Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A cost accounting approach to global warming

Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, has a major article in today's Wall Streeet Journal, which can be seen here.

Lomborg argues that it would be much more cost-effective to let global warming happen and then combat its bad effects than it would be to reduce warming by forcing drastic reductions in hydrocarbon energy sources. If his numbers are anywhere near correct, it is an argument that needs to be considered.

The recent leak of e-mails purporting to show that prominent climate scientists have cooked the books, concealed data which might undermine their arguments, and tried to prevent scientists who do not agree with them from publishing their arguments in peer-reviewed journals are a major concern, of course. But even if a totally benign interpretation is placed on these emails, there may be a more major problem with today's climate science "concensus."

As Thomas Kuhn demonstrated in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, "normal science" operates within a prevailing paradigm, or way of understanding and interpreting observations and placing them within a meaningful frame of reference. In smaller words, scientists tend to follow the beaten intellectual path, and those who come to radically different conclusions about thingsd are shunned, ridiculed, and labeled "unscientific."

The fact that so much research today is paid for by grants from the government may act to intensify this herd effect. When the scientific estabhlishment decides that global warming is caused in large part by human activities, the scientists to whom grant proposals are sent for peer review are very unlikely to commend proposals from people regarded as skeptics.

I don't know what can be done about this, except to always take claims of scientific concensus with many grains of salt. After all, Ptolemaic, earth-centered, astronomy was the establishment position of astronomers for a thousand years.

1 comment:

  1. Over the last several centuries, the world economy has exploded and the human condition has improved immeasurably because of cheap fossil fuels. We definitely have to pay for it not right now but sometime later.


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