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The Tourniquet Theory

I wrote this piece for The Times yesterday (original behind paywall)

 

 

I call it my tourniquet theory and it goes like this: if you are bleeding to death from a severed limb, then a tourniquet may save your life, but if you have a nosebleed, then a tourniquet round your neck will do more harm than good. This metaphor can be applied to all sorts of scares and their remedies, but it is climate change that I have in mind. Over the past few years it has gradually become clear to me that climate change is a nosebleed, not a severed limb, and that the remedies we are subsidising are tourniquets round the neck of the economy.

Last month, the Government’s plan for a job-deterring carbon price floor, and an Australian official’s admission that even if the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, the temperature would not drop for several hundred years, reminded us that the pain could well outweigh the gain. Two new peer-reviewed scientific papers ram the point home. The first makes it clear just what a mild nosebleed climate change is proving to be; the second just what a lethal tourniquet climate change policy is. Note that this is different from arguing about whether climate change is real. Nosebleeds are real.

The nosebleed paper appeared in the Journal of Coastal Research (salute the web, in passing, for its extraordinary capacity for giving us access to such sources) and it concludes: “Our analyses do not indicate acceleration in sea level in US tide gauge records during the 20th century. Instead, for each time period we consider, the records show small decelerations that are consistent with a number of earlier studies of worldwide-gauge records. The decelerations that we obtain are . . . one to two orders of magnitude less than the +0.07 to +0.28 [millimetres per year squared] accelerations that are required to reach sea levels predicted for 2100 by [three recent mathematical models].”

To translate: sea level is rising more slowly than expected, and the rise is slowing down rather than speeding up. Sea level rise is the greatest potential threat to civilisation posed by climate change because so many of us live near the coast. Yet, at a foot a century and slowing, it is a slight nosebleed. So are most of the other symptoms of climate change, such as Arctic sea ice retreat, in terms of their impact. The rate of increase of temperature (0.6C in 50 years) is not on track to do net harm (which most experts say is 2C) by the end of this century.

The tourniquet paper is from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons; its author, Indur Goklany, concludes: “The production of biofuels may have led to at least 192,000 additional deaths and 6.7 million additional lost disability-adjusted life years in 2010. These estimates are conservative [and] exceed the World Health Organisation’s estimates of the toll of death and disease for global warming. Thus, policies to stimulate biofuel production, in part to reduce the alleged impacts of global warming on public health, particularly in developing countries, may actually have increased death and disease globally.”

In short, biofuels are doing more harm than good by pushing people into malnutrition, which makes them more vulnerable to disease: a tourniquet round the neck of the poor. Not far from where I live, there is a biofuel plant on Teesside, and to my disgust I find that some of the wheat grown on my farm goes there after it’s sold. About 5 per cent of the world’s grain production is now going to make motor fuel rather than food, with the result that rich farmers like me get better prices, but poor Africans pay more for food.

Yet that 5 per cent of world grain has displaced just 0.6 per cent of world oil use, so biofuel is hurting the patient without even stopping the nosebleed.

Almost every other climate change policy suggested so far is similarly futile. Wind: costs a fortune, kills eagles and does not even reduce carbon emissions because of the need for fossil fuel back-up. Solar: the tariff paid for energy fed into the grid is so high that you might even make money if you shine off-peak electric lamps on your panels at night. Tidal, hydro: far greater impact on natural habitats than climate change. Wave: does not work.

As the world begins an historic switch from coal and oil to abundant natural gas (which the International Energy Agency now says will last for at least a quarter of a millennium), carbon emissions are bound to start falling in a decade or three. Electricity from gas produces 37 per cent of the carbon dioxide that electricity from coal produces, and cars running on natural gas produce 25 per cent less carbon emissions, not to mention costing half as much to run.

As the climate nosebleed dribbles down our collective chin, we will look back in horror on those who proffered a tourniquet for our collective neck.

 

Comments (23)

Posted by, Anonymous (not verified)

In view of the terrible consequences to the poor and to the economies of nations already in great economic distress, including the United States, please consider writing a book on this issue. We need rational discussion if we are to have rational policy-making. Please don't drop this issue.

