Global Warming Blowhards

On Monday Rush Limbaugh said:

Here’s how we could once and for all prove that global warming alarmists are full of BS.  We create a betting line on any or all of their dire prognostications.  Just go get Gore’s movie, and say, "Okay, what are the odds that New York City will be under water in 20 years?  What are the odds that Greenland is going to melt," whatever is in there, and then let people bet.  Now, I would bet against every one of those assertions, every prediction that the global warming people are making, I would bet against.

And they won’t.  You know damn well that Laurie David will not put her divorce millions on the line, and you know for a fact that Gore won’t put his tobacco cash — that’s where a lot of his money comes from, his book cash or his movie — they will not bet for their own prognostications. … Folks, do you realize how rich we could get here?  We would prove that nobody believes this stuff!  Even the scientists, even the politicians, nobody would bet that their predictions are right.  All we’d have to do is all bet against them and we’d be right on every one of them. 

This brought to mind James Annan from 2005:

I’ve recently been trying to establish consensus on the subject of global temperature rise, by arranging bets with sceptics who claim that the IPCC TAR is overly alarmist. Richard Lindzen was the first I noted who forecast here that over the next 20 years, the climate is as likely to cool as warm, and said he would be prepared to bet on it. However, when challenged to a bet, it turns out that he expects odds of 50:1 in his favour, ie he will only bet on the chances of cooling being at the 2% level or higher, far short of his 50% claim. … He also suggested an alternative bet … Again, no-one who believes the IPCC summary would find his offer attractive, since it has negative expected value. … The list of sceptics who have refused to bet against the IPCC position has grown steadily since then, and now also includes Michaels, Jaworowski, Corbyn, Ebell, Kininmonth, Mashnich and Idso

I’ll offer at least $1000 at ten to one odds against Rush putting even a quarter million dollars of his own at risk in anti-IPCC-odds bets with Annan or similar others in the next year.  Do I have any takers?  (Hat tip to Chris Masse.) 

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  • http://www.midasoracle.org/ Chris Masse

    OK about global warming bets. But what about… global warming prediction markets (betting markets)? Would they make sense and how?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Chris, global warming prediction markets would be quite feasible. The main issue, beyond gaining legal permission for real money bets, would be to “pay interest” on bet money held, i.e., to have the items being bet be assets that give a competitive rate of return. Most betting sites have so far kept the “float” for themselves.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Gore or David may be convinced enough to bet their money if what they cared about was maximizing return, but perhaps they just don’t want to look like ghouls (which they would, rightly or wrongly).

  • Curious Speculator

    Robin,

    What are the legal barriers to creating small-denomination (e.g. $1000) catastrophe bonds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catastrophe_bond) based off of CO2 levels or global temperature?

  • http://bbnflstats.blogspot.com Brian

    The global warming debate is confused by 2 different issues.

    The first is whether global warming is indeed happening. Very, very few people (with the facts) doubt the Earth’s surface temperature has been rising. On that point, there is general scientific consensus.

    The second issue is whether man-made carbon dioxide “greenhouse” gasses are the cause of the warming. This is the real debate and there is far from a scientific consensus.

    When the environmentalist side of the debate is challenged on the second point, they tend to refer to the consensus on the first point. It’s rhetorical trickery that goes like this:

    Skeptic: “There is very little reason to believe the current warming trend is not natural and cyclical.”

    Environmentalist: “How can you doubt the Earth is warming? There is an overwhelming scientific consensus.”

    The environmentalists are also guilty of alarmism related to the first issue–the warming itself. This is what Rush was pointing out. The greenhouse theory has been around for many years. For the past 20 years its models have consistently overestimated the rate of warming.

    In 20 years, New York won’t be under water, and the polar bears won’t be extinct. That is Rush’s point.

    That the skeptics you list will not gamble their wages on future Earth temperatures is probably because they are not skeptics on the warming (issue 1), but on the cause (issue 2).

