Archive for October, 2010


Alarmism, Alive and Well

October 28, 2010

This interesting youtube video appeared on the geoengineering group earlier this morning. It’s worth watching, particularly in conjunction with my commentary on the Missoula geoengineering meeting last week. In this video are David Keith, Alan Robock, and Phil Rasch, all of whom were at Missoula.


Lying = Bad

October 25, 2010

Don Brown has “published” another “article” up on his blog. Every time he does this, he announces the post as if it’s a true-to-life article, or a paper, or some such peer-reviewed document. Here’s how he made the announcement on the Climate-L list:

A new article is available that encourages serious reflection on the harm and damage by well-financed scientific disinformation campaigns that goes far beyond reasonable skepticism and spreads utterly false scientific laims such as that the science of climate change has been completely “debunked” or that there is “no evidence”of human causation. This is not skepticism but utter distortion.

The paper argues that those who want to claim no evidence of huge damages from human induced climate change are violating ethical responsibilities and that this is a serious problem calling for further reflection about how to classify such irresponsible behavior. The paper argues that there are ethical responsibilities that climate skeptics must follow. The article asks if this behavior should be classified as a new type of crime against humanity.

I don’t want to pick nits with Don, but really, this is a blog post. It’s not an article. It’s not a paper. It’s not published. It’s posted on a website that he controls. He can write about his infatuation with the sweat glands of badgers and mule deer for all we care, and it will still somehow make it into the public discourse.

And his point in this “article” is one that, I take it, is the obvious underlying normative claim of Merchants of Doubt, which is the book from which he starts his post: lying and fabricating information are unacceptable. Except that, Brown wants to classify this sort of fabrication as a crime against humanity. (No kidding.)

Here’s his conclusion:

The international community does not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.

Yeah, so…that’s crazy. But, hell, what’s a little hyperbole and embellishment between friends? As long as we’re criticizing hyperbole and embellishment, might as well have a taste from the punch bowl.


Blob Fish – Talking About Philosophy

October 25, 2010

Happy Monday. Here’s a strange video from biovision.


Beauty and the Beetle

October 24, 2010

Colorado’s own Dan Sturgis has a really nice post on the beauty of beetle kill. Worth stopping by for the full post:

So putting those premises together, if you appreciate the beetle killed forests for what they are: an integral part of the forest ecology then you should find it aesthetically positive.  This is not to say that you’ll find it pretty, it’s an acquired taste.  However, it seems worthy of all sorts of positive attributes: interesting, dynamic, surprising (in some ways), and powerful.

So why do so many people think that beetle kills are ugly?  For the same reason that people think their children’s scribblings deserve to be put on display in a museum: ignorance.   With our temporal shortsightedness we see the dying trees and think “it will never be the same again.”  We get sentimental about dying things, and we think that dead trees are bad.  Dying aspen leaves are pretty because we are savvy enough to know that the trees don’t die and that the leaves grow back.   To worry about the lack of prettiness of a pine beetle forest is to appreciate it in the wrong way.  It imposes a landscape appreciation on nature and as such appreciates nature as art (not for what it is).


We deal with the same question in the climate change debate directly although environmentalists would like to pretend that we don’t.  That is, people who know, know that the earth has been hotter and colder than the range of changes predicted to come about from human caused climate change.  Said another way, the impending climate change is within the historic range of variation.  While the skeptics who point this out are scientifically correct they are morally obtuse.

Mother Nature is not responsible for her actions but we are.   We can do otherwise.  The people who know, know that humans are effecting changes that will cause (and maybe already are causing) harms to humans and other species.  We bear the responsibility for these harms.   So for climate change in general and the pine beetle outbreak in particular, it may look natural, but it isn’t.  It’s like “Fountain,” it may look like a urinal, but it’s not.

This then prompts the second hard question, how should this knowledge affect our aesthetic appreciation?   When we view the pine beetle outbreak we must view its naturalness but we must also view the heavy hand of humans which has likely extended it.  This mixed appreciation is worthy of mixed emotions.   It’s as if nature had created a beautiful stone arch and humankind decided that it was not round enough and so taken a chisel to it, or perhaps it’s like the beautiful sunset that we know has been enhanced by the particulate matter belched from industrial smokestacks.    Maybe more aptly, it is a case of poorly performed dynamics; a crescendo rendered too quickly and forte rendered fortissimo (o.k. it’s been since I was 12 since I played piano and knew –sort of- what these terms meant).   Perhaps as we learn more about the scope of our present effect on the outbreak we will learn more how to interpret and judge this event.   Given what we know at present, I think the human hand tarnishes the beetle kill’s beauty but does not dispel it.





October 20, 2010

OMFG, is about the only word for this:

Beck denies evolution: “I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet”


The Fantastic Dr. Hale and Dane Scott

October 20, 2010

I just gave my talk, which was fantastic, of course, because I’m  fantastic, but also very sleepy, and so I was less than fantastic, but only in that moment, and if you want to hear my talk you’ll have to wait for it to go through the long tortuous publication wringer, which it will, probably, some day, but only after I type it up and put it into narrative form.

Dane’s talking now about technological fixes. I need to decompress a bit so I won’t take fantastic notes on this, but the idea is pretty neat and Dane has put together a nice little overview of technological fixes.

UPDATE: Here are my slides.


Nicole Hassoun and Albert Borgmann

October 19, 2010

UPDATE 3:29: Borgmann now. He asks, “What are people thinking??” Uses the case of offering money for starving peoples.

