2005 September 13 Tuesday
Economists Argue Against Rebuilding New Orleans

The Wall Street Journal relays arguments by economists against rebuilding New Orleans.

"We have an obligation to people, not to places," says Edward Glaeser, a Harvard professor who specializes in urban economics. "Given just how much, on a per capita basis, it would take to rebuild New Orleans to its former glory, lots of residents would be much [better off] with $10,000 and a bus ticket to Houston."

New Orleans was already a dying city before the hurricane.

According to Census Bureau estimates, New Orleans's population declined by 4%, or 21,000, between 2000 and 2004, to 462,000. Among the cities with the largest populations in the nation, the only one with a larger decline during that stretch was Detroit. Some 24% of New Orleans families lived below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau, compared to 9% nationally.

New Orleans might have a brighter future if none of the low lying housing of the poor people was rebuilt. Give some cash to the poor people to settle somewhere else and then let the middle and upper classes come back to the places which are at higher elevations. The resulting city would have far less crime, a less corrupt government, a more effective police force, and better financials.

Many fled to the suburbs in search of better public schools. Some of those big investors have been fleeing as well. ExxonMobil, Shell and ChevronTexaco, for instance, have eliminated or moved hundreds of jobs to Houston in the past few years, continuing a two-decade exodus from the city. The result: Even though the energy sector is booming, New Orleans hasn't felt much of it. In 2004, private sector employment levels in the city were still below their levels of 1997.

As for the supposed essential New Orleans ports: I was watching a discussion on a cable news channel where Douglas Brinkley and another New Orleans native commented on how New Orleans is losing lots of port business to Galveston Texas and Mobile Alabama. But the ports do not need the city in order to function anyway. Ports are highly automated and a pretty small commuter population could run them.

Building towns and cities in a delta and surrounding them with levees causes the ground to dry out and subside more rapidly than it does naturally. It also cuts off the supply of silt needed to build up the sinking ground. Trying to turn the Mississippi delta into another Holland was a foolish undertaking. There's no economic justification for this. The US government should stop subsidizing the creation of non-sustainable communities in the Mississippi delta.

Also see my previous posts Should New Orleans Get Rebuilt And Who Should Pay For It? and Hurricane Katrina Costs To Run Into Hundreds Of Billions Of Dollars and Algiers Exempted From New Orleans Evacuation Order and Federal Disaster Relief Money Encourages Irresponsible Behavior.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 September 13 10:17 AM  Politics Money

Bob Badour said at September 13, 2005 12:04 PM:

I tend to agree with you and with these economists. The last time I was in New Orleans, the CBD seemed to have very high vacancies with many buildings visibly run-down.

The convention center is on high ground. The french quarter is on high ground. They could knock down half of the CBD for a Disney theme-park and still have sufficient commercial space available for a much smaller NOLA. I don't know about the Garden District, because I was never sufficiently interested in it to drag my sorry butt over there, but I suspect at least some of it is on higher ground too.

I wonder how many Acadians still live in the low-lying, protected parts of the delta? It's been, what?, 250 years? Aren't they overdue for displacement, anyhow?

Bulldog said at September 13, 2005 1:02 PM:

New Orleans would make a fine historical monument, but only the land above sea level that can be easily protected from flooding. Otherwise, the only housing there should be for Port workers. The Port has to be kept open, with workers to man it. There's no need for a corrupt city populated by people with entitlement mentalities. Paying billions a year to keep such a city above water makes no sense.

New Orleans and Detroit? Following a similar trajectory? Didn't the French found both cities? Those damned frenchies again.

raj said at September 13, 2005 1:32 PM:

My folks still live in Houston. My biggest concern with any plans to relocate the NO population to another city is what would happen to the other city. If Sailer is right about the supposed low mean IQs of those being relocated there would be a host of issues that would need to be considered. Again, if Sailer's right, who's going to chip in for more money for schools, jails/prisons, welfare, health care... Dumping a problem on somebody else's lap isn't the same as fixing it. Anybody else want to help? How 'bout we relocate the less fortunate to Santa Barbara, New York, Atlanta, or Seattle instead? I'm only being half facetious.

anonymous said at September 13, 2005 1:51 PM:

In addition to the economic arguments, the environmental aspects need to get attention. All the experts - except for some of the "true believers" in the Bush administration - are predicting that global warming is here to stay, and will likely even accelerate in the years and decades to come, meaning that a) sea-levels are going to be rising, and b) more severe hurricanes are going to become ever more frequent as the water temperature rises. These factors make rebuilding the city in its current location an investment that will look ever dumber as time goes on - and we should indeed be thinking about the long term in this regard. (Even above-sea-level areas in the hurricane zone will likely, over time, become more dubious in terms of investment and repair.)

Accordingly, and in light of the massive amounts of money that will come into play, the wisdom of rebuilding on the current site does have to be questioned.

Invisible Scientist said at September 13, 2005 2:41 PM:

But more importantly, we must not underestimate the likelihood that the Greenhouse Effect was partly responsible for the gravity of the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans. And if this is the case, then the future hurricanes will probably get much worse, and hence all the coastal cities in the South will be in mortal danger.... This is one reason I agree that New Orleans should not be re-built, given its low elevation.

broodrack said at September 13, 2005 5:04 PM:

The Earth has been growing warmer in fits and spurts for 12, 000 years. Soon, the sun will destroy us along with all iniquity.... Luckily, for just $19.95 you can have my guaranteed life/soul replacement kit. Details will follow when Luna enters the fifth house of the 19th galactic quadrant. Then, we shall all be saved....zzzzzzzz.....

Hugh Angell said at September 13, 2005 5:22 PM:

There might not be much choice. Where engineers have been able to inspect them the levees
everywhere are in terrible shape. We aren't talking about just patching up the ruptured
ones but rebuilding and to a higher standard the entire levee system if New Orleans is to
be restored to the status quo ante.

Another hurricane coming near New Orleans before that is done and the whole project maybe

However, turning New Orleans into a small theme park or Gulf version of Carmel poses some
problems. We do need a major port, presumably near the mouth of the Mississippi. Could
Gulfport or some other existing port nearby be built up to handle the load? I understand
New Orleans is the 4th biggest port in the world by tonnage so we aren't talking about just
adding a few cranes and piers somewhere. This would be a major infrastructure challenge.

