Friday, June 8, 2012

N.C. Senate proposes limits on forecasting of sea level rise

This is a complicated and controversial story that is front page news here at home, and is making headlines all over. A committee of lawmakers in the North Carolina Senate approved a bill that will limit the data that planning agencies are allowed to use in preparing for sea level rise.  Essentially, planners will only be able to base their forecasts on historical increases in sea level rise, which are relatively low compared to the predictions of a state appointed panel of scientists. The bill would allow only the NC Coastal Resources Commission to engage in sea level prediction, and would restrict the data and methodology that can be used.

Here is a link to the bill. The most controversial part is on the second page, part (e) and includes the following language:

"These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly…"

Read more about it here and here at the News and Observer (thanks Paul L.), here from UNCW's Spencer Rogers at NC Sea Grant, and for some comic relief, here is Stephen Colbert's take on the topic.


Victoria Thorpe said...

This just seems absurd that they wouldn't want to know the scientific data that could potentially be much more helpful.

Brian Graham said...

The only way that this could even be considered plausible is if somehow the costs of things such as hiring scientists and conducting experiments was astronomical in a skewed fashion that would hurt the economy somehow. Having read this I do not see this as the case. Accuracy is the key with issues of this magnitude. Accuracy would be maximized in my opinion by performing new long term experiments and hiring the most qualified and brightest minds that are capable of acquiring/interpreting the most advanced data. Historical data is a poor approach in my opinion because of how extreme human development advances have been especially since 1970. I think acquiring the most accurate results provides the opportunity to respond/prepare to any potential anomalies in the most efficient way possible to ensure the security of society. Intellectual occupations would be created through this as well and despite some accrued costs the benefits of performing up to date studies outweighs them in my opinion.

J. Embrey said...

Historical data is an excellent predictor of future outcomes.

The time period prescribed is after both the First and Second Industrial Revolution, so all pollution emitted during those periods and up to the present day would be present in the environment.

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

How about the possibility of non-linear relationships?

J. Embrey said...

I laugh that nobody making the models will be around in 100 years to accept their success or failure.

If you want to curtail oceanfront development then the first step is to eliminate taxpayer subsidized insurance and force property owners
to bear the full responsibility of insuring their property.

Yes, there is a possiblity, and likelihood, of non-linear relationships (in both directions), but a ton of carbon is a ton of carbon and that carbon would react in the environment in 1900 the same way it reacts the environment in 2012.

I would conduct modeling using both liner and non-linear assumptions.

I would then look at the data points from both models and know that the most accurate predictions would most likely fall somewhere in the middle of the two models.

A healthier debate would center around agreeing that pollution is bad and what are practical and enforceable solutions to pollution.

China just told the EU to eat it on carbon taxes for airport landings.

Now by refusing to pay the tax all Chinese airlines have a competitive advantage over other airlines flying into EU airports.

Will the EU make them pay?

Can the EU make them pay?

Until problems like this, or special exclusions for "developing countries" are eliminated the global pollution debate cannot really move forward with any certainty or longterm effectiveness.

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

As a statistician I am very familiar with the folly of long-range prediction, especially with regard to complex systems. However, I must disagree that the effect of a ton of carbon can be assumed to be the same now as 100 years ago. Non-linear relationships exist in nature, and as you note, the effect of pollution may certainly be non-linear. So, the effect of the 100th unit may be mild in comparison to the effect of the 1000th unit. I'm not a climate scientist, but the notion of a threshold effects makes perfect sense. Second guessing the experts strikes me as the ultimate in hubris.

The mid-range model interpolation that you have proposed is precisely what the team of scientists proposed for NC, so you seem to be in perfect agreement with them, which stands in stark contrast to the senate resolution.

With regard to developing nations, I think a little perspective is in order. While I agree that without action by China and India we're not going to make much progress, I do think that some concessions are in order. Most people in those countries are very very poor. It's easy for us as a very rich country to say that they should make the same level of sacrifice that we do, after we've already developed, making no such sacrifices along the way.

Stella Smith said...

