2018-10-20

A large part of the planet will become unlivable: either too hot or too dry?

americanpieVia Twatter, I discover to my alarm1 that A large part of the planet will become unlivable (either too hot or too dry). It's in Salon, which isn't where you'd normally go for scientific accuracy. But it's by that nice Michael Mann, who you'd rather hope wouldn't talk drivel4. To complete the quote, he also says And more and more of the available land surface will be used for agriculture and farming to feed a growing global population. That means more concentrated human settlement—and probably a lot more conflict.

He also says We will need to adapt to a world where damaging extreme weather events are far more common. If we don’t act, these events will become both more extreme and more common. Whilst a touch repetitive, it is at least defensible. But let us return to my headline quote. It isn't clear exactly when he imagines this will occur; perhaps 2050 (a date mentioned later in the article, by Trenberth) or perhaps 2100. Never mind; sometime in the future. For the sake of argument, let's pick Trenberth's 2050, when the world is 2 oC above pre-industrial, so (picking numbers rather out of the air) perhaps northernish land areas are +4 oC, since land warms faster than sea and so on.

Heat and Dust


I find it hard to see how just getting warmer will make the world unliveable, at least for humans. People already live in places that are significantly warmer than where I live. Unprotected humans definitely feel uncomfortable if they get too hot, but that's a rather different matter. And air conditioning makes a huge difference, as Florida shows. Naturally, you'll say that air conditioning takes energy and making it hotter just to cool it down is a bit mad, but there it is. You'll also say that poor people don't have a/c2,, but part of GW is increased CO2 emissions is from the world getting richer, per SRES and so on3.

This doesn't mean there wouldn't be a fair bit of adaption needed, but if we have 30+ years to do it, it will be possible. To point out the hopefully obvious I'm not suggesting that just because we can adapt all is fine; but suggesting areas will become unliveable requires some evidence. Perhaps Mann is on a dial-up line and unable to transmit many bytes.

Dryness and drought is a more plausible problem, but it won't make places unliveable. Because (I hope you guessed this) people already live in areas that are far dryer already. For people, greater dryness isn't a problem, though it may be bad for their lawns. But lawns aren't a good idea anyway.

More of the available land surface will be used for agriculture and farming


Agriculture and farming as well? My, the land will get crowded if they have to do both in the same place. This is a more serious concern, at least when linked to the dryness, because obviously enough droughts are bad for crops. And yet, much of the world's agriculture is dreadfully inefficient, and many of the world's food chains are very badly run, with a large proportion of crops wasted. The answer, of course, is more efficient western style farming and supermarkets, and fewer happy peasants and charming but inefficient mom-and-pop stores. We could feed a growing global population off less land, and return some back to wild, if only the world was better run. Though improving the world's government is not a trivial task.

If the climate changes, the optimal crops for various areas will inevitably change. In Ye Olde Dayes, this would have been a problem, because people didn't have instant access to information and predictions, and didn't have ready access to advice on what other crops they might plant. Happily, now they do.

Wild Thing


You make my heart sing. But this doesn't address the non-human-sphere component, which IMO is where the problems are most likely to lie. But nor do I know much about it, so I won't say much.

More concentrated human settlement


Is a fairly safe prediction. But is it a bad thing? Probably not; probably it's a good thing. Let's concentrate the people and leave the wild alone. Most of the settlement patterns, at least in the West, are a fossil of the days when mot people spent most of their time grubbing in the soil. Most people don't do that any more, so most villages are functionally redundant, other than to cater to tourists coming to look at nice villages.

What should be done?


Bizarrely, having asked two physical climatologists about the likely consequences of GW - an entirely reasonable thing to do - Salon then goes on to ask them about what should be done; an area in which neither Mann nor Trenberth have any particular expertise. Naturally, they have nothing particularly interesting to say.

Science advances one doctorate at a time


I briefly considered writing a post taking the piss out of John McLean's shit PhD thesis, but ATTP has said that it's rubbish, with his habitual disappointing lack of rudeness, and really it's better to leave it to die quietly in a ditch than talk about it.

Notes


1. Don't worry. Whilst I take GW seriously, as you'd expect, I don't find this particular story very alarming. Or at least not in it's original sense. I do find it quite alarming that respectable people will say this stuff, though.

2. Unless they're poor USAnians, of course.

3. Which I haven't looked at in yonks, of course; hopefully my fallible memory isn't misleading me or you.

4. Mann says sane things, for example, here. He's also getting rather political; e.g. Brick by brick, Trump and his enablers are dismantling the incredibly fragile geopolitical and societal infrastructure... But (whilst agreeing that Trump is a twat, and probably a dangerous one) "incredibly fragile" is wrong. It must be. If it was so fragile, it would no longer exist.

Refs


Credit where it's due - JEB
Wages Reflect Underlying Economic Realities - CafeHayek
* Is Quantum Mechanics a Probabilistic Theory? - NotEvenWrong
Politicians say nothing, but US farmers are increasingly terrified by it – climate change - Graun
* The space race is dominated by new contenders; Private businesses and rising powers are replacing the cold-war duopoly - the Economist

2018-10-17

The producers of hydrocarbons have made astonishing returns over decades?

DSC_7960 The Carbon Majors Report, linked by the Graun (under the Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, which I was so rude about), sez
‘Carbon Majors’ offers insight into responsibility from the perspective of the producers of hydrocarbons; those companies that have made astonishing returns over decades through the extraction and production of greenhouse gas emitting products. 
Normally one's eyes pass straight over that kind of stuff as boilerplate, but just for once I read it, and thought "huh? Really?". It is fine rhetoric, but how does it compare to reality. This matters, of course, in two ways: for one, part of "the people's" anger at FF companies is them making vast unjustified profits; and the second of course is that luvverly idea that there are oceans of profits just waiting to be taxed to pay for damages.

Quora from 2017 offers me about 4.5% for Exxon. Forbes, in 2011, says on average, between 2006 and 2010, the largest oil companies averaged a profit margin of around 6.5%. This pales in comparison to profit margins in just about every other industry. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, routinely averages a profit margin of about 16%. The soft drink market is even more lucrative... And so on.

So it is hard to see their profits as "astonishing", or even much out of the ordinary. Which is what you'd expect: oil is a competitive industry, there isn't much room to make extraordinary profits.

Related to this is The big lie we’re told about climate change is that it’s our own fault over at Vox. It's the usual anguished stuff and rather carelessly written. It's also rather vapid: stripped of the emotionalism, there's almost nothing there, apart from the assertion that it isn't our fault, oh dearie me no not at all, it is all the Evil Oil Companies to blame. Weirdly, having got that bit wrong, it then gets we can’t pretend that some unnamed cavalry is coming to save us. We are the adults in this room. We have to save ourselves right, which is a nice surprise. At least, the words are fine (apart from the dubious assertion that such people are the adults). Is the hyperlinked list of "10 ways to accelerate progress against climate change" any good?