    Alarmism by politicians is nothing new. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”–H.L. Menken

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Robin,

    Are you proposing a bet on a bet, whether or not Rush Limbaugh will bet? What is next? Options and derivatives based on betting markets?

  • Ambitwistor

    Brian,

    If you count the IPCC as a consensus, there is close to consensus on the second point as well as the first, e.g.,
    “The observed pattern of tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling is very likely [subjective probability >90%] due to the combined influences of greenhouse gas increases and stratospheric ozone depletion. It is likely [subjective probability >66%] that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years over every continent except Antarctica. The observed patterns of warming, including greater warming over land than over the ocean, and their changes over time, are only simulated by models that include anthropogenic forcing.” (IPCC 4AR SPM.) See also their figure with radiative forcing components.

    This is not “environmentalist trickery”, it’s supported by a large amount of science, which you can find summarized in the IPCC 4AR WG1 report. You have simply set up a straw man in claiming that those who believe global warming is primarily anthropogenic in nature cite the mere existence of the warming trend as evidence of anthropogenic influence.

    More straw men appear later in your comment (cribbed from Limbaugh); I don’t know anyone who claims that New York will be underwater or the polar bears will be extinct within 20 years.

    Your claim that models have consistently overestimated the warming for 20 years is wrong. See, for instance, here and here. (The first article actually finds that early models underestimated some of the climate change, such as sea level rise.)

    Your justification for skeptics not betting on temperature change is also not plausible, as a number of them have notably claimed that the temperature change (regardless the source) will not be as large as is being claimed by the scientific community, and some of the listed skeptics have actually claimed that temperatures will drop. But they’re not willing to bet that will happen.

  • http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/06/why_i_believe_i.html EconLog

    Why I Believe in Moderate Global Warming, But Lose No Sleep Over It

    Evolution and genetics aside, my understanding of natural science is very weak. Fortunately, examining the bets experts are willing to…

  • Constant

    So will anybody here seriously bet even odds that New York City will be underwater due to global warming in 20 years? That is an interesting and tempting bet.

  • jthaddeus

    Rush isn’t saying that he would bet on average temperature, only that he would bet against any huge disasters as a result of rising temperatures.

  • Ambitwistor

    jtthadeus,
    It’s not clear what Rush is saying he’d bet on. He said he would bet against “every prediction that the global warming people are making”, but only gives examples of huge disasters.

    The proposals aren’t really realistic, either. I don’t know anyone who claims that New York City will be under water in any time frame, let alone 20 years, so who is he going to bet against? And while some people think Greenland will melt completely, few think it’s likely to happen this century. Is Rush implying that he’d only bet that it won’t happen in 20 years? Or that it will never happen?

    These bets also don’t take into account human response to global warming, so they’re a little suspicious. Someone who thinks Greenland will melt under business-as-usual emissions might not actually bet that Greenland will melt, since one might hope that we would act to prevent such an event once it became clear it was going to happen. (Assuming it’s not too late to do so.) Yet Rush could claim it as a rhetorical victory if no one takes the bet. (I am reminded of some who have insisted, “The scientists were wrong about the ozone layer: the ozone layer didn’t disappear”, while neglecting the serious steps undertaken in the Montreal Protocol to prevent just that.)

  • Floccina

    Rush Limbaugh is an idiot.

    I would bet the IPCC is probably right that the planet has been warmed by some amount due to human activities increasing atmospheric co2, but I would also bet that economic growth with swamp and any negative impacts of the amount of warming from increasing co2 levels.

    In other words I believe that human activities are warming the planet but that humanity will do fine despite the warming. I would bet a lot of money that humanity will do fine despite the warming!

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Robin: As he makes about $10mm per year, I think putting down even $1mm on this bet would be psychically fullfilling to someone who believes in something as important as this. Of course, if he’s bluffing that’s another issue. You seem to be asserting that Rush is disingenuous and has bad faith. Is it not probable that Rush actually believes what he says and thinks? It may be generally contrary to your thinking, but as an expert in bias, can’t you accept that people are more often wrong out of ignorance rather than malice? That calculated dishonesty is much less common than sincere ignorance?

