Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Gavin Schmidt in today's USA Today:
"I understand why people get excited about abrupt climate change, but the probable things are already scary."

GW solved

An evangelical in Washington has found the solution to the problems of global warming: they're ruled out by the will of God.
Another Washington lobbyist on the religious right told the Guardian: "...There may be a debate to be had but ... people can only sustain so many moral movements in their lifetime. Is God really going to let the Earth burn up?"
Perhaps Hell is just a runaway greenhouse effect.

(Via Kevin Drum.)

Hurricanes and GW

A couple of papers in the news about global warming and hurricanes. Both are covered in the NY Times, and here's a press release about the EOS article by Mann and Emanuel. It seems there isn't a consensus yet, with some of the climate science people finding a positive correlation between hurricane strength and global warming and some of the hurricane people still attributing increased hurricane strength to natural cycles. From the climate scientists:
When Mann and Emanuel use both global temperature trends and the enhanced regional cooling impact of the pollutants, they are able to explain the observed trends in both tropical Atlantic temperatures and hurricane numbers, without any need to invoke the role of a natural oscillation such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.
and from a hurricane guy:
Stanley B. Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has expressed skepticism about any connection between global warming and hurricane intensity, said he had not seen the new papers but had read nothing in other recent research to change his view.

"There's going to be an endless series of articles from this circle that is embracing this new theology built on very flimsy interpretation" of hurricane data, Mr. Goldenberg said. "If global warming is having an effect on hurricanes, I certainly wouldn't base it on the articles I've seen."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

USA Today on GW

USA Today has a series this week on global warming. There is only so much time in the day to read these kinds of things, but they are the largest newspaper in the country so I suppose this will reach a lot of readers that are unfamiliar with the subject. Based on this Google groups posting about the series, though, the typical reader of this blog can probably skip this one.

Growing Our Meat

Will Saletan has a nice article in Slate about growing meat in a laboratory, and also about the cognitive dissonance in the difference between our diets and our conscience. I've been thinking about this for about a month, ever since I saw this horrendous video shot by PETA that shows cows being butchered alive in a slaughterhouse. I haven't eaten any beef since, though I have eaten chicken. I've tried in the past to be a vegetarian, but after three months or so I start to feel kind of squirrely. I would have far less problems eating beef if they weren't factory farmed--if they were raised humanely and killed cleanly and instantaneously. It's the factory farming that gets to me. I hope someday there is a solution for this and humanity takes the issue of animal rights seriously, but unfortunately I do not expect it to be in my lifetime.

Paulson and Kyoto

US Treasury Secretary John Snow is finally being booted out, and low-and-behold there actually seems to be a reasonable man being nominated in his stead:
President Bush’s new nominee for Treasury Secretary, Goldman Sachs Chairman Henry M. Paulson Jr., not only endorses the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse emissions, but argues that the United States’ failure to enact Kyoto undermines the competitiveness of U.S. companies.
The White House must be scrapping the bottom of the barrel if they're bringing some Kyoto sissy onboard. It's too bad the Bush administration keeps their cabinet secretaries shuttered off to the side and all but invisible.

Don't worry, though, the right-wingers are going to do all they can to scuttle this nomination:
As a result, Paulson’s nomination is strongly opposed by a coalition of right-wing groups seeking to cast doubt on climate science, such as the National Center for Public Policy Research, describing Paulson as “diametrically opposed to the positions of [the Bush] Administration.”

Monday, May 29, 2006

Everest climber Mark Inglis

GM promotion

General Motors has a new promotion going where if you buy a Hummer, Tahoo, or Yukon, a gas truck follows you around wherever you go.

Well, not really--they offer you gas at $1.99 per gallon for a year. Estimated savings: $2,270. No mention of externalized costs: mid-east wars, heated atmospheres, resource depletion. But I guess we already know who will be paying for those.

Blair Backs Down

Last week Tony Blair caved to pressure from the Bush administration and softened his words on global warming. Here's what he ended up saying:
Blair had also planned to "take a tough line" on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which he supports and Bush opposes, the paper reported. In the end, Blair said only that "we must act on climate change," and international negotiations provide "a way forward, building on Kyoto, which can involve America, China and India."

The paper reported that during the climate change section of the speech, a cellphone rang in the audience and Blair quipped, "I hope that isn't the White House telling me they don't agree with that. They act very quickly, these guys."

Yes, it's all very funny, isn't it?

Sunday, May 28, 2006


There's a long article in today's Washington Post Magazine on skeptics, by Joel Achenbach. William Gray is the main focus, though some other skeptics are quoted as well. It's more of a profile and not science journalism, and Achenbach gives the skeptics wide range to offer their (often angry) views. For the most part it's stenography. He does finally clean it up a little towards the end, countering some of their main arguments with consensus views.

Wikipedia says William Gray is scaling back his hurricane work to focus more on global warming.

No Gore

Gore called up the NY Times the other night to say he's not running for prez. He sounds pretty darn certain about it.

That's too bad--this time I would have voted for him. (I hereby confess that in 2000 I voted, in the state of New Hampshire, for Ralph Nader. That was the state that Gore lost by ~15,000 votes, and which if he would have won he would have been elected POTUS. I am one of 15,000 American voters who inadvertantly turned that election. I am sorry.)

