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Al Gore refuses to gamble on the environment

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J. Scott Armstrong, a forecasting expert and climate-change skeptic from the Wharton School of Business, thinks he is smarter than former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore. Armstrong believes he can "make more accurate forecasts of annual mean temperatures than those that can be produced by current climate models," and has repeatedly challenged Gore to put money on the proposition. Today is Gore's deadline to take him up on the wager.

If Gore accepted the bet, both men would deposit $10,000 into an escrow account that would be distributed by the winner to the charity of his choice in 2018, when the contest would end. The prize goes to whomever has the closest-to-accurate predictions of average temperature, over one to 10-year horizons, at 10 independently chosen weather stations around the globe over the course of the next decade.

Armstrong's Global Warming Challenge came in June of last year, as Gore revelled in the success of his film An Inconvenient Truth and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was preparing its most grim predictions on climate change to date. Armstrong and a colleague published a paper (pdf) entitled "Global Warming: Forecasts by Scientists Versus Scientific Forecasts" blasting the IPCC models as unscientific.

Armstrong initially challenged the former veep to answer the wager by December 1, 2007, but was rebuffed by Gore's representatives. Armstrong, in a letter to Gore, then granted an extention of the wager deadline until today, March 26th, 2008. Gore has again declined (click here for the Armstrong's account of the exchange between the two camps), but he still has a few hours in which to change his mind.

I hope he doesn't. Gore is right to dismiss this antagonistic offer. Subjecting complex scientific issues to a game of gotcha only heightens the conflict surrounding the issue, and doesn't bring us any closer to bridging political divides or solving problems that most scientists agree will plague us for generations to come.

But if Armstrong wants people to put their money where their mouths are, perhaps he would agree to this wager: Both he and Gore can purchase vacation homes of equal value, Gore's house on high ground, and Armstrong's on the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu. Then we'll see who's really full of hot air.

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This Week in China

Taiwan

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Taiwan held its presidential election Saturday, and the winner is... Ma Ying-jeou, who advocates closer economic ties to mainland China. In addition, the referenda on U.N. membership failed. Ma is already laying out his plans for change.

Frank Hsieh, Ma's defeated opponent, is stepping down as DPP party chair.

U.S. President George W. Bush sees a "fresh opportunity" in cross-strait relations, but President-elect Ma is not likely to get a White House visit. U.S. policies forbid Taiwan's diplomats from entering the White House or the State Department. Instead, they "meet senior U.S. administration officials in coffee shops and restaurants," the AP reports.

UBS analyst Ken Chen says decreased political risk and closer mainland ties mean that Taiwan will "outshine other markets" and bring in $50 billion in investment over the next few months.

Taipei Airlines Association is jumping at the opportunity to set up direct flights with the mainland. The proposed new flights could draw 3,000 mainlanders a day to Taiwan, Ma claims. The flights would also allow Taiwanese professionals easier access to mainland job opportunities and make it easier for the nearly half a million already living in Shanghai to visit home.

China

Protests in Tibet are ongoing as an estimated 660 people are in custody over the violence. Details are thin as foreign reporters have difficulty getting into the region, save for 26 journalists on a state-sponsored access pass.

The United States is still pushing for dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday urged "a more sustainable policy for the Chinese government concerning Tibet." Chinese ex-official Bao Tong, ousted after the Tiananmen Square incident, also called for talks with the spiritual leader.

China is firing back at Western media coverage of Tibet. It goes without saying that censorship is widespread in China, and CNN and other news channels often go dark there when politically sensitive issues receive coverage.

The alleged perpetrators in a botched plane attack on March 7 from Xinjiang to Beijing hail from Pakistan and Central Asia and advocate independence for Xinjiang, China's predominantly Muslim western province. China Southern Airlines gave a cash reward to the crew that foiled the attack.

China will redouble efforts to preserve its cultural heritage in arts and architecture. About 100 forms of Chinese opera, for instance, have died out in the past 60 years.

Economy

By 2025, China will have 221 cities with over one million residents. A report by McKinsey Global Institute recommends the government build supercities to reduce strain on land, water, and energy resources while boosting productivity and efficiency.

A diesel shortage has hit China's east coast due to a harsh winter and increased demand as spring approaches.

China's sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corp., and China Life Insurance Co. bought into Visa's IPO, the largest U.S. IPO in history with stakes of $100 million and $300 million respectively.

Analysis

The Carnegie Endowment's William Chandler argues for Sino-American emissions cooperation in Breaking the Suicide Pact: U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change.

Robert Kagan, also of the Carnegie Endowment, questions what a "responsible stakeholder" in the world order means for China in light of its autocratic behavior.

And finally, China will attempt to modify the weather during the Beijing Olympics to provide the best conditions possible for athletes. ABC reports that in 2010, if the experiments this summer are successful, China will create a government ministry devoted to weather modification and double its current efforts at taming Mother Nature.