Intellectual and Practical Foolishness: The Precautionary Principle

July 18th, 2014 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

Famous supporter of the Precautionary Principle.

Famous supporter of the Precautionary Principle.

The Precautionary Principle (PP) underlies a wide variety of policy efforts around the world today, including energy policy and the debate over the continued use of fossil fuels and the risk they pose regarding climate change. In the European Union, it is even required to be followed in some matters of statutory law.

According to Wikipedia, the Precautionary Principle states:

“if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.”

Now, the foolishness of the PP is that it addresses the potential risks of a particular action without addressing the benefits.

This is just plain silliness, and a prescription for human suffering and death. Every modern advance, invention, or convenience you can think of has risks, and those risks must be weighed against their benefits.

There is no such thing as a no-risk human activity.

People even die from choking on food. Maybe we should outlaw food.

In the early years of the environmental movement, bad science combined with PP idealism led to restrictions on the use of DDT to control mosquitoes, which then led to at least tens of millions of needless deaths.

On the global warming front, the PP came up (at least implicitly) in the recent New York Times article profiling John Christy. While that article at least allowed Dr. Christy to state his position on climate change (kudos to NYT for that), Kerry Emanuel in that article likened the risk of not addressing climate change to telling a young girl to run across a busy street to catch her bus. The result could be deadly.

Now, I should be clear that John is OK with that article…it turned out better than he expected it would (we have a long history of being burned by the mainstream media).

But I’m not going to let misguided policy advice from scientists to go unchallenged.

This Precautionary Principle idea that guides people like Kerry Emanuel is nonsense. (I like Kerry, BTW, and he is a top-notch atmospheric researcher). Would we abandon our most abundant and affordable energy sources, required for nearly everything we do, on the chance that there might be some non-zero negative consequence to adding 1 or 2 additional CO2 molecules to each 10,000 molecules of air?

And what about the benefits of more atmospheric CO2? Fewer temperature-related deaths, global greening, increased crop productivity, etc.? We should not accept the premise that more CO2 in the atmosphere is necessarily bad for life on Earth.

The people who advocate the PP are also the ones who have benefited from the advances modern science and engineering have provided us. And all of those advances carry risks.

I suspect the 1+ billion people still without electricity, or who are still using wood and dung for heating and cooking, would see things differently, too.

I realize I have mentioned the PP before, but the NYT article got me thinking about just how pervasive (and non-critical) a mindset this is becoming.

People like me are often asked the question, “But what if you are wrong?” regarding our skepticism that human-caused climate change is going to be something that requires a policy response.

Well, what if they are wrong? I have often said that human caused climate change presents theoretical risks, whereas restricting access to abundant and affordable energy causes real poverty and real deaths.

If they really want to follow the Precautionary Principle, then they should follow their own prescription, which I am rephrasing from the Wikipedia definition of the PP:

If reducing fossil fuel use has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, in the absence of economic consensus that the reduction is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those advocating such a reduction.

107 Responses to “Intellectual and Practical Foolishness: The Precautionary Principle”

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  1. chris says:

    But the precautionary principle cuts both ways, especially when we are talking about unknown events and consequences in the future. It requires us to weigh outcomes, actions and make decisions accordingly. Everything in the future is to some degree theoretical. We have to choose either way. We can think of it as a Pascal’s wager of sorts. I am oversimplifying the outcomes and choices, for the sake of argument. There is of course a continuum of choices and outcomes.

    1. We choose to act on the scientific consensus
    2. We choose not to act on the scientific consensus

    1. The scientific consensus is correct.
    2. The scientific consensus is incorrect.

    1. If we choose nothing and the consensus is wrong: Lose Nothing
    2. If we choose do act and the consensus is wrong: We have higher energy prices, possibly lower economic growth and other possible scenarios, though the rapidly dropping cost of alternative fuels makes me wonder.
    3. if we choose nothing and the consensus is correct: Massive economic damage, and likely lots of ecological upending, resulting in REAL damage to countries and people with the fewest resources to adapt.
    4. if we choose to act and the consensus is correct: We more than offset the cost of alternate energy by damage not done.

    The precautionary principle suggests to me that I evaluate the most likely path of least future damage.

    • except that you choose to exaggerate the negative impacts of AGW (all theoretical) and minimize the human suffering (which is very real).

      • chris says:

        1. I can see why my words left that impression. It was not my intention to be unfair.

        2. As for oversimplifications, it’s not terribly possible to go into sufficient detail in a blog post comment, but my point that we in the face of an unknown outcome, the relative suffering inflicted by “action” vs. “inaction” stands.

        If Dr. Spencer and the skeptics are correct, then the “real suffering” of people with less access to food, water, medicine, etc. will be great than the “theoretical” suffering of people whose livelihood that depends on a stable climate.

        If the vast majority of climate scientists are correct, then the opposite is true.

        3. Also, while I am sure that an endless supply of fools saying that we need to reduce the use of global energy can be found, it is hardly the consensus of people trying to pragmatically solve the CO2 emission issue. As a scientist, I find such a view baffling. I hear almost entirely about the replacement of fossil fuels approach.

        Indeed, the leveled cost of PV is merely 50% higher than conventional coal at this point. And that cost is dropping A LOT per year. So, I also stand by the notion that putting resources into replacing fossil fuels quickly is not a devastating expense.

        • Mark Luhman says:

          The true cost pf PV is first it unreliable, the sun does not shine at night, it has to backup by something else. There is no storage for it and lastly the energy to produce a Photovoltaics cell exceeds the energy you will get out of it. So if you think there is and answer there, you are delusional. The cost reductions you are seeing are do to the fire sale going on since they cannot sell them at the cost it take to produce them, without subsidies they would be worth even less.

          • chris says:

            Mark, do you have any citations for your assertions?

            responses to your three primary points:

            1. Until PV exceeds ~20-30% of overall production, storage is not a serious issue because peak production almost perfectly overlaps peak demand (also when electricity prices are much higher than baseline prices). ( )

            2. regarding power consumed in PV production:

            “To calculate payback, Dutch researcher Alsema reviewed previous energy analyses and did not include the energy that originally went into crystallizing microelectronics scrap. His best estimates of electricity used to make near- future, frameless PV were 600 kWh/m2 for single-crystal- silicon modules and 420 kWh/m2 for multicrystalline silicon. Assuming 12% conversion efficiency (standard conditions) and 1,700 kWh/m2 per year of available sun- light energy (the U.S. average is 1,800), Alsema calculated a payback of about 4 years for current multicrystalline- silicon PV systems. Projecting 10 years into the future, he assumes a solar-grade silicon feedstock and 14% efficiency, dropping energy payback to about 2 years.”


            3. As for prices being low due to an inability to sell them, the most recent years of installation seems to undermine that assertion:

            YEAR GW (installed in that year)
            2008 6
            2009 7.6
            2010 17
            2011 30
            2012 31
            2013 39

    • anthony says:

      “We choose to act on the scientific consensus”

      The consensus is both unscientific and imaginary. It, like AGW itself, is a failed idea, a red herring and distraction.

      The failure of AGW ‘science’ is manifest; 10’s of $billions have been wasted on this dreadful idea and it is now revealed as an ideology and politically driven.

      • Lewis Guignard says:

        Rent seeking and crony capitalism come in many guises.

      • Brian H says:

        It’s worse than that. To cite Hal Lewis, it is “the greatest and most successful pseudo-scientific fraud” in his long life as a physicist.

    • JohnKl says:

      Hi Chris,

      Of your four scenarios let me address a few. First:

      “2. If we choose do act and the consensus is wrong: We have higher energy prices, possibly lower economic growth and other possible scenarios, though the rapidly dropping cost of alternative fuels makes me wonder.”

      This cannot be stated with any rational basis because you never defined what you mean by ACT. Many very dangerous actions have been suggested by scientists and politicians over the course of time which I have quoted in previous posts to resolve climate/environmental issues. This statement appears to be a complete white-wash. You then claim:

      “3. if we choose nothing and the consensus is correct: Massive economic damage, and likely lots of ecological upending, resulting in REAL damage to countries and people with the fewest resources to adapt.”

      Really? Review the Mona Loa data and historical action taken. Humanity has largely not only done nothing for over a hundred years to prevent atmospheric GHG’s in the atmosphere but has increased them at an accelerated rate and massive damage resulting from atmospheric plant food has no observational/empirical support. Too the contrary rising human population has been correlated with rising bio-mass. You then assert:

      “4. if we choose to act and the consensus is correct: We more than offset the cost of alternate energy by damage not done.”

      Hmmh! If the consensus proves correct and the atmosphere warms significantly what makes you believe any damage will necessarily result. The geological evidence indicates significantly warmer temperatures only a few thousand years ago and a completely with a completely different planetary composition of animal and floral life spreading into zones completely ice-bound today. In addition, this statement proves meaningless because again you haven’t defined with any clarity at all what course of action you believe would have been taken to hasten or support alternative energy and punish or repress conventional hydrocarbon ones.

