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Proactive Interventions
6

Proactive Interventions

Proactive Interventions

(OP)
Is Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) a real phenomena? I don't think so, but others do. If AGC is real, is human-generated CO2 the driving force? I don't think so, but others do. If human-generated CO2 is the driving force in ACC, can it be mitigated? I don't think so, but others do. If human-generated CO2 can be mitigated, what are the potential unintended consequences?

My basic question is: Can anyone name a grand-scale human intervention in nature that did not lead to unintended consequences that were on a par with the thing we were trying to "fix"?
  • Soil erosion? bring in Kudzu, Russian Olive, and Salt Cedar
  • Wildfires? Fight them and allow a fuel inventory to build up so large that when the forests catch fire today they burn so hot that they sterilize the soil and spread so fast that they can't be contained.
  • Hole in the ozone layer? Ban the most effective refrigerant ever developed, ban effective propellants in spray cans, then find that the ozone layer is patchy and has always been patchy and the R-12 and spray cans had nothing to do with the hole (and the original data was fabricated in the first place).
  • Floods? Install dams and find that the Grand Canyon is filling in with silt because it needs floods. So do farmlands. I'm not saying that flood control is bad (but many environmentalists are saying exactly that), but we have to accept the unintended consequences.
  • Eliminate predators? The prey animals lose their fear and congregate closer to rivers, eating the plants that stabilize the banks, turning rivers into swamps.
The list goes on and on. Is there a single case where we "fixed" something in nature and find that decades later there isn't something we created that is worse than what we were trying to fix? Before someone points to the Clean Air Act or cleaning up the smog in LA or the fact that the East River hasn't caught fire in decades--all of those things are about people fixing the mistakes that people made, not about "fixing" a natural thing. CO2 is less than 2% of the so-called greenhouse gases, the human-generated CO2 is less than 1% of that number (virtually all of the CO2 in the atmosphere comes from insects on land and krill and smaller sea life), so people are putting 0.02% of the CO2 into the air. What are the benefits and consequences of reducing that number unilaterally? Now if we could get the termites and krill to sign on, not to mention reduce ocean evaporation, then you could possibly lower the CO2 in the air to the extreme detriment of the plant life on earth.

People frequently say "what if you are wrong and ACC is real? We have to do something" My answer is always "engineers can deal with conditions that develop, our track record with proactive interventions is so bad that that is really the best we can do."

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

Are you seriously denying that chlorine atoms in the upper atmosphere catalytically destroy ozone?

Next you'll be telling us that lakes were acidifying naturally, and that had nothing to do with the burning of sulphur-containing fuels and roasting of sulphur-containing minerals.

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
Actually I'm saying that our ability to measure ozone in the atmosphere is less than 60 years old, and has been improving rapidly over those 60 years and the "discovery" of the "hole in the ozone" corresponded with a step change in our ability to measure the ozone. The hole in the ozone now looks to simply be patchy coverage of ozone that is as much unexplained today as it was 60 years ago. Chlorine does react with ozone, but so does nearly everything else.

There was a big furor a few years ago about the "methane plume over the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Colorado. This discovery coincided with the launch of a new satellite with more sensitive instruments. EPA spent millions of dollars having a number of Universities sample nearly every one of the 30,000 wells, 200 compressor stations, and 25 plants in the San Juan Basin. In spite of a strong bias towards the fault being the Oil & Gas industry, they found no emissions from industrial piping that could account for the methane. Funny thing is that the "plume" was centered on the location where four producing formations all came to the surface (called an "outcrop") and that the "emissions" were coming from the reservoirs and had been naturally leaking for something like 70 million years, but we just discovered them.

Ability to measure this stuff is a very recent thing, so when people try to put long-term graphs on them it is just nonsense.

As to "acidification" of lakes, rivers, and the ocean, I don't find that data in any way compelling. Mostly the pH changes were in the 4th and 5th decimal place when the uncertainty of the instruments was in the first and second decimal place. Most of the trends I've seen have been the result of selective data omission (called "cherry picking" in science and engineering).

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

Strange that I had a gardening problem with putting wood ash in my garden. It was making the soil sweeter, so I switched to placing the ash in the trash for the landfill.

If you would like my wood ash for your lakes, then we can work on a deal.