UPDATE 3:18: Nicole‘s up.  She mentioned Colorado, because she thinks Montana is like Colorado, but not as cool. She’s talking about how some kinds of geoengineering are morally impermissible, specifically deploying Nature of Nature arguments. Artificial versus non-Artificial. She just did a funny little schtick with salmon pictures. Lots and lots of pretty pictures here. Thinking now, she’s got a similar stance to my own. Good on her. Except that, now, I see where she’s coming from a little better, now that I’ve asked my question.

Up on the screen she put several of her premises, one of which is “P1 Natural things and processes often have significant value.” And so I suppose I want to know where that value’s coming from, insofar as it will matter to her ultimate thesis (that there’s something wrong with acting without backward looking regard for nature).

So suppose that the reason that we have a problem with geoengineering is because we’re acting without regard for nature. This is the sort of thing, of course, that we do very often, and for some people, it’s not clear what’s wrong with this. The reason we do this is because there’s a sense in which nature doesn’t have interests (according to some people). My question isn’t whether or not nature does have interests, but what’s doing the justificatory work to get her to the point at which she can argue that there is something wrong with taking action without respect for nature?


Phil Rasch, Alan Robock, David Keith

October 19, 2010

UPDATE 2:58: I’m all flippertinibbet.

UPDATE 2:45: I just raised a somewhat elaborate question, which is a little hard to recapitulate given that it was extemporaneous, but I basically was suggesting, in response to a stance that Lauren Hartzell had taken with regard to the infancy of this conceptual discussion, that the role of philosophy in this discussion is to offer clarification with regard to the types of arguments that work, those that don’t work, and the extent to which these arguments can help decision-makers move forward. Andrew Light built on this point to say something about how this is done in other fields as well. Albert Borgmann is now building on this to integrate a somewhat Rawlsian position. Now Clark Miller is trying to say that we don’t have to start by rethinking these questions but instead can look at existing regulatory mechanisms. Nicole Hassoun said something pretty interesting, but more interesting was the observation that basically you need to get IRB approval to spray something on a person, but you don’t need to get IRB approval to spray something over their heads. Everyone wants to talk now. It’s like a fracking free-for-all here.

UPDATE 2:30: Alan Robock just said “nozzle testing” (he he). All three are talking about boundaries and when and where we can conduct research into geoengineering, but all I can think about is nozzle testing. He says now that one of his favorite principles is “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right,” and now he’s said more stuff about how ethicists haven’t done a lot to answer this question so far at this meeting, which has suddenly gotten a few people raising their hands very aggressively.


Lauren Hartzell and Andrew Light

October 19, 2010

UPDATE 11:15: Andrew‘s speaking, talking about how he’s moving some of his work over to policy work. Does mostly now philosophically informed policy making. He’s got three key questions:

  1. How do the basic questions concerning geoengineering raise the need for governance?
  2. What are the minimal criteria for effective governance ahead of large-scale deployment?
  3. Are there options on the table now for advancing institutions for governance?

Skipping most of his stuff to hit the conclusion. HE says that the classification begs governance. “Alternative classification incorporating global/local risk profile, reversability, etc., (to traditional CDR-SRM) are interesting because they bring to the forefront the pragmatic issues of assessing impacts of different techniques on humans, other animals, ecosystems and earth systems.”

Minimum criteria for effective governance, at least these six bare bones: Inclusive, open forum, streamlined, informed, autonomous, empowered. Consider these with regard to options for governance: Private/voluntary model (not autonomous or empowered; only partially open forum), unilateral model (only autonomous; doesn’t meet other criteria), multilateral-exclusive model (like START; questionable autonomy, only partially open forum, possibly streamlined). Lots of different models are currently in play: UN, IWC, CITES. Creating international body is a mistake, primarily for reasons of time. Doesn’t think IPCC and UNFCCC is the way to go. Andrew likes the ENMOD treaty. Here’s another primer that I’ve just googled.

The idea is that we’d just use this treaty to ban a lot of harmful stuff, but the scope isn’t only about harmful uses. The most interesting part of the treaty is Article III, which talks about how to modify the environment. This is a really interesting talk. I need to pay attention.


UPDATE 11:00: Hartzell is speaking about the precautionary principle, which she thinks is poorly defined and formulated. Generally, it’s thought to be the “better safe than sorry” view. She’s arguing that there are multiple different PP arguments, that it lacks clarity. Who bears the responsibliity, is it human health versus the environment, what are the threats of harm (there’s a paralysis objection), and it’s difficult to identify precautionary measures. There are, clearly, fancy categories and families of precautionary principles.

Mention of Gardiner, Manson, yada yada.

Defines Catastrophic Precautionary Principle: “Appropriate precautionary measures should be taken against threats of catastrophe, where threads of catastraphe….” gah! too fast… not enough coffee. Read the paper. Damn you, Lauren. You speak as fast as I do.

The question we should be asking is, “When, if ever will SRM techniques constitute appropriate precautionary measures against climate change.


Jane Long

October 19, 2010

UPDATE 10:00: Jane Long is talking about intentionality, which presumably refers to the claim that geoengineering is an intentional project, as opposed to unintentional. Jane believes that it’s really irksome to many people that geoengineering is intentional. Do we want to hold out for an international agreement or do we just want to move forward and establish some norms?

So now she wants to talk about what strategy might be like. She says we talk about mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation, she says, is strongly related to remediation.

One of the few goals that people have been able to agree on is the 2 degree goal. Apparently engineers serve clients.


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