Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Death Is Her Business

I lost a car to flash flooding on this street about ten years ago. Heavy flooding in my city, 50 miles from the coast but riddled with bayous, has become much more common in the past five years.

Travel back in time with me to the age of the dinosaurs, with Megan McArdle as your tour guide. We are going to re-examine McArdle's old post on phytoplankton die-off, published on July 30, 2010. I am revisiting this post to clearly show how McArdle doesn't even try to present a coherent argument about climate change, she simply types up her propaganda and tosses it out to her reader.

It's not that McArdle is stupid. She just doesn't care if she is convincing or not. She's paid to pass out propaganda either way, and it's a bit too much to expect anyone to take any professional pride in being a rat-fucker. It's like a street hooker being proud of choosing especially nice alleys in which to give blow jobs. It's not really the point of the whole exercise, is it?
Phytoplankton, the tiny little ocean creatures that generate a massive amount of the world's oxygen, form the base of the ocean food chain, and otherwise deserve to be nominated Hero of the World Economy, First Class, are apparently dying off. The theory is that global warming is probably doing them in. Michael O'Hare brings the doom. Kevin Drum brings the gloom:
So, anyway, as temperatures rise the plankton die. As plankton die, they suck up less carbon dioxide, thus warming the earth further. Which causes more plankton to die. Rinse and repeat. Oh, and along the way, all the fish die too.
Or maybe not. But this sure seems like a risk that we should all be taking a whole lot more seriously than we are. Unfortunately, conservatives are busy pretending that misbehavior at East Anglia means that global warming is a hoax, the Chinese are too busy catching up with the Americans to take any of this seriously, and you and I are convinced that we can't possibly afford a C-note increase in our electric bills as the price of taking action. As a result, maybe the oceans will die. Sorry about that, kids, but fixing it would have cost 2% of GDP and we decided you'd rather have that than have an ocean. You can thank us later.
I actually think that Kevin misses the point a little: if this is true, 2% of GDP isn't going to cut it. We'd better get back to an emissions level around 1940, or earlier, and stay there.
As of 2010, the post-9/11 wars we waged cost 1.2% of GDP and all we got was a lot of dead and injured men and women, a vibrant terrorism industry, and a Gulf War II: To Infinity And Beyond! tee shirt. Saving the planet could be considered a necessary expense. Perhaps if we called it the War Against Terrorist Warming, McArdle might be willing to pay for it and would even be eager to mitigate the expense in dollars and lives.

But once we get past the hypocrisy, we remember that McArdle doesn't care about cost, difficulty, emission levels, or GDP. She decided to soft-pedal climate change because libertarians have a childish dislike of being told what to do, because the Virgin Islands are suing libertarian/conservative think tank CEI, and because oil and refinery money gushes to start up and provide for those think tanks, who have given her and her husband so much and constitute a part her social circle.

