The alternative to Atlas Shrugged

PXL_20230422_140540760~3I exepct most of my readers are eagerly awaiting some alternative to accepting the conclusions of AS, so I thought I'd provide mine.

Re-reading my review of AS I find myself again struck by "The image the book conjures up - of a fading darkening America crumbling under the weight of an unproductive, uncomprehending and eventually almost unwittingly hostile bureaucracy or parasitic class...". That AR felt like that more than half a century ago reminds me not to believe in the Age of Gold but also perhaps to ponder if, as I partially do, think some of her fears were correct, what went right? Because clearly despite problems, America has not crumbled. But note that the twin industrial foci of her book - steel, and railways - have strongly diminished in importance as a proportion of the economy.

And so my1 thesis is that what saves us is innovation escaping the control of the government; or perhaps of any large bureaucracy. Old things grow schlerotic, but the overall economy survives that. And thus her solution - all the innovative people disappearing off West to rebuild - isn't necessary, and is instead translated into the innovative people leaving, or rather not joining, but not physically.


1. My brilliant thesis is of course not original but right now I can't find someone else saying the same thing.

2. My pic shows the Queens' crew of 1963, which post-dates the publication of AS, but pre-dates my birth by a year. It may not resonate with you, but in this era when any Cambridge college getting to the Friday is considered a major achievement, actually winning is from a different age of the world. Although that's only the Thames; go back another half century and they would be winning the Grand.


* Following on from the comments, SA's A THRIVE/SURVIVE THEORY OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM seems relevant. I quite like the underlying concept, but have reservations about the conclusions. Or perhaps you prefer Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV?


Meet the Money Behind The Climate Denial Movement?

PXL_20230421_172602343 Spring is in the air and my irises are out, so you get to share the joy. But joy is not what you come here for so I rapidly continue onto...

Meet the Money Behind The Climate Denial Movement, in that reliable source The Smithsonian, and twat to me by Peter "who he" Strachan. Subtitled Nearly a billion dollars a year is flowing into the organized climate change counter-movement. But, it isn't true. As they immeadiately back off in the text: According to Brulle's research, the 91 think tanks and advocacy organizations and trade associations that make up the American climate denial industry pull down just shy of a billion dollars each year, money used to lobby or sway public opinion on climate change and other issues. (The grand total also includes funds used to support initiatives unrelated to climate change denial, as explained in a quote Brulle gave to The Guardian: “Since the majority of the organizations are multiple focus organizations, not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities.”) (my bold).

So what fraction of that ~$1B is dedicated to GW? 100%, 10%, 1%? They have literally no idea at all - or if they have ideas they aren't sharing them. But that's a great step forward from Brulle's paper, which doesn't mention this bijou problemette at all. How did that pass peer review?



Lost Decade: How Shell Downplayed Early Warnings Over Climate Change?

evil Gosh, it is nearly the end of April and I haven't written anything for the month yet. So as cheap post I'll throw in this from the Smoggies, thoughtfully subheaded  Newly discovered documents from the 1970s and early ’80s show that Shell knew more about the “greenhouse effect” than it let on in public, and pushed by Michael "the GOP are pure evil" Mann. This is of course yet more of the #exxonknew bollox, so if you're not a fan of mindless drivel you should look away now. Note that I'm not claiming that Shell or other Evil Fossil Fuel companies emphasised the same things in publicity material as it did in scientific reports or conference proceedings; but I am claiming that they had no secret or hidden knowledge; and that all the court cases that claim otherwise are stupid. The Smoggies thrive on ambiguity: most or perhaps all of their article isn't untrue, just misleading: after all, what does "let on in public" mean? Hidden knowledge? Or just things you don't tell the public, but which the public can certainly find from your public publications or those of others, should they choose to?

If this stuff is unfamiliar, I recommend my Who knew what when?

Actually, the Smoggies do get some credit for writing the truth, which is what Shell helpfully tells them: Shell said that it had no unique knowledge about climate change, and that its position on the issue had been publicly documented for more than 30 years in its annual report and other publications. “The issue of climate change and how to tackle it has long been part of public discussion and scientific research that has evolved over many decades,” a Shell spokesperson said. “It has been widely discussed and debated, in public view, among scientists, media, governments, business and society as a whole.” It's just a bit of a shame they don't want to hear it.

Anyway, we read down the article looking for substance. There's a promising thing about a report in 1986, but alas that isn't new, and 1986 isn't 70's or early 80's, so we read on. Unspecified reports from "mid- to late-’70s" apparently warn about “drastic economic consequences”, so I may be forced to source those, since the Smoggies don't seem to bother. Continuing, we get Shell’s knowledge of the risks posed by the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels can be traced to at least the early 1960s. In 1962, Shell’s chief geologist, Houston-based Marion King Hubbert, produced a book-length report on energy for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences that explicitly warned of... Oh dear. Can you help the Smoggies? That's right, the klew is in the "for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences": it was public.