#1 is "Price carbon emissions" which is a good start. They spoil it a bit by offering DR's quibbling at the end, which is all a recipe for special interests. #2 is "Subsidize clean energy, and end subsidies for dirty energy". Meh. And, so on. I think I'll not go through them in detail here; I'd rather have a separate post on "what to do".

[Pic: Dolomites, chapel carved into the rock, at the Apostoli hut.]

Refs


Fixing the tomato: CRISPR edits correct plant-breeding snafu.
* More on the Long Run - CafeHayek.

2018-10-13

The Fall of the Rebel Angels


I don't have much to say at the moment - except it would seem in the comments - but I've had this up in a tab for a week now. Isn't it gorgeous? I find it wonderful that something most of 500 years old can be so good; and it is hardly alone.

In other news we came third in the IM3 IV+ in Robs's Autumn Head today; but only by 1.6 seconds. Despite a strong headwind, and a rain shower while marshalling, it was a lovely day, unseasonably warm.

2018-10-06

Kavanaugh's other dangerous assault - on the environment?

So says Michael Mann. Although that link is only to someone else reposting something Mann said, and annoying only "said" in the form of an image1.

Aanyway, the relevant case is I believe Mexichem Fluor, Inc. v. EPA. And since I took the trouble to find that out, and read some of the decision, I shall blog about it. You'll be unsurprised to learn that while MM's soundbite is mostly true, it elides a great deal of important detail. For example, just like the recent Alsup case, K was entirely happy to take all the GW science at it's word.

The actual judgement is here (or here). The argument, as in so many of these cases, is arcane and complex, hinging (sort of) on the meaning of the word "replace". It's worth pausing for a moment to think about this point: the higher courts don't hear simple cases where the answer is obvious to the lower courts; or indeed so obvious that it never comes to court. This kinda returns us to a point I was trying to make before: that if the legislature wanted to make these points beyond doubt it could. It could either explicitly give the EPA authority, or withhold it.

Background


Quite some time ago, in 1990, section 612 of the Clean Air Act was passed, and requires manufacturers to replace ozone-depleting substances with safe substitutes. In fact that - although a quote from the judgement - is a slightly dodgy paraphrase; the exact rule is quoted later: To the maximum extent practicable, class I and class II substances shall be replaced by chemicals, product substitutes, or alternative manufacturing processes that reduce overall risks to human health and the environment. What that adds to the paraphrase is "to the maximum extent practicable" - but that's not important, because no-one tried to contest that point - and using "reduce overall risks to human health and the environment" instead of the hard-to-interpret "safe". But as it happens, that didn't matter either, because K was entirely happy that HFCs could be called, colloquially, "unsafe", because they cause GW. Indeed, K was quite happy for the EPA to move HFCs from the "safe" list, where they had previously been (because they didn't deplete ozone) to the "unsafe" list (because further research had revealed they cause GW). Indeed, he's even happy that the EPA, in doing that, may prohibit anyone from replacing an ozone-depleting substance with HFCs2.

Foreground


So what does that leave as a problem? The problem was that the EPA wanted to use that authority to oblige people using HFCs to replace them with something that doesn't deplete ozone, and doesn't cause GW; or at least not so much. However, the act appears to only give the EPA authority to force people to replace ozone-depleting substances; and HFCs aren't. Is this a bit Jesuitical? Yes, but that's the law for you. Is it a reasonable reading of the law? I think so; and of course on of the other two judges on the case concurred. Could one make a reasonable case for the opposite? Yeees, probably. Indeed the dissent (Wilkins) does so (page 26). Is this an example of K clearly being unreasonable? No.

Hobbes


As Hobbes puts it, concerning ambiguity in the law,
In all Courts of Justice, the Soveraign (which is the Person of the Common-wealth,) is he that Judgeth: The subordinate Judge, ought to have regard to the reason, which moved his Soveraign to make such Law, that his Sentence may be according thereunto; which then is his Soveraigns Sentence; otherwise it is his own, and an unjust one.
So it is pleasing to see K address this by referring to what the Senate considered, when writing the law:
The Senate’s version of the safe alternatives policy would have required the replacement not just of ozone-depleting substances, but also of substances that contribute to climate change. Id. sec. 702, §§ 503(8), 514(a). In other words, the Senate bill would have granted EPA authority to require the replacement of non-ozone depleting substances such as HFCs. But the Conference Committee did not accept the Senate’s version of Title VI. See H.R. Rep. No. 101-952, at 262 (1990) (Conf. Rep.). Instead, the Conference Committee adopted the House’s narrower focus on ozone-depleting substances. Id.; see S. 1630, 101st Cong. sec. 711, § 156(b) (as passed by House, May 23, 1990). In short, although Congress contemplated giving EPA broad authority under Title VI to regulate the replacement of substances that contribute to climate change, Congress ultimately declined.

Etc.


There was a petition for a rehearing en banc4, that was simply denied; so it is appealed to the supreme court.

Notes


1. I can't find the quote via Google. Reverse image search says the image appeared in Mann's Twitter feed some time in 2017, and I have no reason to doubt it is his. The slightly odd "Secretary of Science and Environment" bit is from the Shadow Cabinet.

2. Although, as the judgement notes, this is probably unimportant, as it is unlikely if there is anyone left still using ozone-depleting substances. Update: ah no, That's not quite what it says: footnote 2 is: The parties disagree over whether, as a factual matter, any manufacturers still make products that use ozone-depleting substances. EPA says yes. Mexichem and Arkema say no. We need not resolve that factual dispute here, as it has no bearing on our legal analysis of the meaning of Section 612(c). 

3. Also note that "flying under the radar screen" is an odd way of putting it. The analogy is with a plane, flying underneath the radar beams. The "screen" is just the read-out from such a radar; a plane would not meaningfully fly under the operator's screen.

4. Which I'm guessing means "with a wider panel of judges", perhaps the "full court".

5. laws, when good, should be supreme; and that the magistrate or magistrates should regulate those matters only on which the laws are unable to speak with precision owing to the difficulty of any general principle embracing all particulars - Aristotle, Politics.

Refs


What Brett Kavanaugh on Supreme Court Could Mean for Climate Regulations
Schumpeterian Profits in the American Economy: Theory and Measurement – Yale economist William Nordhaus
* VIM cheatsheet; thanks Paul.
* Salon thinks we're about to exist under an oxymoron: Neoliberal fascism by Tim Worstall.
Climate change and compassion fatigue - ClimateSight.

Der Prozess

Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. Not entirely applicable to the current fuss, but an arresting start to a book, which I read when I was far too young: about sixteen. I really should re-read it some time. And - before you get carried away - no, I am not making and would indeed deny any analogy between the bizarre processes described in The Trial and the current situation; I just like the text. So, we turn to Brett K and his travails.

TL;DR: he should not be confirmed, on balance of evidence.

I'm kinda tempted to leave it at there, but can't quite bear not to write down my brilliant and insightful reasoning. In brief, the sexual assault allegations against him are - at this point - too thin to carry sufficient weight; but his own recent testimony is, on balance of evidence, enough to convict him of lying.

