Friday, June 30, 2006

An Inconvenient Answer

Al Gore is interviewed in Rolling Stone, and they asked him the Big Question: so what the heck are we going to do about global warming? I thought he kind of blew it with his answer--it doesn't seem to me he has an answer:
Rolling Stone: OK, say you're the guy making that call. What do you ask us to do -- trade in our cars and buy a hybrid?

Here's the essence of our problem: Right now, the political environment in the country does not support the range of solutions that have to be introduced. The maximum you can imagine coming out of the current political environment still falls woefully short of the minimum that will really solve the crisis. But that's just another way of saying we have to expand the limits of the possible. And that's the main reason that I made this movie -- because the path to a solution lies through changing the minds of the American people. Not just on the facts -- they're almost there on the facts -- but in the sense of urgency that's appropriate and necessary. Once that happens, then things that seem impossible now politically are going to be imperative. I believe there is a hunger in the country to be part of a larger vision that changes the way we relate to the environment and the economy. Right now we are borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy huge amounts of oil from the most unstable region of the world, and to bring it here and burn it in ways that destroy the habitability of the planet. That is nuts! We have to change every aspect of that.
Telling people they have to change "every aspect" of the current situation isn't giving them an answer. In fact, it seems to me that Gore doesn't have an answer, either here or in his movie. OK, maybe nobody does. But when you are trying to get people to simply accept the reality of global warming, giving them some concrete ideas of what they might do is a good start, instead of saying we have to tear down the entire system and rebuild it. Conserve. Buy a hybrid if you can. Buy green power. Get people thinking in the right direction. I think Gore wiffed this one.

U.S. CO2 Emissions Flat

U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide were essentially flat in 2005, increasing by 0.1%. Up in the residential and commercial sectors, nearly flat in the transportation sector, and down in the industrial sector.

Total 2005 CO2 emissions = 5,909 MMT = 19.94 MT/person = 5.0 lb/person/hr.

Carbon dioxide intensity fell, as always, down 3.3%.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

CO2's Crop Benefits Questioned

From tomorrow's Science magazine:
Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide that accompany global climate change may be less of a boon to crop agriculture than previously thought, according to a new analysis. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, for instance, has concluded that the fertilizing effect of higher carbon dioxide levels could offset crop losses brought about by higher temperatures and lower soil moisture in a warmer global climate. But the IPCC's data come from old experiments on crops grown in greenhouses and shelters that don't properly capture real field conditions, say Stephen Long and colleagues. Their analysis of open-field experiments concludes that higher carbon dioxide levels will only enhance crop yields half as much as the older greenhouse experiments suggested. Carbon dioxide increases may not stimulate the growth of crops like corn and sorghum in the tropics at all, they note. The findings “may move impacts on agriculture higher up on the list of pressing concerns about climate change,” David Schimel writes in a related Perspective.

Rb & Cs

Fun with alkali metals and water.


"I think what you need to do is get yourself a piece of that melting action. Any time something melts, Al Gore gets a nickel."

-- Jon Stewart, interview of Al Gore on last night's Daily Show

PA Floods

A well-meaning but ill-informed blogger blames the Pennsylvania floods on global warming. You'd think there has never been a big flood in that state before the climate started to change.

If the 1889 Johnstown Flood isn't good enough for you, how about 1972's Hurricane Agnes? That one took away all our lawn furniture from our creek-bordered yard in southwestern Pennsylvania. (It also caused a major rift between my grandmother and my great uncle when she said, about his Volkswagen beetle parked in our driveway, "You'd better get that god damned thing out of here before it floats away." But I think they must have had some problems going on before that.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


A little busy today, then this afternoon I'm going over to babysit my nephew. He's 20 months old and a lot of fun; his personality has blossomed considerably in the last few months and he's become a real person. The kid is into tools in a big way--garden trowels, screwdrivers, battery-operated power drills (without the bit), you name it. He also likes stacking wood and digging up his mother's flower garden. Should be a fun afternoon.

Here are a couple of things to read if you need to get annoyed: Orrin Hatch actually said the anti-flag-burning amendment is the most important issue facing the United States right now; and the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (that's the one chaired by Inhofe) issues a black-is-white press release about Al Gore's movie (you can almost smell their desperation, it's becoming so palpable). Is there some kind of law of political science somewhere that says that extremists always rise to the top? Just wondering.

Now I'm going to go play in the dirt.

Gordon Smith

Oregon's Republican senator Gordon Smith, who voted for the anti-American, anti-flag-burning amendment, seemed particularly dedicated to the immense democratic importance of his vote to fundamentally alter American's civil rights:
"It's not a burning issue," a wry Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) told The Hill newspaper's Jonathan Allen off the Senate floor....

An hour later, Hatch fell a vote short of his goal. But there was no time to wallow: Oregon's Smith was already on the floor, hailing Oregon State University's college baseball World Series victory.

"Mr. President," Smith announced with an enthusiasm that eluded him during the flag-burning debate, "I stand before you a Beaver believer."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Oregon GW Panel

The governor of Oregon has convened a panel to advise him on climate change issues, and there isn't a skeptic among them:
There are no global warming doubters on the 20-member panel and Abbott [dean of Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences] says the debate about climate change is or should be over.

Mark Abbott: "The science is mostly resolved now. I mean, we know that the climate is changing. We don't know all of the future directions and there are things that are going to be good. The number of frost-free days is going to affect the kinds of crops or wine grapes you can grow. That could be a good thing and there are going to be a lot of things that aren't going to be good."

Flag Burning

I've never really wanted to burn an American flag in public, but if the flag-burning amendment had passed in the Senate today and been ratified by the states, I think I would have gone out and burned one up just because the fascists said I couldn't. It's a fucking piece of clothe. It is scary how few people seemed to understand the ideas that made this country what it is.

UPDATE: The roll call vote is here. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) voted in favor of banning flag-burning, and loses my vote forever. (He hardly had it anyway.) Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) gets it.

Frank Luntz

Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist who's perhaps as responsible as anyone for the Republican/White House strategy of questioning the science behind global warming, changes his mind. Perhaps his conscience is getting to him.

Laurie David and Private Jets

Laurie David, who called Richard Lindzen "discredited," has admitted to flying private jets "occasionally." Maybe she's off-setting her carbon the way a good environmentalist billionaire should--or maybe not--but in any case she's using more than her share of precious oil. She also have a second home in Sun Valley, Idaho--not exactly ecofriendly. She does drive a Toyota Prius hybrid, and convinced her husband to drive a Prius, and they use toilet paper from nonvirgin trees. She apparently flips the bird to Hummer drivers on the highway.

How many times do you have to fly on a private jet before you're a "discredited" environmentalist?

David on Lindzen

Laurie David of the Huffington Post, wife of billionaire TV producer Larry David, calls climatologist Richard Lindzen "discredited."

That's unfair and a cheap shot. Lindzen is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and holds an endowed chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They don't give those to crackpots. The guys on RealClimate pay him a lot of respect, even as they counter his arguments--in fact, they pay him respect by taking them seriously enough to be countered. (That's how it should be in science.) In this November 2001 Scientific American profile of Lindzen, James Hansen says of one particular point of Lindzen's,
Goddard's Hansen says that by raising this possibility Lindzen has done a lot of good for the climate discussion
even as he thinks Lindzen is wrong.

If Lindzen is mostly right about anthropogenic global warming, he's certainly not "discredited." Even if he is mostly wrong about it, he is still credible. Einstein was wrong about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (the probabilistic interpretation of the wavefunction), but that did not make him discredited.