This is an extremely difficult topic for me to talk about because of my passion concerning the debate and my “bias”. This situation exemplifies the fact that we prefer costs in the future as opposed to the present. It is a matter of doing the best for you now, without thought to what it will cost future generations; I believe that it takes a special type of person to really act upon bequest value.
There will be economic consequences, but that is to be expected…every economic decision has tradeoffs. We need to look at the best scientific data and the best economic data in order to make a decision; political rivalries, faux science, and other “bias” should not be allowed into the debate (namely NC-20 which I feel is a largely political organization). In reality, no beach community on a barrier island should exist, because without federally subsidized insurance the classic “mansion on the beach front” would not be economically feasible to build nor would most buildings (especially considering the last hurricane cut several new inlets into our barrier island and flooded 25-30% of the homes along the Outer Banks).
I believe that experts in the field (meaning climate scientists) should be allowed to do their job and report information to the legislature. They can take it or leave it, when planning for the state’s future, but lobbyists trying to discredit the work of experts is more than a little bit ridiculous.
All in all, I see this as a smaller battle in the larger “concert of action” (civil conspiracy) debate. Sounds like Big Tobacco vs. the Attorneys General to me.

J. Embrey said...

Dr. Schuhmann:

How something reacts in the environment can be very different from its effect upon that environment.

If you want something mucked-up get a bunch of politicians involved.

The biggest problem with the climate debate is that it has become emotional.

People have a vested interest, whether mental or actual, in proving that their outcome theory is correct.

It is personal.

When it becomes personal and the impartial scientist, or observer, is no longer impartial it makes an already complicated process practically impossible.

Many times people are not even aware of their own bias, especially if you are surrounded by a bunch of people who share that same bias.

There are attempts to discredit the "experts" on both sides of the debate.

Many experts in the 70s and 80s were predicting a new man-caused ice age and other global collapses.

Here we are in 2012.

It would be intersting to measure the per capita debt ratio of a person in a "rich" country to that of a person in a "poor" country and see who is in fact the richer of the two.

One of the consequences of progress is the raising of the bar for all players. Sometimes that means that some people cannot play, or they must find a different game to play.

It is surely not "fair" to allow one producer to freely emit while the other producer must upgrade their facility or limit their production b/c of the producer's particular geographical location or their country's economic development.

Would you agree that a poor country experiencing a resurgence in malaria should be allowed to use DDT?

DDT is cheap and effective, and after all they are poor.

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

James, I'm not sure I'm following you.

Are you saying that the climate scientists are basing their conclusions on personal bias?

What is your point about per capita debt ratios? The per capita debt ratios in Haiti, China, Vietnam and Nigeria (and dozens of other countries) are a fraction of those in the US and Germany. Are you saying that people in those nations are better off than people in the US and Germany?

You suggest that it is not fair to allow one producer to freely emit while the other producer must limit output based on location or level of development, but the developed nations of the world did not have to limit anything during their economic development and you seem to be suggesting that it's only fair that other nations now limit theirs. This seems contradictory.

I teach a class called the economics of growth and development each spring. I think you'd really like it.

Teresa Campbell said...

It seems ridiculous to only rely on historical data. Politicians only want to share/support the information that will most benefit them. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they were in the midst of personally financing a development project on the coast and could care less what happens in 2100.

J. Embrey said...

First, I do have concerns about the linear extrapolation only requirement.

A person's bias influences decisions they make, what they accept as truth, and what they consider acceptable behavior.

There are examples of this related to this topic.

I think the scientists are presenting data derived from the models they have constructed.

My point about per capita debt ratios was that just b/c someone says you are rich, or poor, does not make it so.

If you have less debt are you not richer?


If the riches country in the world cannot pay the debts they owe are they really the riches country in the world?


Sometimes it stinks to be the last one to arrive at the party.

When Apple makes all of its products in your country you are developed.

quick example, then I need to study:

Where I am from catfish farming is huge.

The farmers have been suffering for years b/c "developing countries", like China and Vietnam, are not held to the same standards for pollution or chemical usage as domestic producers in the US.

These non-realized costs coupled with cheap labor mean that domestic producers cannot compete on price and are going out of business.

This is not fair. No way. And you can take that example and apply it to any industry.

w/ regard to pollution now v. pollution then

My overall point was that just because plants in some country were dumping mercury straight into the water 50 years ago does not mean that it should now be okay for some other country to do the same presently b/c they had no industrial capacity 50 years ago and missed their chance to dump mercury at that time.

