The EPA has asked for my advice.1 They will not listen to, or harken, or act on this advice, but asking for it gives them a sense that they have participated in our great Democratic Experiment. Since one of the goals of this column is to make people feel good about themselves, even bureaucrats in our ever-increasing government, I’ll provide constructive counsel.
There is no reason to ask for advice on what to do about the climate because nobody knows what the ideal climate is. By “nobody” I mean no body, no person, no living or dead soul, no individual no matter his, or even her, “degree” or credential or experience. The very concerned, the activists, the nerve-racked environmentalists, the emotionally and financially committed, the mindful, the most deeply vexed greens; none of these have any idea what the climate should be.
If you don’t have a target it is futile to take aim. It is worse to shoot. It is insane to ask strangers to pay for your arrows.
The climate has never been static. It has always changed. From the day a wanton pile of mass coalesced into a molten ball and called itself Earth (Gene “von Frahnkensteen” Wilder was in my mind here), to when it cooled sufficiently to form a surface crusty enough to host oceans, to the point yesterday afternoon when the weather was clement enough for the Tigers to host the Pirates in Lakeland, Florida, the only constant has been change.
Strike that: there was another constant. Mankind’s ability to adapt. He has thus far lived through all environmental vicissitudes. He has not flourished everywhere and always—there have been times when the change of seasons forced a change of address—but he surely prospered, usually without the “benefit” of central planning. Evidence for this can be had by comparing head-counts from then to now.
When mankind was far less technologically sophisticated, he managed, even thrived. The consequence is that life is better now on average than it has ever been, speaking purely in terms of comforts. Paradoxically, however, the biggest danger to mankind is comfort. Everywhere it is introduced, fewer children are produced. Too much of a good thing is deadly. Comfort is therefore far scarier than a few tenths of a degree increase in average temperature that might, or again might not, happen.
Next consider the layers of uncertainty of climate change. First is measurement. We don’t have a perfect idea of what climate was everywhere; uncertainty increases backwards through time; we only know (with reasonable certainty) that it was different and that it changed. The EPA, in its request for comments, says the climate is changing “more rapidly than society has experienced in the past.” This is false, or at least not at all certain. To prove this article of faith requires having certain or near certain historical observation, which we lack. We also need proof that recency bias has been accounted for, which it has not (this is when periods of frequent measurement are compared against times with sparse measurement: the frequent measures can often falsely cause one to conclude that changes are happening more rapidly).
So we lack conclusive evidence of what the past was. It is clear, however, that what happened previously is a good predictor of what will happen (climatologists call this “persistence forecasting”). Yet EPA claims “the past is no longer a good predictor of the future.” This is false. Persistence forecasts for climate have remarkable accuracy, far better than climate models.
If the past cannot be used, what can? EPA says expert opinion (codified into computer circuitry). Yet to gain our trust experts must first demonstrate superiority over the past (skill over persistence). Have they? No, sir, they have not. For years experts said it was going “to be worse than we thought.” Has it been? No, sure, it has not.
We don’t know for sure how it was, we have a reasonable idea of what weather and climate conditions are now, but we do poorly predicting skillfully the future. What about things that are affected by climate? We must necessarily be less sure of what will happen to them. This is a provable, logical statement. Thus: if there is probability X that polar bears will die off if the climate changes, and there is probability Y the climate will change, then there is only X x Y probability—noting X x Y < X or Y—that the climate will change and polar bears hand in their dinner pails as a species.
This isn’t nearly the end. You must multiply the uncertainty of every other thing you say will be “impacted” (like a tooth?). If there is probability X x Y of climate change and polar bears dying, there is probability X x Y x Z of climate change and polar bears dying and corn crop decreases, where X x Y x Z < X or Y or Z. Etc. ad nauseum.
That simple, and true, math married to the other arguments given above implies the best thing to do is nothing until such time we see items which actively need attention. None do currently.
This won’t satisfy because government bureaucracies are created to do something, anything. Therefore they will do something, even if it something as small as calling for “more study”. To admit nothing need be done is to concede one does not need to exist. This the EPA will never do. See? It really is worse than we thought.
1The link provides another link to EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan, the document from which I draw my quotes.