I'd like to rely on someone else's analysis. Unfortunately the matter has become so partisan that almost everyone's words are near worthless. Unlike mine, of course. So if we think back the the now-almost-unimaginably-distant time after the first hearing but before the sexual assault allegations, we can categorise people into for and against. If we then step forward to now, we find the same people in the same camps, some of whom admit that they simply hold the same views more firmly and believe of deny the allegations accordingly, and others who pretend that the allegations have tipped them over1.

The Economist (I generally like to be able to agree with them, Pinko-Crypto-Lefties though they are) sez Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony disqualifies him from the Supreme Court and I largely agree with them, except in some matters of tone. There are too many lies, though I also find myself disagreeing with people of what exactly are the lies. So I won't commit myself to exactly what are, and what aren't4.

On the question of whether this has all become so partisan, and K has - in part, simply in defending himself - come to attack the Dems in a partisan fashion, I'm rather less sympathetic. The Dems I think did go all-out to attack him. An ideal candidate would have remained above such a fray but failure to do so is too understandably human to disqualify him. CIP asserts that K will seek revenge; that would certainly be human; the Dems have made it quite clear that they regard K as their sworn enemy. But CIP also assert that There was every reason to expect him to be an utterly partisan justice from the get go, so it isn't clear what margin for "revenge" CIP thinks there is. But on yet another hand, I don't think CIP is right in that last, so the "revenge" question, not as far as I can see addressed in mainstream analysis, is interesting. And calls into question the Dems strategy: if you're going to lose, why lose in such a way as to antagonise the winner? Unless you're going to gain something precious by dying in the ditch.

The other side lied too


Lest I be misunderstood3, I think the other side has lied too2. This initially confused my thinking, because people were bandying around terms like "due process", and so it was natural to think of it as a "trial" in some sense, and so there was some balance to be struck, and their lying some defence on his part. But it isn't; so the "other side" lying is irrelevant to his fitness to serve; and anyway there isn't "another side" on the supreme court.

Strategy


That the Dems are really pissed off is not strange, but being pissed off is not a strategy. On balance of evidence (and not on beyond-reasonable-doubt) I think the use of the sexual assault allegations was a tactic, and the delay deliberate; but that doesn't make it wise; nor indeed the strength of their previous opposition. Were they, perhaps, trapped in what their fanbase insisted on getting?

The solution


I like Brian's solution: regain Prez and Senate, and appoint two more judges. This has the advantage of being about as outrageous as the Repubs antics over Merrick Garland, but equally legal. It might also set a precedent, that might help prevent similar antics in future. At least it might, if both sides have the sense to step back from the obvious tit-for-tat war that could ensue.

Historical context


Everything was better in the Olde Dayes, of course. Politics was conducted with decorum, by dead white men wearing wigs. Or was it? Who said:
And these discussions, whether relating to men, measures, or opinions, were conducted by the parties with an animosity, a bitterness, and an indecency, which had never been exceeded. All the resources of reason, and of wrath, were exhausted by each party in support of it’s own, and to prostrate the adversary opinions.

Notes


1. Arguably the American Bar Association has sort-of changed it's mind, in that it argued for a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI. Well it has had an investigation, and we don't know if the ABA considers it careful; one might hope not. Perhaps their current opinion is the hard-to-read New information of a material nature regarding temperament during the September 27th hearing... has prompted a reopening... does not expect to complete a process and re-vote prior to the scheduled Senate vote. Our original report must be read in conjunction with the foregoing. Our original rating stands. If they'd left out the last sentence it would make sense.

2. For example, the sainted Christine Blasey Ford's purported Fear of Flying.

3. Obviously, simply writing that will prevent me being misunderstood.

4. For example, for fans of the "Devil's Triangle" being obviously sex and definitely not a game, note that the current wiki page carries neither; there's currently a discussion of whether the sex version should be included, which appears to be leaning towards "no".

Refs


At least Americans choose top judges in public - Samizdata via TF.

2018-10-04

No-one understands wiki, part n+1

As I've said before, no-one from the outside ever understands how wikipedia works, but that doesn't stop them writing about it for their own partisan political gain (arch). In this case, it's the social justice warriors on the Graun. The offending text is:
When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm announced the Nobel prize for physics this week, anyone wanting to find out more about one of the three winners would have drawn a blank on Wikipedia... Until around an hour and a half after the award was announced on Tuesday, the Canadian physicist Donna Strickland was not deemed significant enough to merit her own page on the user-edited encyclopedia. The oversight has once again highlighted the marginalization of women in science and gender bias at Wikipedia... when a Wikipedia user attempted to create a profile for her in March, the page was denied by a moderator. “This submission’s references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article,” said the moderator.
Problem number one, as you'll discover if you try to follow the "said the moderator" link, is that the link is broken. It is missing a "y". What they presumably intended to link to was https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Donna_Strickland&offset=&limit=500&action=history. Which brings up problem number two, which is that link is not in the least informative. If you scroll down to the bottom you see some crossed-out stuff from 2014 that looks interesting (but you can't see the contents, and neither can the Graun, cos you'd need at least admin priv) but actually is I think irrelevant. What they intended to point you at was somewhere around Draft:Donna Strickland from May this year, and in particular this edit, which carries the edit comment Declining submission: bio - Submission is about a person not yet shown to meet notability guidelines (AFCH 0.9), and whose (templated) textbox begins This submission's references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article—that is, they do not show significant coverage (not just passing mentions) about the subject in published, reliable, secondary sources that are independent of the subject (see the guidelines on the notability of people). I've bolded the start of the textbox addition, because it looks to be the source of the Graun's quote.

But notice that what was said was not "marginalization of women in science [or] gender bias". It was pointing out either that the subject was "not yet shown to meet notability guidelines". It didn't of course say "doesn't meet the notability guidelines" - just "not yet shown".

This being wiki, there is a long and (if you like such things) interesting discussion of how this was assessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Donna_Strickland#Notability. The Graun could have referenced that, but didn't. The talk page also contains some fascinating facts that the Graun could have used, but wouldn't, since they undermine it's case: since Wikipedia's Jan. 2001 launch:

  • of 212 Nobel laureates, 69 (33%) had no Wikipedia bio when prize was announced;
  • of 48 laureates in physics, 17 (35%) had no WP page when award was announced—all except Donna Strickland being male, including one each in 2014 & 2015.
Meh. A bit later, I noticed that "said the moderator" is actually two links and was sad enough to bother look up the page HTML to see why. The answer is dull; it just is two links, for no good reason. But that showed me the top of their page source, which is:

hire

Which is an image not "pre" text, because blogger doesn't seem to handle pre properly.

Forbes


It isn't just the Graun that gets this wrong, of course. Forbes totally stuffs it up too, writing: only to have their proposed entry deleted. What's wrong with that? Well, the link they provide is to the proposed entry (the draft). If it had been deleted, they wouldn't be able to point to it.