Randall Parker said at September 13, 2005 5:41 PM:


The claim I've read is that New Orleans is the 4th largest port in the United States by tonnage. However, that fact by itself is misleading. Value per ton of wheat or steel is a lot lower than value per ton of electronics or cars. So I bet the economic value difference between Long Beach and New Orleans is much larger the number 4 position for New Orleans suggests.

I'd also like to see some authoritative source for the New Orleans port ranking and also what percentage of total tonnage that represents.

Also, again, New Orleans is losing shipping to Galveston and Mobile. But how much? Again, I'd like more detailed facts.

Hugh Angell said at September 13, 2005 6:06 PM:

I think our farmers still depend pretty heavily on the Mississippi/New Orleans shipping
route and probably lots of others that I don't know about so whatever business Galveston
and Mobile may be stealing from New Orleans doesn't mean we don't need the Mississippi/Gulf

I don't know anything about shipping but I don't think the barges that run down the
Mississippi could venture out into the Gulf of Mexico to get to Mobile or Galveston or
even Gulfport. So unless we find someother place on the Mississippi that can handle both
ocean going and river traffic and does not need $25 billion in levee work to make it safe
then perhaps we need to build a canal over to Gulfport as I think that is the closest

Bob Badour said at September 13, 2005 6:22 PM:


Who said one has to abandon the port to have a theme park? As Randall has pointed out several times, ports do not need all that many workers and those that remain can just stay on higher ground. I say leave the buildings where they are--floodwaters and all. The theme park could use a good "Ruins of NOLA" water ride.

Marvin said at September 14, 2005 3:10 AM:

What kind of an idiot would claim that "global warming is here to stay?" That's like declaring during the last glacial period that "the ice age is here to stay." What nitwits. The lack of understanding of large scale climatic cycles is destroying the credibility of most spokespersons for the global warming crusade.

Engineer-Poet said at September 14, 2005 5:14 AM:

"What kind of an idiot would claim that "global warming is here to stay?""

Anyone whose planning horizon is limited to the next couple of centuries.

Marvin said at September 14, 2005 1:44 PM:

Anyone whose planning horizon is limited to the next couple of centurie

Precisely. Climatologists whose horizon is limited to a couple of centuries have no real concept of climatological cycles. Yet the dimwits claim to have proof, in their holy crusade of global warming, that human activity is directly responsible for the current warming trend. These are not scientists, but political hacks. At the rate they are going in refining their models, they'll be close to scientific validity sometime next century.

Engineer-Poet said at September 14, 2005 2:52 PM:

Most of the people agreeing with you have financial interests in the status quo, while pretty much all the climate scientists have lined up on the other side (and it's mighty hard to see how they'd benefit from signing up to a conclusion they know is wrong and would damage their entire field).

Recent models have shown results in e.g. ocean temperatures which agree with the greenhouse-forcing scenario and not with the solar irradiance scenario.  I'm forced to agree with the scientists, and disagree with you.

Marvin said at September 14, 2005 4:05 PM:

That is your privilege to believe what you wish. You overstate the case, however, and only more research on your part will give you the courage to buck the political tide. Recent polling of climate scientists in the US showed that 60% disagreed that the politicians leading the "human caused global warming catastrophe" had made a convincing scientific case. You will never know what actual working climate scientists think about the evidence by reading the highly politicized IPCC documents, or other politicized documents of the warming crusaders. Just like Larry Summers got shot down when he timidly suggested that there may be slight gender differences in mathematical aptitudes at the very highest levels, climatologists who stray from the political crusaders find their grants running out, and their tenure more uncertain. Of course the public dissenters have corporate support. That's what gives them the courage to buck the politicians. All other sources of funding are on the political bandwagon. They have to eat. The private dissenters are still working under grants, saying one thing publicly, thinking another in private.

The smart money is on the more open-minded persons. But the grant money goes to the crusaders. Politics and science. Throw in the news media and you have a real circus.

Engineer-Poet said at September 14, 2005 6:08 PM:
Recent polling of climate scientists in the US showed that 60% disagreed that the politicians leading the "human caused global warming catastrophe" had made a convincing scientific case.
... climatologists who stray from the political crusaders find their grants running out, and their tenure more uncertain.
Funny, it's usually researchers whose work can't pass PEER REVIEW that find their grants shaky, and tenure is tenure.

I do believe you're making shit up.

Of course the public dissenters have corporate support. That's what gives them the courage to buck the politicians.
You mean it's not what they're getting paid to do?
All other sources of funding are on the political bandwagon.
Ah, yes.  The researchers whose grants from the National Science Foundation in the fifth year of a Republican regime which is strongly anti-science and anthropogenic warming-skeptic are producing research supporting the anthropogenic model for the money.

Even the brain researchers producing bombshell research with very un-PC implications are getting grant money, because their science is good.  Summers got a lot of unjustified flak because he was not speaking as a researcher and he was in a post where it was his job to be a politician.

It's got to be much harder to be a solid climate researcher producing results that the business lobby doesn't like (and having to endure their political and personal attacks on your work and more) than it is to be a paid shill for some lobby who has no reputation to worry about as long as they sign the checks.

AMac said at September 14, 2005 7:51 PM:

It seems fairly clear that, overall, the Earth has been undergoing warming for a couple of centuries. Are the consequences likely to be "catastrophic"? Well, two unknowns: What's the definition of catastrophic? And how much warming's in store?

To people already living on the edge--say in Bangladesh or on the Maldive Islands--pretty much any warming and sea level rise is a catastrophe. For most people most places, a rise of a couple of degrees C probably isn't. Inconvenient, yes, disastrous, no.

As far as people with a great deal of faith in long-term computer modeling of extremely complex phenomena: I wonder how much experience they tend to have with such models. My own brushes left me pretty skeptical of them, for a number of reasons.

That said, it does seem obvious that an excellent way to raise mean global temperature would be to inject massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over a period of decades. Asserting that temperature records are wrong, and that CO2 wouldn't lead to warming, sure looks like a triumph of faith over experience.

At any rate, the root causes of the current warming are immaterial to the rebuilding of New Orleans. The best guess is that the sea level is going to rise a couple of feet or so over the next century. Bad. Worse is the continued subsidence; I've heard 2 cm a year as one estimate. No way to reverse this except allow to periodic flooding...which has its own problems (or the dump truck brigade of an earlier post). The loss of the wetlands buffering the delta from storms inbound from the Gulf also seems unstoppable. Again, unless you allow natural sedimentary processes to reign over the river again, an approach that isn't very compatible with commercial and residential uses of the area.