I'm sure Lindzen knows a hundred times more about the climate than Laurie David ever will, and that makes him more credible than her regardless of who is on the "right side" of the issue. I'd love to see a debate between the two.

Monday, June 26, 2006

98 F

Portland at 3:39 pm PDT: 98°F.

UPDATE: 3:51 pm PDT: 101°F.

Went for a walk down along the river. It's hot out, but kind of refreshing. A lot of people are playing in the Salmon Street fountain.

Picking on the NY Times

Look at these revolting images at that accuse the New York Times of treason for publishing the story about the US government's warantless gathering of American's bank data. Notice how they hypocritically fail to blame the Wall Street Journal, which published the same story at the same time (as did the Los Angeles Times). I guess they think it's OK if your politics skew correctly, treasonous if they do not. These idiots don't seem to realize that right after the jackboots come to shut down the NYT, their precious little reactionary blogs will be unplugged very soon thereafter.

Fox News is apparently guilty of the same biased, selective reporting.

Bush: Climate change is "serious problem"

Years ago it used to be that the White House denied the globe was warming. Then they admitted the globe was warming but that it was natural. Then they admitted that mankind had a role but that more study was needed while we adapted. Now apparently they at the stage where it's admitted that climate change is a "serious problem" and that technologies are needed to solve the problem, but they fail to fund such technologies while still giving large subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
"I have said consistently that global warming is a serious problem. There's a debate over whether it's manmade or naturally caused," Bush told reporters.

"We ought to get beyond that debate and start implementing the technologies necessary to enable us to achieve a couple of big objectives: One, be good stewards of the environment; two, become less dependent on foreign sources of oil, for economic reasons as for national security reasons," he said.

ABC News thinks Bush's statement indicates he's still focusing on the doubt:

The President — as far as the extensive and repeated researches of this and many other professional journalists, as well as all scientists credible on this subject, can find — is wrong on one crucial and no doubt explosive issue. When he said — as he also did a few weeks ago — that "There's a debate over whether it's manmade or naturally caused" … well, there really is no such debate.
It seems to me it depends on how you interpret Bush's statement. Of course, maybe that's just the way he prefers it.

Lindzen in WSJ

Richard Lindzen has a piece in the Wall Street Journal today--someone posted it on Google Groups here. Unfortunately he relies on Benny Peiser for part of his argument--if anyone in this mess is biased, it seems to me, it's Peiser--during my time on his listserv I don't think I ever once saw him post an article reprint that wasn't in line with his preconceived notions. Think Progress addresses the Peiser Problem here, and Tim Lambert had previously found Peiser to be in admitted error.

Lambert has more here, including a note that Lindzen was an author on the 2001 National Academy of Science report with which he seems to take issue in his op-ed.


It reached 101°F yesterday here in Portland, a record. The old record was a mere 95°F, and the average high for the day is 75°F.

Supreme Court and CO2

This will be fun to watch, but I'll bet the court rules for the Bush administration:
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court's most important decisions on the environment.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

US GHG emissions

I was playing around with some numbers about US greenhouse gas emissions: for 2004, 293.6M US citizens emitted 7,074 Tg CO2 Eq.

That comes to an average of every person emitting just about 6 pounds an hour.

Stephen Johnson

I missed this in April, but look at what EPA administrator Stephen Johnson said upon the release of the most recent US greenhouse gas emission statistics:
"The Bush administration has an unparalleled financial, international and domestic commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions."
Supply your own sarcasm; I'm speechless. Black is indeed white.

Space Shuttle

The NY Times has a long editorial today on the space shuttle:
The decision to proceed with the launch anyway — made by Michael Griffin, the administrator of NASA — was a gutsy call. It even seems reasonable, if you accept the constraints he was operating under. But if you believe, as we do, that the benefits to be gained from further shuttle flights are minimal, this looks like an unnecessary risk to the spacecraft and to the astronauts who will be riding in it.
16 more shuttle flights will be needed to complete the International Space Station.... Which seems like a waste. What's it doing up there? I mean, do you know how many astronauts are currently living in the station? Can you name them, or name any experiment now taking place on it, or any scientific result that has come from it? Cost: $125B, according to this ESA site. For what, a few studies on extended weightlessness? And we can't find $5-7B for the Next Linear Collider?

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Kos writes:
Really Quick
by kos
Sat Jun 24, 2006 at 04:45:20 PM PDT

Just a quick reminder as the media nip at our heels --

We didn't get here because of them.

They can praise us, they can trash us, they can ignore us, and ultimately none of that will matter as long as we keep doing what we've been doing.

Whether we succeed or not will depend on our own efforts. Not those of anyone else.
This is getting all too messianistic for my tastes. Kos and company clearly now think they command the netroots, when in fact the potentiality (and actuality) of the Web is far bigger than they are. Kos has, what, backed 19 losers in his last 19 endorsements? Something like that.

If you want to be another drone--if, in other words, you want to be another party loyalist, scum who believe whatever your party tells you to believe--you'll fall for this kind of shit. If you instead inspire to be an independent thinker, you'll follow your own path. Kos is just another charasmatic manipulator trying to manipulate. Don't fall for it.

Neither, fall for the attempt by his friends to out whoever forwarded a Townhouse email to Jason Zengerle. Kos and his cheap friends have the sharp knives out for Zengerle and his publication of a Kos+Friends email where Kos is trying to manipulate the backstory. I trust Zengerle's reporting more than I trust Kos's clear behind-the-scenes manipulation of the facts. Zengerle has much more to lose by faking an email than Kos+Friends has to lose by denying it. So I'm believing Zengele. Kos is just another activist, and I trust him about as much as I trust Grover Norquist. Which is to say, not very much at all.


Redstate links to this cartoon.

Some people are simply too stupid for words.

UPDATE: Yes, I realize this is a subtle cartoon. I even realize that it is, in fact, unclear on what it assumes is implied by foreign immigration. I don't for a minute, however, believe that gets the nuances. I'm not even sure the cartoonist gets the nuances.

91 F

91°F in Portland at 6 pm. A veritable heat wave.

It's supposed to get even "worse."

World Cup

Stupid, drunken, nationalistic soccer fans go berserk and pound the crap out of one another. In other news, the sun comes up again in the east. Decent people everywhere shed another little tear.

UPDATE: Think I'm kidding about the nationalism? This is from today's Boston Globe:
But in the bright sunlight of this World Cup season, the flags, cheers, and robust singing of the national anthem by the buoyant crowds have become something else -- a resurgence of unbridled patriotism on a scale unseen in Germany since World War II, according to historians, political scientists, and other analysts.

"It's really without precedent in our democratic [postwar] history," said Manfred Hettling, professor of modern history at Germany's University of Halle. "We've had soccer championships before. We've had proud moments, like the fall of the Berlin Wall. But never have we had so many Germans so publicly celebrating their country."

Einstein: "Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind."

Einstein: "Nationalism, on my opinion, is nothing more than an idealistic rationalization for militarism and aggression."

Einstein: "He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder."

String Theory

An recent article in the Wall Street Journal wonders whether string theory--the now 2-plus decades-old idea in theoretical physics that the fundamental components of the universe are strings (and more generally, membranes)--isn't getting in the way of what could be more productive uses of physicist's time. In other words, is string theory even knocking on the right door?

The article highlights two physicists (Peter Woit and Lee Smolin) who have books coming out in September, and who both believe that string theory--which everyone admits has yet to produce a prediction that can be tested by experiment--is taking physics in a very wrong direction. The WSJ article only interviews one pro-string physicist, and if you want to fault the article you can use this ratio as evidence.