As for my garden, I am now trying to add acid to the soil. But I likely need more acid rain.

Chlorine is what we dump into drinking water and swimming pools, when we should be using ozone.

RE: Proactive Interventions

"engineers can deal with conditions that develop"

It it not easier to build dikes or whatever, now, while things are still dry, rather than to wait and try and build dikes underwater? Common sense says that we can either leave or harden our cities, but to try and deal with that with water already lapping at our doorsteps is basically a fool's errand.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
My problem is that when we "deal with" problems before they develop, we get Kudzu. We turn Yellowstone into a swamp. We poison the Mississippi River Delta with excess fertilizer from trying to grow corn on marginal land. We make refrigeration too expensive for people on a subsistence budget and many die. We ban DDT because of made-up data and kill children all over the world (to say nothing of workers who have to use the far more toxic alternatives that didn't have a book with a catchy title written about them). Proactive measures to do things on a global scale have never ended well. There is absolutely no evidence that this one will end any better.

The evidence of a change in the rate of sea level change does not exist--there are as many stations that show sea level decreasing as stations showing it increasing (it seems to be a function of the flow in the rivers feeding the locations where the measurements are taking place rather than a global thing). We were told in the 1990's that there would be 7 billion "climate refugees" by the year 2000. 18 years after that drop-dead date there are still zero climate refugees. A couple of islands have sunk, displacing the people living there, but that was subsidence, not sea-level rise, and the number of people impacted was dozens, not billions. Sea level will change (there is geological evidence that the city of Denver was once under 8,000 ft of water). Sea level rose during the Medieval Warm Period, but the people of Venice and Amsterdam figured out a way to deal with it and both of those low-lying cities did well during that period. And they did it without planting a single Russian Olive or Kudzu plant.

There was recently a huge iceberg calfing event that was LOUDLY attributed to global warming, and then quietly attributed to the volcanic release at the point the iceberg sheared off. I don't know how to build a dyke for that.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

Frankly zdas04 I share many of the sentiments expressed in your post above. I support the use of reason, logic and the scientific method to analyse problems and deal with them. The problem I have with your post above is that you fail to acknowledge the underlying problems that we were seeking to solve with each intervention. In fact, you go one step further and make the accusation that the concern was based on "made up data".

Let's take DDT as an example. There is no debate in the scientific community that broadcast spraying of DDT agriculturally for pest control was both a) ultimately ineffective and b) messing with the calcium metabolism in birds, leading to the near extinction of apex predator species. What you MEANT to say is that because a popular book was written and caught on in the public attention and imagination, the pendulum on DDT use swung from wanton, flagrant, uncontrolled and ultimately ineffective use to a total ban on a molecule which if, properly used, was of tremendous net potential benefit to humanity. What resulted was a ban on an ideological basis, which DID cost HUMAN lives and did so totally needlessly.

There is also a tremendous difference between doing something and continuing to do it despite evidence of harm, demanding absolute proof of harm before ceasing, and ceasing to do something because of the suspiscion of harm on a precautionary basis until a harm can be conclusively disproven. We engineers do the latter every day.

That DDT, applied to bed nets, is an effective and low exposure risk means of protecting poor children from malaria, is absolutely no justification for returning to the broadcast spraying of crops or forests with the chemical though, nor is it evidence contrary to the known environmental harms of the compound which limits its safe use (harms arising from its persistence and tendency to bioconcentrate).

This article gives some amusing and some devastating accounts of interventions gone wrong, and notes the origin of some apocryphal stories related to DDT and its unintended consequences- and the true, documented origins of some of those stories (i.e. cat deaths from DDT exposure leading to increases in rodent populations).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC26364...

The last sentence I think quite properly sums up the best attitude on this issue: "When speaking of the outbreak of rats among the Orang Ulu tribesmen of Sarawak, Harrisson wrote, “All who wish the ulu well should daily repeat this motto: DO GOOD CAREFULLY."

I'm not engaging on the global warming portion of the post.

RE: Proactive Interventions

So, by your logic, if we try to improve anything on large scale we should just not bother to try because we can't see all outcomes.

I'm assuming you're also against vaccines then?