Maybe we should calculate the actual government and insurer costs of restoring the Delta's status quo ante (but with Cat 4/5 protection), and the cost of the limited-scope rehabilitation being bandied about here. Take the difference ($300 billion less $50 billion?) and divide by the number of displaced familes that would require the full program to return (200,000?). Then, a binding referendum--take a ~$1 million/family relocation package, or go for the reconstruction instead?

It'd be interesting if nothing else.

Randall Parker said at September 14, 2005 10:18 PM:


For much of the Northern Hemisphere a couple degree temperature rise would be quite beneficial. Look at Canada. Warm weather would make it more like places slightly to the south of it. Ditto Minnesota, Maine, New York State, etc, etc. How about Siberia? Huge land mass that is too cold in most areas to support much of a population.

Alex Tabarrok of the Marginal Revolution blog noted that by moving from Canada to Virginia he experienced a far larger temperature rise and he found it greatly to his liking.

Still, yes, there are places in the world that'd be worse off from warming either due to the higher temperatures or rising water. But those who try to cite New Orleans as an example of such places strike me as making a big overstretch. The place is, yes, sinking far more and the whole delta is sinking far more due to drying out and lack of silt. Another foot or two if the ocean rises hardly makes much difference. The levees are sinking just from their compacting effect on the ground beneath them. The problem with the human presence in the Mississippi delta is that the delta is a stupid place to try to sustain large human settlements with or without global warming.

As for buying out the recently departed dwellers of New Orleans with lottery levels of winnings: Why? We've already been subsidizing their presence there with federal money for levees. Now we are already subsidizing their resettlement. The national balance sheet is headed in a bad enough direction already. Why accelerate that process? We should not have some huge national emotional upwelling toward the New Orleans refugees and in response dig ourselves another couple hundred billion dollars into the hole.

The country needs to sober up and stop going on huge spending spree benders after natural disasters. People living in areas where they are at risk of hurricanes should pay more in taxes to fund hurricane preparations. The US government should stop selling flood insurance. Tough building codes should be enacted in coastal regions. Risk costs should be shifted toward those who take the risks.

Marvin said at September 15, 2005 3:08 AM:

Randall is saying a lot of very sensible things with regards to the topic of rebuilding New Orleans. Unfortunately, most people already have their minds made up and fail to listen to reason.

True believers in all topics are like that. It is particularly bad on the internet where one can simply read right over another's arguments, and insert his own expectations into what the other person is saying. I see that happening a lot here, and on other comments sections. Someone who objects to the politicization of "global warming" suddenly finds himself lumped with Jerry Falwell et al. Expressing skepticism about any aspect whatsoever of a political crusade such as political global warming (as opposed to scientific global warming) tends to get the true believers in a frenzy. They read a lot of things into an argument that have not been said, things they get from their own minds.

Fortunately for the true believers, the current warming trends are likely to continue for at least another decade. That gives them a little more time to put on the warpaint and dance in the streets, hanging effigies and chanting their dirges. Mindless, yes, but it is politics on the gut level. It trumps the mind.

Bulldog said at September 15, 2005 4:50 AM:

Come on Marvin. You're not saying that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas? That's what EP seems to be claiming you're saying. Exactly what is causing the higher ocean temperatures? What AMac is saying, is that the models aren't good enough to support the stronger claims. That's pretty obvious. Is that what you mean?

Engineer-Poet said at September 15, 2005 5:53 AM:

Marvin said:

Recent polling of climate scientists in the US showed that 60% disagreed that the politicians leading the "human caused global warming catastrophe" had made a convincing scientific case.
I'm still waiting for him to provide a reference for this poll.  I strongly suspect it is just a PR effort by the greenhouse-emissions lobby, because science is not determined by polls (no matter how much e.g. advocates of "Intelligent Design" creationism think so).

But until he names the source, we're just going to have to wonder if he has any basis for that claim - or any of his claims.

Bulldog said at September 15, 2005 8:02 AM:

I agree with AMac that the models don't show what the environmentalists claim they show. If that's what Marvin's saying, that global warming has been over politicized based on weak models, I have to agree. The question seems to be what is the consensus of climatologists, as opposed to environmentalists. Climatologists probably divide on AMac's point.

Randall Parker said at September 15, 2005 10:15 AM:


The global warming debate is a distraction from what should be done about the Mississippi delta region or more generally what should be done about the threat of hurricanes. The main cause of this disaster is unnatural: Humans put themselves in harm's way. Having put themselves in harm's way they proceeded to do lots of other dumb things. They built inadequate structures. They built levees that caused the land to subside more rapidly and for the delta's outer edges to get eaten away by storms with many miles of buffer already lost since the 1930s.

We have a general problem with coastal construction that is accentuated in the Mississippi delta. At this point the understandable emotional response to the disaster brings a huge influx of federal money that is increasing the odds that all the mistakes will be perpetuated. That is what we should most worry about in reaction to Hurricane Katrina.

Suppose global warming is going to increase the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. Well, that makes a bad problem even worse in future decades. But we are already making bigger mistakes with building codes, levees, and the disincentives for more prudent behavior that come from some facets of disaster relief.

Engineer-Poet said at September 15, 2005 11:13 AM:

Indeed.  The debate about global warming is only significant to New Orleans insofar as it changes the cost/benefit balance between elevating the city (and many other coastal cities) and moving inland.

Bulldog said at September 15, 2005 12:18 PM:

Sea level has been rising for over 200 years, since the subsiding of the Little Ice Age. We're still experiencing that subsiding and concomitant sea level rise. New Orleans, like Venice and the Netherlands, has been dealing with this problem for a long time. Gravity will have its way. I don't like the idea of paying for someone else's choices to build in a flood zone. I don't like it, but there's not much I can do about it. Our collectivist government is determined to cover this type of risk for some odd reason. When we get national health insurance, we'll all be covering everyone else's bad choices like smoking, eating too much, driving drunk, and so on. Collectivization assures that anyone who can pay will pay for anyone who can't, and then some.

Randall Parker said at September 15, 2005 1:01 PM:


There's one big difference between the Netherlands and New Orleans: The Dutch have a small country. Each part of their land is worth more to them. Also, since their country is small the taxes to pay for their dykes are paid far more by the people who live in threatened areas and far less by the people who live elsewhere.