2018-09-29

Climate and Economics, again

power The Exponential Climate Action Roadmap was published 13 September at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, says SR on fb. So, fairly sure what I'd find, I decided to take a look. It fully lived up to my low expectations. Let's begin with
The Paris Agreement’s goal to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change can be achieved if greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2020, halve by 2030 and then halve again by 2040 and 2050. This is now technologically feasible and economically attractive but the world is not on this path...
What should you do if you read, and indeed if you write, this kind of stuff? That's right: you should wonder "if this is economically attractive, why isn't it just happening of itself? Why do people feel the need to write reports pushing it, and trying to make it happen faster?" So you'd expect a substantial portion of the report to be dedicated to this puzzle, because it is obviously rather important. And note that this isn't some minor element tucked away in an appendix; it is literally the first words in the report, the overall most-important-thing that they want you to see.

When I say "expect", I don't mean expect-in-the-real-world of course. I mean expect in a mythical "sensible" world. What you'd expect-in-the-real-world is that they'd totally ignore the point I mention, and that's exactly what they do.

One possibility is that they are simply lying, or being somewhat more polite, being a little economical with the truth. "economically attractive" is a vague phrase as it has to be to cover such a wide area. Another is that they're just being over optimistic, or rather bad at evaluating things: of their eight or so talking heads, only one - CEO of Ericsson - is actually in bizniz. Another is that if it really was economically attractive, and just going to happen anyway, well, where's the fun in that? Who would need nice reports like this if the evil capitalists were going to do it anyway just to make money?

My image, from the report, illustrates another problem. There's a nice graph, projecting "energy use" sources. We see solar increasing nicely. What problem could there possibly be here? The answer is "we estimate that solar needs to continue growing exponentially at a pace of 23% per year... less than half of historical growth rates". Less that half of historical rates should be easy to achieve, yes? But suppose instead you assume historical growth rates. In which case, more than 100% of power will be solar by 2030. That's even better, you can stop pratting around with wind. Oops, but that would make the wind people very unhappy indeed, so assuming that would be a Bad Idea. My point, which my sarcasm badly obscures, is that the projections are quasi-arbitrary, and it isn't obvious that's its a good idea to try to "manage" them.

Refs


Economics, Law and Ethics
Hothouse tipping elements of no return
The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression
FT: The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable

2018-09-28

Craig Loehle speaks

Famous1 people editing their wiki pages, part two. Part one was Ross McKitrick speaks. And so, with the comment I do not want to list my employer who does not want to be associated with my climate change research. The citations to "climate change denier" are vandalism and defamatory and so I removed them. Craig Loehle (arch), he removed
Craig Loehle is an American ecologist, a principal scientist at the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, a forest industry-funded research institution and is listed as a policy expert for The Heartland Institute, a think tank famous for sponsoring climate change denial.[1][2][3][4]
Not perhaps the sort of thing you want to see written about yourself. To rub gall into the wound (do you rub gall into wounds? No, you rub salt. And yet it seems to fit; I shall leave it) reference 3 is one M. Mann, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Tee hee.

Is it really CL speaking? Probably. Firstly, who else would care. Secondly, that IP geolocates to Illinois, and (so an old version tells me), CL is the chief scientist at the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, a forest industry-funded institution based in Naperville, IL. Not conclusive prrof, but good enough for these purposes to make it rather likely it is indeed CL speaking2. Possibly interestingly, that address was removed in 2017 by Ascientistxx.

[Credit for pointer to carton to S]

Notes


1. Ish. I did mention him once.
2. I say this not just to demonstrate how clever I am but to point out to anyone editing wiki that editing without logging in leaks your IP. Perhaps surprisingly, you're far more anonymous if you use an account, in which case your IP is only visible to those with Special Powers (not ordinary admins). Note that if you do use an account, it is an excellent idea to not accidentally fail to log in; see e.g. User:Obsidi's edits around the 11th of September to Talk:List of scientists who disagree with the scientific consensus on global warming, alas since revdel'd, but which link the account to the CEI.

Refs


 * The goal of science communication - ATTP; persuasion or information

2018-09-27

Total meets Twitter

Corps aren't always good at social meeja. Take those nice Frogs at Total:

Well... OK. You're trying to show willing I suppose. But not providing a link to some kind of webpage giving a bit more details is a fail from the start.

Oh, but wait. They weren't finished:

Well, all right, but this is the internet and my attention span is low. Could you come to the point?
Meh. That's a bit dull. However, it gets more amusing, because (surprise!) people start replying:
and

If you manage to get past all of that (actually I didn't; I had to go to them direectly) you can find the exciting conclusion somewhere off in Tweet 6:


That, in turn, will lead you to https://www.total.com/en/sites/default/files/atoms/files/total_climate_2018.pdf, which (gloriously) is a 404.

2018-09-25

Bob and Richard and the mighty [sh|tw]it storm

DSC_0905 Not since Wadhams put forth his power has there been such a fuss:
On the plus side, I get to re-use my amusing picture which (despite the link) I'm fairly sure comes from the Franz Senn Hutte.

The story so far


The IPCC has another draft of another report. Learning nothing from the past, they're apparently surprised that it has been leaked. Yawn. But since it is a new IPCC report, people are bound to disagree on whether it downplays risks, exaggerates them, or gets them about right. Bob Ward sez Downplaying the worst impacts of climate change has led the scientific authors to omit crucial information from the summary for policymakers1, and naturally enough finds a ready audience in the Graun / Observer for this kind of stuff. Richard Betts (and Myles!) reject such under the headline Climate scientists reject ‘offensive’ claim of US, Saudi meddling in landmark report. Bob fires back with inevitable accusations of policing. Can things get worse?

It gets nasty


Yes, of course they can! Bob calls Richard a hypocrite and Richard calls Bob a bully and "not a friend to climate scientists" (which I think he's likely to regret, so here's an arch). Bob returns Your accusation of bullying may impress your friends in in the 'sceptic' community and surely that's a Tweet he's going to regret. In fact I hope he's going to have the sense to delete it, so here's an archive.

Is there yet hope?


Can Bob and Richard pull back from the brink before cannibalism sets in? From the point of view of popcorn I'm hoping not. Will they go nuclear? Maybe Dilbert can guide us.
 

Notes


1. Characteristically, the arguments are about the SPM. After all, who reads the actual text?

Refs


WILL RISING SEAS SINK THE SPANISH MAIN? - The Brethren of the Somali Coast are askin how they can survive keelhauling  if  temperatures in yer Arabian Sea off Hormuz  rise five degrees  past blood heat? Though I'm less sure about The Red Sea rig.
* Fear Climate Change — and Our Response to It - Bloomberg - Global warming will be expensive, and humanity’s irrational reaction may make it even more so; Tyler Cowen.