Next up is Meanwhile, Shell would commission British scientist James Lovelock... to investigate the possible global consequences of pollution from fossil fuels... Lovelock’s report, dated June 1966, concluded that it was an “almost certain fact” that the climate was deteriorating, and that burning fossil fuels was probably responsible. Lovelock’s main concern was not warming caused by the greenhouse effect, however, but the prospect of a precipitous drop in temperatures caused by the localised cooling influence of atmospheric pollution. In a separate essay for Shell, Lovelock warned that there was a good chance of a “brush with an ice age” within the next decade or so. So, just as well Shell didn't publicise that, because it was wrong. It is however a fascinating vignette in the ice-age wars, and one I didn't know about before. Unfortunately the Lovelock report doesn't appear to be available (do tell me if I'm wrong).

Then we come to the Club of Rome's broken report of 1972, which the Smoggies lovingly quote and include graphs from. They do this in order to add "In a critique published in Nature in August 1972, three Shell employees argued that it was “too early” to draw policy conclusions from The Limits To Growth". But Shell were partially correct: it was too early (only partial credit; for full credit you have to point out that the report is fundamentally broken). Then we come to the (again, public) IIASA report of 1975.

I gave up at that point. I would kinda like to know which report from the 70's warned of “drastic economic consequences” but I can see no good way of finding out and I'm pretty sure if I did find out it would be dull; if it was any good the Smoggies would have linked it.

Note that it is no lucky chance or strange coincidence that none of these early documents show any hidden science: instead, it is exactly what would be expected; it could not have been any different. The scientific work the EFFs did was fairly minor, and strongly meshed into the stuff that everyone else - universities and govt labs - was doing. There was no space for anything secret of any importance.

Update: The IPCC’s calls for emissions cuts have gone unheeded for too long – should it change the way it reports on climate change?

Well, this is probably a good place to slot in a piece from The Conversation touted by Rahmstorf (see if you can spot SR's misquote). They're sad that no-one listened, so to speak. But actually people did listen; if you read the report, you find they asked, very sensibly, for more research. Which was duly done. But pretending that they were asking for action then is another matter. TC, and SR, do their best to spin "Long-lived gases would require immediate reductions in emissions from human activities of over 60% to stabilise their concentrations at today’s levels" into "calls for emissions cuts" but it is no such thing: all the IPCC is doing is telling you what would have to happen in order for a certain other thing to happen. Deciding that the other-thing is a good idea well worth the effort to do it, is quite a different matter.

Update: more of the same, but from the Eyeties

Italian oil firm Eni faces lawsuit alleging early knowledge of climate crisis reveals the Graun. But really they're copying from The Smoggies homework. It's the same kinda stuff - old reports that were talking about publically available things (the Eni 1970 report, as the Smoggies own article states but does not think about, was based on a UN report). But as usual the state of the science then was not up to making good predictions. For example the Smoggies tell us that the Eni report says "[C]arbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to a recent report by the U.N. Secretary, given the increased use of [fossil fuels], has increased over the last century by an average of 10 percent worldwide; around the year 2000 this increase could reach 25 percent, with ‘catastrophic’ consequences on climate". The Graun / Smoggies are keen to say "aha so they knew it would be catastrophic way back then" but this is bollox: because there were no catastrophic consequences by 2000; the report was wrong (or rather, the simplistic reading the Smogiad wants to foist upon it is wrong; doubtless the report itself was more cautious).

Poking around, I find the UN report (Problems of the human environment : report of the Secretary-General, 1969). And it gets funnier: the text they rely on is, in context, from the introduction, "During the d i scus s Lons (li the Gel"1l:,ral Ass embLy at the tHenty-tllird session, it vas pointed outt1:lut the reliance of mcdern technology upon the combustion of fossil fuels hac' brought a 10 per c errt Lnc r-eas e in atimospherLc carbon dioxide over the past cerrt.ury , Hith Lncr eased rates of c ombustton, this could rise to 25 per cent by the ::,"eCil" ,'::COO J\.D. The cons equcnce of such an Lncr-eaae upon wor-Ld "Ieather and cli!::nte are unc e.rbaLn, "cut could eventually be catastrophic" (sorry, couldn't be bothered to fixup the OCR, I'm sure you understand). So the source of this "catastrophic" is actually a public debate at the UN, and the complaint is... that Eni kept it secret?

Anyway, apart from that random "catastropic" in the intro, the main body of the report is more sober and indeed boring, which is why no-one reads it. I don't see anything interesting to quote; I don't see any interesting conclusions or indeed suggestions for action.