Louisiana collects $125 billion in state income tax per year according to one account I read and posted. They get $40 bil a year from the delta area. They could afford to build their own levees.

AMac said at September 15, 2005 2:58 PM:

And another, smaller difference between the Netherlands and New Orleans: mean sea temperature in the North Sea is rather lower than it is in the Gulf of Mexico. The Dutch get plenty of foul weather, but not too many hurricanes with 5-meter storm surges.

Hugh Angell said at September 15, 2005 4:56 PM:

Interesting article in the new Economist on hurricanes. It is available here:


The study of the world's ocean basins where hurricanes form shows no increase in
frequency of storms but a rise in the most powerful ( category 4 and 5) and a
increase in sea surface temperature in 4 out of 5 ocean basins since 1970.

I don't know if 'global warming' is the result of CO2 emissions, solar output,
changes in global albedo or something else. I don't think any scientist does
either but it is probably happening though it is nothing to panic about or
demand that we shut down coal fired power plants here there or everywhere as the
econuts insist. We need to merely keep an eye on it and adapt as the earth changes.
Same as we have always done.

As to New Orleans being rebuilt, global warming doesn't really matter. I think RP
has laid out the situation there pretty clearly. Southern Louisiana is sinking into
the Gulf of Mexico not because of global warming but because of understood events
having to do with the Mississippi River delta. It is sinking far faster than sea level
is rising.

Hurricanes are a more generalized problem and were a Katrina sized storm to hit anywhere
along our coasts it would likely have been just as destructive. The only difference would
be that the effects would take place out of sight of TV news crews and occur during the
hurricane not in slow motion the next day as in New Orleans.

AMac said at September 15, 2005 6:36 PM:

> were a Katrina sized storm to hit anywhere along our coasts it would likely have been just as destructive

Not so.
* Those locales below sea level are by far the most vulnerable. Followed by low-lying areas subject to storm surges.
* Jurisdictions with a corrupt, nepotistic political culture are less likely to have made long-range preparations for hurricanes.
* Jurisdictions with poorly-written and unrehearsed disaster plans will fare worse.
* Jurisdictions that haven't aggressively upgraded their building codes will suffer worse damage from equivalent-size storms.

I write this while watching Bush's inspirational New-Orleans-up-from-the-much speech.
He doesn't have a clue; seems more interested in advice from his political spinmeisters.
Nor will many of the viewers who rely on TV and newspaper InfoTainment understand what his Full reconstruction plan means.

Hugh Angell said at September 15, 2005 7:14 PM:


Oh yeah I agree New Orleans was vulnerable and its officials uniquely qualified to make a
bad situation worse but had a storm the size and power of Katrina made a direct hit on
Miami or Tampa it would likely have killed as many or more people. Remember New Orleans is
somewhat inland, although contiguous to Lake Pontchartrain. A coastal city would have
taken the full brunt of a 25 foot storm surge. Gulfport and Biloxi did. We are 'fortunate'
that it was these small cities and not some of the larger conurbations in Florida or the
Atlantic coast that were hit. Take the death toll in Mississippi and multiply it by 20 or
30 to get an idea of what 'could' have happened elsewhere by simply extrapolating the
number of people in Southern Mississippi to that of Southern Florida e.g.

I await some further engineering analysis on those levees. It was a storm this time that
breeched them but could not a early spring flood on the Mississippi accomplish the same,
or worse event? I say worse because, unlike the hurricane, a swollen river would not
likely have precipitated an evacuation. The city would have been full and going about its
normal business when a levee gives way and the Mississippi river is now flowing down
Bourbon Street.

Earlier this year a story was published about the problem of 'benchmarks' in Southern
Louisiana. Because of the generalized subsidence the physical benchmarks used for most
surveys were believed to be no longer accurate. Thus a river crest prediction for a
certain value of say 25 feet based on measurements taken upstream might have, in fact,
been 26 feet relative to the actual height of the levees as they presently exist.

I agree with you on Bush's speech.

gcochran said at September 15, 2005 8:13 PM:

From what I hear, Bush intends to use a firehose to dispense the rebuilding money. He sure has a casual attitude towards using up/wasting US resources. On second thought he probably revels in it, mole that he is.

Martin Bauer said at September 16, 2005 3:49 AM:

May I repeat what Engineer-Poet said (September 15, 2005 05:53 AM)
"Marvin said:

Recent polling of climate scientists in the US showed that 60% disagreed that the politicians leading the "human caused global warming catastrophe" had made a convincing scientific case.

I'm still waiting for him to provide a reference for this poll. (...)"

And I am still waiting for Marvin to name the philosophy evidently underlying the widespread attitude of irresponsibility he advocates. It is proved that we are meddling in an everything but marginal way with the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, that has for all the eras of civilization been all but constant if compared with the changes that are already in store for us. Science have likewise shown a plausible mechanism of how such a pumping of the atmosphere may result in global warming and (what some here have conveniently let out to mention) more disastrous storms, droughts, floodings and winters. Science has failed to point out that natural atmospheric influences, such as vapour or clouds, are providing a reliable counterbalancing effect, though huge claims have been made at times for these "atmospheric regulators".

And now Marvin goes on arguing that even with the evidence of the increasingly inclement weather anomalies against him we are to have scientific certainty first, before a reasonable political case might be made out to intervene decisively; - which will be necessary anyway, given the looming end (at least) of (non-solid) fossil fuels at an affordable (social) price? Why do you refuse to accept it needs quite a lot of what you denounce as a "over-politicized crusade" if you want to heed common sense against vested interests? Whenever in the history of the industrial ages have socio-economically relevant advances been implemented as a result of having scientific certainty about the consequences of various options? Fairytales for science-prigs, I say.
And Randall (September 14, 2005 10:18 PM) joins in arguing that rising temperatures might be a boon for the scores upon scores who live in Canada and Siberia!? Though I agree with Randall's point in his September 15, 2005 10:15 AM comment, I ask: Doesn't this demonstrate what I said at another place (It's the Immigration, Stupid; when arguing with Bob Badour): The "clash of civilizations" is pretty well mutual and we are the major agressors? As I said there, God is holy and just, and ultimately this kind of astuteness will hoist with its own petard!