      Thanks for the input, but it doesn’t apper to fly.

      Have a great day!

    • Paul Aubrin says:

      Chris says”I am oversimplifying the outcomes and choices, for the sake of argument.”
      Indeed. This kind of oversimplification has been detailed in the video “the guy with a marker”. A very detailed reply has been given in another video here:

      And, any way, vague suspicions based on nothing material should not have the same weight as proven consequences.

    • There is also a profound confusion here on what a “scientific consensus” means. There are least two varieties: historical and futuristic. A historical consensus is where the science has been well established, perhaps for 50 years or more, and we come to an understanding of the world based on our historical research. I.e., what scientific papers have withstood the test of time? A futuristic consensus is a survey of expert opinion, which is unfortunately, nearly always wrong or undergoes significant modification over time. If a futuristic consensus was reliable, scientists would not experiment and problem solve, they would simply vote on the solution.

    • Fonzarelli says:

      Chris, first off let me say that I really appreciate your comment… I think we are all missing the big picture here. Eventually we WILL run out of fossil fuels!!! So the sooner we get our butts in gear on alternative fuels and conservation efforts the better. The problem with attaching that to AGW is that if AGW fails then we’re not likely to get our “butts in gear”. Therefor for the real problem ( running out of fossil fuels) should be well stated and addressed…

      • Mark M says:

        Fonzi, not so fast. The simple economic principle of supply and demand will guarantee that when fossil fuels begin to actually run out (become more scarce), other energy sources will become price competitive. It is very speculative to the point of being foolhardy to invest heavily in this area. The foolish spending by our government on electric cars and such provides plentiful evidence for what I’m saying.

        • Fonzarelli says:

          Great point Mark, I would say, however, that if we realize and recognize that we have no substitute for fossil fuels then we’d better get crackin’. If “other energy sources” don’t exist then market forces won’t do us any good…

          • JohnKl says:

            Hi Fonzarelli,

            The problem seems to be that so many people lump all hydrocarbons as “fossil” fuels. Natural gas is 80% methane (CH4). Scientists long ago confirmed that Calcite, Iron Oxide and Water will form hydrocarbon methane under sufficient heat and pressure (~50k gigapsacals) believed to exist ~100 miles below the surface of the earth. In other words, the earth continuously makes more of the stuff. You may wish to research an Austrian Astrophysicist named Thomas Gold. He’s passed away but his research and claims may still be able to be accessed. Imo it will prove very difficult if not impossible for humans ever to run out of this or most any resource. We haven’t done so yet. In any case, Thomas Gold was apparently responsible for getting Carl Sagan accepted at Cornell.

            In addition to natural gas, petroleum appears to be largely of abiogenic origin as well. Plants have difficulty absorbing and utilizing CO2 that contains the carbon 13 isotope. From what I’ve read, while petroleum found near the surface appears to lack some carbon 13 deeper deposits apparently do not.

            Their exists a great deal of additional evidence which you can research yourself. Imo, with the exception of coal most hydrocarbons appear to be primarily abiogenic. One of the funnier cunumbrums for many warmistas is that they peddle the hysterical fear of carbo-loading the atmosphere all the while so often joining the PEAK OIL crowd and claiming we’re about to run of the hydrocarbon source material within the earth! The absurdity of holding diametrically conflicting beliefs would seem laughable but is there really anything new under the sun?

            Have a great day!

  2. David L. Hagen says:

    Jesus stated the foundational “golden rule” (Luke 6:31):

    Do to others as you would have them do to you.

    The Hippocratic Oath included:

    “ I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.”

    Today’s climate alarmist “precautionary principle” inverts these foundational principles in effect to:

    “Do not do the good you could today to the poor, lest possibly earth’s temperature might minutely change after we have all died.”

    For an insightful treatment see Cass R. Sunstein:
    Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle 2005 Cambridge University Press ISBN: 0521615127.

    Focusing on such problems as global warming, terrorism, DDT, and genetic engineering, Professor Sunstein argues that the Precautionary Principle is incoherent. . . .
    Instead of adopting the Precautionary Principle, Professor Sunstein argues for three steps:
    A narrow Anti-Catastrophe Principle, designed for the most serious risks;
    Close attention to costs and benefits;
    and an approach called “:libertarian paternalism,” designed to respect freedom of choice while also moving people in directions that will make their lives go better.

    A major problem is equivocation between the weak, medium, and strong versions of the precautionary principle. e.g. see the New Zealand summary:

    Weak version
    The weak version is the least restrictive and allows preventive measures to be taken in the face of uncertainty, but does not require them (eg, Rio Declaration 1992; United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change 1992). . . .
    Strong version
    Strong versions of the principle differ from the weak and moderate versions in reversing the burden of proof. Strong versions justify or require precautionary measures and some also establish liability for environmental harm, which is effectively a strong form of “polluter pays”. For example, the Earth Charter (2000) states:
    “When knowledge is limited apply a precautionary approach …. Place the burden of proof on those who argue that a proposed activity will not cause significant harm, and make the responsible parties liable for environmental harm.”

    The strong version inverts the scientific method.

    • JohnKl says:

      Hi David L Hagen,

      The problem as I see the mislabeled Precautionary Principle in addition to what I’ve stated below can be seen by reviewing the Principle in parts:

      “if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment…”

      Any action or public policy could be suspected to risk causing harm to the public or the environment. Therefore this part of the statement proves to be largely fluff. Nevertheless, it goes on:

      “…in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.”

      The burden of proof as to the efficacy of any action must be carried by those proposing any action. Nevertheless, if the action taken does not prima facia in and of itself prove harmful the burden should remain with anyone claiming it to be harmful to state and illustrate why, because the burden of proof rests with everyone proposing any action including the climate alarmists who seek to circumscribe the actions of others to achieve their goals.

      Have a great day!

      • David L. Hagen says:

        Thus the problem of inverting the burden of proof in the “strong” version.
        e.g., China’s increased use of coal raised 650 million out of poverty.
        Yet Obama demands Africa be prevented from using coal, but must generate far less energy with photovoltaics – keeping most of its people in poverty, less earth’s temperature increase by some very small fraction of a degree in 100 years.
        That action is perverse direct continuing the current harm that they live in.

  3. JohnKl says:

    Hi Roy,

    Thank you for this piece. There exists a great likelihood that if humans, unlikely as it appears, successfully reduced atmospheric greenhouse gasses enormously negative consequences to human survival may commence. A great deal of evidence exists of a “GREENING PLANET” since the industrial age commenced. Does anyone find it curious that from Malthus to Ehrlich there appears no shortage of supposedly SCIENTIFICALLY BASED PREDICTIONS OF MASSIVE FOOD SHORTAGES, FAMINE, HUMAN POPULATION REDUCTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL COLLAPSE. Yet despite the ever increasing supply of food and population the ONLY FAMINES OBSERVED THUS FAR APPEAR TO BE POLITICALLY CREATED, including among others the various Soviet era famines, German famine resulting from British post war occupation and of course not to be forgotten any of the various North Korean famines and/or democides of choice. One could count as likely politically createdthe Irish potato famine but that proves to be pre-industrial.

    The presumed reason for this ever increasing vegetative bounty results from the GREEN REVOLUTION. Apparently, some very clever botanists somewhere massively increased global food production and all that extra atmospheric plant food had little if anything to do with it. With that kind of reasoning perhaps NOAA scientists hire little gnomes to remove excessive sea surface heat increases and hide them in the deep oceans where their supposedly very sophisticated temperature monitors can detect them. We truly live on a fascinating planet!

    Have a great day!

    • JohnKl says:

      Hi Roy,

      Please allow me a correction to my previous post. The German “famine” should read food shortage that actually resulted from a blockade during WWI. The British government moved to strangle the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs to Germany and its allies. This marked the beginning of the ‘hunger blockade’, a war of attrition that lasted until Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

      BTW, I realize many other famines/food shortages could be listed. However, again politics appears to be the deciding factor. Human population and food availability continued to increase throughout the post-industrial era.

      Have a great day!

  4. benpal says:

    Recent events remind us that we should neither use airplanes (Malaysian) nor ships (Costa Concordia) to travel. A simple principle of precaution. Did I forget to mention traveling in cars?

    • Fonzarelli says:

      Too bad we can’t poll people who’ve died in plane wrecks on that one…

    • Santa Baby says:

      In Norway about 1000 die in accidents at home every year. About 1500 die in hospital due to human error. 170 die in car accidents. Some very few die while flying.
      The safest place to stay will be in a commercial plane?

