Friday, October 12, 2007

Is the Nobel Institute serious? or is this a bait and switch

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.

Indications of changes in the earth's future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth's resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world's most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states. Nobel Institute

The bait and switch has been a political tool for millennia- the earliest example that springs to my mind is Themistocles' use of a potential conflict with Aegina as public rationale for building a fleet of Triremes that were actually intended to be used against the Persians in the 5th Century BC. And who knows, perhaps the idea of preparing for another battle with the Persians would have been too ominous a shadow under which to work.

As I consider the reasons given for awarding the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC, I wonder if this too is a bait and switch- a means to induce a behavioral change with repect to petroleum. Before you judge me crazier than you had already assumed, (if that is possible), consider that the award wasn't given for raising awareness about climate change per se, but rather man made climate change, and by man made they mean made by the burning of fossil fuels. So, the thinking behind closed doors might be going, if people won't believe Peak Oil, or minimally that conflict for oil is becoming a serious problem for man, BUT they seem to believe in Global Warming, let's use that faith as fulcrum for changing behavior on petroleum.

Hmmm, you might be thinking, does he think Global Warming is a total scam? No, I'm not in that camp. The research I have read leads me to the view that the Arctic ice cap has been melting year on year for some decades now, lately at an apparently accelerating rate, which suggests that in general the atmosphere is warming.

Of course, a read of the few thousand years of recorded human history informs me that climate change, both local and global, is part of life on earth. Floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, ice ages and warm periods are all a part of recorded human history, long before, mind you, we started extracting the potential energy stored in petroleum and other fossil fuels. Going further, to the extent we can extrapolate backwards through time using the geologic record, climate change has been going on for billions of years, long before man is assumed to have evolved.

It seems to me to fly in the face of the scientific method to assume that a regularly occurring phenomenon is caused by something which was only evident in the current cycle. At best I could entertain an argument that human actions are accelerating a regularly occurring phenomenon. Of course, when phrased that way, the impetus to stop burning fossil fuels to stop global warming diminishes appreciably, which is not meant in any way to argue that there aren't other valid reasons to adjust our behavior on petroleum.

As I noted above, perhaps this is the most effective means to get people to change. In my limited experience of trying to warn people of impending, but regularly occurring danger, say from an overvalued equity market, few are willing to change behavior until its too late based solely on a read (or listen) of economic theory and history. Perhaps I should have warned of an eternity burning in hell, or some other nasty hyperbole if the person in question didn't dump his CMGI. Of course, this path creates all sorts of new tangles down the road so I'll stick to my less effective but less tangled approach.

To the extent this award is part of some sort of bait and switch, the thing I find disturbing, even though I'm in favor of the aimed effect, is that I can't see much difference between this and the WMD rationale for going into Iraq. Neither rationale creates conditions for an honest debate of the issues but rather inspires impetuous action, recalling a scene from the film Waterworld, when, after regaling his men with tales of dry land, The Deacon (played by Dennis Hopper) privately remarks, they'll row for a month before they figure out I'm fakin' it.

Maybe longer than a month.

p.s. another worry I have is that a focus on stopping global warming may well stop people from preparing for its eventuality. People in NYC will be a bit miffed if the city goes green but still ends up underwater. I wonder if a large percentage of the Minoans tried to stop Santorini from erupting, rather than moving. I'd like to think I would have been one of those who moved.


Iaato said...

The idea that Global Warming is being espoused as a front for getting people to adopt peak oil behaviors certainly is something that I have considered, but not from the direction of the Nobel Institute. The current US administration is peak oil aware, and has a history of using substitution to obscure reasons for unpopular action. But the Nobel Institute is a much more ethical and intellectual organization, and Norwegians are sensitive to the changes occurring with global warming. So I doubt that this is a bait and switch. I suspect that the NI is also not above a little political dissing of Mr. Bush in the awarding of this honor to Gore.

The fact that global warming is a much more palatable presentation of fossil fuel depletion than peak oil is should be a huge concern and area of inquiry for social scientists. We're going to deny ourselves right into the grave.

Dude said...

We're going to deny ourselves right into the grave.

And it won't be the first the good book puts it, for men so loved darkness.

blueridge said...

No doubt but Global Warming seems much more "solvable" and less over-whelming and depressing than Peak Oil, i.e. we're rapidly running out of an essential, non-renewable resource.

I'm still amazed at the skepticism among even intelligent people with an economic background regarding man-made climate change. Here you have climate scientists, many with a far more rigorous training in mathematics, modeling and scientific methodology than economists or social "scientists", who have spent years of effort and submitted numerous papers to peer reviewers who like nothing better than gutting your most cherished hypotheses, who risk losing their funding or even their jobs when they dare to suggest that burning megatons of fossil fuels is and will continue to affect the global climate, and, yet they get no respect and their carefully researched and reasoned opinions are casually dismissed....

I guess it's part of the "faith-based" world we now live in, where Reason is the poor relative begging at the back door....

Dude said...

I probably shouldn't bite, but it's too cold to play golf today, so for entertainment's sake, if nothing else:

I hope I didn't give the impression that "global warming" was more solvable than Peak Oil, dealing with either will require a great deal of change, which usually requires disruption to initiate.

Although you don't mention my view specifically, let's assume your point was directed that way.

My educational background is in hard science (physics) and philosophy, specifically the philosophy of science.

I'm not taking issue with the research work done in the field, most of which doesn't leap to the hard conclusions reported in the press but rather takes note of the vast uncertainties inherent in the field. Burning fossil fuels on a mass scale certainly has an atmospheric impact, as best I can tell an accelerative impact on warming, but so does a radical shift from flora to fauna, et al. That is, the issue is quite complex.

My point was aimed at the presentation of the view in the mass media, not the science behind the view...the idea that human action is the sine qua non of warming.

But hey, maybe a super volcano will erupt sometime soon and we'll start worrying about a new ice age.