All of the cool crowd in physics works on string theory. But you'd never know it by this WSJ article or by the blog of the most prominent string theorist on the Web, Lubos Motl of Harvard. Motl is a different sort of physicist in that he's not reserved about expressing his opinion about string theory, or anything else for that matter, including your manhood and your mother's manhood.

Lubos goes to bat for string theory's case and against the WSJ's point of view, but it's not a very strong turn at bat because mostly instead of making counterarguments against the points raised in the article he goes about questioning people's sanity and, seemingly, their very right to walk upon this earth while holding the opinions they do. He would have made a better case if he'd stuck to the physics. But such is not his way.

This is all just a way for me to say that I've been reading Leonard Susskind's new book, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. The picture of the universe that string theorists are painting lately is a strange and bizarre one that, if only it were true, would be perhaps the most amazing thing you could imagine: that we live in a universe that is a mere bubble in a much more immense sea of bubbles, in each of which the laws of physics are profoundly different than they are here.

Why do we live here? Because the laws of physics allow it. That's not the complete answer, but it's close.

The problem is, as I understand it, that string theory (or, more generally, the theory that physicist call "M-theory") seems to allow a very large number of possible solutions, or as the physicists call them, vacuua (as in the plural of "vacuum"). In fact, there are roughly 10-to-the-500th-power vacuua. That's an immense number that I don't even know how to describe except by using scientific notation. It's much more than a googol, or even a googol of googols. But it's less than a googolplex.

It's about 10^109! (10-to-the-109-factorial). (Oops. Obviously not.)

So rather than asking "how do we manipulate the mathematics to choose the one vacuum that represents our universe?" string theoriests like Susskind are saying, all these vacuums are allowed and all describe possible universes. In one or two of them the photon mass is zero and the electron has a mass of 0.511 MeV (and...), but in others the graviton is massive and quarks can be light-years apart and atoms can't even form and nothing is the way it seems here. And in still others..., well, you get the picture, times 10^500.

The universe in which we happen to find ourselves is distinguished as the one whose fundamental constants and particle masses are such that everything combines to produce life (at least, as we know it).

It's pretty weird, wild stuff, and if you want to know more you should read Susskind's book as best you can. Despite the WSJ article, string theory doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon, though maybe a few more people will start jumping on the Woit/Smolin bandwagon. If two people can comprise a bandwagon. I'm not sure.


Long, interesting article in the NY Times about ethanol and the gold rush now underway in the midwest. Most interesting statistic:

For all the interest in ethanol, however, it is doubtful whether it can serve as the energy savior President Bush has identified. He has called for replace roughly 1.6 million barrels a day of oil imported from the Persian Gulf.

To fill that gap with corn-based ethanol alone, agricultural experts say that production would have to rise to more than 50 billion gallons a year; at least half the nation's farmland would need to be used to grow corn for fuel.
So much for that savior. Next?

UPDATE: Of course, I'm being (somewhat) flip in my last comment there. There are other kinds of cellulosic biofuels, for example. The Brazilians use sugar cane. But this is a Big Problem, and ethanol doesn't appear to be a Big Solution. So maybe it's just part of the solution.

Portland and Peak Oil

Here's an interesting article about an author's visit to Portland, to discover its environmental awareness and why it's ranked #1 on Google Trends for "Peak Oil."

This is curious: of the top eight cities doing searches for "Peak Oil," all of them are in the American west or southwest.


I was walking downtown and saw a sandwich board in front of a corner store:
Play Powerball

One dollar
Win millions

The odds of winning $1M or more at Powerball are 1 in 146,107,962. Lotteries: a tax break for the intelligent.

GW and Hurricanes

A new paper on global warming and hurricanes came out the day of the NAS report, but it got a little lost in the shuffle. From the press release:
Global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005, while natural cycles were only a minor factor, according to a new analysis by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)....

"The global warming influence provides a new background level that increases the risk of future enhancements in hurricane activity," Trenberth says....

The study contradicts recent claims that natural cycles are responsible for the upturn in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995. It also adds support to the premise that hurricane seasons will become more active as global temperatures rise.
They have some hard data behind them:
By analyzing worldwide data on sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) since the early 20th century, Trenberth and Shea were able to calculate the causes of the increased temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic. Their calculations show that global warming explained about 0.8 degrees F of this rise. Aftereffects from the 2004-05 El Nino accounted for about 0.4 degrees F. The Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO), a 60-to-80-year natural cycle in SSTs, explained less than 0.2 degrees F of the rise, according to Trenberth. The remainder is due to year-to-year variability in temperatures.

Black is White

Some people will, amazingly, continue to insist that black is white, even when you drop a weighty National Academy of Sciences report on their heads. Witness these responses to the other day's report on the work of Mann et al on the hockey stick:
Electricity Daily: The NAS report casts serious doubts on the conventional scientific wisdom of man-made climate warming, particularly as described by political advocates such as former Vice President Al Gore.... Those who argue that solar activity drives global climate, not CO2, will take heart.

Sen. James Dumkoff Inhofe (R-OK):

Today’s NAS report reaffirms what I have been saying all along, that Mann’s ‘hockey stick’ is broken.
(Via Think Progress). Asked about these, Al Gore said (and I swear I headlined this post before I read Gore's remarks) warming skeptics "will seize on anything to say up is down and black is white." Gore explained that science, by nature, thrives on uncertainty and tries to eliminate it; politics, on the other hand, is vulnerable to being paralyzed by uncertainty. When science and politics converge, Gore argued, the chance for "cowardice is high."

Space Shuttle

A letter writer to the Boston Globe concerned about NASA's upcoming shuttle launch puts it succinctly:

IT IS with a sense of dread that I greet the news that NASA is determined to blast another of its aging shuttles into space ("NASA sets shuttle launch for July 1; dissent reported," Page A5, June 18). Given the astronomical cost, obvious danger, and meager scientific benefit, we must ask ourselves whether it is really worth it to replicate a feat first seen in 1981. For most, the only suspense or excitement associated with this latest mission will be to see whether the astronauts make it back alive....


The launch of the shuttle is one week from today.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Hansen Book Reviews

James Hansen has an article in the July 13th issue of the New York Review of Books, "The Threat to the Planet." It's a review of three recent books on climate change (Flannery, Kolbert, Gore). Haven't read it yet.


Usually I assume that people are nicer in person that in print. In print you're trying to get attention and trying to make a unique point and the tendency is to come off a little forceful. I think I probably do.

I assumed the same was true for Michael Fumento.... So I was running around town this morning doing some errands and listening to Al Franken's radio show. They had Fumento was on -- he just returned from an embedding in Iraq. My God, he is even worse on the radio! You'd think he was the only journalist who ever went to Iraq. I only caught his segment for about two minutes, but during that time he was pompous, combative, egotistical, and simply an all around jerk to his hosts. It was like getting smacked in the face, he was trying so hard to be forceful. It's not easy to make such a strong impression in a mere two minutes, but he succeeded in spades.

Oh yeah, he also has a funny, high voice, kind of like a cartoon character.

I can't imagine why Al Franken thought he needed to have someone like him on his show.

