[BLML] Meretricious and a Happy New Year [SEC=UNOFFICIAL]

richard.hills at immi.gov.au richard.hills at immi.gov.au
Wed Dec 16 01:17:41 CET 2009


Bob Dylan (1941-  ):

"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind."

Herman De Wael:

>>TD!
>>so soon?
>>no, lead out of turn.
>>Aha, (to the slow passer) what did you lead?
>>no, not her, me (says Dummy)
>>
>>Have you ever had a lead out of turn by dummy?
>>Do you feel confident you would get it right?
>>
>>But how about that lead?

Grattan Endicott:

>+=+ Law 54E +=+

Bob Dylan (1941-  ):

"The times they are a-changin'."

Richard Hills:

The problem, of course, was that Herman De Wael was _too experienced_ a
Director to get the problem right, failing to realise that his past
comfortable environment of comprehensive knowledge of the Laws changed when
an unheralded
angel slipped the new Law 54E into the 2007 Lawbook.

Likewise, blmlers in real (or unreal) life are relying upon their
comprehensive knowledge of their past comfortable environment to select
Christmas presents for their children and grandchildren, failing to realise
that the absolute best Christmas present for their children and
grandchildren would be...

Best wishes

R.J.B. Hills, Aqua 5, workstation W550
Telephone: 02 6223 8453
Email: richard.hills at immi.gov.au
Recruitment Section & DIAC Social Club movie tickets

From the London Sunday Times
November 29, 2009
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6931598.ece

Global warming is real
Bryan Appleyard

There are so many good reasons not to believe in global warming: summers
lately have been cool and wet; since 1998 global temperatures have actually
fallen; dissident scientists say it's not happening; green believers are
irritating - they wear Tibetan hats that only look good on Tibetans, and
are so often wrong that they're probably wrong about the Big One; large
parts of the punditocracy say it's all nonsense, usually that it's a
left-wing plot against capitalism; the rainforest is growing back faster
than it's being cut down and polar bears are, apparently, doing quite well.
Global warming? Yeah, right!

But here's the best reason of all not to believe, to sit back and relax.
Global warming is just the latest apocalyptic story. There is always
someone, somewhere predicting the end of the world.

He may be a man with a sandwich board in Oxford Street or an American
Christianist who expects the Book of Revelation to happen tomorrow. But
he's equally likely to be a scientist warning about asteroid impacts,
super-eruptions, molecule-sized robots turning everything into grey goo or,
not so long ago, the descent of Earth into a new ice age. Taking all these
possibilities into account, Sir Martin Rees, the great cosmologist, says
humans only have a 50/50 chance of making it into the next century. Yeah,
right!

No wonder opinion polls show a majority of the population are sceptical
about global warming. Just scanning the papers, the internet or watching TV
is enough to convince anyone it's just the usual apocalyptic hype. And, if
they want to dig deeper into their own disbelief, there are shelfloads of
books to give them a hand. There's Nigel Lawson, ex-chancellor of the
exchequer, with An Appeal to Reason. There's Scared to Death by Christopher
Booker and Richard North. There's Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg. There was even
a very serious documentary on Channel 4 called The Great Global Warming
Swindle with some serious-looking science guys pouring cold water on the
warming atmosphere.
Just a couple of weeks reading and watching and you can be out there,
crushing dinner-party eco-warriors with devastating arguments based on
cold, hard facts. You will be a stern, hard-headed denialist, your iron jaw
set firmly against the tree-hugging, soft-headed warmists in their
irritating hats.

That was me, once. I thought global warming was all bog-standard,
apocalyptic nonsense when it first emerged in the 1980s. People, I knew,
like nothing better than an End-of-the-World story to give their lives
meaning. I also knew that science is dynamic. Big ideas rise and fall. Once
the Earth was the centre of the universe. Then it wasn't. Once Isaac Newton
had completed physics. Then he hadn't. Once there was going to be a new ice
age. Then there wasn't.