I am not up to all the polls made to show the latest score in scientific debate, but I am remembering a large part of reasoning saying that there are huge risks of mechanisms making for positive feedback to come into action only in the next decades, - feedback large enough to finally bring about the catastrophic qualility that the "corporate correctness" persistently belittles. (permafrost soils thawing and releasing quantities of methane, oceans finally oversaturated and failing to resorb the better part of our emissions any more, (complete) deglacification of large (arctic) areas rapidly enlarging the "energy income" of planet earth by eliminating reflexion in these areas ...)

Of course, anything can always be entirely different in such unprecendented matters. But it can be well such (or even worse) as the overwhelming evidence indicates. With your way of putting faith in science you will end up unable to see the wood for all the trees.

Bulldog said at September 16, 2005 4:54 AM:

Martin Bauer makes an excellent presentation demonstrating the incredible emotional content in this entire argument. When someone refers to the issue as a "crusade", which I believe Marvin did, they aren't just a kidding. I'm starting to see that this issue has passed out of the hands of scientists long ago. Sorry, Marvin, but really doesn't matter at this point whether climate scientists agree with the politics of global warming or not. The avalanche is definitely out of control.

As to the topic at hand, Bush as definitely gone over the top on New Orleans rebuilding. He's overcompensating for the ongoing media attacks against him relating to his weather response. Taking that into account I disagree with Bush's response. Now, if you total the Iraq war effort costs and the Katrina recovery costs, a billion here and a hundred billion there starts to add up to real money eventually. Not nearly equal to the one trillion dollar single day bill from September 11, 2001. No. A few more Katrinas and a few more years of nation building and it will be close.

Bob Badour said at September 16, 2005 11:01 AM:


What can I say? Malthus was wrong. Ditto the Sierra Club.

Humans have been industrialized for what? about 200 years? And civilized for about 5000?

Can we agree that humans had negligible impact on the environment prior to civilization?

Has it ever occured to you that humanity experienced much greater climatic change prior to civilization than at any time since -- including since industrialization? Have you ever stopped to consider that all evidence suggests the climate is naturally dynamic and in fact chaotic? Showing periods of much faster and greater change than in recent years years, decades and centuries?

Have humans had an impact on the climate? Yes, absolutely. Even such activites as clearing and planting fields affect the climate. Relatively darker trees absorb more energy from the sun than relatively lighter legumes and grasses. I can see that just looking out my window comparing the lawn with the potato field with the wheat field with the trees. As more marginal land reverts to forest, temperatures in fact increase. I have read this has happened in upstate New York for instance.

Should we expect the climate to have points of instability? Yes, absolutely. Does anyone know what those points of instability are? No, absolutely not. In fact, it is quite possible the human effect on climate has avoided points of instability that might have propelled earth into a new ice age or a hot period where the poles become tropical.

Quite frankly, I consider the "trends" and "measurements" both sides pull out to prove their positions well within the margin of error. I see no reason to draw any conclusion from differences requiring precision smaller than the accuracy of measure.

Anyone who pretends to have any real certainty regarding global warming is a fool. Will the climate change in my lifetime? Since I hope to be around for centuries or even millenia, I sure hope so. Is the effect of climate change a concern? Yes, it is.

Should we make large-scale interventions right now to try to control the climate? I don't think so. In our nearly total ignorance, we will almost certainly make things worse and not better. Apparently, you disagree.

With regard to rebuilding New Orleans, I seem to hear murmurs that The Burning Bush (I have taken to calling him that for his "tax and burn" attitude toward the wealth of the nation) has decreed we will pay billions so thousands more can die in the next one. If he proceeds with his decree, the whole thing is moot except as regards the incompetence and stupidity of the man.

It's not like we have to rebuild to dismay an enemy with ostentatious displays of resolve and means. The next big hurricane won't care a whit about those.

Engineer-Poet said at September 16, 2005 11:08 AM:
Can we agree that humans had negligible impact on the environment prior to civilization?
No.  Humans have had large environmental impacts most places they've gone; the disappearance of much North American and Australian fauna and the re-shaping of landscapes through fire are just the start of the list.
Randall Parker said at September 16, 2005 11:23 AM:


Have you forgotten my post "Farming And Forest Destruction Prevented Ice Age 5000 Years Ago"?

The Burning Bush: I like it!

I think we should develop a lot more energy technologies so that we can shift toward whatever energy technology we need to deal with climate change.

Aside and serious thread drift: Note that if a huge volcanic blast happens only nuclear power could save our butts in the ensuing great cooling. Solar would be worthless. Fossil fuels couldn't provide enough power and some areas would cease to be accessible to get oil from them since they'd get so cold. Though some could live under ground in deep mines where it is warmer they'd still need electric power for lighting and to grow crops.

But all this is besides the point. The immediate drunken spending bender in Washington DC in reaction to Hurricane Katrina is more important at the moment.

Marvin said at September 16, 2005 1:28 PM:

It certainly looks like Mr. Bush is attempting to spend the government into oblivion. How fascinating the way the media blames Bush for his indifference, then turns around and blames him for caring too much. What a bastard Bush must be, indifferent and inebriated with concern, all at the same time.

When over 60 per cent of working state government climatologists express doubt that man is appreciably affecting the environment, one has to think about the media blitz proclaiming the global warming crusade of consensus. What one finds is that the IPCC, whose "scientists" are only 10% climatologists, and 90% environmentalists, biologists, statisticians, ecologists, etc--is on a political crusade to portray a false consensus and a false scientific solidity to the data. The models cannot support the loud proclamations, sweeping policy proposals, and dire prognostications. How easily the sheep are caught up in the hysteria. Fascinating.

Marving said at September 16, 2005 1:31 PM:

Correction: When over 60 per cent of working state government climatologists express doubt that man is appreciably affecting the climate, one has to think about the media blitz proclaiming the global warming crusade of consensus.

Hugh Angell said at September 16, 2005 1:43 PM:

It occurs to me, after hearing Bush's proposals for New Orleans, that maybe we should make
this a grand experiment.

Instead of just giving preferential treatment to black contractors and hiring quotas for
the recovery/restoration effort why not make it an ALL BlACK enterprise? From the design
and engineering to the contracting and employment opportunity make only African Americans
eligible to participate. It was, afterall, 'their' city.