Oregon Emissions Standards

Yesterday the state of Oregon signed on to new auto emissions standards, the ones originally set by California. Some consequences:
  • new car and truck prices will go up by over $1,200 by 2016. 2009 models, when the program starts, will go up an average of $200.
  • savings of 1.7 MMT/yr in transportation GHG emissions by 2020. That will be down 18% by 2020 and 27% by 2030. That comes to a savings of 9,000 t/day by 2020 and 16,000 t/day by 2030. The state's total emission of GHGs, all sectors, is about 70 MMT/yr. So this saves about 2% of Oregon's total GHG emissions in 2020.
  • savings of $25/mth in gas for the average car (assumes $3/gal gas).
  • 165,000/yr new passenger cars are sold.
Oregon is now one of 10 states who have adopted or are in the process of adopting the California standards, which includes Washington, NY, NJ, Massachusetts, and the New England states. The rules require the emission of fewer nitrous oxides (smog), carbon dioxide (GW), and encourage more battery and alternative fuel cars.

This is a big win for Governor Ted Kulongowski, who has made global warming a priority of his administration.

Naturally, the national auto industry is sueing. The Oregon Auto Dealers Association is naturally opposed. One backward-looking auto dealer said, "He's [Kulongowski] going to cost consumers unnecessarily at the end of the day because they'll be paying roughly $1,000 more a vehicle to comply with these emissions requirements, when it will affect a minuscule amount of our air quality."

I bet the cost per new car ultimately ends up being significantly less than ~$1000.


An interesting op-ed on the pros and cons (mostly cons) of coal and its technologies, in the NY Times: Our Black Future by Jeff Goodell.

One interesting sidebit: while I know carbon sequestration had the potential to leak CO2 and threaten life, I didn't realize it had already once happened:
In 1986, at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, 300,000 tons of naturally occurring carbon dioxide that had been trapped in the lake suddenly rose to the surface and formed a misty cloud, suffocating 1,700 people.


Boston Globe:
But a major national survey being released today shows that the average number of people with whom Americans discuss important matters has dropped from three to two in just two decades, a steep falloff in confidants that startled the researchers.

...The authors found that fully one-quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom to discuss their most important personal business.

...the portion with at least six close friends has dwindled to 4.9 percent of the population

Hockey Stick Followup

Ray Bradley on yesterday's NAS report:

"The hockey stick is alive and well," said Bradley, director of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Climate System Research Center. He said the original research paper was never meant to be taken as absolute and even included the words "uncertainties and limitations" in its title. "Nothing changes the general shape."

On the other hand, Joe Barton (R-TX) is apparently still pretending like he has something useful to say on the matter:

A spokesman for Barton said a separate group of statisticians recruited by his energy committee was still examining the 1998 study. Barton spokesman Larry Neal said "all we want to know is whether the numbers add up."
I think we all know how Barton does his arithmetic.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kyoto Underreporting

From the June 24th issue of New Scientist:
Two teams say they have convincing evidence that many countries are under-reporting their emissions of greenhouse gases, threatening to undermine the Kyoto protocol. Both studies calculated atmospheric emissions independently of government estimates. And among the worst offenders are the UK, which may be emitting 92 per cent more methane that it declares under the Kyoto protocol, and France, which may be emitting 47 per cent more.
Philosophical question: it is better to sign Kyoto and underreport, or not to sign Kyoto at all?

Bill Gates

David Pogue of the NY Times on Bill Gates:
...even despite Microsoft's history, I find it almost impossible to remain cynical about Bill Gates's intentions. I think he's changed. Maybe when you're in your 50's, you start to think about how you'll be remembered.

It'd be one thing if he were retiring to enjoy his fortune, or if he were using it to buy football teams or political candidates. But he's not. He's channeling those billions to the places in the world where that money can do the most good. And not just throwing money at the problems, either--he's also dedicating the second act of his life to making sure it's done right.

In fact, when you step back far enough, Mr. Gates's entire life arc suddenly looks like a 35-year game of Robin Hood, a gigantic wealth-redistribution system on a global scale.

I know this is going to earn me the vitriol of Microsoft-bashers, but I'll say it anyway: Bill Gates has the money, the brains and the connections to really, truly make the world a better place. I admire him for the attempt. And I believe that if anyone can succeed, he will.
It's easy to compare Bill Gates to Paul Allen, his Microsoft co-founder. Allen gets a lot of attention here in Portland because he owns the only pro sports team in town, the lowly basketball Trailblazers. He also owns the Seattle Seahawks football team, and the world's largest yacht, which is 416 feet long.

Just to give you something to compare Bill Gates to, Allen, who is worth about $18 billion, this past winter approached the city of Portland about bailing out his basketball team to the tune of a few hundred million dollars. Really.

"my eyes start to get heavy"

An environmental journalist named Lou Bendrick wrote a piece for Orion (apparently she also writes for Gristmill) in which she says
Let me cultivate my personal female mystique by disclosing that I am the environmental media and I also loathe the environmental media. Just say “photovoltaic” and my eyes start to get heavy; start in about polar bears drowning and I have to go to the happy place in my head that involves ponies, chocolate, and George Clooney.
I see this kind of attitude on a science writer's list I'm on--science journalists who admit they're math phobia. If I were afraid of mathematics, or if I were an environmental journalist who can't deal with photovoltaics, I would at least be ashamed enough not to admit it. And people wonder why science journalism isn't all it should be.

(Via Gristmill)

"Near-Complete Vindication"

Roger Pielke Jr. calls the National Academy of Sciences report a "near-complete vindication for the work of Mann et al."
I see nothing in the report that suggests that Mann's research is significantly flawed, nor any calls for release of his data or algorithms, though the report does say in very general terms that such release is a good idea. I am not a climate scientist, but my reading of the section that deals with criticisms of Mann et al.'s work (starting at p. 105) is that while these critiques raise some interesting points, they are minor issues, and the committee find's Mann et al.’s original conclusion to be "plausible."

...The NRC has come to the conclusion that the hockey stick debate is much ado about nothing, and make the further point that this particular area of science is not particularly relevant to detection and attribution of human caused climate change. I am certain that research on this subject will continue, but hopefully this NAS report will allow the rest of us to focus on the policy debate rather than this particular issue of science.

Institute the Draft

Joan Vennochi is particularly good in today's Boston Globe:
Reinstate the military draft and see how quickly the United States ends its war in Iraq.

Imagine if all our sons and daughters were at risk for deployment to the desert. Imagine if all our children faced the Al Qaeda-style butchery that took the lives of two American soldiers, Private First Class Thomas L. Tucker of Madras, Ore., and Private First Class Kristian Menchaca of Houston.

If we feared our children were next up to be gutted like fish, we might be less likely to shake our heads at crazy antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan. If turning 18 meant your kid's boots on the ground, a resolution to pull troops out of Iraq by a certain date might grab more than six votes in the US Senate.

A key difference between Iraq and Vietnam is the country's ability to keep this war at a convenient distance. We can turn from the front page headlines of war, death, and destruction to sports and celebrity gossip; a click of the remote, and the face of a young soldier, now dead, fades to "Friends" reruns or "America's Next Top Model." The volunteer army ensures that someone else's children are losing limbs and dying; someone else's children are pushed to alleged acts of violence against Iraqi detainees and civilians. Even when the news from Iraq is so brutal it forces a momentary focus on war, quick relief is promised.

On Tuesday, Larry King interviewed relatives of the Houston soldier whose body was dumped by insurgents after they tortured and killed him. During commercial breaks, CNN ceaselessly promoted Anderson Cooper's upcoming interview with actress Angelina Jolie. Stay with us, the network begged. Don't worry, be happy; don't dwell on the gruesome, the inane is soon to follow.

Nantucket Wind Farm

There's been a victory of sorts for the proposed 420 MW Nantucket Sound wind farm--Congress has agreed to give overall authority to the head of the Coast Guard, not the governor of Massachusetts. (The current governor, Mitt Romney, is opposed to the project.) In particular, Ted Kennedy, who's displayed a NIMBY attitude about the whole thing, rightfully loses.

