Posts Tagged ‘Joe Romm’

Economists vs. Environmentalists

February 21, 2009

The voodoo climate-economics debate continues. Common Tragedies calls the bashing of economists on Climate Progress evidenceless and reveals a big problem with Joe Romm’s critique: 

Fortunately a prescient cohort of superintellects headed up by Joe Romm have calculated the true costs of climate action and inaction, and mapped out the optimal sequence of investment and innovation, which they will reveal to the world at some point in the very near future, making all the mainstream economists look like IDIOTS.

That is almost the ‘if-you-cannot-do-it-better-yourself-then-shut-up’ argument, which never applies (I’ll expound on why someday; remind me). Romm has more problems with his critique, however. As the TerraPass Footprint blog points out (Environmentalists and economists engage in slap fight while world burns), Romm quotes and uses results from economists in his arguing when they agree with his point of view, but still dismisses the economic science. “Which is it?” asks TerraPass,

The media is to blame for underreporting the awesome job economists are doing building a case for action on climate change? Or economists are a planet-destroying scourge? It can’t really be both.

The TerrePass post continues

I’m picking on Romm here, but this sort of commentary is fairly endemic to the green blogosphere. And it’s unfortunate […] [T]here is in fact a lot of prominent and dubious economic research on climate change that deserves proper critique, rather than unhinged broadsides against an entire academic discipline.

Romm do come up with some (but not only) proper, well-argued, and specific critque against specific economic research, but does the error to dismiss the entire discipline on the basis of specific examples. Furthermore, he does so inconsistently, as TerraPass already has pointed out, by recognizing only the results he agrees with. There are reasons (here is more) to be sceptic towards Climate Progress, in other words.

Hat-tip: Env-Econ

Related posts:

Joe Romm’s bashing of economists on Climate Progress:

From Environmental Economics:

From various blogs:


The Rhetoric of Climate Progress

February 16, 2009

It may seem that I’m obsessed with Climate Progress nowadays, and that may be true to some extent. Climate Progress is concerned with the most important thing; the sustainability of our way of life and of the environment. I’m not sure, howere, that Climate Progress always helps the case; I want to discuss the rhetoric of Climate Progress.

The rhetoric on Climate Progress does not convince. Convincing is exactly a trace of good writing and of effective rhetoric. Good writing should let people think by themselves by coherent arguments and supporting facts, and not descend to cheap characteristics and half-truths.

 In some posts (Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1, Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”), Joe Romm discusses why climate scientists have a tendency to loose debates against climate change deniers. There he argues that a common strategy of climate change deniers is to produce untrue statements and present incoherent or illogical arguments leading to flawed conclusions. The best response to such arguing, according to Joe Romm, is to pick up on it, denie the untrue statements and reveal the flaws in the incoherent and illogical arguments. I agree. If such a strategy is followed with success it should not be necessary also to come up with cheap characteristics and other poor ways to discredit people. I think one loses respect and attention to ones arguments then.

I am sorry that Joe Romm does not take the opportunity to argue in a polite manner with convincing and coherent writing when he commands one of the most important climate blogs nowadays, but sees it necessary to sprinkle it with cheap characteristics and speculative halftruths as he does in his voodoo economics series, for example (Do Econmists Help Fight Climate Change?).

Related posts:

Climate Progress sceptisism

February 13, 2009

Although I’ve read much of what has been written on Climate Progress lately (and I’m an economist!), I’ve started to get sceptic. One of the favorite pastimes of Joe Romm, the main contributer, is to bash climate change deniers. They may deserve bashing and it is often entertaining to read, but I’m not sure name calling and half-truths is as efficient as Mr. Romm seem to believe. Descending to such ‘debates’ is not exactly progressive.

Up until now, I’ve found Climate Progress to be rather well informed when it comes to science in general, and climate science in particular. One would, however, be illadvised if one tried to learn about geo-engineering from Climate Progress:

If you are not yet familiar with geo-engineering, I will attempt to define it in non-technical terms before offering a few observations on the new research:

  • Geo-engineering is the practice of messing around with global life-support systems we don’t understand. If we did understand them, we might not be in the pickle we’re in today. Or at least it would be a greener pickle.
  • Geo-engineering is a relatively new field based on the outdated and repeatedly discredited assumption that we humans are smart enough and wise enough to rule over the rest of the biosphere. Rather than applied engineering, we might call it “applied conceit”.
  • Contrariwise and at the same time, geo-engineering is a symptom of our growing skepticism that we are able to stop climate change with rational solutions such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon pricing and behavioral changes. In other words, interest in geo-engineering is rooted in the idea that although we’re too stupid to do the simple things that would slow climate change, we’re smart enough to do the improbable things.
  • Geo-engineering is one outgrowth of our apparent learning disability about the law of unintended consequences. That law would be unleashed full-force once we started manipulating the oceans and atmosphere to create what one environmentalist calls “the Frankenplanet”. Geo-engineering is like a grownup version of whack-a-mole, where hammering down one problem causes others to pop up, to our great surprise.