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://www.facebook.com/AmericanConcrete/

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
TehMightyEngineer,
Interesting spin on my words. I'm actually saying that our ability to "manage", "control", or even "direct the path" of nature requires huge, ongoing introduction of energy and the willingness to stay the course. We haven't exhibited any of these abilities. Ever.

Think of your yard. You get it looking exactly like you want it to look. Then a week later you need to mow the grass. A couple of weeks later you need to trim a hedge, you need to add water, you need to feed the plants, you need to control insects. Huge input of energy and treasure. If you ever stop for a month, your landscape starts looking very shabby, quit for a season and volunteer species begin taking over. Quit for a year and you have to start over. Quit for a decade and it becomes impossible to tell you were ever there.

Nothing wrong with big projects. Think of the Three Rivers Dam. The goal was flood control and electric generation. Both things that the people have a serious interest in. Over time the farms in the flood plain will have issues with depletion of nutrients in the soil that had historically been replenished by floods. The rivers will tend to silt up from the managed flow rates. The lake behind the dam will silt up. Without ongoing input of massive amounts of energy and capital, some time in the future the face of the dam will become a waterfall (if the dam itself does not fail) and nature will reclaim the flood/drought cycle that it has exhibited for hundreds of millions of years.

As to vaccines, please stuff it.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

david,

I respect your opinions, and share some of them. I've read that the ozone "scare" was invented but that was on the "internet" so do you have any sources for your opinion ?

I've also heard similar about DDT. It sounds like your opinion is that inappropriate use lead to an all out ban. Are there sources for this opinion, ie the problem with DDT use in the US was this (this is why DDT affected various animal populations); however in this other environment this other selective use would be effective in controlling mosquito populations (without unintended effects on other populations) ? With the evidence that DDT effected some animal populations (and this was unexpected from the development of the chemical) I think it would be difficult to prove (to an acceptable standard) that the observed cause/effect is now understood and that it won't recur, nor will some other unintended cause/effect appear, with some other usage of DDT.

It would be interesting (I guess I'll have to find the time) to see the causal link between CFCs and free C in the upper atmosphere; maybe it's enough to know that we've reduced the man-made portion of one ozone depletion chemical (although there could be naturally occurring C) and we, as a society, consider that worth the cost. I agree that once we start looking at things, and find things we don't expect, then we knee-jerk to "it's man-made". But the problem with many of these natural systems is that they're very interconnected, it's hard to say this is causing that. Did we measure surface IR before we measured the ozone layer (in places like Australia) ? skin cancer rates ? Did these things make us look to the ozone layer as a cause ?

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
The link from DDT to reduced strength in raptor eggs was first made in Rachael Carson's "Silent Spring" published in 1962. Many attribute this book with being the beginning of "environmental activism" (other's say it started with Edward Abbey's fiction). No one has ever been able to replicate the data, graphs, or conclusions in that book, but it led directly to the DDT ban. Later research tracked the problem with the raptor eggs to other sources, and researchers were unable to find a statistically valid link between any problems with mammal, reptile, or bird species to DDT. The link seems to have been made up from whole cloth.

The Ozone layer depletion is a similar fiasco. In 1986 the British Antarctic Survey published the "discovery" that there was a huge hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic that had been growing since the 1970's (but there was absolutely no data from before that time). This stampeded the Politicians into banning CFC's in the Montreal Protocol of 1987. Montreal made it official we are all going to die from skin cancer if we keep using CFC. Anyone who questions that "fact" is a "flat earther", "climate denier", "anti-science". Again, instruments improved in the 1970's so that we could see a "hole in the ozone", but they were not good enough to tell if patchy ozone layer was a normal phenomena, or man made. Today the hole in the ozone over Antarctica is largely closed. Incidence of skin cancer in Australia (per 100,000 population) has increased steadily since the 1970's, mortality has been flat. Once again, the link from CFC to Ozone depletion to skin cancer does not stand up to unbiased statistical analysis.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

thx

DDT story ... sigh, sounds another we're familiar with (related to this topic) ... flashy ppt presentation, pictures of cute animals with sad stories, captures public imagination, etc.

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Proactive Interventions

not that I've linked it to ozone hole but the skin cancer rate did increase between '85 and 2000 (doubled from 30 to 60 per 100,000) and since then essentially flat. Though maybe there is a linkage ? Now whether the "hole" was solely due to CFCs is (of course) a different question. We'll never know what would be today's condition if we didn't stop CFC production. Maybe it's enough to say that one possible manmade cause has been addressed ?