Hockey Stick Affirmed

In a few minutes the National Academy of Sciences is going to affirm the hockey stick:
National Academy Report affirms hockey stick: late 20th century temperatures were unprecendented

The National Academy of Sciences released their report today, on “Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years”. This was requested by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (Rep., N.Y.) to clarify the controversy over the so-called “hockey stick” temperature reconstructions of the last 1000 years, by Michael Mann (Penn State University), Raymond Bradley (University of Massachusetts) and Malcolm Hughes (University of Arizona). These scientists concluded that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This drew the ire of Sen. James Inhofe (Rep., Oklahoma) and Rep. Joe Barton (Rep., Texas), who claimed the research was misleading.

The NAS report concluded that, the Mann et al study “has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence”. They find it plausible that “the northern hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the twentieth century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium”. They note that confidence in the record decreases back in time, especially before A.D. 1600, in agreement with the original conclusions reached by the University researchers. The Academy panel also concluded that, “Surface temperature reconstructions for periods prior to the industrial era are only one of multiple lines of evidence supporting the conclusion that climatic warming is occurring in response to human activities, and they are not the primary evidence.”
This should finally put an official end to the silliness that's gone on for the last few years. I don't doubt that McIntyre will continue to bloviate, but journalists especially now have no reason to give him any traction. (Of course, you knew that four years ago if you were reading this blog.) Just as you no longer hear about the tropospheric temperature question, the hockey stick debate will fade away and everyone can take it and move on to what do we do about it. In particular, maybe the Congressional obstructionists who have dragged this work through the mud will finally move on--mostly because it doesn't really matter if the world is currently warmer than it was 1000 years ago; what matters most is what 380+ ppm CO2 does to our planet today.

UPDATE: The National Academy of Sciences is holding a press conference at 8 am PDT, which you can listen to here. Here's their press release:
"High Confidence" That Planet Is Warmest in 400 Years;
Less Confidence in Temperature Reconstructions Prior to 1600.

There is sufficient evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other "proxies" of past surface temperatures to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years, according to a new report from the National Research Council. Less confidence can be placed in proxy-based reconstructions of surface temperatures for A.D. 900 to 1600, said the committee that wrote the report, although the available proxy evidence does indicate that many locations were warmer during the past 25 years than during any other 25-year period since 900. Very little confidence can be placed in statements about average global surface temperatures prior to A.D. 900 because the proxy data for that time frame are sparse, the committee added.
They did say Mann et al should have made his data more widely available, but did not harp on it, and deferred when asked about it in the question session. Perhaps the wisest words from the press conference were said by Kurt Cuffey: "Science works over time as a community process."

UPDATE: RealClimate comments here.
It is probably expecting too much for one report might to put to rest all the outstanding issues in a still-developing field. And given the considerable length of the report, we have little doubt that keen contrarians will be able to mine the report for skeptical-sounding sentences and cherry-pick the findings. However, it is the big picture conclusions that have the most relevance for the lay public and policymakers, and it is re-assuring (and unsurprising) to see that the panel has found reason to support the key mainstream findings of past research, including points that we have highlighted previously.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Sometimes you can't win:
Julian Schwinger was born in Manhattan, New York City, on February 12, 1918, to rather well-off middle-class parents. His father was a well-known designer of women’s clothes. He had a brother Harold seven years older than himself, whom Julian idolized as child. Harold claimed that he taught Julian physics until he was 13. Although Julian was recognized as intelligent in school, everyone thought Harold was the bright one. (Harold in fact eventually became a well-known lawyer, and his mother always considered him as the successful son, even after Julian received the Nobel Prize.)

-- K.A. Milton, "Julian Schwinger,"
But the best part of Schwinger was perhaps his ethics. He chose not to go to Los Alamos, where all his colleagues had gathered:
There seem to be at least three reasons why Schwinger stayed at the Radiation Laboratory throughout the war.
• The reason he most often cited later in life was one of moral repugnance. When he realized the destructive power of what was being constructed at Los Alamos, he wanted no part of it. In contrast, the radiation lab was developing a primarily defensive technology, radar, which had already saved Britain....
Schwinger was the last in the line of the great quantum mechanists--Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli.... What Feynman was to intuition, Schwinger was to calculation. To me, Schwinger's most impressive result was for the first-order calculation for the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron, a formula remarkable for its simplicity given the complicated formalism from which it sprang:
g = 2 + alpha/pi
Ever since, all physics graduate students have repeated his calculation, though in the context of a one-loop Feynman diagram, not Schwinger's Greens functions.

A few years ago I wrote a biographical article about Schwinger for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and while I got paid for it I don't know if it was ever published.


As you've probably always suspected, the large egotists in America aren't really that far away from the large egotists in other less desirable parts of the world:
See, if I'm president, I've got probably another 50-60,000 with orders to shoot on sight anybody violating curfews. Shoot 'em on sight. That's me. President O'Reilly, curfew in Ramadi, 7 o'clock at night. You're on the street, you're dead. I shoot you right between the eyes. OK?

That's how I'd run that country -- just like Saddam ran it. Saddam didn't have explosions. He didn't have bombers, did he? Because if you got out of line, you're dead.

Now, is that the kind of country I want for Iraq? No. But you have to have that for a few months to stabilize the situation so the Iraqi government can get organized, can get security in place and get the structure going. So, any area that is giving you trouble, you have a 7-to-7 curfew. And you can't come out of your house. That's it. And if you do, we shoot you. That's how you control it. All right? gotta get serious about this thing over there. The curfews work. You shoot on sight. That's it. And if the Italian press doesn't like it, tough. The New York Times doesn't like it? Too bad. War is a performance business.

This is why you should be thankful you live in the West. Here, our egotists merely rise to riches. There, they rise to murderers. But don't think the line isn't a thin one.


Every once in awhile the bad guys lose. Today is such a day.


The NY Times profiles Stephen Hawking's attendence at the Strings 2006 conference now taking place in Beijing. In his new book The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design, Leonard Susskind calls Hawking the "Evel Knievel of physics." Despite all the odds, somehow it seems fitting.

War Costs

"Estimates for just Iraq, after factoring in payment for the care of severely injured soldiers, for disabled veterans, for replacing equipment and munitions, for increased recruitment costs due to the difficulty in signing up fresh soldiers, tops $1.2 trillion, according to economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes."
-- Marie Cocco, Washington Post

Monday, June 19, 2006

More McCall

Reading more about Oregon's past governor Tom McCall, I see that he said the following in 1971:
We want you to visit our State of Excitement often. Come again and again. But for heaven's sake, don't move here to live. Or if you do have to move in to live, don't tell any of your neighbors where you are going.
Oh well. McCall himself was born in Massachusetts, and moved to Oregon in 1922 at the age of nine.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Why Study Physics?

Mark Trodden at Cosmic Variance is out with the top 10 reasons to study physics. Number 5 is particularly valuable. Plus, the women will flock all over you.

Flag Burning

I don't usually get my news from Jay Leno, but if this post from Past Peak is right you have to wonder whether you should laugh or cry:
Republicans in the Senate have announced they are moving on from gay marriage to a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. We would join the only three other countries who have banned flag burning: China, Cuba and Iran. We can stand with our brothers on this issue. — Jay Leno

Tom McCall

Here's a great story about Tom McCall, who was Oregon's governor from 1967-1975. He was an ardent environmentalist whose "11th commandment" was "Thou shall not pollute."

