manure, the introduction of the automobile (an “environmental savior”), and the resulting carbon emissions — has been turned into (of all things) a Mercedes-Benz commercial.

My Mom, the Psychic

When I tell people about my parents, they never believe me. But the truth is, my father really is the world’s foremost medical expert on intestinal gas, and my mom really is a psychic.

Testing Geoengineering Before It's Needed

The SuperFreakonomics chapter on geoengineering solutions to global warming has generated plenty of heat, but scientific and political interest in the concept is on the rise.

Ken Caldeira's Carbon Solution

There’s been a brouhaha over whether we “misrepresented” the research and views of the climate scientist Ken Caldeira, whom we write about in the global-warming chapter of SuperFreakonomics. We’ve been in constant touch with him over the past few weeks, since we wanted to amend future printings of our book if indeed there were misrepresentations. If you want to know the end of this story, just skip ahead to the bottom of this post. Otherwise, here’s the background:

Geoengineering to Have Its Day in the Sun

Most readers of this blog are probably aware of the tit-for-tat between us and some critics of our global-warming chapter in SuperFreakonomics. In the larger scheme of things the dispute is practically meaningless, at best a very distant second to the actual climate issues on the table.
To that end, the best news I’ve heard recently is that Congress will next week hold its first-ever hearing on geoengineering solutions to global warming. I’m grateful to Ken Caldeira for alerting us to this hearing; he will be among the climate scientists to testify.

Steve Levitt on The Daily Show

He wondered if he was in for a Jim Cramer-type beatdown. But it turns out that Jon Stewart doesn’t appreciate the global-warming fanatics either, and gave SuperFreakonomics a thumping endorsement.

Are Solar Panels Really Black? And What Does That Have to Do With the Climate Debate?

It seems inevitable that discussions of climate science would degenerate to being deeply politicized and polarized. Depending on which views are adopted, individuals, industries, and countries will gain or lose, which provides ample motive. Once people with a strong political or ideological bent latch onto an issue, it becomes hard to have a reasonable discussion; once you’re in a political mode, the focus in the discussion changes. Everything becomes an attempt to protect territory. Evidence and logic becomes secondary, used when advantageous and discarded when expedient. What should be a rational debate becomes a personal and venal brawl. Rational, scientific debate that could advance the common good gets usurped by personal attacks and counterattacks.

Global Warming in SuperFreakonomics: The Anatomy of a Smear

Our critics accuse us of manipulation and cherry-picking and misrepresenting a variety of arguments about climate change and energy production. If everything they said was actually true, it would indeed be a damning indictment. But it�s not.

The Rumors of Our Global-Warming Denial Are Greatly Exaggerated

SuperFreakonomics isn’t even on sale yet, and the attacks on our chapter about global warming are already underway. We are working on a thorough response to these critics, which we hope to post on the blog in the next day or two. The bottom line is that the foundation of these attacks is essentially fraudulent, as we’ll spell out in detail.
Like those who are criticizing us, we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon and that global warming is an important issue to solve. Where we differ from the critics is in our view of the most effective solutions to this problem.