Gore's goal now?
"My whole objective is to change the mind of the American public so all the presidential candidates in both parties will want to talk about global warming."

More Easterbrook

Many science blogs are still buzzing about Gregg Easterbrook's (yes, him again) review in Slate of Al Gore's new global warming movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Tim Lambert weighs in today. In particular this quote from Easterbrook's 2000 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, reprinted by the Discovery Institute, caught my eye:
When it comes to intellectual rigidity, there's little difference between the national academy declaring that only natural forces may be considered, and the church declaring that only divine explanations may be considered.
This simply flabbergasts me. It is so anathema to everything science is about and to everything I know and value about science that I really don't even know what to say about it. I mean, does Easterbrook even live in the same natural world that I do?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Mark Provo and Fermat's Last Theorem

There was a weird but interesting article in the May 7th Oregonian, "The Riddle in Room 114," by reporter Tom Hallman. It was a literary journalistic attempt to tell the story of Mark Provo, a obsessed 43-year old man who has been living hand-to-mouth in a motel for the last three years, trying to prove Fermat's Last Theorem. Provo seems to get by on small donations from various benefactors who want to support his work.

The story leads to Provo's web site, where he's posted his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, and where until recently he had a document that he claims is important for "national security." (I was able to read it before he took it down.) Needless to say, Provo is a complete crank. Sincere, but still a crank. He has no more proved Fermat's Last Theorem than I have found the Holy Grail. His mathematics consist of simplistic statements that often follow little to no logic, and his results are all in his imagination.

What was even worse was the document on national security, which was pure numerology that had to do with the number of letters in words like "World Trade Center" and "tsumani" and other trivia. Provo would count these letters in various ways and associate them with dates and other types of numbers. He's now apparently waiting to announce his findings on live television once someone pays attention to him. Really.

It's all fairly ridiculous, except that he's gotten 15,000+ hits since the Oregonian article appeared and a few people are actually giving him money. As of today he says he's gotten 13 contributors, and notes that "money is desperately needed at this point." That annoys me, because I think in a way it's taking advantage of people's ignorance. Sure, Provo is upfront about the details of his work (at least, he was until he took down the recent "national security" document), and he's free to hang up his shingle and make his case. But his work has never been published in peer-reviewed literature, and as far as I can tell he's never even submitted it to peer-review. He refuses to accept the judgement of professional mathematicians (see below), and he's holding his work out as revolutionary when it's anything but.

The Oregonian article also annoyed me because there are so many real mathematicians in this world who deserve a Sunday, front page, above-the-fold, three-page article about their work, and the paper chose to profile a quack. People are free to do what they want with their money, but hopefully some of them will read this first.

UPDATE: To give Hallman and the Oregonian some credit, they weren't really that gullible about Provo's claim to prove Fermat's Last Theorem. They arranged for a professional mathematician to read his work, Neal Koblitz, a math professor at the University of Washington. Kobliltz, of course, said Provo did not have a proof, but he seemed too polite to say that it wasn't really mathematics. So the newspaper was kinda more-or-less appropriately skeptical. I'm still going to wait for them to profile a real mathematician.

In a May 23rd blog entry, Oregonian editor Jack Hart had more to say about their story, saying that "in hindsight, Provo was not the appropriate subject for such a story."

Today's GW op-ed

It seems like every day now brings at least one major op-ed on global warming. The other day it was Gregg Easterbrook in the NY Times, announcing to the world that "...I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert." It's nice to have his permission to now take the problem seriously. But really, where was he five years ago when the IPCC Third Assessment Report announced the 2001 scientific consensus?

Anyway, today's op-ed from a resident environmental titan comes from Bill McKibben, who in the Washington Post says he's been on the right side for the last 20 years. He is still keen on regulation, though thinks businesses won't allow it, and then writes:
Do they understand that technological change alone cannot achieve the 70 percent reductions in fossil fuel use needed to stabilize climate? We'll also need real shifts in attitude, behavior and habit. These changes are possible (the average Western European uses half as much energy as the average American while leading a quality life), but they will take real political leadership on issues ranging from mass transit to sprawl to the size of cars.
Certainly mass transit and smaller, more efficient cars are all good th ings, but I'm coming more and more to the conclusion that people just are never going to accept significant lifestyle changes, even if the lousy planet gets 10 F hotter than it is. Probably even 15 F. Technology changes are going to be the solution, but some scientists seem to think they can bring about all the reductions needed. In particular there was a paper in Science in 2004, "Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years With Current Technologies," by Pacala and Socolow that argues just that point. (Frankly I'm still trying to figure this out, because there was a big 2002 paper in Science that argued the opposite: "Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet" by Marty Hoffert and many others.) At least some people think we can get 70% reductions with existing technologies.

Bush's GHG confusion

Did you notice what Bush said the other day when he was asked whether he would see Al Gore's new movie?
"And in my judgment we need to set aside whether or not greenhouse gases have been caused by mankind or because of natural effects and focus on the technologies that will enable us to live better lives and at the same time protect the environment."
Read that carefully: "...whether or not greenhouse gases have been caused by mankind or because of natural effects..." (emphasis mine). It seems that Bush thinks it's the greenhouse gases that undergo significant natural fluctuations, not the climate itself. Maybe it's a minor point, but maybe it reflects some serious confusion on his part about the science behind the climate issue. Which would you guess it is?