Assuming a cost of something like $100 billion for New Orleans proper over, spent over
three or four years, would amount to just 1% of federal spending or 1/4 of one percent of
GDP. The 'experiment' might show us conclusively whether or not all the affirmative action
all the federal programs and decrees have been worthwhile. Whether out of a population of
almost 40 million African Americans, 40 years on from the Civil Rights Act, there is
sufficient knowledge and skill, to rebuild a large US city to modern standards. If so then
the effects would be substantial. Black professionals in the fields of civil engineering
and architecture would be validated as the equal of white and Asian ones. Black businesses
would wax fat on the contracts and emerge able to compete with any other firm without the
need for 'set asides' as their portfolio of accomplishment would speak for itself. The
City of New Orleans could be a symbol of what black's can accomplish when freed of racism
and discriminatory treatment.

Bush wants to use this as an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past, well I say lets
go all the way and see what is possible?

Martin Bauer said at September 16, 2005 3:43 PM:

Randall, though I will not retract the last sentence of my last post, I admire your survey and command of facts. If only our general outlooks were in better accord, I think I would readily learn a lot from you. But then, let's try:

We seem to agree that some climatic changes are underway already (though Marvin begs to differ), and of course, this means mankind will already now have to settle down to grave adaptations.
1. Do you agree with me that the general "message" of Bush as a man from the oil business who is diffusely opposed to recognize any dangers of fossil fuels burning (even if they be actually outweighed by the benefits, as you claim) and the way this message is accepted, if not greeted by the better part of the republican-leaning half of America, is by itself a major obstacle in making public and politics willing to accept the ocean is a (growing) danger?

2. In Rising Carbon Dioxide Causing Forests To Expand Into Deserts you say that high CO2 concentration is an influence favorable of plant growth especially in dry regions. Will you agree with me that this observation by itself is not yet proof of climate change being favorable to pushing back deserts, because it doesn't say which effect is predominant, this one or a possible further dehydration of arid areas. Or am I wrong in recollecting that the Sahara is undergoing a period of rapid expansion, a development which is older as to be triggered by global warming yet seems to be most probably supported by it if I'm furthermore right in recollecting that the most widely acclaimed theory says Europe is likely to experience more, Africa (at least its non-tropical parts) less precipitation? Is it then your assertion that it's chiefly for the lack of biotechnological projects of engineering an adequate pioneering flora that we do not already now hear of signs the desertification of Africa is retrograding on a large scale?

Marvin said at September 16, 2005 4:21 PM:

Martin misrepresents a lot of things. His claim that I deny that the climate is changing is untrue. The climate is most certainly changing. That is the nature of climate, to change. Martin is also wrong about the rapid expansion of the Sahara. The media will certainly report when the Sahara appears to be expanding. They will certainly not report evidence that contradicts the "humans are destroying the earth" orthodoxy. People who depend on the public media for their information about the world put themselves in a humorous dilemma. They end up trusting journalists, whose intelligence is probably lower than their own, to inform them about the state of the world. The humorous thing is when they become irate when this fictional model of the world, constructed by media morons, is challenged by someone else. Emotions in the service of ignorance. You simply have to love it.

Martin Bauer said at September 16, 2005 4:41 PM:

It's funny. I didn't exactly get the impression you were completely beyond the reach of emotion and irascibility yourself. Are you?

Marvin said at September 16, 2005 5:23 PM:


Randall Parker said at September 16, 2005 5:53 PM:


The ocean is a growing danger? How exactly? Because its level might rise? Another possibility is that the higher temperatures will increase the rate of evaporation, leading to more precipitation of H2O, and therefore more snow will fall in the deeper parts of Antarctica and therefore more water will exist as ice and snow rather than less. In fact, there is some evidence the interior snow pack is increasing in Antarctica. Though I'm too lazy to google for it.

I certainly think it unproven that higher atmospheric CO2 will shrink the deserts. But then I think most of the potential effects claimed for higher CO2 are unproven. The desire by many bored and excitable observers to see CO2 emissions as leading to some sort of gotterdamerung (correct my German spelling please ;> ) cause them to ignore the fact that higher atmospheric CO2 will bring both benefits and costs.

I have no idea whether the net effect of higher CO2 will be a net benefit or harm to the human race. I suspect the real problem is that it will be a net cost to some and a net benefit to others and that will lead to considerable frictions between nations. The political conflicts worry me most of all. Though if high CO2 will raise the levels of oceans that'd be a serious problem for several countries.

I see a lot of environmentalists try to argue that higher sea levels would be a serious problem for Western countries. I doubt it. The Dutch can increase the height of their dykes. The US population can pull back a bit from some coastal areas (which they ought to do anyway due to much larger water surges due to hurricances). But the argument is a lot more convincing for Bangladesh.

George W. Bush: I dislike the man. I despise many of his policies including some of his energy policies. Is he making the global warming problem worse by his statements? Perhaps a bit. But Clinton didn't do much to try to develop non-fossil fuel energy sources and the same can be said for most of the other leaders of Western nations. I compare what I think ought to be done (massive Manhattan Project to develop nuclear, solar, battery, and other tech) to what is being done and I think all the Western nation leaders are lame.

BTW, European countries all signed Kyoto. But most are above their Kyoto limits and look like they will be in even worse shape by the time the treaty expires. The only countries that will be under will be under for reasons mostly unrelated to efforts to achieve treaty compliance. So I take European moral posturing on CO2 emissions as hypocrisy.

Bob Badour said at September 16, 2005 6:49 PM:


I think maybe the danger of the ocean Martin alludes to has something to do with saturation of the oceans and the subequent inability to sequester more whatever there.

It sure would help if he used fewer words and said more. I am not sure what he means to convey with bold.


It sure would help if you cited a source for the 60% figure you have mentioned several times.


Are you suggesting my ancestors among the Iroquois Nations were not civilised? In the sense that all animals have an impact on the environment, I suppose one could say humanity had an impact on the environment more than 5,000 years ago. However, I suspect termites, ants and algae had much more appreciable impacts on the climate than humans did at that time. I could be wrong.

But if Martin wishes to accept your premise, he would have a hard time calling for urgent intervention over an influence that goes back 5,000,000 years.


Are you suggesting you can only learn from those who agree with you? "If only our general outlooks were in better accord, I think I would readily learn a lot from you." I suppose if you are impervious to learning, we are all wasting our time.

