An Inconvenient Conversation-Gate

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12/06/09 Taipei, Taiwan - In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. - Galileo Galilei, contrarian astronomer.

In times of yore, annoyingly inquisitive skeptics were urged to avoid engaging in impolite subjects such as religion and politics and, instead, were encouraged to chitty-chat about more benign topics, like the weather. Alas, thanks to a rather inconvenient documentary, our atmospheric conversational safe haven was not to last long into the new century. Now even the weather - and, more to the point, who or what causes it - is considered out of bounds, certainly in politically mixed company.

There is little doubt that global warming is a touchy subject. One questions it the same way one questions a man's right to bare arms south of the Mason Dixon line: with his hands above his head and at his own peril.

But why so uptight? Is it simply that folks don't like to converse on topics they disagree on, as if - if they could only learn to ignore their differences - they might just resolve themselves naturally? Hmmn...

It could be that the debate touches on a variety of other subjects, simmering close below the surface, that we humans are also uncomfortable discussing. Believers, perhaps, feel a sense of guilt. They've driven too far, watched too many YouTube clips, eaten too many hamburgers and, in doing so, generally contributed enough tons of CO2 to end civilization as we know it. That's gotta be hard to live down. No wonder they don't want the subject raised.

But what about the skeptics? Well, they've got their own problems to deal with.

To hold that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a farce, that the books were - if you'll pardon the pun - cooked, you'd have to believe that governments around the world are colluding to extort a crippling tax on citizens in an effort to save us from - gulp - ourselves. You'd have to suspect that those same governments were in bed with high-flying investment firms and individual insiders who might stand to pocket billions inventing and trading carbon credits and various other enviro-derivatives. And you'd have to believe that an Academy Award winning Nobel Peace Prize recipient is either a mildly convincing actor...or a menace to humanity...or, indeed, both.

But that's not all. As of a couple of weeks ago, to suspect that AGW is a con, you must believe that private emails exchanged between climatologists responsible for providing the consensus data - emails in which were divulged methods of suppressing data, excluding dissenting viewpoints and manipulating evidence - were in some way damning or that they might actually undermine the scientific credibility of the heretofore unchallengeable AGW doctrine.

By now you have surely heard about the Climategate scandal setting the blogosphere ablaze. In case you accidentally stumbled on this fringy outlet and you usually stick to the mainstream media, here's a very quick wrap of what you likely missed. In late November, hackers broke into the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) in England, one of the four official sources of global temperature data used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. The exposed emails and files were then leaked to various media outlets and published on Al Gore's Internet. The results were, ahem, interesting...

Here are a couple of teasers:

I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.

And...

The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

Professor Phil Jones, CRU director, has stepped aside from his post at the University while an independent investigation is underway there. And, in what may be a sheer coincidence, the Oscar-decorated Nobel Laureate mentioned above has since canceled the lecture he planned to deliver at the crucial Copenhagen Climate Summit, due to kick off on Monday. Organizers would like disappointed fans and nut-job conspiracy theorists with long-range scopes to know that full refunds will be given in lieu of his presentation.

But what does this have to do with finance and economics, readers wonder. Actually, quite a lot.

Estimates vary on how much a proposed cap-and-trade plan might cost. Depending on where you get your figures - which seems to be a recurring caveat surrounding this whole discussion - annual cost to the US alone could be between $200-$350 billion, or roughly $1,750 - $3,000 per household. (We did see one global estimate of $23 trillion...but decided to discard that as a statistical outlier.)

President Obama himself said that energy costs were likely to skyrocket under his plan. One memorandum cited by various newsagencies, which was prepared for Obama's transition team after last November's election, estimates that, Economic costs will likely be on the order of 1 percent of GDP, making them equal in scale to all existing environmental regulation.

Critics, predictably, rebuke those figures, claiming that they are typically inflated and that their government would never spend that much money on a bogus scheme. Besides, how can you put a price on human life...huh, huh!?

Depending on what side of the debate you reside - skeptic or believer - action or inaction will cost you, respectively, thousands of dollars per year in additional taxes and the surrender of your liberty to a world government, or, your life and that of all future generations.

That's quite a debate we're not allowed to have for fear of offending polite company, eh?

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