Armed with such historic reversals, I poured scorn on under-educated
warmists. Scientists with access to the microphone, I pointed out, had got
so much so wrong so often. This was yet another case of clever people, who
should have known better, running around screaming, "End of the World! End
of the World!" and of less-clever people finding reasons to tell everybody
else why they were bad. And then I made a terrible mistake. I started
questioning my instinct, which was to disbelieve every scare story on
principle.

I exposed myself to any journalist's worst nightmare - very thoughtful,
intelligent people.

I talked to some brilliant scientists and thinkers, some mainstream Greens,
some truly tough-minded scientists. There was James Lovelock, the man whose
Gaia hypothesis sees the world as a single, gigantic organism. There was
Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at
Rockefeller University in New York. There was Chris Rapley, director of the
Science Museum and former head of the British Antarctic Survey. There was
Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at Oxford. There was Sir
David King, once chief scientific adviser to the British government. There
were many others.

There is, I saw, a fine line between the hard-head and the bone-head. The
denialist hard-head swaggers his way through life hearing only what he
wants to hear, that warmism is either a hoax, a gross error or just another
End-of-the-World scare story. But if you suspend your prejudices and your
vanity for a moment, everything changes. You find out that the following
statements are true beyond argument.

The climate is warming. It is almost certain this is caused by emissions of
greenhouse gases caused by human activity. Nobody has come up with an
alternative explanation that stands up. If the present warming trend
continues, nasty things will probably start happening to humans within the
next century, possibly the next decade. Something must be done. If nothing
is done, then the benign climatic conditions that have sustained human
civilisation for 10,000 years are in danger of collapse to be replaced
by... well, write your own disaster movie.

You will note that there is some wiggle room in these statements. It is
"almost certain" that humans are responsible; nasty things will "probably"
happen. That is because all science can ever be is the best guess of the
best minds. Also, the climate is a complex system, meaning it can behave in
ways that are opaque beyond our most sophisticated calculations. But, as I
have often been told, those statements are as true as any scientific
statements can be, and nobody - I repeat, nobody - has been able to refute
this. In short, to deny any of these statements is to put yourself beyond
the bounds of rational discourse.

Beginning from the beginning. In 1750 there were 800m people in the world.
Then came the Industrial Revolution. This required almost pure carbon,
coal, oil and gas to be taken from the ground where it had lain for
millions of years, burnt and tossed into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
Now there are almost 7 billion of us and we toss 27 billion tons of carbon
dioxide - 7.3 billion tons of pure carbon - into the atmosphere every year.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the total amount tossed is half a trillion
tons of pure carbon. It is impossible to say this didn't happen and
bone-headed madness to think it will have no effect. We are more or less
certain that the effect has been a one-degree-centigrade rise in global
temperature.

What do the deniers say about this? "The world's temperature rose about
half a degree centigrade during the last quarter of the 20th century,"
writes Nigel Lawson, "but even the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and
Research... has now conceded that recorded temperature figures for the
first seven years of the 21st century reveal there has been a standstill."

Actually, er, bollocks. In the staff cafe at University College London,
Chris Rapley draws me a graph showing temperature fluctuations over the
past million years. He draws an even rising-and-falling line. Then he
corrects himself and the even line becomes a jagged landscape of peaks and
troughs. But the trend line remains clear. So yes, if you start in 1998 - a
very hot year thanks to an intense El Niño event in the South Pacific - and
draw a line to a cool year, 2007, you get a falling line. Nevertheless, the
average temperature for this decade is higher than the previous one. The
trend is intact. Anyway, back to basics. Half a trillion tons of carbon
came as a shock to planet Earth. Antarctic ice cores reveal that for about
1m years, atmospheric carbon fluctuated between ice-age levels of 180 parts
per million (ppm) and warm levels of 280ppm. We don't know why this narrow
fluctuation was so stable. It just was.