Before McCall was elected the Willamette River was a mess. The river is the 13th largest (by volume) in the U.S., and runs 187 miles from Eugene to Portland, where it joins with the mighty Columbia River. The river still has its problems today, but back then many riverside communities dumped raw sewage into the river, and paper pulp mills dumped their copious wastes into the Willamette. In the 1920s state officials began closing the river to swimming, and in 1927 the Portland City Club declared the river "intolerable" and "ugly and filthy." By 1944 a report found no dissolved oxygen in the river near Portland--it was officially dead.

McCall was on a mission to change the Willamette. Before his governorship he was a television reporter, and drew lots of attention with a 1962 hour-long documentary on the state of the Willamette, exposing many of the polluters who were dumping chemicals and sewage into the river. When McCall was elected he set about cleaning it up by imposing standards on the pulp mills.

By 1972 every company had met the new standards, save one: Boise Cascade. Worse, their pulp plant was near downtown Salem, the state's Capitol, and a rotten-egg smell emanated from the plant. The state set a deadline for compliance with state regulations, but Boise Cascade took their time, all the while dumping 145,000 gal/day into the river (15 times what their permit permitted), and another 400,000 gal/day into a nearby slough. Company officials believed the state would never shut down the plant and put its 650 employees out of work.

Tensions grew until the state said it would shut down the plant entirely unless the plant drastically curtailed its water and air pollution. The company declined to follow this order. State attornies drafted a court injuntion against the company, but did not file it.

Then, a week later, Boise Cascade closed down the plant on its own. The reason was an equipment failure, but they told their employees that the state had ordered the closure. In fact, no closure injunction had yet been filed.

The furious employees and their union organized a march down to the Capitol, where 300 of them stood at the Capitol's front doors.

McCall heard about the protest and went to the state Capitol, together with the head of the state environmental agency whom McCall had appointed. Together they stood in front of the protesters, some of whom were yelling "Hitler!" at McCall, and heckled him as he tried to reason with them. From Fire at Eden's Gate, Brent Walth's excellent 1994 biography of McCall:
"Why should one company--one company--get to break the law and ruin the river?" McCall bellowed over the noise.
"Are you more interested in the river or us?" one woman shouted back.
"They're trying," someone else said of the Boise Cascade officials. "What the hell do you want?"
"We've fairly well fixed the responsibility where it belongs," McCall responded angrily. "It's with the management. They're using you as pawns."
So McCall marched the crowd back up to the Boise Cascade plant and confronted the officials. The officials quickly backed down. The state pressed ahead with their closure injunction, and Boise Cascade agreed to the state's conditions within hours.

Wow. Where is politicial leadership like this today?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bethell vs. Mooney

Yesterday on NPR's Science Friday Ira Flatow hosted authors Tom Bethell and Chris Mooney for a half-hour discussion on the politics of science.

I think shows like this are basically useless. They flit around from topic to topic, never landing for more than a couple of minutes, and there is no depth whatsoever, on anything. This show discussed the following topics, all in a mere 35 minutes: bird flu, stem cells, the AIDS pandemic in Africa, global warming, evolution vs. ID, sex and politics, and more.

Naturally, the discussion did not resolve a single thing.

Secondly, neither author has any scientific training, and it shows. Bethell, who seemed the shakiest, started his career interested in jazz, and Mooney was an English major at Yale. Neither seems used to the process of using data to borrow down into the facts, and as far as I can tell neither has much idea how scientists think, live, work, and breathe. As a result all Bethell can do is reflexively tout the skeptics position, and Mooney reflexively touts consensus. As I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle when I reviewed Chris Mooney's book, his writing doesn't resolve any issues or change anyone's opinion--only science journalism can do that. "Opinion journalism," which is what Mooney says he practices, comes nowhere close.

Astonishingly, PZ Myers asks "Whose side are you on, Flatow?" He seems to think that the job of a talk show host (who, in this case, plays as best he can the role of the journalist) is to take sides with one guest over another, instead of letting each of them speak their mind. Funny, I thought his role was to be objectively neutral.

But even Flatow fails to impress: at one point he implies that the Dover, Pennsylvania decision scientifically resolved once and forever the evolution versus Intelligent Design debate. I don't see how a court decision can scientifically resolve anything at all.

Finally, I was amazed to hear Chris Mooney say of bird flu, "I'd rather hear false alarms than be blindsided by a problem that comes out of nowhere." As if those were the only two choices. How about a dedicated scientific effort that collects data and methodically establishes the truth? I presume he thinks the same of global warming, which is not a position that is going to convince the world to take action.

Where do I go to get my half-hour back?

Polar Bears

A group of 30 scientists is urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to list polar bears as endangered, due to global warming and the loss of Arctic ice. Signers of the letter include Mike Mann and Stefan Rahmstorf of RealClimate. Recent reports have polar bears resorting to cannibalism because their food sources, seals, are becoming more difficult to find. As usual, it's difficult to imagine anyone in the Administration who gives a shit. On the other hand, it seems like the kind of crusade you could get about N million schoolchildren behind.

Portland Bicyclists

From yesterday's Oregonian, some statistics about bicycling in Portland:
  • 1992: 83 miles of bikeways in Portland
  • 2005: 259 miles
  • 1992: 2,850 daily bike trips across Portland bridges
  • 2005: 10,192 daily trips
By some estimates, 3% of all commuter trips are now by bicycle.

City Commissioner Sam Adams says he wants to continue to build the biking infrastructure:

"I'm talking about (competing with) world-class biking communities," Adams says. "My goal is to exceed their ridership."

Friday, June 16, 2006


From Bob Park's What's New:
Even as Earth faces new threats, President Bush made wonderful use of his authority under the 1906 National Antiquities Act to establish a new national monument. A vast marine sanctuary stretching across the Northwestern Hawaiian archipelago. The area, which contains 70% of the shallow water coral reefs in the United States, will be the largest marine conservation area in the world, and fortunately has absolutely no oil reserves.
You think there would have been any chance whatsoever of this place being made a sanctuary if there were oil there?

Melting Permafrost

Here are a few news stories based on the Zimov Science paper I mentioned yesterday: SF Chron, LA Times, Reuters.

Negative points for the Reuters headline, "Thawing permafrost could unleash tons of carbon," because it's hundreds of billions of tons they're talking about, not "tons." It matters, especially since people are starting to learn that they individually emit ~tons of carbon each year. (Worldwide average: 1 Gt/yr, US average: 15 Gt/yr.)

From the Chronicle:
"I'm a scientist, so we tend to be conservative in our language. But I would say this could make global warming significantly worse" than expected, said E.A.G. "Ted" Schurr, a former UC Berkeley doctoral student who is one of the article's three authors.
The amount of carbon released in the next century (~1,000 Gt) would be about the same as that burned by humans over the same time period. Lots of positive feedback here.

Wilderness WiFi

The state of Oregon has installed WiFi at the Multnomah Falls rest stop in the Columbia River Gorge, as well as six other locations throughout the state.
"Someone could take their picture of the falls, sit down here and download it to their laptop and e-mail it to their grandmother," says Craig Tutor, development and marketing manager for the Oregon Travel Information Council.
Well, maybe, I guess, if you have to get your picture there nearly instanteously. Is that really what anyone has to do?

Cost is $1.99 for 20 minutes, for full access to the Web ($4/day, $8/wk, $30/mth).

I'm conflicted about this. I can see it as useful for RVs and truckers, and if I was in a RV long-term I'd probably always be on the lookout for WiFi hotspots. But somehow it seems unnecessary and ill-suited for places of nature.

"It's awful," says Scott Silver of Bend, who, as director of the nonprofit Wild Wilderness, fights the commercialization of the great outdoors. "It takes the whole idea of adventure out of travel, and it replaces it with being on a hidden track just like you are on a ride in Disneyland.