    As Gore won’t debate Bjorn Lomborg, I suspect that Global Warming proponents believe any unwillingness to engage the other side would undermine their assertion that the science is ‘settled’, and to engage in debate or bets admits it is unsettled. So I too think the bet will never happen, but for different reasons.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    I think this whole path of “X won’t bet on something, which indicates X doesn’t truly believe in it” is wrong-headed, and it seems to me rather obvious all the different ways that it’s wrong-headed. It adds nothing to the discussion to point out that individual people won’t make individual bets, in my opinion. In contrast, I think Ambitwistor has added quite a bit to the discussion in this thread without making a single bet. Prediction markets, in contrast, seem to be a great analytical tool and it should be a top policy priority to employ them in vastly more areas of decision making. Also, I like registered predictions (I could care less if there’s a bet involved, except as theatre to draw attention to an issue) as a way of objectively ranking and discerning between futurists and pundits.

  • http://www.daublin.org Daublin

    Brian, many people may be discussing your two questions, but if you look into the issue closely, there are some further open questions which make things difficult. The superficial arguments over those two questions are drowning out discussion of harder ones that are just as important:

    3. What is the effect of CO2 and higher temperature, for humans? Is it bad? How bad?

    4. What is the effect on humanity of stabilizing CO2? Stabilizing CO2 requires lowering emissions more than 50%.

    5. The expected pain of 4 is almost certainly greater than that of, but a certain amount of caution is in order. This implies that your strategy should largely or mainly address outlier events. But how do you make a plan for the unexpected?

    It’s not an easy issue, despite the unshakable faith that many people have in one response or another.

  • Michael Sullivan

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with Hopefully Anonymous.

    There are a lot of good reasons not to make bets even if you believe they are +EV.

    But the critique of Limbaugh is still well justified, because he’s busy trumpeting the idea that a willingness to bet is a marker of seriousness, and yet it is nearly certain that he would not be willing to take the skeptic side of a bet whose terms match what actual non-loony GW proponents (like Annan) have offered to bet on.

    That there might be a few loons who think New York will be underwater, even if accurate (do we have evidence for this claim? I don’t think it applies even to Michael Moore), means nothing in terms of the wider debate. It’s equivalent to denouncing the whole spectrum of skeptics (including those who accept the IPCC report at face value, but challenge the economics of Stern, for instance) as fools and frauds, because there are some political shills who have outright lied about data.

    But the general straw-man trope is tired and pathetic and pretty much all the noise machine has to offer on this issue: Find the wackiest theories ever spouted by some random crystal-gazing mushroom-eating dropout with no credibility, mock them, and then prance around claiming that you’ve just debated “environmentalists”.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    To clarify, Rush would put his money “at risk” by just making a credible offer to bet, even if no one accepted his offer.

    Curious, the legal barriers are large.

    Eric, yes, I am offering to bet that Rush is bluffing. If you disagree, accept my bet.

    Hopefully and Michael, no one says that beliefs are the only factor determining who bets.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Robin, your focus on whether an individual person places a bet or not still comes across to me as a distracting idea-fetish. The single greatest reason in my opinion is that the publicity of being 1/2 of a dialectic that resonates with popular biases can be more valuable in terms of economic return than making bets with a niche market smallfry lik you Robin (and like me). Your focus on bets between bold name pundits seem to me to be more like pissing contests than attempts to develop a mechanism that will sort out truth. It seems to me that Rush is demonstrating how quickly the whole approach is defeated by him simply ignoring your challenges for him to bet you, and instead holding out betting challenges to strawmen. He’ll make more money by challenging strawmen to bets than he’ll lose by ignoring your own bet offers. So the market seems to be perversely rewarding him by capitalizing off bias-susceptibilities in the general population. And it seems like we’re all going to bear the externalities -not a bad free-riding job on his end.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Hopefully, I didn’t challenge Rush to bet me. I’m trying to preserve the noble image of betting markets against pollution by confusion with celebrity blowhards who say they will bet, but won’t bet. Yeah markets, boo blowhard pseudo-bettors.

