Thursday, May 22, 2008


Robert Skidelsky made an odd claim in a commentary earlier this week in which he accused scientists (not to speak of those who report science accurately) of 'harden[ing] uncertainties into probabilities'. If he has actually read the IPPC reports, he surely understands that a prediction with, say, 90% confidence is a statement that something is uncertain but probable.

And he falls into a common error in thinking that because things are not certain they will therefore necessarily be less extreme than the best estimates indicate. Paul Klemperer is a better guide, with a piece, mentioned on this blog before, titled If the climate sceptics are right, it is time to worry.


Steve Bloom said...

There are plenty of other incoherencies, but worse is that the piece is unoriginal to the point of plagiarism.

It's ironic that he should recycle the old attack on the Club of Rome at the very moment in time when the price of oil is doing exactly what has long been feared. It doesn't seem to have occurred to the free marketeers that the people in control of the oil supply would have every reason to lie about the extent of it.

Caspar Henderson said...

The Saudis may not have what they claim, but I remain one of a dwindling band who think 'peak oil' is a red herring (see Climate politics and a red herring and Why 'peak oil' is a red herring). Of course supplies are finite, but for now 'peak oil' is better described as 'elsewhere oil' -- Brazil, Libya, Canadian and Venezuelan tar sands etc. Even the Russians would get more out if they actually invested in more than restoring old Soviet fields (see The Economist, 8 May 2008). But the main point is there are more than enough fossil fuels that can be burned in liquid form to fry the planet if the emissions are not captured. As a pointer, the largest single point source of carbon dioxide on earth is a synfuel plant in Secunda, South Africa, emitting 20 million tons of CO2 a year (Science, 18 April 08).

Steve Bloom said...

Well, I don't think peak oil means much more than the big jump in prices that we're seeing now. My implied point was just that much of the pain could have been avoided had a realistic analysis been done rather than just taking the word of the Saudis etc. The worst of it is that on one level what we have now is a wealth transfer from those who are more motivated to move toward alternatives to those who are less motivated.

Of course you're entirely right about the CO2. I tend to agree with Jim Hansen that the liquid and gas fossil fuel is all going to get used, and that the focus needs to be on shutting down the coal ASAP.

Caspar Henderson said...

I agree. On a lighter note, this from Butler, Missouri: Customers [purchasing a new automobile] can choose between a [free] gun or a $250 (£125) gas card, but most so far have chosen the gun.
Owner Mark Muller said: "We're just damn glad to live in a free country where you can have a gun if you want to."