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Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
Math is Hard 
16th-Oct-2009 06:09 am
As it turns out, math is hard. Physicists, government advisors, environmental journalists, all of them can get trapped in simple math problems, and end up spouting nonsense -- and believing it.

Latest Example:

It came in July, courtesy of the chief climate adviser to the German government. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chair of an advisory council known by its German acronym, WBGU, is a physicist whose specialty, fittingly, is chaos theory. Speaking to an invitation-only conference at New Mexico's Santa Fe Institute, Schellnhuber divulged the findings of a study so new he had not yet briefed Chancellor Angela Merkel about it. The study has now been published. If its conclusions are correct--and Schellnhuber ranks among the world's half-dozen most eminent climate scientists--it has monumental implications for the pivotal meeting in December in Copenhagen, where world leaders will try to agree on reversing global warming.

Schellnhuber and his WBGU colleagues go a giant step beyond the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body whose scientific reports are constrained because the world's governments must approve their contents. The IPCC says that rich industrial countries must cut emissions 25 to 40 percent by 2020 (from 1990 levels) if the world is to have a fair chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. By contrast, the WBGU study says the United States must cut emissions 100 percent by 2020--i.e., quit carbon entirely within ten years. Germany, Italy and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035, and the world as a whole must be carbon-free by 2050. The study adds that big polluters can delay their day of reckoning by "buying" emissions rights from developing countries, a step the study estimates would extend some countries' deadlines by a decade or so. [bold mine --.ed]

If you remember percentages, 100% is ALL OF IT. That means, no more cooking, no more breathing, no more driving. Everyone dies. "Carbon free" means everything is dead. You know, I'm not too worried about global warming if the alternative is death. I'll take the heat.

There are problems in basic physics with the "catastrophic climate change" scenario. But if I'm counting on people who can't do percentages to figure it out, I think we're in trouble.

UPDATE: fixed link
16th-Oct-2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
The fact that it comes from a German worries me rather more than if it had been any other nation. From nudism to Nazism to pacifism, the Germans have taken seriuosly - and carried out very efficiently - ideas that any other nation in the world would have laughed off.
26th-Oct-2009 06:45 pm (UTC) - Comment so right on I'm speechless.
26th-Oct-2009 07:01 pm (UTC) - Re: Comment so right on I'm speechless.
Not prescient - I just know my German neighbours very well. And mind you, I cannot altogether hate Germany - if nothing else, they saved my brother's life, and some of the finest people I have known are German. But they do have this strange streak of misplaced earnestness.
18th-Oct-2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
Not to worry, if things get too bad, the engineers can save us!

I'm personally a fan of the plan to dump millions of tonnes of iron fillings into the ocean to promote algae growth as a means of "carbon sequestration". It's almost as good as the Canadian federal gov'ts plan to pump carbon dioxide into really big holes in the ground!
26th-Oct-2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
Really big holes in the ground? Like there were no greenhouses in Canada that might benefit from CO2 forcing in plant growth?

26th-Oct-2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
When policies like this come up, I now find myself inclined to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, "Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from comedy."

One could almost imagine the headlines: Mother Earth sick, Tories prescribe giving her gas!

Even Aristophanes would be hard pressed to imagine-up a premise like that.
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