Monday, April 23, 2007

Virgin Earth Challenge

Airline tycoon Richard Branson announced a $25 million prize for the first person to come up with a way of scrubbing greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere in the battle to beat global warming.

The prize will initially only be open for five years, with ideas assessed by a panel of judges including Branson, Gore and Tickell as well as U.S. climate scientist James Hansen, Briton James Lovelock and Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery.

The winner will have to come up with a way of removing one billion metric tons of carbon gases a year from the atmosphere for 10 years -- with $5 million of the prize being paid at the start and the remaining $20 million at the end.
I like the idea of issuing a prize for this. Get some smart people competing for the cash and the presitige of winning. If such a device could be built it would be very valuable. I sure hope Klaus Lackner has heard about this.

I wonder though if $25 mil isn't a little on the low side (and only $5 mil of that is upfront) given the potential impact of such a device. $5 million in VC money doesn't support a very large startup in Silicon Valley, so I don't see how that will be enough to attract a team of great minds to spend a lot of time tackling this problem.

via Reuters


al fin said...

The practical significance on climate of greenhouse gas scrubbers will be nil. The psychological impact would be huge, and worth every penny of the US $25 million.

Once a populist movement like the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming crusade gathers momentum, it becomes an end in itself. Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds, what?

al fin said...

Speaking of mass psychology, although I'm an atheist you may notice that I don't jump on the bandwagon attacking intelligent design or creationist oriented perversions of education.

It's very simple. The dominant media view favours evolution and secularity, so there is more than enough ammunition being fired against religious delusionists (except for the Islamists, but that's another story).

CAGW, on the other hand, is being championed by the media. Even the science of CAGW and less controversial climate studies is being perverted within the journals and the science community itself.

I cannot blame laypersons for accepting verbatim what they hear on news reports, or for believing that the loudest "scientific" voice is also the one most likely to be correct on any given topic. The only way to be disavowed of that belief is having the perspective of many scientific popular delusions that have later been buried out of view.

You once suggested that I take the time to try to convince you that CAGW was not occurring. Simply put, I do not have the time for such a discussion with someone I cannot interact with face to face.

The best I can do is to suggest that you go the Climate Audit website and read all the comments.

Since Climate Audit does not censor comments--unlike Real Climate org--you can find the full spectrum of backgrounds and opinions there. Most commenters there are scientifically grounded and understand data analysis.

If you have ever undergone an epiphany--where your worldview on a topic changed completely--you will understand what happened to me when I actually took the trouble to look into the underlying issues.

In this case, changing one's mind might mean going against the flow--which can be inconvenient. But if you really want to understand why so many intelligent and informed people take the road less traveled, you just have to put in the time.

Fat Knowledge said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I can see how if you don't believe that CO2 has a significant impact on climate how you wouldn't be excited about this contest. The only minor point that I think might appeal to you is that increased CO2 will still cause acidification of the oceans which will have a negative impact on coral reefs and other sea life.

As for trying to convince me of your point of view, I guess I just wish you would post what you read or saw that made you have your epiphany. What were the key data points, arguments, books, or articles that you read that made you change your mind? Good chance that it will change my mind as well. I took a quick look at Climate Audit and I just found that I was lost. I have no idea what the heck any of the discussions are about.

In general, I just wish that your posts started with the assumption that those that disagreed with you were intelligent but had looked at different data rather than the assumption that they were mindless idiots. Too often people who are opened minded and have come to a certain conclusion choose to see those who disagree with them as either closed minded or idiots (after all, if I am opened minded and came to this conclusion, what other possibility is there? :)).

Not that some global warming believers aren't mindless idiots, just that those people should be ignored and there are quite a few intelligent people who do believe in global warming. Likewise there are many idiots that don't believe in global warming, and they seem to be the most common posters on blogs and typically look something like this:
I can’t believe as intelligent as you seem to be that you are falling for the global warming scam.
Think about it logically. Do you really think NYC is in danger of being flooded by the ocean’s level rising?
Where is the proof the level has risen even an inch?

Have faith in God (the God of the Bible).
He promised we would never again suffer a world wide flood. I believe him. I haven’t made Al Gore my god.
I go by what I see and feel and think through logically.
The Earth is always going through its natural cycle and that includes some warming and cooling in varying areas of the Earth.
Man cannot control the natural cooling and warming and anything we might think we are contributing is minute and of no consequence.