Marvin said at September 16, 2005 8:27 PM:

The survey was performed by American Viewpoint, a well respected opinion research firm.

I believe I read the survey results on one of the links at this page.

Or perhaps it was here .

Or maybe it was at this link.

I have read about this mythical survey in many places over the last few years. The actual survey and results are actually at the third link, all coyness aside. It is probably available on several different servers on the web, but this one was the first one I found to have actual copies of the survey questions with results.

This is not meant to be a definitive uptodate consensus of worldwide climate scientists. As others have pointed out , consensus is not always the best way to achieve the most likely explanation for something.

Engineer-Poet said at September 16, 2005 9:20 PM:

Bob Badour asks:

Are you suggesting my ancestors among the Iroquois Nations were not civilised?
That question implies faulty reading of the claim.

The folk who killed off the mastodon and other N. American megafauna were not civilized in the sense of having agriculture, fixed settlements or writing.  The modification of landscapes by fire in both N. America and Australia predates anything which could be called a native civilization; civilization, science and the industrial revolution did not create the phenomenon, they have merely made man much more effective at it.  So the question is nonsensical; one might as well ask the English if their culture was responsible for Stonehenge and the human sacrifices on the site.  The concepts of English and Iroquois both were unknown when human hands first did those things.

And no, I can't paint a better Pict-ure than that.

Randall Parker said at September 16, 2005 10:00 PM:


I saw a report recently that strengthened the argument that humans killed off the megafauna in North America. Some Caribbean islands (Cuba? Hispaniola? I forget) which were colonized literally thousands of years after the continent (basically they remained unfound) had megafauna on them for a similar additional amount of time as compared to the continent.

Similar things probably happened in Australia.

But what about the mini-Great Society Bush has planned for the Gulf region wrecked by Hurricane Katrina?

Martin Bauer said at September 17, 2005 1:18 AM:

Bob, if I thought I could only learn from those who agree with me, I would have turned away from ParaPundit long ago, for you shouldn't consider me so dumb as to think I could do anything with a net effect in favour of convincing other persons, without at least opening myself to what's right in their reasoning, i.e. chiefly to the vast knowledge embodied in Randall's survey of facts. Perhaps I have actually failed to put the word "readily" in bolds at this place.

If you complain of my verbosity, well I'm aware of it (some is due to my still groping English), but on the other hand, perhaps I really had a more than one-legged argument: the fear of an oversaturated ocean was an ancillary thought (arguing for the possibility of a dangerous acceleration or even an avanlanche in vitiating climate), whereas the "danger from the ocean" is certainly that what "anonymous" very aptly and completely to the point of this entry said in the September 13, 2005 01:51 PM post.

Randall: As to German philosophy: (The spelling is "Götterdämmerung" or "Goetterdaemmerung", and) I have no interest in making a moralistic argument hinged on a prophecy of doom. Men have to turn to their Saviour without the prod of simple-shocking croaking. Reality is shocking enough. E.g. inasfar as you are fully right that Europeans cannot without hypocrisy put the blame completely on Bush or America.

Nevertheless I think the moral and political outlook for humanity is not as benign as would be if the course of civilization were solely or predominantly determined by the potentials of science, - at least if we follow what I called an attitude of irresponsibility. And I think understanding of this aspect of reality is helped by relating it to Westerners' abandoning or corrupting of Christianity.

Marvin said at September 17, 2005 5:47 AM:

Here is a link to Tony Blair's epiphany about global warming. Most of what happens in the real world is studiously ignored by mainstream news sources. If it bleeds it leads, but only if it supports mainstream dogma. If it can be used to bash Bushitler on the head, it will get 24 hour coverage. Otherwise it simply did not happen. Do you not feel sorry for people whose worldview is shaped by the mainstream media? No, of course not. They have earned that vacant eyed stare.

Martin Bauer said at September 17, 2005 8:35 AM:

There is one statement from Tony Blair under this link Marvin just gave us I'd like to underline in pink and blue (if I may say so).
"What countries will do is work together to develop the science and technology….There is no way that we are going to tackle this problem unless we develop the science and technology to do it." Bingo! I was an eco-realist all along. The one really grievous effect of Bush's refusal to accede to Kyoto is that the dead end quality of this whole way to address global warming will keep unexposed!

What I deplore is the way the commentor paraphrases Blair's notion: the identification of Blair's 'countries working together' with his own notion of dependence on "technological breakthroughs". The era of ingenious masterminds of science and learning is passé. Nowadays the heartbeat of society is economy, not research!
We'll see roughly but exactly those breakthroughs which the prevailing powers are interested in. And if public continues to be a dormant giant, and just waits for the conditions (i.e. oil price and climate/nuclear related toll) to change such that the necessary decisive advances in renewable energy technologies will eventually be in accordance with the prevailing interests, it may well be the populace will no longer remember what interest they should have in those breakthroughs. For these will be just sufficient to allow the favoured portions of the favoured societies on earth to 'pull up the dykes' around their own homesteads and 'the ladders' behind their own economic solutions to fend against nature and need. They will never be put to the philanthropist end of cleaning up the earth or replenishing cheap resources for 'laggard peoples' again. There is no Cockaigne; and there will be not godsends to allow a square dissolution of moral quandaries!

Yet, this is of course a piece of wisdom that science will not teach you of its own accord.

Bob Badour said at September 17, 2005 4:07 PM:

Wisdom? I wish I could identify something wise in what you wrote. I really do.

After reading your post several times, I finally concluded you regret that no county will cripple its economy trying to implement Kyoto because we will all miss out on the strong negative reinforcer of a crippled economy.

I still have not made any sense of the latter part of your post.

Martin, has your study of english focused on archaic forms?

Bob Badour said at September 17, 2005 4:38 PM:


Thank you for citing the source of the 60% and for the Blair link to techcentralstation.com

Bob Badour said at September 17, 2005 4:39 PM:


Thank you for clarifying that.

Martin Bauer said at September 18, 2005 4:51 AM:

Bob, I would not dare to speak out the premises you evidently take for certain. America is the largest economy that mankind has ever seen. In your talk it sounds like a sniveling malingerer, really!
If American economy may indeed one day turn out to be a house of cards, it is because of the gambling kind of capitalism its civil society is doting on and because of the reckless kind of deficit spending its political caste is addicted to. It will certainly not crumple under this puny whiff of a "storm", which is the Kyoto treaty. I'm moved to tears!