  5. Bret says:

    On Pielke Jr.’s blog ( ), Kerry Emanual has a clarification to the NY Times piece that you refer to:


    I would like first to thank Roger for allowing me to post this response to the article about John Christy by Michael Wines in Tuesday’s New York Times. Although I was quoted accurately, the context in which the quotation was phrased distorted its intended meaning.

    Several weeks ago, I had several phone conversations with Mr. Wines about the work of John Christy. In those conversations, I emphasized the value of skepticism in science and also said that I agreed with some elements of John’s point of view, in particular, that projections are still highly uncertain, that climate models leave a great deal to be desired, and that some of the decisions that have to be made about how to deal with climate change are very tough indeed. Wines asked me to explain where I differ from John. I told him that we differ primarily in our assessment of the magnitude of climate tail risk. Wines asked me to explain what I meant by “tail risk”, and I offered the metaphor of advising a small girl whether she should cross a busy street to catch her bus (a metaphor I have used before).

    Unfortunately, the positioning of the quotation within the article makes it seem as though I am suggesting that John is the kind if person who would let the girl take the risk. I state here that I have absolutely no reason to question John’s motives; indeed, he strikes me as the sort of person who would risk his own life to save a child who wandered into a busy street. My metaphor was intended only to illustrate the nature of tail risk.


    Not that it changes your post, but in case you didn’t see it…

    • Roy Spencer says:

      Yes, I saw Kerry’s clarification. I knew what he meant by the analogy (or metaphor). Kerry is a good person.

      • Brian H says:

        People (McCain, etc.) said the same about Barry. The road to Hades was paved by such “good persons”.

  6. JohnKl says:

    Hi Roy,

    The crux of your piece remains what you call the Precautionary Principle which you state as:

    “if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.”

    As you state it the principle appears to be a recipe for reactive action based on a solid support of ignorance. You further suggest:

    “Now, the foolishness of the PP is that it addresses the potential risks of a particular action without addressing the benefits.”

    Hmmh! In part, but the main problem as you stated the Precautionary Principle above is that it promotes action in the absence of fact and/or data. How can one compute either costs or benefits without empirical support. To act on “suspected” risk would be to act on hunches or guesses. This doesn’t appear to be so much a principle as simply winging it. Perhaps it should be re-labeled the REACTIONARY PRINCIPLE. While it may not be alliterative it proves more accurate a description.

    You later go on to state:

    “People like me are often asked the question, “But what if you are wrong?” regarding our skepticism that human-caused climate change is going to be something that requires a policy response.

    Well, what if they are wrong? I have often said that human caused climate change presents theoretical risks, whereas restricting access to abundant and affordable energy causes real poverty and real deaths.”

    Great point! If one has to ask “what if” it means they really don’t know fully what they’re talking about, they don’t have a grip on the consequences of either action or in-action and the whole episode will only prove speculative not scientific. If one further chooses to arrive at a decision regarding a complex course of action directed at the entire planet through scientific opinion poll known as consensus collective madness cannot be far behind. Whatever decision reached will only be some homogenized hunch not a fact based analysis.

    Have a great day!

    • Roy Spencer says:

      Yes, I agree, the reactionary nature of the principle is also a good thing to point out.

      • Brian H says:

        Mencken is pertinent here:
        “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

  7. mpcraig says:

    Why doesn’t somebody just say it in plain English? The PP is a tool for people who want to stop something they don’t like (without the usual required empirical evidential support).

    Also, is it not a classic example of a Burden of Proof fallacy?

    • Brian H says:

      Absolutely. Proving a negative (CO2 will not cause significant warming) = “Prove that you are not the Queen of the Space Unicorns in disguise.”

  8. Aaron S says:

    Irrational PP seems coupled with another phenomenon to me. It typically involes a convenient villain so that a society is willing to bandwagon onto the cause. It doesnt matter if the selected villain represents the core issue or not. Today CO2 is the culprit because it is easy to hate. Whereas, imho Population control is the real issue for human impact on earth, more people equals more impact. And as John KL points out we have propped up a huge population with technology,but we are pushing the limits. The pie of earth’s resources is getting split into to many pieces that are to small and individual wealth and quality of life are starting to decline. For example, for CO2 if an individual wants to reduce their footprint, then not having kids is the greatest impact, but have you ever even heard these two issues discussed in the same public conversation? I am all for conservation but it does nothing if population continues to grow exponentially. If everyone on earth halved their CO2 footprint (extremely unlikely) over the next 50 yrs, but the human population doubles (like it has been) then obviously CO2 output remains constant. However it is difficult to villainize having children, so society has created the irrational CO2 culprit and as Roy points out- the consensus does not even consider the good impacts of higher CO2. Why? CO2 is the problem because it is associated with evil big oil, it is consumed by the wealthy nations and individuals, and ultimately its increase represents human development that is not spread equally on earth. CO2 makes an ideal villian, whereas population growth is not even PC to talk about.

    Last point! CO2 does green the planet and increase yields, but is this a good thing long term? Maybe not bc it does not create a surplus or more food for people, but rather it creates more people. Why? Because we wont consider population control as an issue to address so numbers will adjust to the new level of production.

    • JohnKl says:

      Hi Aaron S,

      Thank you for the post, but I do disagree with some of what you claim. You mentioned:

      “And as John KL points out we have propped up a huge population with technology,but we are pushing the limits. The pie of earth’s resources is getting split into to many pieces that are to small and individual wealth and quality of life are starting to decline.”

      Hmmh! My post actually suggested something a bit different. In fact, global human population appears to have been rising since the Flood/Ice Age at a brisk pace despite wars, famines and many innumerable perils. The earth’s resources could easily support a human population orders of magnitude above the current one. The only question concerns human WILL and the ability and desire to marshal those resources. As I most if not all the previous famines involved political decisions as to who will live and who will die, not the capacity of the natural order to support them. Personally, if I have an island to myself and a beautiful blond female companion to share it with any competitive alpha-male will appear to me as an OVER-POPULATION problem! My view would have little or nothing to do with the capacity of the island to feed us. Keep in mind China has a human population of 1.3 billion, one twelfth the arable land of the U.S. and remains a net exporter of food. As to the desire to panic the population with exaggerated fears like CO2 paranoia, over-population, etc.- H L Mencken said it best:

      The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
      H. L. Mencken

      P.S. – By the human population will always be kept in checked one way or another. You might want to investigate the increasing size of magma pools and calderas under Yellow-stone for a start.

      Have a great day!

      • Brian H says:

        I was also inspired to quote Mencken above.

        I have long pointed out to excess-population wailers that the only UN Population Survey projection that has ever been close to accurate is the Low Band, now the Low Fertility Band, version of its spreadsheet. It now predicts a peak/plateau at about 8bn in 2045, declining to 6.x billion by 2100. Aging and depopulation crises are far more likely than over-population. Perhaps androids will fill the gap!

  9. Tom Anderson says:

    Chris’s analogy to Pascal’s wager is faulty. Pascal (was he really so cynical?) was pointing out that religious belief was essentially a free ride with the chance of a big win at no cost.

    Signing up for AGWT demands by contrast staggering tribute from believers, agnostics, skeptics and innocent bystanders alike. (And no streets of gold for the winners.)

    I believe this is called throwing good money after bad.

  10. Nigel Tufnel says:

    Um, didn’t “Chicken Little” move to somewhere in Oklahoma? ~wink~

    On another note, Roy I am in total agreement that the propensity for the alarmist to lash out in 7th grade schoolyard style is both laughable and predictable. My question is (like with politicians): Is anyone following the money?

  11. KevinK says:

    Dr Spencer, very nice, well done.

    You should look up some of the history of AC electricity as it was “rolled” out across the USA back 125 years ago or so. Lots of awful accidents, one involved a linesman who became a conductor, right up in a power pole in New York City. Awful accident, crossed the over abundance of live wires and “cooked” for several hours in public view, deceased of course. Lots of “hue and cry” about banning that “evil electricity”. Of course things got better (standards, insurance company mandated inspections, better materials) and eventually electricity in New York City enabled the modern Grand Central Terminal railroad station. The old station was serviced by steam locomotives which of course create lots of CO2 and steam and particulates and water vapor, etc. etc.

    After a different terrible accident (two trains collided in a tunnel when an operator could not see the stop signal because of the smoke) the City of New York banned railroad steam locomotives in the city limits. That old “evil electricity” came to the rescue and allowed electrically powered trains to whisk folks in and out (my personal preference) of the city with the CO2 and smoke way over there at the generating plant smoke stacks.

    Electricity is a very useful force that can be mastered safely, but it must always be respected. As an electrical engineer I respect the force I help master, but I do not fear it.

    If the current crop of “Gallus gallus domesticus minimus” had their way back then electricity would be banned FOREVER. And then where would we be? In the dark most of the time, of course.

