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Climategate: ‘Hello,’ the UN Secretary General Lied (Thomas Friedman, Too)

Faster? Please. Yet another proclamation that global warming is "accelerating, much faster than we anticipated," as activists have been telling us since the late '90s.

by
William M. Briggs

Bio

December 13, 2009 - 12:00 am

Using his best Chuck Schumer imitation, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon jumped in front of some cameras at Copenhagen and assured us that his cause was noble.

His demeanor was serious. Contemplative.

He searched his vocabulary for the precise phrase to convey his deepest conviction … and you could see his eyes sparkle when he hit upon the shim-sham-inducing word, accelerating, to describe what was happening to global warming.

Good Lord! I thought to myself. This is bad! If global warming is accelerating, if it is worse than we have predicted — happening three times faster than any scientist ever feared in his worst nightmare — then, by golly, we sure ought to do something!

But as I was jumping up to write a check to the Sierra Club, I remembered. Hadn’t I heard Ban Ki-moon’s phrase somewhere else before?

I had. And often.

I turned to my trusty archives, and discovered something. At least since the late 1990s, and probably before, journalists, “activists,” and even politicians have been claiming: “It’s worse than we thought.”

Only two things can account for the constant use of these words:

(1) It really is, each and every time we turn around, getting hotter by amounts greater than we had predicted.

While this is logically possible, if this rhetoric were consistently true then by now the Earth’s fish would be swimming in water as hot as Tiger Woods is in.

(2) The politicians, etc., have forgotten the definition of accelerating.

This is plausible. It is, after all, a physical term, and most non-scientist global warming activists are demonstrably not well versed in their physics.

There is a third possibility, but knowing how earnest the Copenhagen crowd is, we can scarcely give it any weight.

It is — I hesitate when I write this — that the activists are exaggerating, even (gulp) fibbing.

For our own good, of course. To convince reluctant people to act. Let us hope this third scenario exists only in my fevered imagination.

All that is rotten is not in Denmark. Thomas Friedman, an opinionist at a local paper in New York, had a cuppa with Wolf Blitzer on CNN and assured him that he had looked into this whole global warming thing and discovered that, yes, the blanket of air surrounding the Earth was growing thicker with gas (we can resist the joke, can we not?) and that the only solution to prevent permanent heat stroke was to, so to speak, throw off the covers by buying insurance.

Of the kind underwritten by the ever-trustworthy and always-reliable United Nations.

Friedman’s idea is to take money from individuals who live in a few well-off countries and give it to some bureaucrats on First Avenue. They would then dole this money back out to persons unknown, such that these persons would be able to take the stuffing out of the blanket.

A fine idea, perhaps. Especially given that the UN’s historical stewardship of Other People’s Money has been such a raving success.

But, even if this isn’t so, Mr Friedman’s concern for humanity has gotten the better of him. Just as the activists had forgotten what to accelerate meant, Mr. Friedman has shown us he does not know what to insure means.

It works like this, Thomas. You fear an outcome that, if it happened, would cost X dollars. You don’t have, or wouldn’t like to pay, that much. So you seek an insurer, who estimates the probability X will occur. Using that estimate, the insurer asks you to pay Y dollars, where Y is much less than X. If you toddle along and the outcome never realizes, you are out Y dollars. But if the event happens, the insurer pays you X, and you are happy.

The outcome here is, of course, devastating global warming. The insurer is the United Nations. Problem is, we have been assured that “it’s worse than we thought” and that “the science is settled,” so the probability of the outcome is — by the insurer’s own estimate — certain. To write a policy in this case would be foolish.

That is, since the outcome already arrived, it would be more sensible to spend the money that would have gone for the policy to paying for the effects of the outcome, and thus remove the overhead costs that accompany any contract. And since those effects are local and varied, the money would be better left in the hands of local people and not given to an insurer.

All this changes, and insurance becomes financially viable, if the activists are willing to admit that our future is not assured, that the worst is only possible and not certain, or — how would they swallow this? — that they might be wrong.

William M. Briggs is a statistical consultant in New York and San Francisco. He is an American Meteorological Society member and serves on their Probability & Statistics Committee. His specialty is on the philosophy of evidence, forecast evaluation, and marketing.
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