  • http://bbnflstats.blogspot.com Brian

    IPCC is a political, and not a scientific, entity.

  • Ann

    Beachfront property purchases are bets against catastrophic sea level rise due to global warming, and they seem to be holding strong.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Robin: I love to bet against people! $1k at ten-to-one, meaning $10k to me if Rush bets less than $250k to a reasonable offer, $1k to you if Rush weasels out (in the next year)? I consider it reasonable to reject land-based temperatures as the metric because land measurements seem related to conduction from pavement related to growth in cities, etc., and models suggest troposphere temperature increases anyway (ie, troposphere or oceanic measurement a reasonable stipulation). Further, they must specify in advance the exact method of measuring the temperature, because with $2B a year for GW research, I’m sure researchers will find creative ways to document annual global temperature increases with hindsight the same way the Communist countries grew at 5%+ a year for 50 years–until they collapsed in poverty. With those privisos as ‘reasonable exceptions’ for Rush to invoke, and assuming you will pay 10 for my 1, consider yourself filled (if no offer is made, which I think is the clear modal outcome, there is no bet).

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Eric, I said I’d bet $1K not $10K, and the condition I want to bet on is whether Rush credibly offers to bet at least $250K on “anti-IPCC-odds.” That is, a bet at odds substantially different from, and more skeptical than, some number in the IPCC consensus. I’ll be lenient regarding exactly which number and exactly which method of verification of that number.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    $100 to you if you win, $1000 to me if I win (ie, 10 to 1–or did you mean the opposite?). Rush accepts a $250k+ bet on anti-IPCC odds (if no one offers the other side, nothing happens). Temperature measurement specificity requirements are ‘reasonable’ as long as they are global and not beholden to a specific group of measurers (as opposed to specific measurings).

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Eric, you seem to keep changing the terms I have offered. I’m not proposing a bet conditional on some other offer, or on any particular rules about temperatures. I’m proposing an unconditional bet on whether Rush will make or accept an offer, with any remotely reasonable way to determine who wins the bet.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    This is where ISDA agreements add value. You say ‘unconditional’, but if someone says to Rush “I’ll bet you that temperatures will rise as measured by any IPCC measurement”, I think that’s unreasonable, and Rush is reasonable in rejecting that bet because of tendentious referees (who is to know how that will be measured). The key is, what objections are reasonable, and I think there are some reasonable objections to particular offers.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Good and interesting point by Ann.

  • http://yorkshire-ranter.blogspot.com/ Alex

    ..but one that loses most of its value when you consider that a) essentially all scientific projections don’t see substantial sea-level rise for around 100 years, so current buyers will be dead by then, b) major industrial corporations such as GE, Siemens, Toyota, Volvo Trucks, Rolls-Royce, and many more are investing heavily in solar and wind, power-control, and electric vehicles, and c) ever wondered how beachfront property in Louisiana is doing?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Eric, if someone makes an unreasonable offer to Rush he can counter with a more reasonable offer. As I said, “I’ll be lenient regarding exactly which [IPCC] number and exactly which method of verification of that number.”

  • http://cumulativemodel.blogspot.com aaron

    I don’t know if I’d bet against “New York being under water”. A storm surge is likely to put some of NYC under water for a brief time. They’re long overdue for a major storm.

  • http://cumulativemodel.blogspot.com aaron

    I’d be willing to bet warming will be less than IPCC expected better than even odd.

    Overall, net cooling isn’t likely. But a cooling trend seems like a good possibility. I think flat with occasional cooling and warming is most likely. Net will probably be slightly warmer, but quite a bit less than IPCC.