But back to your topic !
The potential for unintended outcomes is so proven by experience that we better not (IMHO) intentionally mess with the environment.

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Proactive Interventions

just can't let it go ! This from cancerwa.asn.au ...

In reality, ozone depletion has made no appreciable difference to skin cancer rates in Australia and New Zealand. The quantum of additional UV exposure was modest – and at a time of year when most skin was covered so as to stay warm. Happily, the Montreal Protocol has proven successful in facilitating ozone repair.

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
Well, something has resulted in that particular hole being eradicated. Personally, I don't believe Montreal or the CFC ban had a single thing to do with it (something like 88% of the world's population is in the Northern Hemisphere, Antarctica is in the Southern Hemisphere, the reductions in CFC's happened on the wrong side of the equator and general flows tend to be away from the equator not past it)

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

That would certainly ruin the notion that man could have anything to do with global atmospheric effects. Nevertheless, the ozone depletion correlates with the increasing use of CFCs in the post WWII industrial boom and and its recovery correlates with the banning of CFCs, and there's no natural phenomenon that correlates with either or could even happen in barely 60 years

The atmosphere in the northern hemisphere does mix with the southern hemisphere; it's not like there's a brick wall at the equator. That stratification of the Hadley cells is mostly why it's taken so long to see the changes we had expected from the CFC ban. Not to mention cheating of the ban and increased usage of other ODCs over time. As described in http://acmg.seas.harvard.edu/people/faculty/djj/bo... it takes about a year for air to redistribute over the globe.




TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Proactive Interventions

Just to nail this down a bit: it is popular among the so-called "skeptic" community to claim that past interventions of any kind were pointless or ineffective or counterproductive, as a means to support their assertion that we need not or should not do anything about the problem of the moment (i.e. global warming).

The claims about the link between CFCs and ozone holes in the atmosphere are just one such example. There was a loud, public, well-funded effort to discredit the science and so avert the CFC ban, akin to the one against the health effects of cigarettes before it. This was all basically a dry run for the global warming denial campaign that we've seen over the past three decades.

If you want to find out more about what was done in an attempt to discredit the link between CFCs and ozone depletion, you can read about it here:

https://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/ozo...

https://debunkingdenial.com/the-ozone-layer-contro...

It's fair to say that you'll struggle to find credible scientific evidence that the link between CFC emissions and ozone destruction is false. The last few paragraphs of the 2nd link I posted above give a far more credible theory about where attitudes such as zdas04's arise from, and frankly, it's not based in science.

Just to clarify in relation to DDT as well: there is no doubt that DDT's indiscriminate use led to environmental harm- that is factual, based on measurements and experiment. The only question is this: if we had chosen to respond with strict control of DDT use to applications which minimized the resulting environmental harm, could we have achieved a better result for humankind? The answer to that question depends on how good you think humans are at following rules, when not following them can make them more money. In an ideal world we'd have kept the molecule while retaining 99.99% of its beneficial uses- its beneficial uses being a TINY SUBSET of its possible or indeed its past uses. The same would be true of pentachlorophenol and numerous other molecules we have similarly shunned, either directly or because of their association with dangerous byproducts of their manufacture (chlorinated dioxins and furans for instance).

RE: Proactive Interventions

in your "debukingdenial" link, section 10 "a world avoided" is pure fiction ... sorry, pure model generated fiction.

ok, Chlorine atoms break ozone down. what also breaks ozone down ? (no, I'm not looking for a witch). solar radiation for one, I'm sure there's a list.

If the ozone "hole" rapidly appear just before we measured it, how are we to know ?

Did the ozone hole develop over time (as our CFC use increased) ? wouldn't that be signaled by an increase in skin cancer rates in Australia, South Africa, maybe New Zealand (before we knew about the hole) ?

I completely agree that removing one cause of ozone depletion is probably worthwhile, particularly as it came at a reasonably affordable cost. Did banning CFCs restore the ozone layer ? I think the jury's out on that.

I accept David's point that we over-react to data, or perhaps make the data fit our agenda.

Was the original data faked (or "nudged") ? I have no opinion on that, but I hope not.