2018-09-20

Shell and Exxon's secret 1980s climate change warnings

exxon_again_plus_shell Hey ho, this again. The current retread is in The Graun:
In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2060, CO2 levels would reach around 560 parts per million – double the preindustrial level – and that this would push the planet’s average temperatures up by about 2°C over then-current levels (and even more compared to pre-industrial levels)... For its part, Exxon warned of “potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.” Like Shell’s experts, Exxon’s scientists predicted devastating sea-level rise, and warned that the American Midwest and other parts of the world could become desert-like. Looking on the bright side, the company expressed its confidence that “this problem is not as significant to mankind as a nuclear holocaust or world famine.”
But we all know that the devil can cherry-pick scripture to his own purposes. and although this is byelined "Newly found documents" I don't think there is anything new here; this is The oil industry knew about climate change long before the American public did? all over again. Following my previous lazy post, I get to ask: can anyone else see anything new in this?

I haven't bothered read it all. The para I've included as an image is the last para from the summary section of the 1982 Memo to Exxon Management about CO2 Greenhouse Effect. It doesn't support them knowing anything terribly exciting, which is about right for 1982.

Why bang on about this? Well, the Graun is banging on about it in the absence of any real news I suppose. I'm banging on about it in the hope they can just drop this nonsense and talk about reality instead, because that's the only way we can hope to make some progress.

Refs


* Confessions of a former carbon tax skeptic by Josiah Neeley.
ExxonMobil agrees to join oil and gas climate change alliance (the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OCGI)).

2018-09-18

The left has no theory of the behavior of the government?

DSC_7616 The left has no theory of the behavior of the government is a claim made by DBx, quoting Deirdre McCloskey. It is a striking claim, but is it true? I don't know. A quick Google search provided no illumination, and asking on Twatter unsurprisingly yielded no results.

If you're unfamiliar with the general idea, DBx's "theory" in this context is Public Choice Theory, which essentially says that governments are composed of people and people have their own interests as well as those of the organisation in which they are embedded, which helps explain the many stupid decisions such as protectionism that all governments make. Acceptance of this theory, of course, leads you to conclude that government should be minimised.

So if any of my dwindling band of left-wing (or of any political persuasion, but knowledgeable of politics) readers claim to know of any left-wing theory of government behaviour, do let me know in the comments.

Updates


Updates, since some of this was apparently unclear. The idea we're talking about is a theory of behaviour of the government, in the sense of, errm, how govt behaves. Not a theory of govt, in a sense like "where does legitimate govt come from?", or even directly "what should it's objectives be?", but in the sense of "how would you expect the people that compose a govt to actually behave, in real life?"

Also, I've realised the question itself is slightly "unfair", if viewed as a challenge (of course it you just view it as a genuinely meant question, which is what it was, then it isn't unfair). The public choice people do have a theory of govt behaviour, but as far as can be told they're pretty well the only people with a non-naive theory (other theories propounded in the comments are the std "working selflessly for the common good", which is obviously naive; and "Marx had some kind of theory", but that lacks detail). One might suggest that if you happen to have a theory of Thing X, then maybe you can score points by asking everyone else if they also have a theory of Thing X. But I don't think that's true in this case: how a govt will behave in actual practice is, when you think about it, too important not to have a theory for.

Is the theory itself actually partisan? Well, no. It's just a theory. Anyone could espouse it. But oddly enough the left, on the whole, doesn't, for the obvious reasons: the theory or it's consequence is skeptical of govt, and the left isn't.

Refs


Today we have naming of parts. I recall this from school. Though I think that omitted the motto.
* Hayek vs Hobbes and the theory of law.

2018-09-13

Back to the morality wars

Yes, Climate Action Is a Moral Issue is an impassioned screed (The fossil fuel companies lining up to oppose I-1631 represent a cabal of economic power that stands in the way of our collective progress. They aren't neutral actors. They are narcissistic [errm, are you sure you meant that? - Ed.], amoral entities actively harming all of our futures... forces of profound greed, evil and violence to people and the environment) by that nice Sarah Myhre (a national thought leader). The context is proposition 1631 in Washington which, funnily enough, came up recently. Read the text here. Or, maybe don't. Because (did you guess. Go on, you did, didn't you?) there is far far too much text to read.

SM is obviously responding to my famous argument that global warming is best treated as an economic, not moral, problem. I won't repeat here what I said there. Instead, I'll look a bit at 1631, and the opposition to it.

Note that SM does show some uneasiness about the content of the proposition: Washington State voters might reasonably debate the structure of I-1631. Is it the best possible piece of legislation? Does it work as well as or better than other regulatory devices? She concedes that Those questions deserve attention and debate. Before, predictably enough, deciding to totally ignore those questions in favour of more interesting topics: The more important, more interesting, more effective place to focus our moral attention is on where the support or opposition for such legislation is coming from.

1631


To start with trivia, bits of the text appear to have been written by children. So we have: Beginning January 1, 2020, the pollution fee on large emitters is equal to fifteen dollars per metric ton of carbon content. Beginning January 1, 2021, the pollution fee on large emitters increases by two dollars per metric ton of carbon content each January 1st. That bit is fine, except you might want to take into account inflation. So they try to do that: The annual increase shall adjust for inflation each year. But this doesn't make any sense. The annual increase cannot both be $2, and adjust for inflation. It's like they've let their wishful thinking spill out onto the page.

Some parts of the text are clearly fairy stories: The people find and determine that the pollution fee imposed in this chapter is not a tax in light of the purposes, benefits, and use of the fee. WTF? It's a tax. Of course it's a tax. Calling it a fee doesn't make it not-a-tax. Using it to buy unicorns doesn't make it not-a-tax.

The fee is on Fossil fuels sold or used within this state. But there's a problem: if company A sells the fuel to company B, who sells it to C, who burns it, who pays? You can't charge them all, and the text recognises this: The fee must be levied only once on a particular unit of fossil fuels. But as far as I can see the text makes no attempt to say which of A, B or C gets to pay. Are they, perhaps, intended to sort it out amicably amongst themselves?

But the most important problem is the sheer length of the text. The reason the text is long is because they've gone into great detail to say how the proceeds of the fee-aka-tax are to be spent. I think that's a mistake. The least you can do with legislation of this kind is to make it short, and that can only be done by not pre-writing a vast slew of buy-offs into your text.

Of course, "you can't win" with stuff like this. Make it a plain tax, with proceeds into the general revenue perhaps reducing some other tax in compensation, and you make people like me happy. But you make sad all the people who wanted their pet interests bought off. Make it a vast dog's breakfast of special interests and those special interests will be happy, but I won't. Or, if you're the no-to-1631 campaign, you get to say that it is Filled With Unfair Exemptions That Make No Sense.

The opposition


Although the No campaign tries its best to persuade us that the proposition is so riddled with holes that "honest law-abiding nice middle class folk like you and me" will end up paying all the bills, it is rather striking that No seems to be funded almost entirely by fossil fuel companies. And the idea that these altruistic companies have the best interests of ordinary folk at heart is not really credible. Note that Public Enemy #1 Exxon doesn't seem to be there. Indeed the Top Villain is Phillips 66, who I've never heard of before. They appear to be more of a refining company than a production one; ditto #2, Andeavor. #3 is BP, though.