Carbon levels are now at 387ppm and rising rapidly. The best we can hope
for, if radical low-emission targets are accepted by world governments NOW,
is to stabilise the figure at 450ppm. That will mean a further one-degree
temperature rise. This could be nasty - more hurricanes, rising sea levels,
spreading deserts, loss of arable land - but maybe manageably so.

At this point, deniers often talk about the medieval warm period. From
about 800AD to 1300AD, temperatures rose by, at one point, more than they
are rising now. Fair enough, except this wasn't a global phenomenon, it was
purely European. The Earth as a whole cooled.

Having lost that one, the next denialist move is the Sunspot Gambit, much
in evidence in that Channel 4 documentary. Mention that show to Rapley and
he loses his amiable manner. "I was scandalised. I shall never, ever,
forgive Channel 4 and if I ever find a way of preventing them having public
funds then I shall exercise it."

The idea behind the Sunspot Gambit is that global temperature trends are
dependent on solar activity. Well, it's true, they are, a bit. But the idea
that large-scale trends are caused by "solar forcing" is wrong. The good
thing about being a Spottist is you can be right for 11 years at a time.
That's the length of the sunspot cycle, so you can construct a theory based
on one cycle and be sure that it will not be knocked down by the next for
11 years.

Back to reality. Myles Allen at Oxford has a vivid way of simplifying the
scale of the task involved in preventing carbon levels rising above 450ppm.
The modern world has been built on half a trillion tons of carbon. At
present rates of increase we will burn the next half trillion tons in 40
years. The best guess is that that will result in a one-degree rise. There
are, perhaps, four to five trillion tons of burnable carbon still in the
Earth. But the maximum we can burn is half a trillion tons. In Copenhagen,
therefore, the talks should be about allocating that half trillion as if it
were a gigantic carbon cake. To make this work and ensure we don't burn
more than that, Allen goes for a radical option. "It will only work," he
says, "in the context of a plan to get emissions down to zero by the end of
the century. So I think we need what none of the politicians seems prepared
to acknowledge. A rationing system for putting carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere is only a temporary measure; eventually the whole practice has
to be banned."

This should give you vertigo. You are peering into a carbon-free abyss. If
we stopped burning carbon now, you and I, as Rapley points out, would
starve to death in a week. Burnt carbon is our money, our lifestyle, our
sense of who we are. The revolution is just too big to contemplate.

Enter Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg is not a denier, but he is a denialist hero,
because he gave them their one really strong argument for doing nothing or
next to nothing. Global warming is happening, he says, and it's a problem,
but it's not a BIG problem and certainly not so big that we have to ditch
our way of life. The reason this is a strong argument is that it doesn't
make the mistake of denying the science - futile, as Lomborg knows and as I
hope you do by now - it just says that the outcome may not be that bad.
Scientists can't say he's wrong because the future of a complex system -
climate combined with human civilisation - is inherently unpredictable.

It's all a question of probability and risk. Rapley once put it to me this
way. You are putting your daughter on a plane. The pilot tells you there is
a 1-in-100 chance it will crash. You, if you have any sense, take your
daughter off the plane. Why? Because the potential loss is so great that 1
in 100 is unacceptable. So it is with global warming - except the down side
probability is a good deal higher than 1 in 100.

The economist and academic Lord Stern, appointed by the government in 2005
to investigate the economics of climate change, tried to put exact figures
on this. His 2006 report has become the standard document justifying action
on global warming, which Stern calls the greatest market failure in
history. Personally, I think the Stern report may turn out to have been a
disaster. This is because Stern is an economist and economists obfuscate
matters. He recommended allocating 1% of the world economy to fighting
climate change and to prevent what he said would be a 20% drop in the world
economy due to warming.

Stern's figures were based on a financial assessment of the impact of
global warming on future generations. The trouble with this is that it's a
very difficult and controversial calculation and one which economists love
to argue and get upset about. Many queued up to trash Stern's assumptions.
This provided the denialists with a glut of ammunition and further confused
the poor punters.