RE: Proactive Interventions

My recollection of the chemistry is over 20 yrs old so bear with any errors I make here, but IIRC, vacuum ultraviolet (shorter than about 180 nm) actually photolyzes oxygen molecules to make singlet oxygen atoms, which react with oxygen molecules to make ozone and some heat. Ozone itself absorbs longer wavelength UV (180 to about 300 nm) to make either a singlet or triplet oxygen atom and an oxygen molecule. Two triplet atoms can react with one another to re-make oxygen, and a singlet generally reacts with an oxygen molecule to re-make ozone. Water and hydroxyl and peroxy radicals are also involved, and these and the oxygen atoms can also tend to destroy a lot of organic molecules if they make it this high into the atmosphere without meeting a similar chemical end, so this is a simplification. But in summary, this explains why the ozone layer a) exists in the first place and b) absorbs harmful UV radiation that is NOT absorbed by oxygen, nitrogen or water, converting it harmlessly into heat. Whereas most compounds are photolyzed or destroyed or condensed out and returned to earth lower down in the atmosphere, CFCs actually made it up high enough in sufficient concentrations to be photolyzed to generate chlorine atoms. The chlorine atoms catalytically destroy ozone with a chain length of something near 1,000,000, meaning that one chlorine atom destroys about a million ozone molecules before it is terminated in a species which no longer generates chlorine atoms.

The chemistry is well understood- much better understood by people who actually study it in detail than I've laid it out.

RE: Proactive Interventions

Quote:

I accept David's point that we over-react to data, or perhaps make the data fit our agenda.

That depends on the data.

Certainly we should be cautious about accepting data that indicates we don't have a problem.

Data that suggests that we do have a problem should be accepted until it is proved wrong, beyond reasonable doubt.

That's just standard engineering practice.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

The precautionary principle is not the same as "just standard engineering practice".

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
The "Greenhouse Gas" hypotheses absolutely says that the temperature in the troposphere must be warmer than surface temperatures. Every weather balloon data set and every satellite data set shows that the temperature in the troposphere is measurably lower than the surface temperature. Not "slightly warmer" or "about the same", but "the surface temperature is always warmer". While I think that the "precautionary principle" is absolute nonsense, this data set seems to say "there is nothing here to be cautious about". It quite thoroughly satisfies the "reasonable doubt" test.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

That's only if you look at the raw tropospheric data without accounting for the cooling bias from the stratosphere that is predicted by ACC.

https://skepticalscience.com/print.php?r=303
https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/1520-...
https://atmos.washington.edu/~qfu/Publications/nat...

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Proactive Interventions

Quote:

The precautionary principle is not the same as "just standard engineering practice".

True. The precautionary principle is only part of standard engineering practice, or at least it should be.

If you disagree, please explain why.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

Quote:

While I think that the "precautionary principle" is absolute nonsense, this data set seems to say "there is nothing here to be cautious about". It quite thoroughly satisfies the "reasonable doubt" test.

Why do you think the precautionary principle is absolute nonsense?

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
IDS,
According to Wikipedia, two ideas lie at the core of the "precautionary principle"

Quote (Wikipedia)

  1. an expression of a need by decision-makers to anticipate harm before it occurs. Within this element lies an implicit reversal of the onus of proof: under the precautionary principle it is the responsibility of an activity-proponent to establish that the proposed activity will not (or is very unlikely to) result in significant harm.
  2. the concept of proportionality of the risk and the cost and feasibility of a proposed action

It is the second element that I have trouble with. If you've read my other posts in this forum you will have seen that I have great disdain for man's ability to effectively "manage nature" and I have provided several examples where we have failed miserably. So with this track record of "doing something" that ultimately resulted in more harm than the thing we were trying to "fix", the idea of "doing something" on a global scale to "fix" global warming or ACC keeps me up nights. There is no scenario where the potential "good" of intervening on the climate can possibly outweigh the even greater potential for harm.

