I May Have Been Wrong When I Said Government Officials Weren't Dumb

I often say that most government officials are not dumb or evil, they just have bad incentives that make them act that way, and they look dumb because they attempt to tackle problems that even a 250IQ can't solve (e.g. planning the economy).

But I may have been wrong.  Evidence is mounting that people in Congress, at least, really are just plain dumb.  From an interview on NPR:

[Congressman Henry] Waxman: Well, there have been scientists brought together to see if they could figure out the science and make it clear whether this is a danger or not, whether it's a danger that's a great one or one that we can postpone for a while, and the overwhelming consensus of all the leading scientists that have looked at this issue is there is a warming of the planet, it's manmade, caused by our burning of carbon fuels, and it's happening faster than anybody ever thought it would happen.

We're seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point - they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn't ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there's a lot of tundra that's being held down by that ice cap.

If that gets released we'll have more carbon emissions and methane gas in our atmosphere than we have now. We see a lot of destruction happening because of global warming, climate change problems, so we've got enough warning signals and enough of a scientific consensus to take this seriously.

Oh my heavens, we are certainly in good hands.  Via Tom Nelson.

Postscript: For those who slept through high school science:

  • North Pole ice melts, it does not evaporate (liquids evaporate).  Occasionally a solid will go straight from a solid to a gaseous state (e.g. with dry ice) - that is called sublimation.  Ice on Kilimanjaro, for example, sublimes rather than melts.
  • There have been a number of years this century, including several times in the 1930's, when the Northwest Passage opened up in the summer, so a recent opening was far from the "first time."
  • The ice cap does not hold down the tundra.  The concern, as I understand it, is that large stretches of Siberia are essentially permanently frozen peat bogs.   If the permafrost (which is under the tundra) melts, this allows the previously frozen organic matter to start to decompose, releasing methane which is a strong greenhouse gas.
  • When Waxman refers to a tipping point, he means that a positive feedback cycle, much like nuclear fission, is created causing temperatures to accelerate rapidly.  As an aside, such runaway positive feedback processes are rare among long-term stable natural systems, as at some point, given 5 billion years of history, they should have already run away by now.  Why temperatures would reach a tipping point now when they did not in millennia past when both global temperature and CO2 levels were much higher remains unexplained by Mr. Waxman and other tipping point advocates.
  • As of today, global sea ice extent is higher than the last 30 year average.  (this graph is updated regularly)
  • http://www.goldriverhotel.com GoldRiverHotel

    Good post, thanks for the info.

  • morganovich

    this is the same guy who put a rider into the cap and trade bill allowing people to sue the government for damages due to inaction on climate change.

    he's an absolute nightmare. makes maxine waters looks sane.

    what is it with the california caucus?

  • L Nettles

    "Well, there have been scientists brought together to see if they could figure out the science and make it clear whether this is a danger or not, whether it’s a danger that’s a great one or one that we can postpone for a while, and the overwhelming consensus of all the leading scientists that have looked at this issue is there is a warming of the planet, it’s manmade, caused by our burning of carbon fuels, and it’s happening faster than anybody ever thought it would happen."

    Shouldn't you point of the lies in the first paragraph too. 1. Scientists have been brought together to see if they could figure out the science. [what!? 2. make it clear if it is a danger or not 3. overwhelming consensus of all the leading scientists that have looked at this issue [which issue] 3. caused by burning carbon fuels 4. happening faster than anybody ever thought it would.

  • http://space4commerce.blogspot.com Brian Dunbar

    if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there’s a lot of tundra that’s being held down by that ice cap.

    One had the impression that the mental movie in Mr. Waxman's head has the tundra being flung into the air as the ice evaporates, flinging wildlife hither and yon and causing all kinds of higgidly-piggidly.

  • http://exit78.com Mike

    Part of the problem in Alaska is that the shore line in the far north is basically frozen gravel and soil. If the sea ice isn't there when the winter storms start, then the shore gets eroded from the storm surge and waves.

    I've been checking the sea ice extent graph on a daily basis. I wonder if 2009 will remain among the highest curves through the summer. Of course, it really doesn't matter. Waxman and others aren't going to listen to real science and real facts unless it meets their agenda.

  • Andrew

    This reminds me of the old "tubes" speech...

  • TXJim

    Warren I love ya bro but you know better than to assume. Smart people ARE the problem. Smart people hate solving simple issue, they gravitate to the complex and promptly f it up beyond all comprehension.

  • rxc

    If you are amazed that our leaders don't understand the difference between ice melting and water evaporating, think about how they make decisions to regulate biotechnology, nuclear reactors, or complex financial instruments. They can't do any math whatsoever, so any discussion of numerical risk automatically starts out "over their heads".

    These are the people who are going to control us for at least the next 2 years...

  • Allen

    I miss the good old days when there was scientific consensus that the Sun revolved around the Earth.