Why exactly are the FF companies opposed? Well, it's a carbon tax, which they've got rather used to opposing. It is, as I noted above, riddled with special-interest-buy-offs which can be considered objectionable to Tea Party types and me, but FF companies in particular wouldn't be expected to care most about that. Perhaps they get to spearhead it because it clearly relates to FFs.

Refs


A Carbon Tax Under Real-World Constraints - by Noah Kaufman via David Roberts on Twatter. Takes the "no, it's not ideal, but probably the best that could be done" line. Doesn't appear to address the written-by-idiots bits I noted above.

2018-09-11

Kavanaugh’s views on EPA’s climate authority

apo Via Twatter, at Skeptical ScienceKavanaugh’s views on EPA’s climate authority are dangerous and wrong. Naturally, I disagree: it's a form of survivorship bias: I wouldn't be bothering to post this if I agreed. Mostly this is a rehash of the EPA section from Ze Kavanaugh Kerfuffle, errm, with some minor additions.

The administrative state and Chevron deference


Chevron deference does not refer to deferring to Chevron as you might expect. Instead it's a doctrine in the application of US law, a legal test for determining whether to grant deference to a government agency's interpretation of a statute which it administers, generally in cases where the statute itself is ambiguous. All law requires interpretation, and not all decisions can be referred back to Congress or up to a court, so inevitably agencies are going to make some decisions in ambiguity, and it is reasonable that the courts don't second guess all those decisions. But there are limits; for example, Chevron allows agencies to choose among competing reasonable interpretations of a statute; it does not license interpretive gerrymanders under which an agency keeps parts of statutory context it likes while throwing away parts it does not.

SS discuss this only in the context of GW, but that's too narrow a context. The growth of the Administrative State is something the Right hasn't liked for a while, and Chevron is part of that.

SS, and their source at the Natural Resources Defense Council, are sad that Kavanaugh doesn’t believe Chevron deference applies on issues of major importance. I think K's interpretation is plausible. The natural result of law-requires-interpretation is that agencies will indeed have to make countless minor interpretations; and smaller numbers of larger interpretations; but nonetheless the ultimate arbiters of law are the courts, not the agencies. So it is natural that major ambiguities will get punted up to courts. Those courts should show deference, in the sense of not trying to second-guess, but not in the sense of being over-reluctant to overturn agencies interpretations. Or, put another way, Chevron deference precludes judges from exercising that judgment, forcing them to abandon what they believe is “the best reading of an ambiguous statute” in favor of an agency’s construction. Brand X, supra, at 983. It thus wrests from Courts the ultimate interpretative authority to “say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803), and hands it over to the Executive1.

Note that I say this as a general principle. It's important not to base your interpretation of law on knowing the answer you want in one particular case, and twisting all else to fit that.

Is Kavanaugh right?  You be the judge


Now, after the generalities, we return to the vexed question of interpreting the Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, I'm certainly not going to bother read the said act, and will have to rely on gleanings from elsewhere. For one view ("but of course it includes pollutants, and CO2 is a pollutant, so it covers CO2") see the aforementioned SS article. For the opposite, see my previous.

Without trawling through the details (because all this relies on interpretations; there is no definitive answer; so all details are merely clues for guidance) I offer two competing meta-arguments:

1. If Congress wanted a law about regulating CO2, it could just write one.
2. If Congress wanted to end the ambiguity in interpretation, it could just pass a law saying "the Clean Air Act should not be interpreted as regulating CO2".

A meta-meta-argument is that (2) would be much easier than (1). Another is that in supporting Chevron deference, folks like SS are certain that the current legislature would not write a Clean Air Act allowing regulation of CO2.


Alsup again


In a related context, Alsup decided While it remains true that our federal courts have authority to fashion common law remedies for claims based on global warming, courts must also respect and defer to the other co-equal branches of government when the problem at hand clearly deserves a solution best addressed by those branches. The Court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches. Naturally, whatever I say here has to be consistent with my general approval for that. And I think it is. In both cases, the answer should be, that in a case as important and distinctive as this, you need clear law, which has to come from the legislative branch.

Update: The New Yorker


On something of a side note, I find Defending Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Other Distractions, at the Kavanaugh Hearings. I mention it because it's typical of the "gotcha" stuff I find so stupid and annoying:
I want to talk to you about President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said to Brett Kavanaugh... Blumenthal read a few of Trump’s tweets, including one from July, 2016, in which he declared, “Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot - resign!” The occasion—not that Trump needs one for his attacks—was a series of interviews in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg called Trump a “faker,” and said that she could not imagine him as President. If he were somehow elected, she said, the country might find that “everything is up for grabs.” The Notorious R.B.G. did not resign, but she conceded afterward that her remarks had been “ill-advised.” In the future, she said, she would be more “circumspect.”... Blumenthal asked Kavanaugh, “Do you think Justice Ginsburg has ‘embarrassed’ us all?”
The question is stupid. BK, nor any other sane nominee, will not criticse Trump, and he won't criticise Ginsburg. The only thing the question does (apart from wanky political point scoring) is test BK's ability to give a non-offensive answer. He passed, trivially.

Blumenthal compounds his offence by blatant lying: This is not political. This is about Justice Ginsburg. You will notice how all the people jumping up and down about BK lying are not in the slightest bit interest in Blumenthal lying.


Notes


1. Source: JUSTICE THOMAS, concurring, via Shunting Aside Chevron Deference by Jonathan H. Adler.

Refs


TICK THAT BIT DELINGPOLE NOW RED ON THE INSIDE.
Arthur Pigou Warned of the Failures of Government.
* Michael Dorf argues for tit-for-tat, a great strategy for unthinking machines to play prisoners dilemma, but perhaps a touch unthinking even for pols.
* The NYers Understanding the Partisanship of Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearings is decent.
My vices have abandoned me.

2018-09-06

Ze Kavanaugh Kerfuffle

The story so far: Trump picked Kavanaugh as his second supreme court nominee, and the Democrats were really angry. That was hardly strange, as they were already incensed that Trump had got Neil Gorsuch for what they regarded that as "their" seat that should have gone to Merrick Garland; getting two is Right Out. But whilst getting really really angry is understandable, they lost3: the losers getting angry about losing is rather unattractive. Politics is rough; choice of judges is important, the real question is whether their tactics are useful, the answer is No.

Are their tactics useful?


Getting really angry in a fist fight is sometimes a useful tactic. If your opponent knows you are incensed, and may do irrational things, they may back down rather than take a risk. But this isn't a fist fight; there's plenty of time for reflection on both sides. Being really angry and opposing the nomination with all your might may simply remind people that you aren't mighty enough. And while it may fire up some of your base, it's unlikely to pull people in from the other side that you need to win.

Partisan


Of course, it plays well with a certain base of supporters, who are also angry, and have been whipped up to worry about their rights being lost. And undoubtedly there will be changes; in which case less political posturing and more questions about stare decisis would be a good idea. But we already have quite enough partisanship. Do we really need more?2

Here are some examples of newspapers that have annoyed me. Leading off with the good ol' Graun from my native UK with Brett Kavanaugh fails to shake hands with Parkland victim's father – as it happened. WTF? Fred Guttenberg is doubtless a nice person but he was there for blatantly political reasons; trying that on was inappropriate; not shaking hands was entirely appropriate on BK's part; the Graun focussing on this one episode is stupid.