There have been warm periods before that always resulted in step-change improvements in the lives of humans. Balance that against the potential for Kudzu on a global scale and this subject is actually a no-brainer--stop the madness and never spend another penny on ACC research or mitigation.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

David Simpson - I didn't ask why you think proposed action to reduce climate change is a bad thing, I asked why you think the precautionary principle is absolute nonsense.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
IDS,
Sorry if you cannot see that I did answer your question.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

reminds me of (I think) Lewis Caroll's ...
"who's coming down the road?"
(Alice?) "I can see no-one on the road"
"gosh you have wonderful eyesight (to see no-one on the road)"

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Proactive Interventions

I do think zdas04 believes in the precautionary principle, and I strongly suspect he makes use of it in his engineering practice whether he believes in its validity or not.

Paraphrasing the many, many words he's written on this subject over the past decade or so that I've been reading them, I believe he just denies that the precautionary principle has any applicability to the global warming situation because he is absolutely convinced that, based on his analysis of the problem, the precautions being proposed are not necessary because there is no problem to solve. As further support of this argument, he argues that many other interventions we've taken to solve environmental problems in past were either solving a problem that wasn't there in the first place, or made things worse etc.

Of course by making this argument, in my opinion, he's practicing outside his competence. I am in no way holding out my own competence in this matter as superior to his by the way. But, it seems to me, zdas04 is holding out his expertise in a subject in which he has no formal training that I'm aware of, as equivalent to that of those who actually study the subject for a living.

In past, he has retorted to this argument on my part by calling it an "appeal to authority fallacy". I argue that we have another name when the appeal made is to the authority of the scientific literature on a particular topic- we call that the current state of human knowledge on a subject. That knowledge is subject to change upon presentation of new data or better theories which better fit all the data, but for the moment, that's the best we've got. An appeal to that knowledge is not a logical fallacy. A true appeal to authority fallacy is an appeal to an authority which either cannot be questioned (i.e. your favorite deity), or an authority which in fact isn't an authority. That is the crux of his argument as far as I can see it: he's arguing that the authorities on a particular subject are wrong and hence cannot be relied on as authorities.

RE: Proactive Interventions

Worse than that, they're not authorities because they're wrong AND they've faked or manipulated the data, and anyone else associated with the data is guilty by association. This requires a conspiracy of epic proportions; not sure we don't just blame it on the Illuminati or those responsible for faking the Moon landings.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Proactive Interventions

Good post moltenmetal.

Still, it would be good to see from at least one of those who absolutely rejects the precautionary principle a reasoned explanation of why they do.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

I assume you accept that engineering judgment is an important concept. But not all of us exercise engineering judgment equally. I think the precautionary principle is an unnecessary impediment to my engineering judgment, so I choose to not accept that principle. Now, there is no need to interpret what I really mean, as some want to do for zdas04.

RE: Proactive Interventions

The precautionary principle is most often used by people to explain their belief in God without having to think too deeply about the subject. It is used in political and religious arguments. In engineering we use a cost/benefit analysis.

RE: Proactive Interventions

Hokie66 - In what way is it true that "the precautionary principle is an unnecessary impediment to (your) engineering judgment"? At the moment I have no idea what you "really mean".

CompositePro - We are talking about the precautionary principle as applied in engineering; why bring God or politics into it? A cost/benefit analysis that ignores the possibility of some possible adverse consequences is valueless.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

IDS you seem to have just reinforced my point. What is the difference between the precautionary principle and a cost benefit analysis? What are these "possibilities" that are left out of a cost/benefit analysis that are in your precautionary principle, other than beliefs?

RE: Proactive Interventions

Compositepro - The Precautionary Principle (which is certainly not mine, and I didn't even introduce the term in this discussion, but I'm happy to use it) is (or should be) simply a part of cost/benefit analysis, or engineering judgement, or standard engineering practice, or whatever you want to call it.

If by "beliefs" you mean things that are accepted because they are held to be self-evident, or because some authority has said that they must be accepted without question, then "beliefs" have nothing to do with the precautionary principle.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

IDS,
You didn't call it that, but you did introduce it in your post of 24 Oct, 0750. Some of us don't subscribe to this principle, probably mostly because it is one of the doctrines of the AGW crowd.

RE: Proactive Interventions

Quote:

You didn't call it that, but you did introduce it in your post of 24 Oct, 0750. Some of us don't subscribe to this principle, probably mostly because it is one of the doctrines of the AGW crowd.

And I have invited those who do accept the principle, which I consider to be a part of standard engineering practice, to explain why they do not accept it.