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 15:08pm
Posted by, A K Haart (not verified)

Climate scares suggest that relationships between scientists and policy-makers are seriously problematic.

It is not clear how policy-makers are supposed to make sure they get the best available scientific advice. Too many of them seem to need scientific advice to gain access to scientific advice. It doesn’t work and it should be obvious why. Policy-makers need to be more open-minded and more aware of basic scientific principles.

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 15:44pm
Posted by, Robert Dammers (not verified)

But beyond the point you make, the lack of correlation with CO2 emissions again shows that the scientific rationale for CO2 abatement is deeply flawed. It further undermines claims of any predictive skill of models based on the current "settled science".

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 17:07pm
Posted by, Curtis (not verified)

Carbon dioxide reduction does not require a tourniquet or even a band-aid. There is a free method of reducing carbon dioxide emission in the US. Create a continually rising carbon tax (i.e. gas tax would go up 10 cents a year every year) and lower the social security tax by the same amount. People would adjust their behavior to use less energy and we would reduce carbon emissions without any net overall tax increase. It is simple. Raise the tax on behavior you want to reduce (carbon emissions) and lower the tax on what you want to increase (employment).

Of course, there would be winners and losers. That is the whole point. Energy intensive industries (and people) would be hurt and labor intensive industries would be helped. More employment, less emissions with no overall cost.

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 17:10pm
Posted by, BBD (not verified)

Interesting article, as always.

The sea level study you reference can be found here:

P. J. Watson (2011) Is There Evidence Yet of Acceleration in Mean Sea Level Rise around Mainland Australia?. Journal of Coastal Research: Volume 27, Issue 2: pp. 368 – 377.
doi: 10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Abstract:

http://www.jcronline.org/doi/abs/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Full text (html):

http://www.jcronline.org/doi/full/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Download full text (pdf):

http://www.jcronline.org/doi/pdf/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 17:25pm
Posted by, BBD (not verified)

The sea level study you reference can be found here:

P. J. Watson (2011) Is There Evidence Yet of Acceleration in Mean Sea Level Rise around Mainland Australia?. Journal of Coastal Research: Volume 27, Issue 2: pp. 368 – 377.
doi: 10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Abstract:

http://www.jcronline.org/doi/abs/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Full text (html):

http://www.jcronline.org/doi/full/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Download full text (pdf):

http://www.jcronline.org/doi/pdf/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 17:55pm
Posted by, Curtis (not verified)

Carbon dioxide reduction does not require a tourniquet or even a band-aid. There is a free method of reducing carbon dioxide emission in the US. Create a continually rising carbon tax (i.e. gas tax would go up 10 cents a year every year) and lower the social security tax by the same amount. People would adjust their behavior to use less energy and we would reduce carbon emissions without any net overall tax increase. It is simple. Raise the tax on behavior you want to reduce (carbon emissions) and lower the tax on what you want to increase (employment).

Of course, there would be winners and losers. That is the whole point. Energy intensive industries (and people) would be hurt and labor intensive industries would be helped. More employment, less emissions with no overall cost.

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 19:36pm
Posted by, blokeinfrance (not verified)

A K Haart, I think you might be right about the scientific ignorance of our politicians. However, they are only too keen to use scientific advice to justify what they want to do anyway.
A case in point is "job creation" through green energy.
As numerous studies have shown, green energy does not actually crate jobs, it displaces them at best.
Perhaps we should ask what the purpose of life / an economy is? Surely it's to give people the maximum wealth with the minimum effort.
So any politician advocating "job creation" is merely advocating less leisure and increasing inefficiency. Windmills and solar panels, in their current state, are great examples of inefficiency.
Politicians (and most of the rest of us) are fixated quite wrongly on job creation. Think of any invention, from the horse collar through penicillin to the ink jet printer and you will see that every one of them DESTROYS jobs. (And made us all much richer.) A genuine advance will displace and destroy jobs, but liberate people to either more leisure or employment in producing other stuff we haven't even realised we want yet.

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 19:43pm
Posted by, Mike Thornhill (not verified)

It is interesting that the same people, who believe in AGW catastrophe theory and are unable to actually discuss the science, are the people who are unable to see the reality of the costs and effects of the 'solutions' that they promote.