    The electrical engineering community made “extraordinary claims”, i.e. this electricity “stuff” can be used safely. And they provided “extraordinary proof”, lives enhanced by electricity: multiple billions, lives lost: sadly still hundreds or thousands every year. Of course some of the lives lost are from “Darwin award” winners who try to make a few bucks by stealing electrical wires, of course they don’t believe all those HIGH VOLTAGE signs the utility companies kindly put up. Another “intelligence challenged” individual just met his maker locally trying to steal some copper from a live 30,000 volt substation. There has to be a better way to “earn” $100.

    The climate science community has made “extraordinary claims”, i.e. “we know what the temperature will be in a century”, ALL of us should demand the accompanying “extraordinary proof”. So far, I don’t even see “ordinary proof”, or “somewhat compelling proof”, or even “hey, you might be on to something there”.

    I see a hypothesis with a huge pile of conjectures stacked on it like a proverbial “house of peer reviewed cards”.

    Cheers, Kevin.

  12. anthony says:

    Commentators may be interested that the PP is enshrined in legislation in Australia:

  13. Don B says:

    It is illuminating, and not surprising, that Kerry’s clarification was featured at Pielke, Jr.’s blog, and not in the NY Times.

    The NYT, like the BBC, is institutionally committed to climate alarmism, and the only surprise is they did not skewer John Christy more than they did.

  14. Bryan Woodsmall says:

    It seems to me that the PP is an appeal to the desire to avoid all risk. I remember something I read years ago (I think in the book “Investing for the Future”, by Larry Burkett). It was about financial risk, but I think it is applicable to risk in general.

    The book referred to the practice of keeping money “under the mattress”, to avoid risk of loss from bank failures, stock market collapses, and so on. What the book pointed out was that there are also risks with putting the money under the mattress — namely fire, theft, and inflation.

    The statement I remember was something to the effect of: “If you try to avoid all risk, risk will come to you.”

    I think it is true that we cannot avoid risk in life. The best we can do is to wisely choose which risk to take. If we refuse to wisely choose, and instead try to avoid all risk, we will still face risk, but it will not be of our choosing, and may be a much more foolish risk than the one we are trying to avoid.

    Drastically limiting access to energy, in an attempt to lower CO2 emissions, involves a 100% risk of causing very significant increases in poverty around the world, which will lead to malnourishment, disease, and early death for many. Accepting this risk is the cost of trying to avoid the risk of catastrophic climate change. I am not seeing any evidence that the risk of CAGW is anywhere near high enough to justify this tradeoff.

    • Brian H says:

      The PP, applied even-handedly, would absolutely prevent curtailment of CO2 emissions, on the basis that it would almost certainly starve almost all of the developing world, and much of the developed, starting almost immediately.

  15. John Moore says:

    A fundamental problem of the use of PP in the climate debate is that all the dangerous potential is posited to lie on the course of not taking an action. In reality, the danger of taking the action is equally high and equally fraught with uncertainty. After all, do we really believe that we have a solid understanding of the very complex dynamical feedback system called society (or its subset, economics)? If not, the PP suggests that we have to take an action least likely to cause problems in that system.

    But, of course, PP users never frame it this way. Their one-sidedness shows that their heart bleeds for the environment, but they care little about mankind.

    • Brian H says:

      Not to mention that the only observed consequence of CO2 increase to date is greening of arid regions, and increase of food availability. Those must (de facto) be what the Greens are hoping to curtail.

  16. DaveW says:

    Hi Roy,

    A good post, as usual, and I couldn’t help thinking that “People even die from choking on food. Maybe we should outlaw food.” suggested the ultimate solution to the ‘obesity epidemic’.

    The Precautionary Principle is so logically flawed and so subject to political manipulation that one wonders how anyone could take it seriously. Unfortunately, here in Australia it has been legislated into a number of laws and is a primary motivator in much of the Australian Green Party platform.

    On the suppression of DDT and malaria, though, I think you have accepted a myth too uncritically. In the US DDT wasn’t banned until long after malaria was gone, long after insect resistance to DDT was widespread, and as an essentially political move by Nixon’s team. In Australia, we didn’t follow until 1987 (if memory serves) when our malaria problem was finally controlled. In Africa, DDT has never been totally banned, at least 19 countries still use DDT for malaria control and the WHO both accepts and encourages its use when alternatives are not practical:

    There are numerous problems with using DDT too often, e.g. it is too broad spectrum, too persistent in the environment, and resistance to DDT is associated with resistance to other useful chemicals. For example, the resurgence of the bedbug problem is partly attributed to cross resistance between DDT and the ‘safer’ pyrethroids. It wasn’t the ban on DDT that has contributed to the massive and continuing death of people in Africa from malaria, but the breakdown in public health programs because of corruption and war.

    • Brian H says:

      The African ban was more de facto than de jure, as it was simply withheld on Precautionary Consensus grounds. Note that it isn’t even really an insecticide, but a repellant.

      • DaveW says:

        Hi Brian,
        From what I have read, there was an attempt to discourage use of DDT in Africa, and it had some effect on agricultural usage, but not on vector control. The Stockholm Convention wasn’t until the early 2000’s and DDT use actually increased in Africa (from 14 to 19 countries) afterwards. China produced and distributed DDT and precursors liberally until 2007 and India still produces, sells and uses very large amounts.

        So, it is a myth that DDT was banned and millions died from malaria as a consequence. The story is far more complicated and in spite of the anti-DDT hysteria, it has been in continual use for mosquito and sandfly control. I’m sure that there have been instances when DDT has been blocked where it could have saved lives, but the malaria problem is primarily a result of bad government. You can find an analogous situation in Sierra Leone and its neighbours in West Africa where a runaway Ebola outbreak is nearing 1000 infections – this isn’t an insect-borne disease so you can’t blame DDT, but it is the breakdown in the public health system, distrust of government and local customs that have let it get out of control.

        Many insecticides have a repellant effect, usually dosage dependent. I’m not sure what you mean here? A reference to spraying the upper walls and ceilings selecting for mosquitoes that land near the floor?

      • DaveW says:

        Spatial repellency:

        I did a bit of research and now understand your comment. Spraying homes with DDT does result in some vectors avoiding the homes. This is quite different from the usual irritant response that I was thinking of. Fascinating – and yet another reason why DDT is unlikely to be abandoned until a better control method comes along.

        I also discovered more records of continued DDT use in South America and SE Asia and even a pro-DDT editorial in the NYTimes in 2007. Most interesting was a report on the discontinuing of use of DDT in South Africa and then reinstitution of DDT after a rise in malaria.

        It may be true that raving Greenies would like to ban all DDT use and would consider million dead from malaria an acceptable cost. However, it is not true that there has ever been a ban of DDT use for vector control in Africa or most other parts of the world where malaria is endemic and uncontrolled. It is certainly inaccurate and misleading to blame a non-existent ban on the death of millions from malaria. This is very much like blaming CO2 for extreme weather.

  17. greg says:

    Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Dodgson, one of the founders of Mathematical Logic) RIDICULES “the precautionary principle” in “Alice Through The Looking Glass”, in the character of the White Knight. The Knight is entirely obsessed with remote possibilities. Alice asks him why his horse is weighed down with iron bracelets on his legs and is told “In case sharks bite, of course!” Meanwhile the Knight is entirely oblivious to his very real and present problem – which is that he cannot ride!!

  18. bernie says:

    The Precautionary Principle is akin to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, on the grounds that there might be an undetected fire.

    It has also – obviously – become a matter of pleasure for many “doom and gloomers” to see a panicked reaction to their weords of power; and in that case it is akin to the boy who cried “Wolf!”

  19. bernie says:

    weords = words. A nice contraction of ‘weird words’ however.

  20. Alain says:

    Dr Spencer (and others). A quick question. As China as the USA emit the most CO2, why aren’t these countries showing the most warming? Why has there been very little observed warming over CONUS according to NOAA’s surface network in the past decade or so, yet observed warming in the Arctic has been greater. Why is this? Surely those areas of the planet which emit the most CO2 would show the most warming?

    • ray says:

      Alain says:

      “Surely those areas of the planet which emit the most CO2 would show the most warming?”

      No. The supposed effect depends on accumulation in all the world’s air, which is well-mixed after a few years.

      • greg says:

        “…air, which is well-mixed…”

        In your lungs at this moment is some oxygen which has spent time in the body of every person who is alive now, or ever was, or ever will be.

      • Brian H says:

        Meanwhile, the deserts, canopied by well-mixed CO2 but missing badly-mixed H20, cool almost instantly when the sun sets, often to freezing, while damp atmospheres cool barely at all.

        Things that make you go, “Hmm.”

  21. bernie says:

    I have now re-read that chapter. It is called “My Own Invention”. Nowadays it would be, “My Own Invention – For Which I Expect Taxpayer Funding!” The White Knight was a public menace:

    “In fact, the more head-downwards I am, the more I keep inventing things.”