I was hoping to get involved with some research work.

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

I'm with you on most of your points, and was trying to get you to think a bit more about the issues.

I still don't follow the debt and wealth argument though.

Person A has 1 million in assets and 20 thousand in debt.
Person B has 0 assets and 0 debt. You seem to be suggesting that B is richer. When I use the terms "rich" and "poor" I'm referring to human well being and standard of living.

Apple is in China because labor is cheap there. Labor is cheap in China because people there are astonishingly poor. The associated high discount rates lead to short-term thinking. National growth gets more weight than global pollution. I'm not saying it's right or fair, but I am saying that it is understandable that they don't want to be poor anymore.

It's easy for us to say: 'too bad, we got here first' and shut the door. I cannot view this as "fair" in any sense of the word. The phrase "missed their chance" suggests that they had a chance. Think about that idea.

Research is good. Stop by my office sometime and we'll talk about this more. Study up.

J. Embrey said...

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

I still don't follow the debt and wealth argument though.

Just a little Eastern philosophical side road.

Person A has 1,020,000 things to worry about, Person B has none.

The richer man has no worries.

Yes, Apple is in China for cheap labor, but no matter the reason once a country starts producing items like i-phones, nuclear submarines, and spacecraft they can probably be safely considered to be developed.

China uses the "developing economy" status to obtain trade benefits and exemptions from mandates that the UN and international treaties impose on other "developed" countries.

Doesn't allowing a developing country to pollute serve to subsidize a negative externalitiy and subsidies lead to more of the subsidized behavior.

I will change the phrase "missed their chance" to "never had the opportunity", and say that they never should have the opportunity.

Late entrants into markets are usually always at a severe competitive disadvanatages with regard to barriers to entry (pollution controls) and economies of scale.

I will never subscribe to the idea that b/c you did not pollute yesterday then you can pollute today.

Thanks for the back and forth.

Mathew Gibson said...

I believe they aren't releasing the data because they don't have the tenacity to stick to their guns on what computer models are hinting to in the future in terms of Sea level rise. If these models change every week, that just goes to show that its very unlikely to predict accurately to 2100 what will occur. Looking into the climate change science is very ambiquous and complex. So many variables in greenhouse gas emissions that could be tweaked can cause far changes. They just flat out don't have a clue what to say because climate change like NC 20 chairman Tom states could still be cause of these rises in sea level and warming. I believe that if they would be use their best integrity they would pick assumptions and roll with them.

Ashley King said...

I think Brian made a good point in saying that this is only plausible if the costs of scientists and experiments damage the economy somehow. It seems insane that with the technology we have worked years developing and has helped us tremendously in many areas would not be allowed to be used to predict sea level rise. Why base a prediction on history when so much has changed since then? Especially when you have an experiment performed by multiple scientists providing valid data that the increasing climate, melting glaciers, and pollution will cause sea level predictions to differ from historical trends. The year 2100 will come faster than we think and we don't our children to be effected in flood areas only because we failed to use the technology we've worked so hard to obtain to our advantage. If anything North Carolina should at least allow the research to continue (maybe if privately funded or donations) even if the only information released is based on historical trends. This is because we need to be as prepared as possible for the day that our actions impact us in an extreme way. The possible damage to our economy in the future would greatly outweigh the benefits we might receive from such a policy.

bethany pahl said...

I agree with Victoria, this is absurd they wouldn't want to know all the data. But I honestly am not surprised. I also agree with Dr. Schuchmann's points. I do not see how there is any denying there is a threshold effect. I don't understand why others have trouble understanding change is taking place. The earth is constantly undergoing changes. We know extinctions take place. Here is a nice read about the main extinctions events, Causes of these extinctions are always up for debate but the fact remains that the earth changes. What makes humans invincible to these possible changes and why try to limit predictions of change?

Rachel Davis said...

I do not understand why they wouldn't want to take all possible information into account. From any side of the issue to make better judgements. Just in case. I think it is better to act on an educated guess rather than just waiting because then it may be too late. It doesn't seem like not taking the scientific predictions into account is smart. What is the real reason behind this, not to be too alarming because there is a chance it is not completely, precisely accurate to a t?

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