Your article just reinforces what anyone finds, who tries to take a disinterested look at the issues involved. I wish I knew how to to communicate the facts in an effective way at a higher enough level.

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 20:57pm
Posted by, Andy (not verified)

How can we get this out from behind a paywall and in front of as many policymakers/politicians/think-tanks/focus groups/scientists/financiers as we can?

You have managed to sum up in a few short paragraphs all that is wrong about the crippling policies that are being implemented in the name of 'climate change': Scientists are arguing about miniscule changes of temperature using computer models that they openly admit are seriously lacking in predictive ability, whilst politicians are spending disproportionately immense sums of money to wage a futile battle against a climate that has been changing since the dawn of time.

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 21:27pm
Posted by, Vincent Shand (not verified)

This paper understates the comparison as the biofuels estimates are many times more robust than the climate change deaths estimates.

I explain why here
http://manicbeancounter.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/biofuels-%e2%80%93-a-po...

Wednesday 6th April 2011 - 23:46pm
Posted by, Martin Porter (not verified)

Matt, you seem to have gone from Climate Change denier to Climate Change fatalist in one mighty leap.

If sea level rise was all the world had to worry about you may have a point, but if you look at the science our current nosebleed looks like being the prelude to a massive haemorrhage. We do not have three decades to stabilise emissions.

Some of yor doubts about low carbon energy may well be justified, but the cure is definately better than the disease.

Thursday 7th April 2011 - 07:58am
Posted by, NikFromNYC (not verified)

Dude, that photo is not meant to be used in public discourse.

FAIL

"Sea level rise is the greatest potential threat to civilisation posed by climate change because so many of us live near the coast."

Ever hear of objects called "rocks"? You put them places, by moving them from point A to point B. They really are quite useful. Rocks win over water. ROCK. WATER. Rock wins. Oh there are some theories that water creates rocks over deep time, but whatever.

Why would you write something so stupid?

A "threat to civilization"? Those are just words plucked out the air that don't attach to anything real. Say it out loud, nice and slow with me "SIV" + "ILL" + "IS" + "ZAH" + "SHUN".

Say it twenty times. ILL IS ZAH SHUN SIV IS ZAH SHUN ILL IS SIV IS IS ZAH ZAH SHUN ILL IS.

WTF is "civilization"?

"Nosebleed" used EIGHT F*CKING TIMES in an essay? Thank god us skeptics ain't relying on you as our version of Al Gore.

Oh, I see, you're a book guy. Yeah, dude, do the book tour circuit. Us scientists can sweep up for you and toss you a bone or two now and again. Thank GOD most skeptics, as in 98% are just common folk with high IQ instead of crippled wordsmiths like you.

Oh, wait, YOU wrote 'The Red Queen'?!?!? That's an AWESOME book. It helped me get lots of high quality pussy by giving me permission to strut my stuff as a masculine person. Jumping on the sloppy seconds of Global Warming debunking is pretty lame though.

Ah, you are popularizing good science and design, even doing a TED conference. You are still too polite though. The best models of cultural shift gurus are still Bucky Fuller and Tim Leary.

Sorry to bother you, dear sir, you rubbed me the wrong way as I spend my spare time adding this or that hopefully useful comment to Global Warming articles, online. Debate isn't my bag. Just information.

It's actually kind of difficult, now that Warmism has become a more popular punching bag. It's not so simple and clear cut as it was when skepticism was purely an insider internet phenomenon. It feels like overly polite people are stealing our thunder, like Madison Avenue destroying a counter culture.

It takes all kinds though, I guess. I'm the passionate, raw, creative type. I think I'm right that emotion drives cultural change the most, at least within each season.

You wrote 'The Red Queen' and now you are bashing Al Gorism. O.K. Life is good. You are taking over where Michael Crichton dared to tread before he sadly became dead. But you are a *real* science writer. Huh.

[snip -- for decency reasons]

SO THE GUY WHO WROTE ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS IS A GLOBAL WARMING SKEPTIC.

I see. It's as if the whole universe has a delightful new crack in it. What a small world it is that we live in. You? You are carrying the flame of that which is noble in science. Feynman was a flirt. You don't let on but could you just maybe please add some drug war debunking to your spiel, too?