So far with zero meaningful response.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

(OP)
IDS,
Why don't you start a thread on this "principle" and stop hijacking this discussion? No one on eng-tips.com has any obligation to answer any question. We are all here for our own reasons and it bothers me that you won't accept that.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Proactive Interventions

Personally I think that IDS has actually found the crux of the argument- the fundamental point on which we disagree on this subject. I find his question to be totally relevant to the discussion.

To elaborate a bit: the precautionary process that we use in the safety evaluation of a chemical plant might be termed a cost-benefit analysis, but that would be a gross and inaccurate over-simplification. A hazards and operability study (HAZOP) is certainly far more than a mere evaluation of the cost of safety mitigations versus their benefit in hazard reduction- in fact, it is NEVER done on those terms in my experience. Rather, the probability and severity of a particular harm are multiplied by one another as a measure of comparative risk. We then use our values- DIFFERENT values for money versus for human life- to evaluate how urgently and to what degree of certainty we must mitigate the hazard by reducing either the probability or the severity with mitigating measures if possible. There is nobody in those meetings sitting there deciding that the risk of losing a human life is worth $1 million but not $2 million worth of mitigation efforts- THAT would be a cost-benefit analysis. No, a cost-benefit analysis has long ago been relegated to the far simpler task of making decisions of a financial nature, where a value on human life and injury etc. reduced to dollar terms is never actually made.

In every HAZOP I've ever participated in, it was a given that if the team felt that a risk of serious harm to persons or the environment that we could reasonably forsee could not be mitigated to an acceptable level, the decision would be made to terminate the project until such a mitigation could be designed or some other means could be deployed to eliminate or reduce the probability or severity of the harm- a wholesale redesign rather than just an additional mitigation.

It has never been my experience that a HAZOP review encountered a harm with a high risk ranking, i.e. moderate probability and high severity- with the conclusion being to keep operating the way we are now while gathering more data. No- instead you'd be shutting things down until necessary mitigations can be put in place. If a professional engineer were involved and the team chose to proceed down that "run it but monitor" path, if they disagreed strongly enough with the finding, they couldn't let it lie there without taking further action- doing so would put them in violation of their duty to hold the public safety as paramount.

So: I'd argue, as I've argued in past, that when we encounter a risk of harm, there is a world of difference between stopping what we're doing until we're more certain that the risk of harm isn't realistic, and chugging along doing what we've always done until the risk can be PROVEN to be realistic. And certainly if the source of the prediction of the harmful outcome is the peer-reviewed literature on a scientific subject, it would be very strange indeed if the team were to turn their nose up at it and say, "sorry, that's not a good enough standard of proof to change our current course of action."

There's how the precautionary principle applies to this issue, from my perspective.

RE: Proactive Interventions

that is IMHO a very simplistic view, although completely appropriate for a class of risks (like chemical spills).

Say someone came to a HAZOP meeting and said "I've done a quick analysis of a problem and I think there's a 10% chance of human fatality". Would you ask him to refine his analysis before taking action (taking him seriously) ? If he added "I've run the analysis pass a couple of friends, experts in the field, and they agree." would that make you take him seriously ?

part of the problem with this topic is that it relies completely on models. Anything Wrong with that per se, until you add "unvalidated" models. Anyone who's worked with models knows they can trick you quicker than anything. Too coarse and they obscure important details, too detailed and they flood you with irrelevant "hot spots".

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Proactive Interventions

Maybe we should ask whether Neil Armstrong actually landed on the Moon. It took far less people to fake that than the number required to generate fake data and bogus models supporting ACC.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
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RE: Proactive Interventions

"Maybe we should ask whether Neil Armstrong actually landed on the Moon." why? ... no, it's not worth the agro.

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Proactive Interventions

OK rb1957, I see your point, and my analogy was not meant to be perfect either. It was merely meant to show how the precautionary principle applies not only to routine engineering, but also to this issue- which it very clearly does.

While it is a measured certainty that a) we've increased the atmospheric [CO2] substantially as a result of burning fossils and b) that results in climactic forcing by narrowing the IR radiative window into space, we must rely on models to determine the severity of the result. The alternative, i.e. finding another Earth in another universe where accelerated timescale experiments are possible, is just not on the table.