  22. ray says:

    In the time of that Oxford don, Lewis Carroll, the groves of Academe harboured many holy fools, whom he used in his fables. Plus ca change!

  23. Lewis Guignard says:

    Excellent comments all. Very thought provoking.

    Along the lines of PP I make the following argument. If, 100 years ago, we discovered that there was a way people could travel about freely (politically), quickly and efficiently, and transport goods inexpensively and quickly, but that putting this transporter system into existence would cause the death of 40,000 plus people per year. Would we do it following the strictures of PP?

    This system is the automobile and truck. Internationally it kills thousands of people every year yet nothing is done to stop it.

    One thing could: lower the speed limit to 25mph. So why do we not? Why aren’t our lives any more valuable than to drive 60 and faster and take that risk? Why aren’t the AGW radicals taking on this obvious problem instead of the theoretical problem of AGW?

    Because the politics of AGW preys on a different fear altogether. It is the idea that man is a bad actor; that GAIA would be better off without him. In fact, these so called environmentalists care nothing about their fellow man or the world, they care about control and pretense.

    It is a typical leftist distortion of truth where they pretend to care about something; lie, cheat and steal in order to get it. To understand them know that down is up, war is peace and a longer growing season is not a good thing.

    Keep up the good fight Dr. Spencer!!!

    • mpcraig says:


      Your argument about transportation is very similar to a ridiculous one that I have. My premise is that I can prevent almost all road fatalities. We just need to set a national speed limit of 5mph. And to enforce it, we would install speed limiters in all vehicles.

      However, a valid criticism is that my solution might actually cause more harm in other areas than the good of saving traffic fatalities.

      My point, and that of Dr. Spencer I presume, is that the unintended consequences of the PP are mostly overlooked by being myopic about only the intended benefits. I believe that makes it a completely biased position take and thus objectively illogical.

      • Lewis Guignard says:

        Exactly so. And the reason we don’t have speed limiters and accept the death and destruction is because of the benefits we have by not doing so. This is the analogy.

        Those who point out the harm which will come to those in poor circumstance, if we continue to restrict hydrocarbon use, understand this.

        Luckily Australia is seeing that smoke from coal is not such a bad thing.

        Happy Sunday!

  24. Dr. Strangelove says:

    The Precautionary Principle contradicts the scientific method. The burden of proof lies on those making a positive claim – this thing is harmful. To point the stupidity of PP, some people suspect the microwave in cell phones can cause cancer. So let’s ban cell phones until it is proven not harmful. Almost an impossible task. You will never run out of people with cancer swearing they got it from using cell phone.

    Everything can be harmful. Drinking too much water causes water poisoning. Your brain will swell and you will die. Sunlight and cosmic rays, which are everywhere, can cause cancer. We should ban going outdoors. The scientific precautionary principle must be – prove how the thing is harmful so we can use it without being harmed.

  25. Arfur Bryant says:

    An excellent post, Dr Spencer.

    For the Precautionary Principle to be effective, a (real) threat has to exist.

    • Brian H says:

      We must take strict precautions against applications of the PP.

      Outlawing risk also outlaws gain and benefits. Try it, you won’t like it.

  26. Gunga Din says:

    Where the science behind a threat is sound taking reasonable precautions makes sense.
    The problem is that the science behind the CAGW threat is not sound. The proposed precautions are based on an appeal to emotions (ie “Our children won’t know what snow is!”), not evidence and observations.

  27. Griffing says:

    All about perspective. What’s the risk to the public if the climate nazis get their way and get to institute all their Luddite policies? Bet there’s no concensus on that. And since they are the ones that want to take the action…

  28. Thanks, Dr. Spencer.
    This had to be said. Thanks for your clarity and morals.

  29. Travis Casey says:

    The precautionary principle should keep us from pumping a colorless, odorless, and flammable gas at pressure into millions of homes across America, lest there be an explosion.

  30. James Strom says:

    Well done! If the precautionary principle is a neutral principle of practical reasoning it should warn us against a course of action, A, and also the opposite, not-A. If you employ the precautionary principle and your results consistently trend in a certain direction, that justifies the suspicion that you are sneaking in premises that are compatible with a prior bias. The only to apply the principle rationally would be to provide objective evidence that there is a higher likelihood of dangerous consequences attached to one of the alternatives or the other. But if you can do that, it raises the question of whether the precautionary principle was needed in the first place.

  31. Bob Turner says:

    I switched off when I saw you quoting Wikipedia. Since when does somebody calling himself a scientist use Wikipedia as a primary source?

    Since you point at the European Union, it might have been useful to look at their definition which states explicitly that benefits should be taken account in the risk analysis:

  32. Alan Poirier says:

    It seems clear to me that the Precautionary Principle is employed by environmentalists and fervent scientists the same way that “false balance” is employed. It is a debating tactic. Both PP and FB seek to silence opposition because the proponents of CAGW know full well that the argument has long since left the scientific arena and is now in the public arena. The policy decisions that must be made will be made by men and women who are accountable to voters who, for the most part, do not understand that the underlying physics are shaky at best and delusional at worst. (The current GCMs have far too much heat in the system that can be accounted for by physics.) If proponents can silence the opposition, then the latter will not have a chance to mount a persuasive argument pointing out the myriad flaws with the IPCC’s assessments of both the pseudo-science and exaggerated risks. As an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the NYT article. It was a pleasure to Christy profiled.

  33. Travis Casey says:

    I was upset by the NYT article because of the negative spin and the placement of Emanuel’s analogy. I was delighted with his response and it is clear that he is fond of Christy. Kudos are in order even if only a small percentage of people get to see the response. It seemed heartfelt.

  34. Chris says:

    Not the same Chris from above. The Precautionary Principle with regards to AGW is not even applied consistently. While a lot of effort and expense has been applied to the idea of controlling CO2 emissions, very little has been applied to mitigating the (predicted) effects. Living in Australia, where we have virtually no hope of affecting world CO2 emissions and the inevitability of CO2 emissions increasing at an increasing rate, you would expect the Precautionary Principle to be applied to the results not the (proposed) cause. Given the predicted sea level rises, you would expect all new real estate developments to be at least 15 or 20 metres above current sea levels. Given no such Precautionary Principle has been applied, it seems to me that no one really believes the predictions – and is just one more piece that makes me suspicious of the AGW puzzle.

  35. rossbrisbane says:

    The first argument has to do with the complexity of ecosystems. This complexity gives them an extraordinary robustness, but also, paradoxically, a high vulnerability. They can hold their own against all sorts of aggressions and find ways of adapting to maintain their stability. This is true only up to a certain point, however. Beyond certain critical thresholds, they veer over abruptly into something different, in the fashion of phase changes of matter, collapsing completely or else forming other types of systems that can have properties highly undesirable for people. In mathematics, such discontinuities or tipping points are called catastrophes. This sudden loss of resilience gives ecosystems a particularity which no engineer could transpose into an artificial system without being immediately fired from his job: the alarm signals go off only when it is too late. As long as the thresholds remain distant, ecosystems may be manhandled with impunity. In this case, cost-benefit analysis appears useless, or bound to produce a result known in advance, since there seems to be nothing to weigh down the cost-side of the scales. That is why humanity was able to blithely ignore, for centuries, the impact of its mode of development on the environment. But as the critical thresholds grow near, cost-benefit analysis becomes meaningless. At that point it is imperative not to cross them at any cost. Useless or meaningless, we see that for reasons having to do, not with a temporary insufficiency of our knowledge, but with objective, structural properties of ecosystems, economic calculation is of precious little help.

    The second argument concerns systems created by humans, let us say technical systems, which can interact with ecosystems to form systems of a hybrid nature. Technical systems display properties quite different from those of ecosystems. This is a consequence of the important role that positive feedback loops play in them. Small fluctuations early in the life of a system can end up being amplified, giving it a direction that is perfectly contingent and perhaps catastrophic but which, from the inside, assumes the lineaments of fate. This type of dynamic or history is obviously impossible to foresee. In this case as well, the lack of knowledge does not result from a state of things that could be changed, but from a structural property. The non-predictability is fundamental.

    Uncertainty about the future is equally fundamental for a third reason, logical this time. Any prediction regarding a future state of things that depends on future knowledge is impossible, for the simple reason that to anticipate this knowledge would be to render it present and would dislodge it from its niche in the future. The most striking illustration is the impossibility of foreseeing when a financial bubble will burst. This incapacity is not due to a shortcoming of economic analysis, but to the very nature of the speculative phenomenon. Logic is responsible for the incapacity, and not the insufficient state of knowledge or information. If the collapse of the speculative bubble or, more generally, the onset of a financial crisis were anticipated, the event would occur at the very moment that it was anticipated and not at the predicted date. Any prediction on the subject would invalidate itself at the very moment it was made public.