But that pales by comparison with the WaPo's blatant lying with Trump suggests that protesting should be illegal. Of course, he hasn't. He instead suggested, quite sensibly, that protesters disrupting the hearing shouldn't be allowed. And, it isn't: after a bit they got cleared out. This isn't supposed to be a theatre.

Twats on Twatter


Well, where else would you expect to find them? VV doesn't cover himself with glory1, but I think Naomi Oreskes best exemplifies the worst, with "#Kavenaugh claims EPA didn't know about CO2 & climate when #CAA passed. Technically true: EPA did not yet exist!!! But it's precursor, #NAPCA, knew, so did #Congress, #CEQ, #President Nixon & many more".

Whether the Clean Air Act really covers GW is a question4. It certainly isn't a natural fit. The fuss here is over what order things came in, and what you can logically deduce from that. The EPA was founded in 1970, the USAnians Clean Air Act was 1963, and was amended in 1970. Interestingly, also in 1990. Wiki says of the 1990 change that "Further amendments were made in 1990 to address the problems of acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollution", but it didn't mention GW or CO2 AFAIK. So I think that arguing about 1970, or 1963, is rather besides the point. That the 1990 amendments didn't mention CO2 is rather more significant. As to who knew what when, I refer you to In the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis?

Update: Kamala Harris runs Oreskes a close second, and maybe edges in front, with the blatant lie "Kavanaugh couldn't be more clear: He doesn't believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and he would be the 5th vote to overturn it."

Is he qualified?


Rather fading at the end of this post, and reflecting the lack of debate around this particular point: is BK qualified to join the Supremes? The answer is Yes5, of course, which is why the Democrats aren't very interested in the question; and after a certain amount of theatre will be duly passed.

Refs


Just Asking - DBx.
* SCOTUS-pocus
Judge Kavanaugh’s record in national-security cases - SCOTUSblog.
Will Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearings Provide Any Useful Information?
Brett Kavanaugh and the Democrats got what they came for - CNN.
Untrusted news increases the importance of affiliative groups - TF.
Unpacking Peggy McIntosh’s Knapsack.

Notes


1. The section headline, of course, doesn't apply to VV.
2. TF pushes a different take on political divisions. I'm sympathetic, but not fully convinced.
3. As the NYer writesLindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina. “To my friends on the other side: you can’t lose the election and pick judges,” he said. “If you want to pick judges, you better win.” 
4. But not necessarily a terribly important one. We've already had the recent Alsup case decided against the cities.
5. For example, the WaPo looked at his record. They didn't like it, as you'd expect, but they found that his judicial record is significantly more conservative than that of almost every other judge on the D.C. Circuit. That doesn’t mean that he’d be the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court, but it strongly suggests that he is no judicial moderate.
6. My apologies to anyone reading this post during the period in which BK was ginormous. This was due to wiki resizing his picture. All fixed now.

2018-09-05

Why is ExxonMobil Still Funding Climate Science Denier Groups?

Questions from the Union of Concerned Scientists that I can answer, part one of what will probably be a series unless I die of boredom first. In more detail:
Nearly 90 percent of ExxonMobil’s 2017 donations to climate science denier groups went to the US Chamber of Commerce and three organizations that have been receiving funds from the company since it started bankrolling climate disinformation 20 years ago: the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute and American Legislative Exchange Council
which essentially answers the question by denying the antecedent, if that's the right phrase. None of the four named organisations are actually "Climate Science Denier Groups" they are very much broader groups who may have also taken somewhat regrettable positions on GW. And, as UCS themselves manage to note, Exxon quite ALEC anyway.

Refs


Is it really so ridiculous to suggest Corbyn is literally Hitler?

2018-09-03

The ETS again

As someone - and I regret to say I've forgotten who - commented, the ETS (European Trading System) CO2 permit price (aka EU carbon allowances, or European Allowances (EUAs), apparently) seems to have spiked recently. Why?

ets

Of course, I don't know, so I asked Google. The answer looks to be mostly the EU fiddling with the supply. See the FT, or the EU's own ETS Market Stability Reserve will start by reducing auction volume by almost 265 million allowances over the first 8 months of 2019. This, of course, is one of the problems with any such scheme: people fiddle with it when it delivers the "wrong" answer. In this case, the low price was a "yes" answer to the question "did you pols bung too many permits at heavy industry in order to buy them off and make yourself popular?".

2018-09-01

Righte: the Pains of Man

The Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine, is dead famous. I've owned it for several decades and it has sat there on my shelf, glowing faintly but uselessly with the light of fame. As my version's intro says, and wiki says, it defends the French Revolution against Edmund Burke's attack in Reflections on the Revolution in France. You need some dates for context: it was published in 1791-2; Burke's Reflections in 1790; the American Revolution finished 1783; the Storming of the Bastille happened in 1789. The First Republic was 1792, and so when the book was written things hadn't gone terribly wrong yet. I read it without having read Burke; having just begun on his text, I feel moderately sure that I'm going to like Burke (Their passions forge their fetters) more than Paine, but thought it might be instructive to write this down first.

Warning: this review is somewhat rambling and idiosyncratic.

As English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century will have told you if you didn't know already, the form and source of legitimacy of government was a hot topic. Paine is all in favour of representative democracy2, and in that he chose the right side of history. Much of the book is complaining at Burke for not being in favour of the French revolution, even though he'd supported the American revolution; and in that Paine - with the benefit of hindsight - was mostly wrong: hopelessly idealistic and over-optimistic.

The book is entitled the Rights of Man. It is not clear if he is in favour of women's rights to vote. He makes no mention of that. Also, whilst he clearly thinks slavery bad, he nowhere in this book condemns his beloved America for permitting slavery. These are odd omissions. The Thomas Paine Society has a somewhat embarrassed page explaining very delicately that while he cared deeply abut women's rights, he didn't want to do that in public. As wiki points out, the French revolution he was so keen on didn't give rights to women either. On slavery there seems to be some doubt too. Whilst the constitution society credits him with the strongly anti-slavery African Slavery In America, wiki is less sure, and this random blogpost that I found says Whether he was openly against slavery or not, Thomas Paine did have indicators in his life that leads to the assumption that he might have been a bit of an abolitionist.

What of the book? There's some philosophy in it1, which was my original interest, but more politics. There's a lot of monarchy-is-terrible, which I'll largely skip over, since it's rather dated. Ditto the history of the revolution, ditto his flings about Burke and his boasts that his books sell better.