Define it in non-technical terms! Jeez. I’m sure most readers would discard such writing as garbage. First of all, that list is not even slightly informative when it comes to geo-engineering if you take all the distractive bashing into account. Furthermore, the first point made applies to all climate and energy science, stuff that Climate Progress believes in and promotes every single day. Being sceptic about geo-engineering is of course fine, but such posts are just counter-productive!

In the same post, Climate Progress writes that if we, that is, the human race, don’t understand and act on climate change before it is too late,

we will have demonstrated for all time that 1) we are the ultimate invasive species, and 2) we are not the most intelligent species, and 3) when it comes to our own survival, we have no more willpower than lemmings.

Of course humans are invasive! What is intelligence? (Is it something that pertains to humans? What does the average dolphin score on its IQ test?) Willpower? (Incentives matter!)

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep reading Climate Progress: They are full of prejudice, they hate economists, they are rude, and they start to become boring. (Willpower? What willpower?)

Joe Romm on Rhetoric & the Climate

January 18, 2009

Even though he has showed a negative attitued towards economists, Joe Romm has a lot of interesting posts on his blog, Climate Progess. Today, I stumbled over some posts on rhetoric and how the typical scientists lack of training in, and command of, rhetoric favors climate change deniers.

The first post, Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Joe explains some of the basic features of rhetoric and then moves on to discuss how the way of most scientists inhibit them in communicating efficiently with the public:

Most scientists do not like to repeat themselves because it implies that they aren’t sure of what they are saying. Scientists like to focus on the things that they don’t know, since that is the cutting edge of scientific research. So they don’t keep repeating the things that they do know, which is one reason the public and the media often don’t hear from scientists about the strong areas of agreement on global warming.

He also mentions an article written by Jared Diamond called “Scientists who do communicate effectively with the public often find their colleagues responding with scorn, and even punishing them in ways that affect their careers.” This reminded me of an astronomer that has received a lot of attention here in Norway over the years. He has contributed to bring astronomy and, more generally, physics to the public attention. Apparently, he wasn’t very popular among his colleagues and in the end they kicked him out of the University. (The story is told here, in Norwegian.)

In the second post, Joe discusses why a ‘smart talker’ never win a debate against a(n) ‘(apparently) straight talker.’ The obvious is to talk so your listeners understand you. The not-so-obvious is to use narrative tricks to get attention and sympathy from your listeners. Joe demonstrates a few such rhetorical tricks from an inpressive range of sources; from the ancient Greeks to the president election debates in the U.S.

I do realize the importance of knowing rhetoric, not only to win discussions, but also as a means towards producing good science. I try to read some rhetoric along my studies into resource economics; rhetoric often ends up in the background, however.

Economics IS a Science!

January 14, 2009

In the comment section to Joe Romm’s third post on the evil of economists a very interesting comment surfaced. (My previous post links to Romm’s earlier attacks and some responses.) It is signed by ‘Asteroid Miner’ (comment no. 7):

Economists think that they are scientists. They are not. Science deals with NATURE, not man-made things like markets and money. Science requires and is based on public and replicable experiments. Computer simulations don’t count. Social sciences are suspect, but not as bad as economics. SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENTS ARE NOT POSSIBLE IN ECONOMICS.

Economics presupposes the existence of a stable civilization and the invention of money. A stable civilization with money requires creatures that are at least marginally rational and intelligent and slightly knowledgeable. A stable civilization also requires an adequate food supply. The collapse of agriculture inevitably leads to the collapse of civilization and the collapse of money and economics. Economics is unable to go outside of its founding presuppositions. Global warming climatology MUST concern itself with the collapse of civilization and the possible extinction of the supposedly rational intelligent knowledgeable creatures. Climate change is therefore impossible for economists to imagine AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN ECONOMISTS.

Thus the problem of economists who speak on the subject of global warming. Being economists, they assume the impossible, which is that agriculture will not collapse, civilization will not collapse and Homo Sapiens will not go extinct. Being economists, they are unable to imagine anything outside of the basic presuppositions of economics. They have made those assumptions implicitly since long before their careers began. They cannot do otherwise. They are money oriented. It is a basic part of their personalities. They cannot change by themselves.

Our project, therefore, is to make economists quit being economists prior to the collapse of civilization. It is only by taking them outside of their economic world view that they can be shown how to imagine another world, a world without economics. We have to somehow show them the limitations of the boundaries of their world. We have to shock them into the realization that their world is a very small subset of reality.

My reply:

Asteroid: The English ’science’ has, since the late nineteenth century, been used in a new, weird, sense. Earlier, it meant ’studies.’ It’s counterpart in German (wissenschaft), French (science), and all other Indo-European languages mean ’systematic inquiry’ rather than something that deals with nature. Why the English term went off-track, I don’t know, but statements like ‘economics is not a science’ looks very weird to me (a foreigner). […]

What I see as the misuse of ‘science’ in English has irritated me for a while (and is related to The English Problem). It was then heartening to read Deirdre McCloskey‘s ‘The Rhetoric of Economics.’ On page 20 (second edition) and onwards she discusses and compares the use of ‘science’ to its counterparts in ‘all Indo-European languages.’ She also quotes Lord Kelvin, who in 1883 obiously helped make ‘science’ absurd:

When you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind […] It may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in you thoughts advanced to the stage of science.

I conclude that economics is a science after all, only not in English.