"The travel industry wants to make sure that everybody who travels needs to be constantly connected, and connected to the opportunity to make purchases."
On the other hand, when I backpacked on the Appalachian Trail ten years ago, I was good friends with "Download," a guy who carried a small PDA and which he used to send accounts of our days via email, which someone then uploaded to the Web. It was fun, and we even met people who knew us just because they'd been following our journey. So I'm not completely opposed to mixing technology with nature. I suppose in another 10 years it will be so ubiquitious that it won't matter anyway. But if someone pulls out a laptop in the middle of the wilderness...something will have been lost forever.

Natural Gas Glut

Energy producers like when the laws of supply and demand work out in their favor, but don't seem interested in playing fair when they don't:
"What people are counting on is that there will be a hurricane that will disrupt [natural gas] production in the Gulf of Mexico the way Katrina and Rita did and that all that gas in storage is needed to make things work," said Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist of Deutsche Bank.
Yes, because the destruction of thousands of people and homes would be a good thing for a few gas producters, let's hope for it. Craven capitalists at their best.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pope Quote

Nothing better describes the cowardly, fetid intellectual core of theology than Pope John Paul II's reported comments at a Vatican conference on cosmology:
"It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."
Fortunately, philosophies like this necessarily contain their own seed for self-destruction. They starkly reveal that they have no center and are bound to be trampled by the Darwinian advances of greater beings.

Carbon Numbers

I like numbers at least as well as words--probably better--so here are a few interesting ones on the scale of things. This is from a paper by Zimov et. al. published in tomorrow's issue of Science:
  • amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere at the last glacial maximum: 360 Gt (Gigatons)
  • during pre-industrial times: 560 Gt
  • today: 730 Gt
  • carbon in the ocean: 40,000 Gt, of which 2,500 Gt is organic carbon
  • in soils: 1,500 Gt
  • in vegetation: 650 Gt
  • amount of carbon transferred from geological reservoirs (fossil fuels) to the atmosphere: 6.5 Gt/yr.

To Offset or Not

Sarah van Schagen at Gristmill has eased her guilt for flying to a music festival in Tennessee:
By the time you read this, I'll be at a comfortable cruising altitude -- and spewing CO2 into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. (Calm down ... I've offset the flight. Thanks, Native Energy!)
How exactly is this offsetting the carbon her plane will emit? Native Energy purchases Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) with the money you pay them--$8/mth for 10,000 kW-hr/yr. (That works out to 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, about 2 cents/kW-hr more than the green power offered by my power company Pacific Power.) In other words, they take your money and build windmills that produce electricity.

I don't really see the offset. van Schagen's plane is still emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. Someone else is going to be purchasing the wind energy Native Energy will be building. The RECs aren't cancelling any carbon that's been put into the atmosphere. In fact, the windmills will put a small amount of additional carbon into the atmosphere, in their manufacture and construction process.

You might argue that the windmills will eventually cause fossil fuel-burning power plants to go out of business. Key word is "eventually." Also, I not sure the economics work out. According to this DOE-sponsored page from Kentucky, electricity produced from coal is quite cheap: 4-5 cents/kW-hr. (Yes, there are externalized costs to the environment here which the power purchaser isn't paying. I don't know how to calculate those. I doubt anyone does.)

In the airplane case, I see no offset here whatsoever. Does the program only make sense if you are replacing fossil fuel-electricity with green-electricity? Am I missing something, or is this just a ploy?

UPDATE: OK, I'm starting to understand this better. I think the program makes most sense when you are replacing nongreen electricity with green electricity. But Native Energy's FAQ says
You can offset the "CO2 footprint" of your driving [or flying] or home heating by causing reductions in CO2 pollution somewhere else.
It still would be better not to fly and to purchase green power for your daily needs. But I've already written that "not flying" isn't really an acceptable answer.

UCS Cartoon Contest

The Union of Concerned Scientists is holding an editorial cartoon contest called Science Idol: the Scientific Integrity Editorial Cartoon Contest. Presumably, that means all cartoons must obey the laws of physics--no running off a cliff and hanging in midair for a second or two before falling. It's a parabola all the way down, baby.


Some statistics on the NY Times TimesSelect feature, by which readers who pay $50/yr can access certain op-ed and other columns not offered for free on
  • there were 482,000 subscribers to the service.
  • 62% of that number got it for free as subscribers to the print edition.
  • that means only about 183,000 users (out of 11.9 million monthly visitors) had actually plunked down the $50 annual fee to read the Times Op-Ed columnists and gain access to the other features -- essentially one reader in 65.
  • income for the NY Times: $9.2M/yr
At the Webby awards the other night, Thomas Friedman, said he "hated" TimesSelect, and added:
"It pains me enormously, because it's cut me off from a lot of people, especially because I have a lot of people who read me overseas, in India and what not," he said, acknowledging in the next breath that his employer still needed to make money in order to fund the frequent trips he takes around the now-flat world to write his column.

"We're not in the business of free," he said.

Jack the Cat

"Jack the cat proves his mettle by chasing a black bear up a tree."

More Incentives for GW

Andrew Revkin of the NY Times was on NPR yesterday, and talked about another incentive the oil industry has to deny/encourage global warming: the probable existence of large oil and gas deposits under the center of the Arctic ocean. (It's about 17.5 minutes into the program.) Not only that, but a melted Arctic ocean would make transportation of oil and gas easier as well. As someone put it on a listserv I'm on:
If Revkin's assumptions are correct, this seemed to imply that the oil industry not only has reason to deny that the consumption of oil from current repositories contributes to global warming, but the oil industry also has reason to promote more global warming to create a better opportunity to obtain oil from the oil repository in the Arctic.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"Countdown to Doomsday"

Yesterday the Sci Fi Channel had a discussion in DC on their television program "Countdown to Doomsday," which airs tonight.
The first topic for discussion was the possibility that Earth could be hit by a really big asteroid.

"Why haven't we suffered more terrible destruction?" Douglass wanted to know [that's Linda Douglass, a former ABC congressional correspondent].

"Space is big," said Ed Lu, a NASA astronaut.

Friedman Responds to GM

After Tom Friedman called General Motors "dangerous to American's future" and said the company is "like a crack dealer", GM raised a fit and tried to publish a long letter to the editor in the New York Times. Rightly the Times rebuffed their request for 490 words, but wrongly the Times refused to print the word "rubbish" in the letter, suggesting several milder terms that were ultimately rejected by GM. (They instead took their fight to their blog.) Today Friedman responded to GM, but as media critic Dan Kennedy notes,
nowhere does Friedman reveal that GM tried to place a letter in the Times and was told to forget it unless said letter was toned down. (Nor, for that matter, does the online version of his column link to the GM blog.)

This has been a matter of some notoriety on the Web. For Friedman not to acknowledge it (or was it an editor?) is not only wrong -- it's just plain weird.
This is old media thinking at its best--no links, no mentions of what many people know of the backstory--we'll tell you what you need to know), and it's nice to have the Internet with GM's alternative viewpoint. Even if I do mostly agree with Friedman.


''It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species. Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.''
-- Stephen Hawking, June 13, 2006

Carbon Footprint

After reading this Huffington Post by Corrine Marshall, in which she laments that her carbon footprint is 22,900 lbs/yr, I went ahead and calculated my own footprint at the movie site. It came to a surprisingly low 4,900 lbs/yr.