I made a chart or two for you and yours and friends of friends:

http://i49.tinypic.com/rc93fa.jpg

http://i49.tinypic.com/2mpg0tz.jpg

It's 6AM in NYC. Good night.

Thursday 7th April 2011 - 11:11am
Posted by, Krishnan (not verified)

It seems to me that data does not matter. What drives these fanatics goes beyond rational arguments - it is as if they are determined to destroy the environment by forcing the use of inefficient methods and forcing people to use more energy in the name of using less.

The question I struggle with is - Why? Why is it that inspite of data that shows that any of the "cures" they recommend is worse that any "disease" - they (climate warmongers) insist on killing the patient? No, I do not believe that they are unaware of the facts and data.

My simple answer is that they are simply furious at how humans have been able to adapt, change their environment, innovate and grow - and make life much better than it was decades ago. There is something about watching people get better that drives some people crazy - they cannot stand to see general improvement in the lives of everyone - it makes them feel less special.

Thursday 7th April 2011 - 12:16pm
Posted by, NikFromNYC (not verified)

Thank you so much for posting what I wrote.

Thursday 7th April 2011 - 13:14pm
Posted by, Lemniscate (not verified)

@ Curtis: tax switching is akin to switching from punching you in the left arm to punching you in the right arm -- why not just stop punching?

@ Krishnan:

I think Matt Ridley's idea about ideas having sex can help us understand why people are so keen to take control of and enervate the western capitalist system using climate change as an excuse: socialist ideas and their descendants had sex with environmentalist ideas, spawning a vigorous political idea fit for the last 30 years.

Thursday 7th April 2011 - 16:06pm
Posted by, Robert (not verified)

Although we will have the gas to fuel our power stations, we will still have to fit these power stations with carbon capture and storage facilities which currently are not available.

Whether one believes the the world is warming or not does not matter. The amount of money that is being poured into preventing carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere will send us back to the stone age. Sheer madness!

Thursday 7th April 2011 - 18:25pm
Posted by, Curtis (not verified)

@Lemniscate
Tax happens. Make them appropriate.

Friday 8th April 2011 - 16:28pm
Posted by, Alberta Slim (not verified)

@Curtis....
You have been brainwashed by the Alarmists.
You have been suckered in about CO2; Carbon Footprint; CCS; and Burning Fossil Fuels;
CO@ is NOT causing Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Disruption or any other description you wish to use as a label.
Of course, your ego will not let you admit that you have been had.
The article is a reasonable analogy. Killing the patient for a nosebleed is right on.

EPA Administrator Jackson begins by stating that all Americans rely on the Clean Air Act to protect them from harmful air pollution. I agree. Next, Administrator Jackson says she is relying on the 2007 Supreme Court decision that EPA could consider greenhouse gases an air pollutant. Administrator Jackson neglected to include that the Supreme Court also said the Administrator could exclude a greenhouse gas if she could present evidence that the gas was not a pollutant or endangerment to mankind. This gets to the heart of the issue since Administrator Jackson has singled out carbon dioxide as the key substance to regulate on the grounds that, as Administrator Jackson so frequently comments, "CO2 is a pollutant and an endangerment to mankind." That anyone would say that CO2 is a pollutant is incredible, but particularly when said by Administrator Jackson who is a degreed chemical engineer. There is not a single case, short of multi-thousands of parts per million (ppm) of this trace gas, that indicates CO2 to be a pollutant. CO2 is the staff of life. Earth's food chain begins with plants and as we all learned in elementary school, CO2 is what plants eat. In fact, as thousands of peer reviewed laboratory and field studies show, the more CO2 plants "eat", the more robustly they grow. This is not speculation based upon man-made models; this is from real, empirical observations. I present three examples demonstrating that CO2 is not a pollutant; first, many commercial greenhouse operators grow the fruits and vegetables we buy in the grocery and where they and their staffs work, in an atmosphere of 1,000 ppm CO2. The workers suffer no ill effects and the plants grow profusely. Earth's current atmosphere contains only 390 ppm. Secondly, as testified to the Unites States Senate, Princeton distinguished Professor William Happer has pointed that our very own government allows CO2 levels to build up to 8,000 ppm in our nuclear submarines where our sailors reside for week s at a time. Thirdly, we breathe in the current 390 ppm of CO2 and breathe out 40,000 ppm (!) with our lungs incurring no toxic or detrimental effects. For this Administration and especially Administrator Jackson to continue to refer to CO2 as a pollutant is far worse that a slip of the tongue or exaggeration; it is grossly misleading to our country's citizens.
That man-made CO2 is a primary cause of climate change is just a hypothesis. The hypothesis has not been proven and even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits that when they do not say that they are 100% certain it is true. While proving that the hypothesis is true for such a complex subject is probably impossible, it is only prudent to examine whether it can be shown to be false.