Marvin said at September 18, 2005 8:22 AM:

Kyoto represents the type of thinking that says "do anything, even if it's wrong!" This type of hysterics is expected from the diminished europe of the 21st century, since Kyoto is both ineffective and destructive. Sheer desperation, grasping at straws, running from shadows. Martin, you have made your viewpoint extremely clear. Thank you very much.

Bob is correct that any climate treaty that excludes India and China is completely worthless. Any climate treaty that allows signatories to openly cheat, as european countries are doing, is also worthless. Any climate treaty which, when modeled, demonstrates virtually no difference in global temperature after a hundred years is also worthless. The current climate models have huge inbuilt error. Trying to carry a model beyond a decade, much less a century, with these models results in rapidly accumulating error. My posting above includes links to discussions by accomplished climatologists discussing this very problem of the weakness of current climate models.

Good intentions often lead directly to hell. We see persons with the best of intentions recommending disastrous courses of action, out of their intense sense of morality and desperation to do something. We take note of them and move on.

Martin Bauer said at September 18, 2005 10:18 AM:

... to hell.

Bob Badour said at September 18, 2005 11:25 AM:


I am a reasonably large man with reasonably good health. If I were to sign a treaty that required me to stop exhaling, I don't think I would remain that way.

In any case, it was Blair who came to realise that no country will cripple its economy to meet some lofty goal with uncertain benefits.

If you go back and actually consider the questions I posed earlier, logically you have two options: 1) Take E-P's position that human interference with the climate has been ongoing for 5 million years, which obviates any sense of urgency or 2) realise that any recent changes in the climate are immeasurably small when compared with relatively recent known climatic shifts occuring prior to human interference.

At this point in time, we know almost nothing about the mechanics of global climate. We have some idea that ocean currents play a vital role. But do you know what is going on 1200 feet below the surface of the mid-atlantic? I sure don't. A very wise man I know once used the signature line "Beware the law of unintended consequences." If we go messing with the climate on a global scale now, we will almost certainly make things worse than if we just go with the flow.

In the short time since I was a child, Lake Erie went from having a severe pollution problem to having the problem of being too clean. The earth is just a whole lot more self-stabilizing than most people give it credit for.

If it turns out in 50 or 100 or 500 years that humanity really has to do something about this climate problem, we will have much better technology and understanding at that time. I see nothing to warrant anything even suggesting a hint of malthusian hysteria.

Bob Badour said at September 18, 2005 11:33 AM:

P.S. In 50 or 100 or 500 years, we will have much smarter scientists in much larger numbers too.

Martin said at September 18, 2005 12:13 PM:

Been there, Martin, done that. Your turn. Eurabia in the 21st century, enjoy.

Martin Bauer said at September 19, 2005 2:27 AM:

Randall, please take Marvin out of his misery to have posted under my name.

Marvin said at September 19, 2005 3:16 AM:

I am experimenting with different names. Martin sounds so moral, so concerned. I thought I might feel those things being named Martin. Marvin on the other hand, is so irreverent. Unfortunately, even posting under the name Martin, I felt no more concern or moralistic than I feel as Marvin. No fire and brimstone flashed from my fingertips as I typed. Regretfully I am forced to return to Marvin, the disrespectful. Besides, my email would never work as Martin. Heh.

Martin Bauer said at September 19, 2005 4:12 AM:

Do you mean to say we are actually namesakes and you preferred to type an American-style softened pronunciation? "Martin" is a kind of swallow, isn't it. (Hey, I soar to the sky and can see you from above ...) But what is Marvin; sounds a bit like "marv(ell)in", doesn't it?

P.S. With morals it's just as with irony: It's great to have it inwardly, it's wretched to see it always glaring in your face.

Bob Badour said at September 19, 2005 2:09 PM:


Trying on new identities and personae seems like such a girlish thing to do. How about Marsha?

Martin Bauer said at September 19, 2005 3:54 PM:

Bob, "require you to stop exhaling" - really, it's pathetic! But let me ask you a fundamental question: What makes you presume I were following a Malthusian line of thought?
Malthus, as far as I recall, saw irredeemable forces in social history causing world population to grow faster than the capacities of agriculture to sustain them. And I fear, that a reckless way of collective behavior may cause the economy of industrialism to harm the civilization of a vast majority of mankind, by vitiating its potentially sufficient natural and economic basis.
I can see no affinity between both notions, except if you take for granted that our behavior (which appears to be morally debatable if I'm right, to put it in neutral terms) ought to be considered as a natural necessity in itself. Can there be no limits of nature, for if there were we were no longer free to be unheedful of them and unconstrained by their operating forces at the same time? Is that your understanding of nature and freedom?

Randall Parker said at September 19, 2005 4:41 PM:


My own rule for bolding: Since some readers won't read everything I bold only those statements that contain the core facts and most important points while not bolding most other things. I aim for a high ratio of non-bolded to bolded. Either that or I try to write so little that every sentence and sentence clause is important. I do not always succeed in the latter.

Since you have a high ratio of sentences to facts and a high ratio of sentences to points I think you really should follow my bolding rules. Your current bolding rules do not make your posts any more readable. Also, you should use italics in a lot of spots where you now use bold.

More generally: The more you write the lower the percentage of what you write will be read. Also, you ought to keep in mind before you write a post that digressions into pissing contests with another poster are impositions on all the other people reading a thread who derive nothing but wasted time from these digressions.

Martin Bauer said at September 19, 2005 11:50 PM:

Okay, I'll not bold again, for I am not able to grasp this (highly heuristic) rule in a significantly different way from what I tried. I reduced the portions bolded since Bob's hint (September 16, 2005 06:49 PM). And I think e.g. that to bold "ask you a fundamental question" is a very good method to show all the other readers I'm (still) in dialogue with Bob.
Don't know what "pissing contest" I were in. In fact Marvin challenged me for being a moralistic sourpuss. I had to answer this with equal coin or accept this effective expedient to tag and eliminate an unwelcome opinion. I didn't like to answer it, so, as it's your explicit wish, I'll refrain from doing so hitherto.
I try to be as factual as I can. And I grant you, you do better. Nevertheless, I call it an obsession to think every contact between science-related opinion and truth can and must be reduced to a series of points of argument, as opposed to lines of thought and principles of argument (which demand some more space and "fuzziness").
Thank you

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