  • http://cumulativemodel.blogspot.com aaron

    Robin, you might want to clarify that you’re calling out blowhards in your post. Your post (specifically the post you excerpt) gives the impression that you and betters think the IPCC is probably right.

    I thought I read about a site that offered betting on GW catastrophes, people were buying at such ridiculous odds that skeptics could buy fast enough.

  • http://cumulativemodel.blogpsot.com aaron
  • Floccina

    Brian wrote:

    “Beachfront property purchases are bets against catastrophic sea level rise due to global warming, and they seem to be holding strong. ”

    Also land purchases in Maine about 10 – 20 feet above current sea level could be seen as bets that tempratures and sea level will rise.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Alex, your response (and many in this thread) seem interestingly indicative of the points in the “Are Your Enemies Innately Evil?” post. It seems to me people are picking a side and then supporting a wide range of arguments on that side. For example, throwing “ever wondered how beachfront property in Louisiana is doing?” into a hodgepodge of lines all written to shore up a position in favor of anthropogenic global warming as a real phenomenon. Here on overcomingbias, I hope we can be focused on attempting to overcoming bias, and I think there is a bit of bias creep into discussions when we become argumentative rather than scrutinizing.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Filled!

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Aaron’s comment highlights a problem here. One has to be very precise about what one is betting on. Thus, does a onetime storm that floods the streets count as “New York being underwater”? What about all the debates we have already seen about what is the actual global temperature? We talking about some kind of an average, after all, and it is well known that even while the average may be going in one direction, certain parts of the earth may be going in the opposite direction. So, one would have to make sure that one were betting on something clearly determinable in an unambiguous way, such as the 1980s debate between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich over the prices of certain commodities in 1990 relative to 1980.

    In the meantime, I am still waiting for Robin to set up an option on the futures price of whether or not Rush will bet. I want to go both long and short on it, preferably in the most complicated way possible, :-).

  • REstalmán

    Isn’t all of this an argumentum ad crumenam?

  • Panu Horsmalahti

    There exists a growing number of scientists who are predicting global cooling starting around 2020.

  • http://yorkshire-ranter.blogspot.com/ Alex

    Panu: Cite?

    HA: I’m very dubious of the “beachfront property” thing because real estate of all kinds is on a massive bull run right across the world, itself probably due to high global liquidity. As the effects of sea-level rise aren’t predicted for much before 2100, any signal is likely to be outweighed by the secular boom in real estate.

    However, there are effects that are expected sooner – more, stronger storms being a case in point. Arguably, buying property in Florida has been shown to be unwise since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and it’s only because there’s a perception of an implicit Federal guarantee that people still do it. Certain biases – catastrophe blindness, confirmation bias – would suggest that response is only likely after an example. Hence – Louisiana.

  • Floxina

    Anyone who refuses to bet even money on whether global warming is a catastrophe is a coward. This is true whether his name is Rush Limbaugh or Robin Hanson. Let’s get real, people. If warming is not a catastrophe then screw it. If warming is from other causes than anthropogenic causes, then screw it. That is not settled. The IPCC is not a consensus of informed climate experts. Far from it. IPCC is highly political. Watch yourselves.

  • TGGP

    If warming is from other causes than anthropogenic causes, then screw it.
    What!? David Friedman smacks that argument down here.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Alex, these various popular biases (perhaps combined with various redistributive effects that keep speculative money from quickly concentrating in the hands of the least biased people) seem to be a general limit on the accuracy of predictive markets. The responses Ann’s post has engendered by you and others is part of why I think it was a valuable contribution to the thread. It’s worth looking at the various natural predictive markets already in existence and see what they indicate about the likilihood of various phenomena to occur -if nothing else, it may be worth it to inform guiding the creation of markets specifically for the purpose of predicting future events. For example, we may want to screen market participants for general literacy on the topic and threshhold level of lack of bias, but then allow exceptions in if they’re willing to place unusually large investments to allow relatively biased, illiterate people who happen to have insider information to participate in the market.

