Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump's Paris Climate: Sound and Fury

Yesterday, June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that he would be withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In response coal-plant investor and environmental enthusiast Tom Steyer talked about Trump's action committing "assault and battery on the future of the American people." And the AP released a "scientists say" article brimming with ruling-class conventional wisdom.

What on earth is going on here?

First of all, there is the complaint of my old boss, Stuart Alexander. He once complained about how the people working under him, especially the software people, were always going off on tangents.

Exactly. Life is hard, and people are always eager to take a break from the job in hand and worry about someone else's job.

Politicians are in charge of protecting their people from enemies foreign and domestic. But they spend most of their time doing other stuff, like regulating the fuel economy of cars and pretending that health care can be reduced to an administrative system.

Climate-change politics is an almost irresistible temptation for politicians because it is a war that isn't a war. As I say, the whole point of government is to protect us from existential perils, from the Soviet Union to global Islamic terrorism. What about catastrophic climate change? It is, you may say, Minecraft for the grown-up ruling class.

But it is all make-believe. Here's why.

In the first place, scientists have developed climate models that do not model the future. In yet another proof of God's existence, the climate has "paused" in the years since the climate models were developed. The world just is not heating up as much as the models predicted and continue to predict.

As Richard Feynman, a scientist, once said. If you gin up a theory and it doesn't predict then your theory is wrong. You better start over.

Yes, CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and more CO2 will tend to warm the earth but we don't know how much.

Yes, the Earth is warming, but we don't really know why.

Yes, there is a "pause" in warming right now, but we don't know why.

Yes, the Earth has been warming since the Little Ice Age, but we don't know why.

Yes, the Earth is in an interglacial period in an Ice Age, but we don't know why.

Oh yeah. We have theories about all this stuff, but nothing dispositive.

Let's think about this in a completely different way, using the Antifragile notion of Black Swan inventor, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

His point is that the problem for anyone is not the routine stuff; it is the unexpected catastrophic event. In finance, it is the financial crash. In politics it is invasion.

But what about climate? I'd say that the catastrophic event is not runaway climate due to increased CO2. We've seen the Earth with more CO2 in the past and with less CO2.

(Actually less CO2 is not good, because at about half the current CO2 concentration plants start to give up and stop photosynthesis.)

Let us start from the top.

What about an asteroid impact? What would we do to make sure that human life continues? That the US continues? That my grandchildren continue? In that order.

What about a Carrington event, a pulse of electromagnetic radiation (EMP) that takes out all electronics? What do we do to mitigate that? First, we would want to be sure that we can restart electronics. Then we would want to reduce the loss of life due to the pause until normal service is resumed.

What about nuclear war, such as an attack by the Norks? Star Wars? Aid to the devastated city?

What about Venezuela, where political stupidity wrecks a nation's economy? What about that?

What about the End of Entitlements, our own rendez-vous with Venezuela?

And finally, what about the Earth's temperature rising faster than it is right now?

Here's my judgement. I'd say that on nukes, Venezuela, entitlements, climate, we can just muddle through, as usual. And it wouldn't hurt for each of us to Go Mormon, and have a stash of emergency supplies handy.

It is on EMP and asteroids that government can help, for a start by moving electronics and the electricity system towards some kind of antifragility. There is no doubt that the bigger the event, the more people will die. But each of us had better understand that the ultimate goal is to make sure that some of us survive.

How much would it cost to make all of us survive? Most of us? Some of us?

That is assuming that we humans survive the advent of AI, of artificial intelligence.

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