So: how do we deal with the obvious uncertainty of the models? The same way we deal with uncertainty in other engineering problems- and where risk assessment is concerned, that's most often the case. We put error bars on the inputs and outputs. We realize there will be a range of possible outcomes. And we attribute a probability to how far wrong we might be. How likely are we to be completely wrong, i.e. to the point that the added CO2 has no negative effect? How likely are we to be on a path to 5 C temperature rise in the next century? How likely is it that we'll fall somewhere in between? We can then calculate a risk by multiplying probability times severity and determine whether we need to take action at all, and if so, how aggressive that action needs to be.

We've done that. And we've concluded that we need to take action. By "we" I mean the people who actually are qualified to do that work.

I agree 100% that unlike the certainty we have about the causes, the outcomes are much less certain. They are not founded in measurements, but rather on model predictions of an enormously complex system.

We also must acknowledge that all mitigations have a cost- that's always true. People are wont to say that "safety is always #1", implying that it's worth any cost- but that's actually empty rhetoric for the most part. All activity- all benefit we might extract from anything we do- comes with associated risk. We can definitely argue about the cost and potential effectiveness of particular mitigations- we could spend a long time arguing that and nobody would be absolutely right or wrong. But we do generally acknowledge one thing: the universe working the way it does, it is usually far easier to deal with a problem by prevention than after entropy has had its way. By "easier", I mean with less human and economic cost. Again, that is absolutely fair game for debate among reasonable people.

RE: Proactive Interventions

Maybe my interpretation is to rigid, but as I see it, we are not, can not, and will not ever apply the precautionary principle to ACC. By that standard we would need to return to the stone age posthaste. I don't see anyone here advocating for that.

I see a lot of discussion about trying to find things we can all actually agree on. e.g. in another thread trying to establish an agreement on the fundamentals of the greenhouse effect and anthropogenic CO2 increases. What about this one: Is it possible to agree that the climate science community has at least some self-induced credibility problems? I acknowledge that they are the authority on the issue, but their poor record of predictions doesn't help them. Much of this is undoubtedly due to every small claim being blown out of proportion by the media and political figures, but some very poor predictions were made nonetheless. I understand it is a fallacy to say "wrong then - wrong now", but anyone's credibility is damaged when they are proved wrong about something. It must also be acknowledged that there is some echo-chamber effect within the field. It is not healthy for any scientific field to be isolated from the greater academy and dismiss external involvements and opinions. Peer-review becomes less and less valuable when the peers rarely disagree, or may even be scared to disagree.

RE: Proactive Interventions

Quote (zdas04)

Why don't you start a thread on this "principle" and stop hijacking this discussion?

My initial post was a response to a post by rb1957, which quoted a comment you had made. Every other post has been a direct response to later replies. I'm not sure how that constitutes hi-jacking.

Quote:

No one on eng-tips.com has any obligation to answer any question.

Of course they don't. But if a question is unanswered, then everyone is also free to make note of that.

Quote:

We are all here for our own reasons and it bothers me that you won't accept that.

I have absolutely no idea why you think I don't accept that, but I'm very happy to tell you that I completely accept it.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

Quote (FoxRox)

Maybe my interpretation is to rigid, but as I see it, we are not, can not, and will not ever apply the precautionary principle to ACC. By that standard we would need to return to the stone age posthaste

I don't know about too rigid, but I don't see that as being an outcome of applying the precautionary principle to ACC. A return to the stone age would have immediate adverse consequences far greater than the short term consequences of climate change, and probably greater than the long term consequences as well, so the precautionary principle rules that out as a solution, just as much as it rules out "do nothing" as a solution.

The precautionary principle requires that we make an assessment of all the available evidence, considering the extent and likelihood of all consequences, and that where there is conflicting evidence, greater weight is given to the evidence of adverse consequences. That seems completely within accepted standard engineering practice to me.

I would also note that when considering proactive interventions, the precautionary principle is certainly highly relevant, and failure to do this is certainly a reasonable criticism of some measures taken or proposed for reducing climate change.

Doug Jenkins
Interactive Design Services
http://newtonexcelbach.wordpress.com/

RE: Proactive Interventions

There's no need to talk about going backward in time- we'll need all our modern technology to deal with the issue of AGW, and we have reasonable hope that we'll continue inventing new technology in future which will be even more helpful.

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