  • http://www.stevebrooker.com/WordPress/ Steve

    There are some conflict of interest implications to betting on climate change. Environmental activists such as Mr Gore do not harp on about global warming for giggles, they are trying to promote changes that would mitigate the perceived threat.

    If Mr Gore made a meaningful bet with Mr Limbaugh (i.e. for a significant chunk of Gore’s net worth), Mr Gore would have an incentive to stop his activism in order to decrease the chances of action on global warming and increase the chances of collecting on the bet.

    This sort of thing is why Pete Rose isn’t in the hall of fame.

    Having said that, smaller bets (i.e. enough money to be interesting, but not enough to modify behavior) have some significant value in that formulating the bet forces us to set out specific predictions that can then be either confirmed or falsified.

    The value of this approach was demonstrated by the famous Simon-Ehrlich bet. The results of which conclusively sunk Mr Ehrlich’s theories on resource scarcity (interestingly Mr Ehrlich is now a noted proponent of global warming, which just goes to show that a history of being consistently and spectacularly wrong isn’t a barrier to getting your name in the papers).

    I suspect the Mr Gore would have a much better chance of winning a reasonably formulated bet than Mr Ehrlich did. Global warming is a far more credible proposition than Mr Ehrlich’s Malthusian rants. Regardless, formulating a proposition (or set of propositions) that can be conclusively confirmed or falsified is a very valuable intellectual exercise.

  • Mike

    Perhaps I am confused, but isn’t it possible that both Limbaugh is “right” and Lindzen is “wrong.” Perhaps someone will correct me, but I had thought that Gore does not really rely on the IPCC consensus but brings up all kinds of results that assume more drastic consequences than the most likely scenario discussed by the IPCC. In that event, Limbaugh might be correct to bet with Gore, even though his bet would not challenge the IPCC. In other words, Limbaugh’s challenge to Gore is less controversial than Lindzen’s statement that temperatures are as likely to fall as rise.

  • Fair and balanced

    CBS 4 Reporter Shomari Stone was praised on the “Schnitt Show,” a syndicated, moderately conservative talk-show, for his ground-breaking report on “Global Warming.” ( http://cbs4.com/video/?id=34785@wfor.dayport.com )

    South Florida affiliate station 610 WIOD airs the show from 3:00pm to 6:00pm, Monday – Friday. On average, host Todd Schnitt has an estimated 800,000 listening audience across the country after scoring a huge deal XM Satellite radio.

    The Schnitt Show began praising Shomari Stone on Monday, May 21, 2007 at 4:00pm about his report on Global Warming.

    Schnitt said, “I have to give credit where credit is due. I have to highlight this individual. I am taking the time to reach out to a reporter, Shomari Stone, in Miami, he’s a CBS 4 WFOR reporter. Shomari did a news story on Global Warming. Instead of asking Hurricane Expert Dr. William Gray about hurricanes, he did a story about how Dr. Gray says humans ARE NOT causing global warming.” “Shomari Stone dared to expose the other side. He had the cahoonays.”

    “I have no idea what Shomari’s position is personally. I have no idea. But you’ve got to hand it to him for presenting the other side of the story. A rarity. He’s good. Good job Shomari Stone. I appreciated the diligence that you put into the report.” “Finally, mainstream media, has a Dr., a professor that says, wait a sec, not so fast, on this annointed reason that’s been shoved down our faces. That’s all I ask for. Is just the other side of the debate. I’m not saying Al Gore should not present his stuff in “An Inconvenient Truth.” I just like both sides of an issue presented. Fantastic report! Finally I can’t tell you the last time I saw something like that. I don’t think it’s been done.”

    You can watch CBS 4 Reporter Shomari Stone’s Exclusive Global Warming Report by clicking or copy and pasting the following link:

    http://cbs4.com/video/?id=34785@wfor.dayport.com