(via Exiled)
Being that we now have about 2.5 times as many people in the country, and the world, as we did then, that's going to be tricky. If higher emissions means the trend will continue, we're pretty much doomed, at least until the Chinese economy collapses into food riots. There's no point in waxing sarcastic about the American public; it's a nasty, nasty collective action problem that I can't see how we'd solve short of invading China.
McArdle does not think we need to invade China to reduce global warming. She does, however, think her readers are too stupid to see through her lies or are eager to hear them. She is right about her readers. They don't care about global warming either; when you read her comments you can see that they just want someone to tell them they are right, liberals are stupid and wrong, and nobody needs to change or sacrifice--when they are not fantasizing how they will profit off of human catastrophe.
Of course, this might make it easier to get consensus, since this is no longer a situation where low-lying or tropical poor countries suffer for our industrialization. A lack of oxygen in the air is going to cause problems for everyone; ditto a lack of fish. Frankly, I don't see how working women are going to survive the loss of Bumblebee Tuna.
McArdle trivializes the enormity of the disaster while saying she realizes what a disaster this is becoming. About a billion people depend on the ocean for food. McArdle doesn't mention them because they are poor and we all know the poor are entirely to blame for their own poverty.
So how much should we worry about this right now? I mean, assuming that worrying would actually do us some good, rather than just raise our bad cholesterol and drive us to drink?
The emphasis on temporary gain over long-term extinction is pure McArdle essence, as is the attempt to convince her readers that nothing can be done, therefore nothing should be done.
The die-off of most of the phytoplankton would be a huge catastrophe. However, here are some reasons that we shouldn't succumb to outright panic quite yet:
The world might be ending for us sooner than we thought. But here's three reasons why we should do nothing about it!:
1. It's one paper. I am not casting aspersions on the authors or their methodology, but the whole idea of science is that even the smartest people can be wrong. As with other attempts to reconstruct past climate, they're using a series of proxies for past events that have much weaker accuracy than the direct measurements we're now using. That doesn't mean they're wrong, but it does leave them more open to interpretation.
Once again, we see that McArdle is so corrupt that she actually is trying to convince people that science is a crap-shoot. Her contempt for her audience is remarkable. McArdle doesn't try to understand what she's talking about. She simply repeats whatever her favorite libertarians say. (Note that while McArdle says think tanks such as CEI are too ideological to trust and that she doesn't agree with CEI regarding global warming anyway, she outsources her thinking to a CEI employee.)
2. All the carbon we're burning used to be in the atmosphere. Yet the planet supported life. Indeed, the oil we're burning comes from the compressed, decayed bodies of . . . phytoplankton. This suggests that some number of phytoplankton should be able to survive high concentrations of the stuff.
This little paragraph is why I am going over this old post once again. How I laughed and laughed.... Good times.  Here is the gist:
Daniel Shore:2. All the carbon we're burning used to be in the atmosphere. Yet the planet supported life. Indeed, the oil we're burning comes from the compressed, decayed bodies of . . . phytoplankton. This suggests that some number of phytoplankton should be able to survive high concentrations of the stuff.
Isn't this a silly piece of reasoning? It's true that all that carbon used to be in the atmosphere - but not ALL AT ONCE. It was absorbed at low levels of concentration over millions of years and compressed by phytoplankton. Your argument is sort of like saying that drinking 12 liters of vodka shouldn't kill you, because you've had that much to drink over the last 5 years of your life.
As for the rest of the post, meh.
McMegan: Carbon concentrations in the jurassic were what, 4-5 times higher than they are today? To a first approximation, it was all in the atmosphere.
tinisoli: No, it wasn't.
McMegan: Sorry? Is this incorrect?
tinisoli: Relevance of that paper?
anirprof: It's not incorrect but it doesn't say what you are claiming.
That CO2 concentrations were 5x higher in the past isn't the same as saying that all the carbon currently contained in hydrocarbons in the crust were in the air then.
McMegan: Given that the 100 year projections involve carbon concentrations below 1,000 ppm, the statement that "all the stuff we're burning was in the atmosphere" is correct. Was every hydrocarbon in the ground in the atmosphere? Probably not. But every hydrocarbon in the ground is not recoverable, so that's not a very interesting question.
tinisoli: Why don't you just clarify what you meant and then we'll see if it actually meant what you're nor pretending it did?
McMegan: I wasn't unclear. You and Anirprof decided that I must have meant something else, and proceeded to argue furiously against something I didn't say.
The estimated reserve life of the major oil reserves clocks in at under 150 years. By then, we'll have figured out something else, or the economy will collapse anyway, and we won't need to worry about greenhouse gasses.
anirprof: Plus about four other commenters above and below this point who read it the same way, so I wouldn't be so quick to assert there was nothing wrong with the phrasing. Given what you say you were trying to communicate, TakuanSoho's comment below suggests a phrasing that makes a lot more sense than the original.
McMegan: In my experience, there are a number of issues where people stop reading about halfway through, and start arguing with the opponent in their head. This is one of them.
Brian Despain: That's one of the best quotes you have ever had Megan. This thread is great evidence for that.
downpuppy: And like all Megan quotes, makes more sense when you realize it's about Megan. Nobody is claiming that global warming is a threat to all life on earth, so Megan writes a post to say that everybody who claims that global warming will end life on earth is a doodyhead.
By writing it really badly & throwing in some rubbish about CO2, she gets 3 more posts to respond to people who haven't noticed that she really hasn't said anything worth reading.
double win!
 McArdle made several glaringly wrong mistakes in math and science in that comment thread and continued to insist she was right when several people explained in detail why she was wrong. She linked to material that didn't support her statements because she knows most people won't follow the link, others won't understand it, and nobody wants proof that their own ideas are wrong.