    When the precautionary principle states that the “absence of certainties, given the current state of scientific and technical knowledge, must not delay etc.,” it is clear that it places itself from the outset within the framework of epistemic uncertainty. The presupposition is that we know we are in a situation of uncertainty. It is an axiom of epistemic logic that if I do not know p, then I know that I do not know p. Yet, as soon as we depart from this framework, we must entertain the possibility that we do not know that we do not know something. An analogous situation obtains in the realm of perception with the blind spot, that area of the retina unserved by the optic nerve. At the very center of our field of vision, we do not see, but our brain behaves in such a way that we do not see that we do not see. In cases where the uncertainty is such that it entails that the uncertainty itself is uncertain, it is impossible to know whether or not the conditions for the application of the precautionary principle have been met. If we apply the principle to itself, it will invalidate itself before our eyes.

    Moreover, “given the current state of scientific and technical knowledge” implies that a scientific research effort could overcome the uncertainty in question, whose existence is viewed as purely contingent. It is a safe bet that a “precautionary policy” will inevitably include the edict that research efforts must be pursued—as if the gap between what is known and what needs to be known could be filled by a supplementary effort on the part of the knowing subject. But it is not uncommon to encounter cases in which the progress of knowledge comports an increase in uncertainty for the decision-maker, something which is inconceivable within the framework of epistemic uncertainty. Sometimes, to learn more is to discover hidden complexities that make us realize that the mastery we thought we had over phenomena was in part illusory.

    Taken in part from:

    May God Help us to choose the best for humanity ALWAYS.

  36. Lewis Guignard says:

    There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

    Donald Rumsfeld


  37. Kevin O'Neill says:

    Why does the argument come down to *money* – is Mammon now our state religion?

    Let’s put these arguments into context. We can’t afford a minimum wage that provides a basic standard of living. We can’t afford healthcare for poor people. We can’t afford to educate our children. We can’t afford to …. you name it.

    The people saying, “We can’t afford …” are always the same people. They’re politically conservative, generally Republican, and *consider* themselves Christians. Yet it’s painfully obvious money means more to them than the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    The fake morality argument is exposed for exactly what it is – another ode to Mammon.

    • Gunga Din says:

      OH PLEASE!
      I worked with a man that served time in prison for murder who was fond of saying “That’s not Christian!” when he heard of something he didn’t like.
      Mammon. The verse goes with it’s context:

      24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
      25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
      26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
      27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
      28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
      29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
      30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
      31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
      32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
      33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mat 6:24-33 KJV)

      Are there Christians that serve mammon rather than God? Sure. But Christianity isn’t about mammon, seeking it or having it or even giving it.
      It’s about what Jesus Christ did for us and showing and teaching others that. Then when they can believe God and He can do what He say’s He’ll do.
      Freedom of will.
      God doesn’t use Governments to take care of His people.

    • Bryan Woodsmall says:

      Nice try, except that neither the post or any of the commenters (that I have noticed) is saying “We can’t afford…”

      Your framing of the issue implies that if we were just more generous, we would be able to buy energy for all, even without using fossil fuels, and that it is worship of Mammon that causes us to resist the switch to non-carbon energy. But that is not the issue at all.

      So in what way did Dr. Spencer use the word “afford”, or some form of it? He used the term “affordable energy” twice in the post. Here is the first:

      “Would we abandon our most abundant and affordable energy sources, required for nearly everything we do, on the chance that there might be some non-zero negative consequence to adding 1 or 2 additional CO2 molecules to each 10,000 molecules of air?”

      The point is that the switch to non-carbon energy does not provide a benefit anywhere near the magnitude of its cost. Specifically, the Precautionary Principal fails to persuade that the avoidance of risk achieved by the switch is worth the cost. So making this switch is not a wise use of the resources available. It is not a matter of “We can’t afford…”. Instead, it is “It doesn’t make sense to…” (my words).

      Here is his second use of the term “affordable energy”:

      “I have often said that human caused climate change presents theoretical risks, whereas restricting access to abundant and affordable energy causes real poverty and real deaths.”

      Here the point is the HARM caused by restricting access to a thing (affordable energy), that people need to stay out (or get out) of poverty and avoid disease and higher probability of early death.

      Where in the “teachings of Jesus Christ” are we instructed to restrict people’s access to something that would allow them to save hours every day currently spent gathering wood and animal dung to burn as fuel, and furthermore would spare them daily exposure to harmful smoke as they cook and heat their home?

      • rossbrisbane says:

        Bryan and other outspoken Christian “Global Warming -> Deniers”, Where on earth did you and your fellow American Christians think you have the right to promulgate Climate Denialism to we, the “other ” Christians of our world? And what gives you right to justify and politicise the biblical teachings of Christ in the NT. Christ rather then exalted is made into your political image and pawn to do your own bidding! Roy Spencer right here JUSTIFIES his very weak and unscientific theories. Besides this Roy exonerates just one Scientist Christy above them all. Is he really going to restore the science from oblivion? A new study of recalculation of climate projections indicates you have been ALL MISLEAD here. Christy along Spencer are wrong. They have got their calculations all wrong. There is Global Warming and it is a looming threat to mankind. Ignorant but sincere American Christians are asleep at the helm and stand condemned. Holding to some ideological bent they have stopped listening. ONLY in America can the wildest and craziest notions of conspiracies exist in so called enlightened and regenerated Evangelical Churches.


        The question of how climate model projections have tracked the actual evolution of global mean surface air temperature is important in establishing the credibility of their projections. Some studies and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report suggest that the recent 15-year period (1998–2012) provides evidence that models are overestimating current temperature evolution. Such comparisons are not evidence against model trends because they represent only one realization where the decadal natural variability component of the model climate is generally not in phase with observations. We present a more appropriate test of models where only those models with natural variability (represented by El Niño/Southern Oscillation) largely in phase with observations are selected from multi-model ensembles for comparison with observations. These tests show that climate models have provided good estimates of 15-year trends, including for recent periods and for Pacific spatial trend patterns.

        • Chris says:

          There is very little point to research that says we have adjusted/cherry picked/reanalysed the data and can now match the observations. Pretty sure I could do that with polynomials or trig functions, and do it much better. It would be pointless of course. There are so many parameters in the climate models that no one should be surprised that a model can be made to match historical observations, no matter how corrupt the raw data has become.

          There must be a point where even you have to say the whole thing has at best been overstated, and at worst invented.

        • Bryan Woodsmall says:

          You ask:

          “And what gives you right to justify and politicise the biblical teachings of Christ in the NT.”

          My response is that I don’t know what you are talking about. It was the previous commenter who brought up the teachings of Christ.

          I simply asked a question (to which I have not gotten an answer — perhaps you would care to answer it):

          “Where in the “teachings of Jesus Christ” are we instructed to restrict people’s access to something that would allow them to save hours every day currently spent gathering wood and animal dung to burn as fuel, and furthermore would spare them daily exposure to harmful smoke as they cook and heat their home?”

          As for the new study that you cite, Bob Tisdale has provided a detailed analysis of it at:

          His analysis points out that the authors chose a different set of models for each 15 year period (sort of a “moving cherry pick” — Mr. Tisdale’s term). Then they averaged those models for each 15 year period. Then they spliced together the 15 year segments, and (surprise) they got a graph that looks a lot more like the actual temperature record than the average of all models. With dozens of models to choose from, and allowing them to pick the “best” ones for each 15 year period, how could they really miss?

          In fairness, I need to point out that they did not simply pick the models that best matched global temperatures. Instead, they picked those “where the model Niño3.4 trend is close to the observed Niño3.4 trend.” My understanding is that the Niño3.4 index is based on temperatures in a specific part of the ocean. So (someone correct me if I am wrong) they were picking models that happened to match observations for that particular part of the ocean.

          Now it may be of some interest that the models which (by chance — admitted by the authors) are “in phase” with ENSO for a given 15 year period also tend to track global temperatures better for that period. However, considering that the authors also admit that the models do not capture the physical processes of ENSO, it does not seem very interesting to me. The fact that the models they chose were at least correct for that part of the world over that time period would naturally improve the odds that they would be better for overall average global temperatures as well.

          To the point, though, I would suggest that this study provides NO evidence that the models have skill at projecting global temperatures into the future. If you want to convince me that they do, you will have to tell me which models have that skill, and then convince me that they have it. Picking a different set of models for each 15 year period, based on how well they matched the Niño3.4 for that period, tells me that for the next 15 year period you will pick yet a different set of models, but you won’t know which ones to pick until after the 15 years is over. To claim skill at projections, you have to tell me now. (Of course, if temperatures continue to flat-line much longer, or go down, there won’t be any models left to cherry-pick — they will all be way too high. But we will have to wait and see about that.)