It would be easy for me to use this to characterize global warming skeptics and then say that therefore they must all be idiots. Of course I realize that this doesn't reflect your position at all.

While I agree with you that the dominant media is in support of CAGW, most right-wing bloggers have a position similar to yours. So, while you might see your posts as contrarian and expressing an underrepresented viewpoint, I see them as being just like every other conservative blog out there.

And while CAGW might have media power, it doesn't had much political power (though that might be changing). The Republican party (which up until the last election was in charge of all branches of the government) doesn't believe in it, as only 13 percent Of congressional Republicans believe in man-made global warming. Senator Inhofe, who was the chairman of the Environment and Public Works in the Senate, believes that global warming is the greatest hoax ever played on the American people (he used to rank it as #2 behind the separation of church and state but I guess he changed his mind). Global Warming critics have (or at least have had) more power in American politics than the believers.

I think you are right in questioning who funds research, what motivates scientists and what might potentially lead them to bias. I just wish you would look into these factors as strongly with global warming critics as you do with global warming believers.

I believe that most of the proposals to stop climate change (such as a carbon tax, a BTU tax, a gasoline tax, a cap and trade system, or mandating greater efficiency) are likely to have positive environmental impacts even if CO2 doesn't have a major impact on global warming. They will lead to decreased use of fossil fuels and greater use of solar, wind and nuclear energy. While I can understand you thinking that this is not the best way to go about helping the environment since you don't think CO2 has a major impact, I can't see why you are so vehemently against them unless you really think these proposals will be bad for the environment or for Americans in general.

Of course, you are free to write your posts in the way that you want to. But, as some one who as changed your mind on this subject, I think you you would be in a superb position to help others have their own personal epiphanies.

al fin said...

The problem with epiphanies--like personal experience and wisdom--is that they are not transferrable.

Perhaps you do not have the familiarity with Zen, "lateral thinking", or cognitive science to understand the incredible superiority of indirection as a tool, as opposed to direct reasoning.

Humans are irrational--regardless of their beliefs about CAGW, George Bush, the world jihad, the Mohomed cartoons, etc. All humans are irrational. At some level you must realize this.

Our most effective communication is on an emotional level, face to face. Books are very influential, but they require humans to translate the verbal-logic into more effective emotional language.

Motion pictures--such as An Inconvenient Truth--are powerful because the emotional (evangelical) language of Gore come through fairly well.

If you are capable of believing that the 5% human portion of worldwide CO2 release will be responsible for acidification of the oceans--despite the large chunk of evidence that suggests increasing atmospheric CO2 levels come from oceanic release of dissolved CO2 due to warming--then something led you to possess that belief.

Fortunately for you, such beliefs are not likely to cause you to strap on a suicide bomb and detonate yourself.

Nevertheless, such a belief strikes me as typically human. Much like a religious belief--once held, unlikely to be loosened.

And yes, I realize that my jabbing verbal method will have the tendency to harden your beliefs, if they are truly quasi-religious.

Underlying it all, is my (irrational?) belief in your intelligence, demonstrated by your ability to gather a high proportion of postings to problems that I consider meaningful and relevant.

You can close your mind to my apparently clownish attempts to influence your thinking. But such attempts at resistance would be futile! You will be assimilated.

Fat Knowledge said...

Hi Al,

I keep reading your comments hoping that they will include links to research that will convince me that humans' impact on CO2 levels does not cause global warming.

Instead you choose to just tell me that my belief in the link between human caused CO2 levels and global warming is irrational and close to being a religious belief.

I think this back and forth is just a waste of both of our time, so why don't we just stop.

I would much rather spend the time reading the science and alternative energy posts you write about, or create some of my own.

al fin said...

You may recall my mentioning the philosopher/inventor John David Garcia in some of my postings. He was a remarkable thinker--deep and broad and clear. We had many conversations and correspondences that I still value, although he died several years ago. Sadly, he smoked feverishly and for all his brilliance and wisdom, he had little sense of humour. Smoking is irrational, I told him as a physician. Humour is good for the soul, I informed him. No matter. He was who he was.

Unfortunately, mping, you still believe you are in control. Such is that irrationality we talked about.

Myself, although I have journeyed through work as a lab neuroscientist, and three different specialties of medicine, I see myself as something of a clown and celebrate my irrationality while still seeking for ultimate truth against all odds.

Someday you will learn that life is what happens when you are making other plans. And wisdom is what happens when you think you want to learn something else.

Just kidding.

End of exchange.

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