Saturday 9th April 2011 - 14:33pm
Posted by, Rae Brady (not verified)

I am dyslexic and short of time so can't digest a lot the information of the information on this page(also suffer from indigestion)
However I would like to enter Andy's comment into the debate.
I had attended a S.E.P.A conference several years ago and brought up the fact about climate change being with us since time immemorial .And had asked if we didn't need a lot more understanding of the reasons e.g changes in the earths elctro and geomagnetic feilds due to interplanetry alignments and movement in the tutonic plates. And to address the issues did we not need much more imput from quantum and geophysists I had been told that my thinking was to esoteric for the panel.
In light of the happenings over the last few years are these not angles which need far more dabate??
There had been no physisists on the panel woold it be possible to have another conference dealing with this angle
please excuss spelling ecetra as I am not sure how to acess the spell check for this sight ,and haven't time to rewrite if it crashes.and only got in by mistakeand am not sure if I would know my way back

Tuesday 12th April 2011 - 12:10pm
Posted by, Rae Brady (not verified)

I am dyslexic and short of time so can't digest a lot the information of the information on this page(also suffer from indigestion)
However I would like to enter Andy's comment into the debate.
I had attended a S.E.P.A conference several years ago and brought up the fact about climate change being with us since time immemorial .And had asked if we didn't need a lot more understanding of the reasons e.g changes in the earths elctro and geomagnetic feilds due to interplanetry alignments and movement in the tutonic plates. And to address the issues did we not need much more imput from quantum and geophysists I had been told that my thinking was to esoteric for the panel.
In light of the happenings over the last few years are these not angles which need far more dabate??
There had been no physisists on the panel woold it be possible to have another conference dealing with this angle
please excuss spelling ecetra as I am not sure how to acess the spell check for this sight ,and haven't time to rewrite if it crashes.and only got in by mistakeand am not sure if I would know my way back

Tuesday 12th April 2011 - 12:11pm
Posted by, Adiana (not verified)

To think, I was cofnused a minute ago.

Wednesday 6th July 2011 - 01:00am
Posted by, Lazarus (not verified)

What would a real sceptic do?

As a real sceptic I am very doubtful about your claims on the Journal of Coastal Research paper. Why no Volume and issue No., paper title or author?

But let me suspend my critical thinking on that particular point and pretend that I know everything above is kosher. Let’s say I'm fairly certain that there is a good, properly peer reviewed paper in the scientific literature that is able to conclude based on the research that “sea level is rising more slowly than expected, and the rise is slowing down rather than speeding up”. What would a real sceptic do?

Given that anyone who has ever considered the predicted effects of anthropogenic climate change would have had the impression that ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating and therefore sea levels should be rising or rising very soon, as a sceptic they would ask WHY? Why does this paper seem to contradict everything I have been lead to believe? How does it fit in with the overall body of scientific research?

So what does the Rational Optimist do? Unfortunately it is a epic fail because not only do they accept that their interpretation of this single paper is enough to dismiss any science to the contrary, but on the strength of it they are willing to base all the worlds global warming policies.

Certainly optimistic but very far removed from rational!

Also the idea that growing biofuels are causing thousands of deaths is a classic straw man argument.

Whether biofuels are being produced with the stated aim of mitigating emissions or just as a commercial enterprise says absolutely nothing about the impact climate change will have.

And climate change certainly says nothing about what policies must be adopted in response to it, especially one that could involve using arable land more useful for producing food crops.

Lazarus
http://lazarus-on.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-to-be-sceptic-part-five.html

Tuesday 23rd August 2011 - 10:51am

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