          • rossbrisbane says:

            Bryan, Tisdale..oh please. This wing nut thinks he can better the 1000’s of Global Scientists carefully calibrating the rising temperatures of our seas, oceans, land, melting ice caps, diminishing glacier WORLDWIDE in scope. Is that all you can cite? Watts Up? The dregs of Climate Change to Catastrophic Global Warming Shift over a 50 year period -> denialism at its worst? The warming signs are everywhere including the latest revealing under cutting erosion caused by warmer sea under the glacier tongues in Antarctica. (released evidence June 2014) Suggest Tisdale and armchair Watts and Spencer board a plane and take a good at their blatant denial. Tour for the unbelievers. Perhaps these doubting Thomas, full of conspiracy theories, can take page of their own “bible”.

          • Bryan Woodsmall says:


            First, I want to (try to) correct an error in my understanding of the way the models were selected for each 15 year period in the referenced paper.

            From the discussion by Tisdale (he was quoting from the paper), I wrote: “they picked those ‘where the model Niño3.4 trend is close to the observed Niño3.4 trend.’ ”

            My misunderstanding is that I did not pick up on the word “trend”. Here is a more detailed explanation, again from the paper, quoted by Tisdale:

            “To select this subset of models for any 15-year period, we calculate the 15-year trend in Niño3.4 index in observations and in CMIP5 models and select only those models with a Niño3.4 trend within a tolerance window of +/- 0.01K / year of the observed Niño3.4 trend.”

            So the criteria for selecting the models to use is based on the trend (in Kelvin degrees/year) in the Niño3.4 index as output by the model compared to the observed trend in the same index. My mistake was thinking that they were comparing the actual temperatures rather than the trend.

            Although the mistake made some difference in how I would have written the rest of the comment, the general sense is the same. My last statement about not having any models left to cherry-pick if temperatures don’t increase is not quite correct, though. Instead, they would continue to be able to cherry-pick using their criteria (since it is based on the direction and magnitude of the trend [deg K / year], instead of on temperature [deg K]). It is just that the graph resulting from the “running cherry-pick” would be necessarily be getting farther and farther from the observed temperatures.

            Another error is that I said they had dozens of models to choose from. They actually chose from among 18 models, because only those 18 had model output for ocean surface temperatures in the NINO3.4 region. Also it is a bit more interesting to get a reasonably good match with global temperatures using trends instead of temperatures (as I was thinking) to pick the models. But the point remains that applying this criteria separately for each 15 year period, and then splicing the results together is a process that does not surprise us when it succeeds in making a graph that is much closer to observed temperatures than the average of all models.

            As for the point of my last paragraph, that is not changed. This study provides NO evidence that the models have skill at projecting global temperatures into the future. I would add that a comparison of ALL model outputs to observed temperatures indicates that as a group they are not doing well at projecting average global temperatures. That reminds me of one more point. The authors of the referenced papers do not divulge which models they used in their “running cherry-pick”. It should be possible to figure it out by applying their criteria from scratch, which I hope someone does. But why don’t they just tell us? It would be simple to include it in the paper. Could it be that the reason they do not say which models is that the set of models their criteria led them to choose turned out to be dominated by the few models that show little or no warming by the year 2100? Just asking. But it seems plausible, since it could be argued that their criteria would tend to weed out the faster rising models, since they reject (for any 15 year period) those models which have too steep a trend in the Niño3.4 index (steeper than the observed trend in the index by a small margin).

            Okay, about your statements about Bob Tisdale. It is telling that you do not deal at all with his critique of the paper, but just make a silly insult. As for your list of scary climate change events: Okay, the climate is changing. It always has. About 8000 years or so ago, there were ice free summers in the arctic for a period of time that was probably a few hundred years long. Did polar bears only evolve since then? They must have, because they couldn’t have survived such a terrible thing. Sea level is rising. It has been mostly rising for probably a couple of thousand years or so. It has risen at various rates over that time frame. The rate is not currently accelerating.

            As Dr. Spencer points out in his post, there is just no basis for all the fear, and no justification for actions that hit the poor the hardest and hurt many, many people very significantly.

          • rossbrisbane says:

            Hmmm. Bob Tisdale many things this man declares are simply rubbish.

            Bob Tisdale writing at WUWT gets so much wrong in his article about the Risbey paper that it would take several articles to demolish every item. I’m not about to go to all that trouble. Let me just list a few things he got wrong:
            Bob confuses weather and climate. He mistakes climate models for weather forecasts.

            Bob is a greenhouse effect denier and rejects the conservation of energy for starters. He thinks global warming is caused by El Niño. He has never come up with an explanation of where the energy comes from nor why he thinks El Niño has suddenly decided to cause global warming when it never did in hundreds of thousands of years before.

            Bob mistakenly thinks the Risbey paper was an evaluation of CMIP5 models. It wasn’t. It said nothing about the worth of the models nor about their ability to model ENSO.
            Bob misunderstands the way “best” and “worst” are used in the paper.

            Bob misunderstands the way the researchers did the study. He thinks they selected four “models” and he and Anthony Watts made a big point of that. But they were mistaken. I describe below how the research team selected subsets of model runs for consecutive fifteen year windows.
            Bob confuses replication of the research with checking arithmetic. He mistakenly thinks the work cannot be replicated. It can. All the information needed to do so is provided in the paper itself. You don’t even have to start from scratch. The research team tells you which models have SST data to compare with Niño 3.4. It will take a lot of work, particularly downloading all the model runs from the publicly available data ( The observations are readily available to the public as well, including GISTemp, HadCRUT4 and Cowtan and Way. Niño 3.4 values can be got from NOAA, sea surface temperature data from HadISST.
            plus he makes lots more errors, some of which I describe below.

            If I had to pick one mistake out of all the mistakes Bob made, apart from not understanding basic thermodynamics and conservation of energy, perhaps Bob’s biggest mistake is that he thinks CMIP5 climate models are designed to model day to day and year to year real world weather for the next several centuries. They aren’t. That’s an impossible task. It would mean being able to accurately predict not only random weather fluctuations but also every action that could affect weather. Such as how many aeroplanes are going to be flying where and when. Where and when the next volcanic eruption will be and how energetic it will be and what will be the composition of the stuff that blows out of it. How the sun will vary over time. Plus being able to find a computer of a size, and people to code, every single possible present and future interaction between the air, the land, animals, plants, the oceans, the ice, clouds, rivers, lakes, trees, the sun and outer space. Humans are good and computers are powerful, but not that good and not that powerful. It’s not just random fluctuations and disturbances in nature. We also affect the weather. Scientists model climate with those big computer models, not day to day weather.

            Attribution & Source :Hot Whoppers


        • John K says:

          Hi Rossbrisbane,

          You claimed:

          “Christy along Spencer are wrong. They have got their calculations all wrong. There is Global Warming and it is a looming threat to mankind.”

          When did Christy or Spencer ever deny warming? Please provide a quote. As to Global Warming being a looming threat to mankind you provided absolutely no evidence.

          Have a great dauy!

          • Brian H says:

            The Threat of another MWP, Roman WP, or Minoan WP, when civilization and humankind flourished! The Greenist nightmare.

            Not that CO2 warming is capable of achieving any of that. More’s the pity.

          • rossbrisbane says:

            John K. The looming threat of Global Warming is evidence where evidence is found. Just get out of your comfy armchair and excel number crunching, get on a plane, and see the evidence for yourself. I have. And my estimates is that if things remain in place as in NO action over the next 50 to 100 years we are in dire straights with perhaps anywhere from 1/2 billion to 1 billion of the worlds population greatly impacted and pushed to extinction. Now as I am not the moderator of this site I cannot post up techno color pics or videos of the proof can I? Even a blind man can easily find the evidence (from reliable science based web sites). Now go back to your comfy chair and relax – for in “denial world” nothing is going to happen. You see – it just can’t happen can it?

          • JohnKl says:

            Hi Rossbrisbane,

            While your moniker suggests you reside in Australia, the people I know from the region can usually muster facts when requested. You lamented:

            “Just get out of your comfy armchair and excel number crunching, get on a plane, and see the evidence for yourself. I have. And my estimates is that if things remain in place as in NO action over the next 50 to 100 years we are in dire straights with perhaps anywhere from 1/2 billion to 1 billion of the worlds population greatly impacted and pushed to extinction.”