McArdle can't admit or correct her lies without undermining her propaganda. She can't propagandize without lying. She must lie and she must ignore or explain away most of others' corrections of her work. Her lies are deliberate attempts to harm others to further her career. Giving McArdle a pass on lying is giving McArdle a pass on deliberately harming others for money.

The paper she linked to was a non sequitur but McArdle is satisfied with the thinnest of pretense towards intellectual argument. Evidently her editors and employers are as well.
3. There are positive feedback effects, but also negative ones. One of the things that drives me batty about environmentalists and journalists writing about climate change is the insistence that every single side effect will be negative. This is not really very likely, unless you think that every place on earth just happens to be at the very awesomest climate equilibrium possible as of 9:17 am this morning, or that global warming is some sort of malevolent god capable only of destruction.
McArdle's excuse for lying to her readers is more feeble than most of her excuses and again McArdle's contempt for her readers is evident.  McArdle could not be bothered to come up with a plausible reason for finding a silver lining in the cloud of death, and typed out a sneering little rationalization.

This statement is award-worthy, however, so we bestow yet another "McLazy" on McArdle, who couldn't figure out that the climate is the result of an accumulation of circumstances that arose over the life of the planet, and its balance is based on those factors.

Our world, our human biology, our civilization, is based on a certain climate range. When that range changes, humans might not survive. Saying that global warming might be beneficial as well as detrimental is an extremely feeble attempt to distract her readers from the detrimental aspect.
Mind you, this is not an argument for letting it happen; I'm not a fan of tampering with large, complex systems that I don't really understand, which is why I tend not to support much direct government intervention in the economy--and why I do, nonetheless, support a hefty carbon tax.
We know her support for a carbon tax is meaningless because she told us that raising taxes on gasoline is impossible. She pretends to support it because she can then look like she supports taking action of some kind when she does not. Anyone who is overjoyed at the idea of paying lower taxi fares by squeezing poor taxis drivers and argues nobody will pay higher gasoline prices is not willing to pay a carbon tax.
But there's a certain tendency to ignore mitigating offsets, such as the fact that higher carbon concentrations make terrestrial plants grow more lushly, sucking up some of that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. At least, as long as we don't turn them into biofuels, that is.
If McArdle had had any intention of presenting accurate information she would have done a bare minimum of research and found out that plants won't compensate for all the increased CO2 in the air. When the science is against her, science is unknowable. When she wants to peddle wrong or biased science and pseudo-science, suddenly science is useful again.
There's also a tendency to ignore mitigation rather than reduction, on the grounds that emissions reduction is "easier". Well, I suppose it is easier if you assume away the political problems. But no matter how hard I assume, I keep waking up in a world where we've made no meaningful progress on emissions reductions. At this point, I've got more faith in America's engineering talent than in her ability to conquer fierce political resistance to reductions at home and abroad.

McArdle has given her readers ample proof over the years that she knows virtually nothing about science, and most of what she thinks she knows is wrong. This is unimportant. McArdle is a propagandist.

Her readers are her marks. Her blog is her con game. Her jackpot is our children's death.


Downpuppy said...

Ahh - the old days at the Atlantic, when there were still a few hones souls in the comments.

At Bloomberg now, it's don't get out of the boat territory.

Susan of Texas said...

A couple of people took McArdle to task on the global warming post, since it was passed around widely. But mostly her comments section is Megan And Friends' House of Horrors.

Kathy said...

I imagine ArgleBargle gets her morning TalkingPoints from a Koch underling (they wouldn't talk with her directly), along with a note to "Make this sound halfway plausible to conservatives/libertatians"

David said...

Ugh! She's the worst >_<

Kathy said...

McMegan: In my experience, there are a number of issues where people stop reading about halfway through, and start arguing with the opponent in their head. This is one of them.

Its how she earns her living.