Early on, we get The Parliament or the people of 1688, or of any other period, had no more right to dispose of the people of the present day, or to bind or to control them in any shape whatever, than the parliament or the people of the present day have to dispose of, bind or control those who are to live a hundred or a thousand years hence. Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated. This is... not really true. Take, for example, the American Constitution. It binds successive generations. It can be changed, but only with difficulty and only in parts. Contracts remain binding down generations. Within the (modern) UK Paine's words are closer to true, because Parliament is sovereign, but this absolute sovereignty is arguably a bad thing. Certainly, this is the kind of thing that gets him called an Enthusiast by Burke, because taken literally it gives an authority for people to rip everything up and start again (ha ha, you didn't think I wrote my previous post just randomly, did you?).

I feel I need to demonstrate Paine's over-optimism: perhaps Notwithstanding Mr. Burke's horrid paintings, when the French Revolution is compared with the Revolutions of other countries, the astonishment will be that it is marked with so few sacrifices or Whom has the National Assembly brought to the scaffold? None will do it. There are many other examples. He could not see what was coming, and he was not interested in listening to any nay-sayers.

The Rights of Man: what?


I'm glad you asked. Much of the answer looks to be: The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression. For those of a leftist persuasion, notice that property is up there are #2, only just behind liberty.

The Rights of Man: where from?


Naturally, at some point Paine asks: What are those rights, and how man came by them originally? He answers: we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him. But of titles I shall speak hereafter. We are now got at the origin of man, and at the origin of his rights. Um. As my marginal note says, "that was quick, but vague". In case you're in doubt, a little later we have the divine origin of the rights of man at the creation. But that's probably unfair of me; later on we get Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others. Meh. Much the same as Hobbes up to this point, but vaguer.

I'm somewhat more supportive of Every generation is equal in rights to generations which preceded it, because that implies that law cannot create rights, but that's a topic for another day. Soon after we have men are all of one degree, and consequently that all men are born equal, and with equal natural right; notice that the word "natural" has appeared prefixing "right"; later, he attempts to show how civil rights arise from natural rights: Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured. So, he has the usual social-contract problem that Hobbes and everyone else has: there was no transition from state-of-nature. Never mind.

From this, he concludes, First, That every civil right grows out of a natural right; or, in other words, is a natural right exchanged. I think this is how he would like it to be; but it is less of a conclusion than an assertion. He supplies one not terribly convincing example, which is: A man, by natural right, has a right to judge in his own cause. And the linked civil right is: he deposits this right in the common stock of society, and takes the arm of society, of which he is a part, in preference and in addition to his own. Society grants him nothing. Every man is a proprietor in society, and draws on the capital as a matter of right. The trouble is, Paine hasn't told us what right Man gets in return. Justice is probably what he has in mind; the impartial enforcement of Just law by an incorrupt Civil Sword. I'm happier with his Secondly, That civil power properly considered as such is made up of the aggregate of that class of the natural rights of man, which becomes defective in the individual in point of power, and answers not his purpose, but when collected to a focus becomes competent to the Purpose of every one.

To possess ourselves of a clear idea of what government is, or ought to be, we must trace it to its origin


This sounds innocuous, but it isn't. Indeed, with the exception of a few special cases like the USA, it isn't even possible. But it is a major part of his dispute with Burke. Burke is not terribly interested in the dim and distant past; he is more interested in slow shifts; he does not expect to understand the whole system. Paine wants to understand the whole thing so he can change anything he doesn't like; see above.

Toleration is despotism


Per the English in the 17th century, religious wars are a pain. Paine is keen to promote the French Solution: The French Constitution hath abolished or renounced Toleration and Intolerance also, and hath established Universal Right Of Conscience. And make no mistake, Paine hates "Toleration": Toleration is not the opposite of Intolerance, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. Personally I very much like the USAnian formulation: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This, very nicely, separates out religion and state. AFAIK Paine doesn't define what he means by Toleration, but I think he means The State having a State Religion, but tolerating other people to have their own, and possibly even (if you're a real Tolerator, which likely few were at the time) none at all. The USAnian separation is clearly better than toleration. The French formulation he gives is odd, because it appears to conjure up a right simply from a piece of paper, which sits ill with his theorising. But then again, it isn't quite clear to what he is referring. Perhaps Article X – No one may be disturbed for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law? In which case the problem disappears, and we're left with something similar to - but not as good as - the USAnian version.

laws must have existence before they can have execution


Again, apparently uncontroversial, but not really. To be fair this is an aside, but since it links to the Law is Custom question I can't resist. The LiC people will tell you that law and execution grew up together; at least, I think that's the natural interpretation of their view. Paine isn't interested in this aspect: what he cares about is putting the legislative before the executive branch. This I think isn't well thought-out, because what he is after is dethroning the King.

Money is the root of all sovereignty


No, he doesn't actually say that. But he does say The right of a Parliament is only a right in trust, a right by delegation, and that but from a very small part of the Nation; and one of its Houses has not even this [WMC: he's talking about England of his time]. But the right of the Nation is an original right, as universal as taxation. The nation is the paymaster of everything, and everything must conform to its general will which is not far off. This is unsurprising because historically, it keeps coming down to money. While I'm on Parliament, I find With respect to the House of Commons, it is elected but by a small part of the Nation; but were the election as universal as taxation, which it ought to be, it would still be only the organ of the Nation, and cannot possess inherent rights.- When the National Assembly of France resolves a matter, the resolve is made in right of the Nation. It isn't clear to me what distinction he is drawing. Note, in passing, "election as universal as taxation"; this isn't a figure of speech- he isn't implying that taxation comes to everyone - he means it literally: if (and only if) you're being taxed do you get representation.

Also, there's a longish section about the amount of gold and silver that "ought" to be in England. This reads rather Merchantilist, but may reflect his not understanding how much was done on paper. in what I think was probably the more sophisticated financial system of England compared to France. But I could be wrong about that.

There are no shades of grey


He's a polemicist, so rhetorical questions like If monarchy is a useless thing, why is it kept up anywhere? and if a necessary thing, how can it be dispensed with? should be interpreted as such; but I can't help think that's how it was in Paine's head, too.

To sum up


I'm not going to. And (in case you didn't notice) I've only really got through Part I. But my recollection is that my quibbles on Part II are of a similar nature, so I think this will do. I'll leave you (since I approve of it) with Standford's the bluntness and sweeping rhetoric that alienates the more philosophically inclined modern reader were an essential element in his success and his continuing importance. Paine spoke to ordinary people—and they read him in their thousands—indeed, he was often read aloud in public houses and coffee shops. He claimed no authority over them, but helped them to doubt those who did claim such authority, whether civil or religious, and he affirmed over and over again their right and responsibility to think for themselves and to reach their own judgment on matters.

Notes


1. ...one needs a reasonably capacious understanding of ‘philosophy’ to count him as a philosopher. He was a pamphleteer, a journalist, a propagandist, a polemicist. Nonetheless, he also settled on a number of basic principles that have subsequently become central to much liberal-democratic culture. Few of these are original to Paine... [Standford encyclopedia of philosophy, on Paine].

2. Though as Standford points out, he doesn't use the D-word, preferring to reserve that for Athenian-type direct democracy.