            While I haven’t been to the land down under yet (my wife and sister have). I have traveled to nearby Indonesia (the other side of the Wallace line where many of our expats go to get massages, retire and eventually die I suppose), and been to other parts of Asia and have seen various kinds of environmental impact. A friend of my wife’s and mine is a Doctor that studies apes in the region and we have a fair idea of the environmental problems they face. Many stresses exist including poor resource utilization/disposal, pollution, growing populations of un-educated people, governmental subsidization of mono-culture palm oil plantations, etc., etc., etc. However, as of now I’ve seen little evidence of excessive atmospheric plant food crippling food production and/or driving the world to extinction. Nor do I see evidence of large populations of people keeling over due to heat stroke. It seems counter-intuitive at best that a planet still in the grips of an Ice-Age (as I’ve provided evidence of many times over in other threads – hint the continued existence of permafrost provides pretty solid evidence in and of itself!) faces enormous problems from over-heating, especially when so many other issues like the ones mentioned above still face us. Of course perhaps living in kangaroo land (if that is where you reside) can do strange things to one’s grip on reality, tentative as it may be. Nevertheless…

            Thank you for the reply and have a great day!

            P.S. – Where did you get the 50-100 year figure? Humans have been spewing CO2 into the atmosphere longer than that already with continued growth in plant food and population thus far. In addition, please let us know in addition the requested facts you still have yet to present how exactly do you plan to induce a global population of ~7 billion people to reduce their atmospheric CO2 contribution to levels not seen since the 1880’s when industrialization took off and atmospheric plant began to increase? Just askin….

          • JohnKl says:

            Hi Rossbrisbane,

            Correction to my last post. The last question should read:

            In addition, please let us know in addition the requested facts you still have yet to present how exactly do you plan to induce a global population of ~7 billion people to reduce their atmospheric CO2 contribution to levels not seen since the 1880′s when industrialization took off and atmospheric plant food began to increase? Just askin….

    • Lewis Guignard says:

      Mr. Kevin O’Neill,

      I take great exception to your distortions of what many conservatives believe and advocate.

      Instead, what you seem to advocate is using government to force others to do as you wish and say it is not Christian to not do as you wish. Thus government should steal, yes that is what government does, from one person or group to give to another, so long as you approve. But what of those who don’t approve? What of their beliefs and rights?

      What conservatives believe and advocate, if I may speak for many of them, is the right to work and improve their position if they persevere. There is a right to maintain private property and to use it as one deems appropriate. There is a responsibility to one’s fellow man which is filled in various ways, through community service and through supplying jobs. And there is the belief that people have the right to their own opinion and the ability to speak it.

      What progressive or leftists advocate is the exact opposite. In the words of LT Hobhouse: “…a one-sided collectivism…” wherein government dictates every action.

      Well, you are getting your way, and we are all the worse off for it. Capitalism is giving way to corporatism and statism and the general population does not have enough jobs and income to keep up which requires more government dictates and the spiral continues.

      The leftist radical environmental Nazis are an example of this tendency. There prescription will lead to higher costs, which will be borne hardest by the poor, while the progressives, like you, will continue to blame those who would let them work, ignoring the fact that it is your policies which cause and exacerbate the problem.

      Happy Monday!!!

      • Brian H says:

        The “funny” thing is that the O’Neill-collectivists of the world depend utterly on the continuing productivity of those they would control and suppress; when they succeed, that foundation collapses, and they rage in the rubble. “The government pretends to pay us, and we pretend to work.”

  38. MRW says:

    For an entertaining look at The Precautionary Principle, watch Part 3 of “Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear” This is the best copy.

    Banned in the US.

  39. Evan Jones says:

    Ah, the Precautionary principle. Pascal’s conundrum.

    I like that. It says that if there is a theoretical risk and the cost of avoiding that risk is very little or nothing, we should pay that very small price just in case. The same cost-benefit analysis is used to calculate insurance rates.

    But in this case, the cost is hideous and falls on those who are least able to afford it. I have read statements that — in all seriousness — advocate going to war with China and India to prevent them from increasing their Co2 emissions.

    One is forcibly reminded of Keynes. He advocated the notion that in a temporary economic decline, one should maintain government services so as not to deepen the crisis. Pretty much that and only that. Keynes, in his later years, after attending a meeting of the JM Keynes Society is said to have remarked afterwards, “I was the only non-Keynsian in the room.”

    It is not the precautionary principle that is at fault. PP is being as badly abused by climate science as badly as Keynes’ theories are abused by today’s Kensians. What we see now in climate science policy is a false appeal to Pascal.

  40. Dr. Strangelove says:

    “It’s kind of like telling a little girl who’s trying to run across a busy street to catch a school bus to go for it, knowing there’s a substantial chance that she’ll be killed,” said Kerry Emanuel

    We have statistics how many people die annually while crossing streets. How many dead people from global warming? Based on data or lack of it, the risk must be low. If data is not on your side, use the Precautionary Principle to scare people with imaginary risks.

    The farm road is only used by busy ducks. Knowing there’s very little chance the girl will be killed by ducks, Kerry et al insist if not ducks, meteor impact will definitely kill her. Kudos to Christy and Spencer for keeping their sanity.

  41. Thomas says:

    Roy, you do realize Chicken Little was (more or less) right in that movie?

    • You mean when Chicken Little cried “The Sky is Falling!” the sky did indeed fall at the end of the movie, killing everyone who laughed at Chicken Little?

      (It does sound a little bit like an Alarmist parable then.)

    • Gunga Din says:

      Well, Disney does usually mess up the original stories they portray.
      Why do you think Tolkien put it in his will that Disney would never be allowed to do any of his books? The author of Mary Poppins did the same regarding the rest of her books after she saw the movie Mary Poppins.

      • In the authentic version of the chicken little story (although there are several variations that were popular), Chicken Little crys wolf so to speak, and manages to get a small but loud and influential following of fellow chickens to join in the hysteria. Eventually they are put astray by a fox who eats them.

        If there is ever a Disney version of the authentic story, it would be ideal if the fox was played by Al Gore.

  42. H. D. Hoese says:

    An evaluation of the history of PP would seem in order. It was first visible in marine pollution works about two decades ago, in an attempt to try to solve the persistent problem of separating human from natural causes. In fisheries it evolved into “…human actions would be considered responsible unless proven otherwise.”

    Carl Sindermann (Marine Parasitologist / Pathologist; Marine Pollution Bulletin, 1997, 34(4):218-221 explored some of the conundrum. It was never science, but a management strategy and may have somewhat originated from “Application Factors,” long used as a safety factor to set pollution standards from experimental studies. Seemingly reasonable at first, PP now seems evident in many published fisheries and ecological models where authors claim to know both the problem and the solution. A common confusion of science and management, it also produces the legal challenge of “guilty until proven innocent.”

    My main mentor, with a similar background as Sindermann, wrote four decades ago about the “..job of a biologist (is) not to determine good or bad…” He may have seen this coming.

  43. ray says:

    “…authors claim to know both the problem and the solution…”

    My mother-in-law is a case in point. It seems I am the problem and the solution is…

  44. Brian H says:

    The clear conflict of interest here is the 10-ton octopus in the living room. Those who most stand to benefit from state largess in “fighting CO2” are in charge of projecting its effects!

  45. gbaikie says:

    –People like me are often asked the question, “But what if you are wrong?” regarding our skepticism that human-caused climate change is going to be something that requires a policy response.–

    So, as general issue, some people think all things done by a government is correct. So more of any governmental program reqardless of what it does is, is a step in right direction.
    Or China one child program is a step in right direction.
    Or one could say for these idiots, there is no regrets to anything which results in any government getting more wealth from it’s citizens.

    So giving the government power to tax the use of any kind of energy is right and government not having this power is wrong.

    Or a fundamental problem in this world, is that people not working for the government have far too much wealth and choice available to them. And everything is solved if more money is taken from them.

    So of course you are wrong to not get behind the idea of a world government having the adequate resources to ensure everyone in the world is doing everything in the correct way.
    Hybrid cars are great, and so government should have power to make everyone use hybrid cars.
    And the great failing of the world is government don’t have the power to cause this to happen when it should happen.

    So in terms of hindcasting, since we know computers and smart phones are wonderful, 30 years ago, government should have had the power to get computers for everyone.
    Or there could be nothing wrong with government highly subsudizing the purchase of computers.

    Or the consequences of people owning 1980 computers in 2014 and making the computers 10 times more expensive [for 1980 computers] is unimportant compared to having government with so much power and ability to do good.

  46. ray says:

    The precautionary principle at work, was shown in a cartoon in a British newspaper a few years back.

    A cleaning lady, obviously in a deserted office in the City of London at night, had picked up a ringing phone and was talking to someone, in New York or Tokyo.

    “Well, if you must have an immediate decision…Sell Everything!”

  47. Sven-Erik Fernaeus says:

    Thank you for a logical and scientifically sound article. PP is relevant only when there are clear and predictable risks involved. As I have seen from IPCC reports temperatures are not clearly predictable from levels of CO2 in prognostic time series. Note: they never present reliable beta values regarding that, only fancy models. So PP is not at all relevant in the climate issue.

    Dr S-E Fernaeus
    Highly experienced researcher in a statistic-wise similar area

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