Put it like this. Here are these scientists telling you probably your
children and almost certainly your grandchildren are going to lead
screwed-up lives thanks to our carbon emissions, and here are these
economists arguing about the monetary value of their screwed-upness. Case
closed.

Far stronger than all this are simple, empirical observations. Rapley
points out that sea temperatures are rising exactly as predicted by the
climate models. Climate change, more than over-fishing, has been found to
be behind the fall in North Sea fish stocks. Arctic ice is melting faster
than expected. And here's one fact that should give the most hardened
bone-head pause: Arctic shipping lanes are to be re-opened. Summer sea ice
in 2007 was 40% down on the average, and shipping companies are planning
much faster routes between Europe and Asia using the Arctic Ocean. These
guys are not exactly tree-huggers. And yet many denialists still insist on
saying there's no problem with the Arctic melt.

One big general denialist argument is about climate models. These are
fabulously complicated computer programmes that attempt to model the
Earth's atmosphere. The number-crunching is so vast that Myles Allen has
contracted it out to you and me. He began Climateprediction.net, which uses
downtime on people's home computers to run climate simulations. Try it. You
should. The idea is to cut the uncertainties in the models. And there are,
no question, huge uncertainties. All complex systems are uncertain. But,
for two closely related reasons, the denialists are wrong to claim this as
an argument in their favour. First, empirical evidence either shows the
models are right or, especially in the case of Arctic ice, that they are
understating the problem. Lovelock, in particular, says this understatement
has given us a model-based false sense of security. The disaster is coming
much sooner than we thought.

Secondly, the very inadequacy of the models is a reason for even greater
caution. The big picture the models show is simple - carbon is rising and
temperatures are rising. This is known as a linear system. It's like a
multiplication table: 2 x 2 = 4, 2 x 3 = 6 and so on. So add half a
trillion tons of carbon to the atmosphere and the temperature rises by one
degree. Technically, the output bears a fixed relation to the input.

But we know the atmosphere is subject to non-linearity. You may get the
same result over and over again until, one day, you don't. Suddenly 2 x 2 =
5. Then the output-input relationship varies wildly. This can happen in any
complex system. Imagine a pile of sand. You keep dropping extra grains on
top. You might drop a million grains and nothing happens. Then you drop a
million and one and it collapses. If you push any such system hard enough,
it will slip into non-linearity. At which point steal tents, canned food
and assault weapons.

In other words, pushing another half trillion tons of carbon into the
atmosphere should raise temperatures by a degree or so, but it might raise
them by much more. Or it could start climate flickering in which climate
changes repeatedly from one state to another every few years. It's happened
in the past. Either way, you can kiss your way of life goodbye.

The reality of non-linearity and complex systems is actually the most basic
and irrefutable argument for cutting emissions. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb,
author of The Black Swan, put it to me, it doesn't matter about the exact
rights or wrongs of the science, it doesn't matter whether you think
warming is caused by human activity. What matters is the general principle
that you do not disturb complex systems. Half a trillion tons is a
disturbance and Nassim is a real Green.

In the end, it comes down to August 14, 1959. That was when the US
satellite Explorer 6 sent back the first picture of Earth from space. The
enormity of this moment, however, did not sink in. Many people still think
the first picture came almost a decade later, in December 1968, when Apollo
8 sent back its beautiful "Earthrise" photograph. Either way, it was a
moment when something we knew in our heads became thrillingly, terrifyingly
real in our hearts.

The pictures showed a small planet lost in darkness. A thin film of life
interacting with a narrow band of atmosphere produced the astonishing,
swirling pattern of clouds, the dark seas and the darker continents. We
have, in spite of our vanities and intergalactic dreams, nothing and
nowhere else. If we don't look after it, who will?

Go to that dinner party, wear a Tibetan hat if you must, and look for the
iron-jawed bone-head. There's usually at least one, and it's usually a man.
Look him in the eye, smile and ask him one question: "Who on Earth do you
think you are?" He'll get it on the sixth attempt.



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