Sunday, 7 April 2013

King Canute on Global Warming Part II


Today's blog is a bit off topic. In Last Month's 'The Melbourne Anglican' there was an article on Christians and climate change. Thinking about the topic, it occurred to me that our efforts to "Save the Planet" may inadvertently condemn unimaginable numbers of humans to misery or even starvation.  So I wrote a letter to the TMA  which they kindly published in this issue. However due to word limits I could only make one point with a link to my elder son's blog on which I intended to put the rest. Now that I have started my own blog (with a lot of help from my elder daughter who is a keen blogger) I shall post it here ...

The remainder of my thoughts on Climate Change and CO2 reduction :-

From about 1570 … Called in retrospect the Little Ice Age, this new era of climate continued for about 300 years.

Thousands of French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian farms on the foothills of the Alps were devastated by the colder seasons. Glaciers, most formidable around 1600, reached the houses of villages on the lower slopes and crushed them. The villagers had time to flee but many lost house, vegetable garden, barn, woodheap and grassy strip of pasture: they lost everything. In 1616 in a French-speaking village in the Chamonix Valley only 6 of its 21 houses remained. The glacier, crawling along, was an object of terror.

Small processions of villagers, led by a priest or even a bishop, went to the edge of the glacier and prayed that it might halt.”

(From Geoffrey Blainey “A Short History of the World” Penguin Australia 2000, p.417)

We do not have to go far back in history to find climate change affecting humans, in this case for worse. A little further back a warm patch affecting people favourably then a cold one brought hardship, again from Blainey, (p 265)

A Warm period intervened during the middle ages, and the two centuries between 1000 and 1200 were perhaps as warm as the 1990's were to be in Northern Europe. Harvests were sythed on lands which once had been seen as not worth ploughing, so frail were the summers. Vineyards flourished beyond the present limit of grape growing. Even the far north of England made drinkable wine. In Scandinavia, large tracts which previously were covered with ice were grassed enough in the late spring and in summer for the feeding of livestock. … (p268) The warm seasons, after only a couple of centuries, began to alter. Even the Mediterranean island of Crete entered a colder phase in about the year 1150. In Germany and England the cold arrived nearly one century later, and most years between 1312 and 1320 were not only cold but unusually wet. Rain, falling at an unwanted time, could be as devastating as drought. … In the space of six months in 1316 maybe one in ten of the people in Ypres died of starvation or malnutrition. In 1330 began four successive years of famine in parts of France.”

If we go back through the time of the dinosaurs, the great ice ages, the time of lush forests and swamps when the world's coal deposits were laid down we see continual, often extreme climate change. If we go back far enough we find conditions on Earth so extreme that we could not even use the word 'climate' for them.

So natural climate change is something we should expect, even if we cannot yet determine how, why or how much. Man made climate change ...well I for one don't want to get onto that debate! As I pointed out in my letter in the April TMA, there is a much more fruitful line of inquiry.

We seem to have developed not just an industry but a whole raft of industries dependent on money being poured into reducing CO2 emissions on a world scale.

Scientific research bodies are the obvious ones. Very many careers, claims-to-fame, professorships, research grants and so forth are based on CO2 reduction research in all its forms.

NGO's and QANGO's follow with many an income and many a prestigious job tied to CO2 reduction lobbying.

Even down to community groups and churches there are many people whose sense of being movers and shakers is inextricably tied to their advocacy against carbon emissions.

Industry dependence is growing. The whole so-called renewable energy sector. Many of their products are known to be considerably more expensive than the conventional ones they aim to replace. So their only defence against being called “waste of money” is in putative CO2 reduction.

So we have a situation which may have tragic results for the world. The best interests of all these people are are in a way like the best interests of say the armaments industry. War is more profitable than peace. For the “war on CO2 emissions” lobby, their vested interest lies in the “war” continuing, rather than in “winning”.

As I pointed out in my TMA article they are clearly not winning. Even a cursory investigation of the fossil fuel mining industry current and projected growth shows they are not winning.

But the continued pouring of resources into the “war” will cripple our ability to confront and adapt to the very real climate change, whether natural or man made which will inevitably come upon us. The planet will survive (it has been through much worse)  but many humans may not.

PS In the TMA article I promised an explanation of the “Prisoner's Dilemma”. There are many real-life situations where it does not give the right answer. However I suspect that the behavior of  nations committing to drastic reduction of CO2 emissions may well follow this model.

Here is an extract from Wikipedia:
"The prisoner's dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence rewards and gave it the name "prisoner's dilemma" (Poundstone, 1992), presenting it as follows:
Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don't have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. If he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge. Oh, yes, there is a catch ... If both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail.
In this classic version of the game, collaboration is dominated by betrayal; if the other prisoner chooses to stay silent, then betraying them gives a better reward (no sentence instead of one year), and if the other prisoner chooses to betray then betraying them also gives a better reward (two years instead of three). Because betrayal always rewards more than cooperation, all purely rational self-interested prisoners would betray the other, and so the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them both to betray each other. The interesting part of this result is that pursuing individual reward logically leads the prisoners to both betray, but they would get a better reward if they both cooperated. In reality, humans display a systematic bias towards cooperative behavior in this and similar games, much more so than predicted by simple models of "rational" self-interested action.[1][2][3][4]
There is also an extended "iterative" version of the game, where the classic game is played over and over between the same prisoners, and consequently, both prisoners continuously have an opportunity to penalize the other for previous decisions. If the number of times the game will be played is known to the players, the finite aspect of the game means that (by backward induction) the two prisoners will betray each other repeatedly. Game theory does not claim, however, that real human players will actually betray each other continuously. In an infinite or unknown length game there is no fixed optimum strategy, and Prisoner's Dilemma tournaments have been held to compete and test algorithms.
In casual usage, the label "prisoner's dilemma" may be applied to situations not strictly matching the formal criteria of the classic or iterative games: for instance, those in which two entities could gain important benefits from cooperating or suffer from the failure to do so, but find it merely difficult or expensive, not necessarily impossible, to coordinate their activities to achieve cooperation."

PS .... in answer to Comment #1 :  the word limit was set by the TMA editor. the link to the article now on my son's blog is:

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Great article. Where exactly is the link to the TMA article? OR am I missing something? Also, why is there a word limit? A word limit on what exaclty? This blog software, TMA, or something else?