Thursday, 30 September 2010

David Reid Again...

The following is my as yet (two days ticking) unanswered comment on David Reid's article about the impact of Typhoon Fanapi here in the south where I live. David's remarks appear in emboldened italics, whilst mine appear in regular typeface.

“However, the impacts of climate change are well understood. Sea levels are rising. In Taiwan there have already been changes in the temporal distribution of rainfall.”

Well first, it is one thing to measure changes in the distribution and volume of rainfall over time, but it is quite another to attribute any such measured variations to “climate change”, or more specifically, to increases in greenhouse gas emissions. If you know of no evidence to clearly support the implied connection, then perhaps in future you should consider disciplining your use of implicature with your sense of honesty.

Second, your assertion of rising sea levels is not clearly supported by anything in the links you provide; the Taipei Times article on beach erosion from March last year hedges the assertion in what should be embarassing caveats:

“…some geologists believe the situation has been exacerbated by rising sea levels — a result of global warming.”

That is not acceptable evidence. That piece cites research on beach erosion which appears far narrower in the scope of its conclusions, to wit: falling volumes of sediment deposits from rivers due to sand extraction and related infrastructure projects. Perhaps some of the papers you mention (not accessible to me) do provide clear support for the assertion of rising sea levels; if they do, perhaps you’d be good enough to supply actual quotations?

“Investments in new infrastructure can’t be made just on the basis of historical experience.”

Of course not – but mind that little qualifier “just”, for neither should historical experience be dismissed as irrelevant.

“They need to be made on the best predictions of future weather patterns resulting from climate change.”

I will allow that investment decisions must take account of possible changes in the future – that much is common sense – but there are two significant problems with that statement.

The one you will already have in mind concerns skepticism over predictions of future weather “resulting” from greenhouse gas emissions. You might balk at the sneer quote-marks there, but you surely are aware of the recent scandals concerning the IPCC and its “predictions”, not to mention earlier revelations involving other climate change research institutions. The point is that some of those wilder predictions are not to be trusted (for the moment I will pass over in silence some of the more moderate predictions).

Yet a more serious problem is that many of the relevant “predictions” to investing in new or rennovated infrastructure are not weather or climate related, but rather about human use of water. Briefly, the problem is that whilst the economics governing the distribution and nature of human use of resources like water are highly susceptible to changes (and on a large enough time scale given market innovation, unpredictable changes), infrastructure investments, at least as they are typically conceived as large scale projects that must necessarily be carried out by State agencies, are very long term, very expensive and, once completed, are sunk costs.

Let’s suppose that it is possible – right now – (and I do actually suppose this) to develop water harvesting and recycling solutions which would obviate much of the need for current sewage system design. Let us suppose further that, because of increasing politicisation of weather impacts (with them apparently being due to greenhouse gas emissions, even though the evidence for this assertion seems murky), the government decides to rennovate existing sewage infrastructure in ways consistent with its original architectural principles. Not only would this be a very expensive sunk cost (even assuming nothing goes wrong), but it would also create the unobserved cost of disincentivising market provision of alternative systems of water management, which would not only be an environmental loss, but a rather significant economic loss too.

Perhaps you might employ a little more care and thoughtfulness about your assertions on climate change and what to do about it in the future.


  1. I haven't replied to your comment because I don't think we are going to gain anything useful from debating. Your ideas are at odds with mine and will continue to be regardless of how I respond to your comments. Of course you are always welcome to comment on my blog, but whether I reply to your comment is entirely my own choice.

  2. Sure, but my challenge to you is as much about your asserting of factual claims without clear evidence (e.g. rising sea levels) as it is about ideas. I understand your point about our ideology being at odds, but if you refuse to back up your claims to facts then you only invite the suspicion that it is because you can't, in which case you may be discrediting yourself in the eyes of your other readers.

  3. Mike,

    The basic facts of climate change are well understood and not in doubt. Skepticism is a good thing, but if it blinds you to reality then it is self defeating.

  4. If that is so, then why can't you cite appropriate evidence for your assertion that sea levels around Taiwan are rising? I am asking you to show me that your take on this aspect of reality is correct.

  5. "The basic facts of climate change are well understood [by whom?] and not in doubt. [from whom?]"


    Just read Reid's sentence back to yourself several times over. You have read or heard perhaps several variations of it before. Where and when? It was a long time ago. Scratch your head and try to remember...


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