I was helped by several factors:
  • Since moving from a small town in New Hampshire to Portland, Oregon I can walk to more stores and only drive 100-200 mi/mth. In New Hamspshire it was a 20-mile round trip just to get to the grocery store or Staples. And since I work at home I can avoid commuting miles.
  • My apartment is fairly well ensconsed, and the weather is milder here, so I'm able to get by without heat or air-conditioning. I'm spending about $30/mth on electricity, which is considerably cheaper in the Pacific Northwest, only about 7.5 cents/kW-hr instead of NH's 15-16 cents/kW-hr. (That's the total rate, after taxes and fees.) No expenses for natural gas, oil, or propane.
  • Inspired by Gore's film, I signed up for 100% green power through my power company. Cost is about 10% more. Their sources are primarily wind (63%), then biomass, then a little solar.
  • I don't fly much, only about one cross-country trip a year.
So I'm only 1/3rd of the national average household (maybe a little more -- I tend to fart a lot...but it's OK, I live alone), but I don't think it's much to brag about, and I don't think people like Corrine Marshall need to feel especially guilty about a larger than average footprint. If my lifestyle needed it -- if I had to commute to work, or fly more -- I would, of course. Most of us will. We're not going to solve the problem of global warming by reducing our lives to the Stone Age, because there's no way people will do that, even if the planet gets many degrees warmer and storms significantly stronger. Technology (new but mostly existing) is going to have to be the answer. Of course everyone should conserve as they can, and unlike Dick Cheney I even think it's a moral imperative, but we need to live a modern life. We just need better solutions.

UPDATE: If, like me, everyone on the planet emitted 4,900 lbs C/yr, we'd still be putting 15 Gt (gigatons) of carbon in the atmosphere every year. That's about 2.5 times today's global total. Emissions of about 0.2 t/person/yr are thought to be needed to stablize the climate.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More AIT Dumbness

More dumbass pontification from popular writers trying to write about An Inconvenient Truth. Last week I highlighted Kyle Smith's hallowed words, where he blamed global warming on either lead in gasoline or on smog. Now it's the turn of Chris Gardner of Variety magazine, who seems to think there is a direct connection between global warming and ozone loss:
"Considering that the Al Gore-toplined docu "An Inconvenient Truth" details the Earth's declining state of being, it's only fitting that those associated with the pic try to keep their ozone-depleting ways in check."
I don't know why it's any more imperative that Gore be carbon neutral than any of the other billions of people on this planet, especially any of the millions of elites who burn far more carbon than is their share. But writers who want to criticize them--or Gore--should at least get their science right. You can write Gardner at .

Freezing Water

Every physics major (and perhaps every chemistry major) learns that hot water freezes faster than cold water, even if the reason (according to the laws of thermodynamics) isn't clear. The story I heard was that Fermi, Bethe, and those kind of guys were sitting around at a conference when a waiter happened to mention that hot water in the kitchen froze earlier than did cold water. Did they know why? They started calculating entropies and conservations of energy and tried to explain the phenomenon, but the actual reason seems quite simple: hot water precipitates out solvents which then act at points of freezing. In any case, the answer isn't as simple as you might expect. New Scientist explains it all here.

Salon on Gore

Salon reviews Al Gore's movie:
Did Al get the science right?

The usual oil industry flacks and dogmatic skeptics have surfaced to denounce Al Gore's global warming movie. But climate scientists say that, basically, he got it right.

BY Katharine Mieszkowski

Harvard MBAs

Today's NY Times:

But others advocate hands-on experience over academic buffing and polishing. "M.B.A. programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences," said Henry Mintzberg, a management professor at McGill University in Montreal. "You can't create a manager in a classroom. If you give people who aren't managers the impression that you turned them into one, you've created hubris."

In 2003, Professor Mintzberg tracked the performance of 19 students who graduated from the Harvard Business School in 1990 and were at the top of their class academically. Ten of the 19 were "utter failures," he said. "Another four were very questionable, at least," he added. "So five out of 19 did well."

George Will's Confusion

George Will again demonstrates his confusion about the topic of global warming, once again on the well-read pages of the Washington Post:
Minutes after Gore said that "the debate in the science community is over," he said "there is a debate between the American ice science community and ice scientists elsewhere" about whether the less-than-extremely-remote danger is a rise in sea level of a few inches or 20 feet . And he said scientists "don't know what is happening" in west Antarctica or Greenland. So when Gore says the scientific debate is "over," he must mean merely that there is consensus that we are in a period of warming.

This is not where debate ends but where it begins, given that at any moment in its 4.5 billion years, the planet has been cooling or warming. The serious debate is about two other matters: the contribution of human activity to the current episode of warming and the degree to which this or that remedial measure (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol) would make a difference commensurate with its costs.
The global warming debate is not really about the contribution of human activity to the current episode of warming. Current warming (~1°F) has been small and not of great consequence. The debate is about how much the globe is going to warm (and the climate is going to change) over the next several decades as a result of the greenhouse gases we're putting in the atmosphere. In other words, it's about the climate sensitivity--how much warming will take place with a doubling of GHG levels. In other words, it's about whether you believe certain gases that humans emit are greenhouse gases or not. In other words, it's about whether you think natural greenhouse gases have made the planet hospitable to human life and how much change you think increasing these gas concentrations by 30% or 100% is going to make. You can say it won't make any change, but you have to defend that idea in light of the ~33°C difference that GHGs make in the background temperature.

The debate isn't really about present amount of warming, which is, let's face it, difficult to break out into natural vs. manmade warming. Scientists think most of it is due to manmade factors. But it's the future where the debate lies, and it's the warming potential of GHGs about which you have to lay out your opinion. That's the debate.

More Gore

David Sarasohn, a columnist for The Oregonian, reviews Al Gore's movie today, and with it, Al Gore.
The two stars of the movie are Gore and the planet, and if Gore still occasionally looks stiff, the planet seems to be melting.
I don't understand this. To me Gore did not appear "stiff" in this movie, in any way whatsoever. He came across as an thinking, intellectual, feeling, concerned person who had experienced life's up-and-downs in spades. He didn't come across as some kind of Clintonian wonk. So what does "stiff" mean here? Maybe it merely means "intellectual," and if it does it only proves that (a) Sarasohn cannot see past the stereotypes newspapers such as his have painted, and (2) Sarasohn has no appreciation for intellectuals or intellectual argument. And maybe that is half the problem with the perception of global warming.

Gore was not stiff in the least. I'm tired of reading stereotypes.

On the other hand, Sarasohn's ending is not bad (even if it does again prove that Sarasohn is too wrapped up in journalistic stereotypes):
Gore lost to George W. Bush, you may remember, because of what political reporters called a feeling that Bush would be more fun to have a beer with.

Gore's revenge is to return with a movie showing how badly we're going to need one.

Another Letter

...At a March 1 hearing in Maryland, after hearing testimony from Democrat Jamie Raskin, state Senator Nancy Jacobs, a Republican, said: "My Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?" Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."


Activist Judges

A letter to the editor in today's Boston Globe:

I CANNOT help but wonder if I am the only one who remembers that it was "activist judges" who put George W. Bush in the White House.



"The great lizards owned the planet for something like 130,000,000 years, but they didn't have slant-well drilling, pesticides, pollution, fast breeders, defoliants, demagogues, thermonuclear warheads, non-biodegradable plastics, The Pentagon, The Kremlin, The General Staff of the Peoples' Army, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and the FBI.... Had they not been so culturally deprived, they might have sunk into the swamps in a mere three thousand years."

-- Harlan Ellison, Reaping the Whirlwind

CEI's Intellectual Consistency

CEI has been harping about Gore's carbon emissions coming from all of his travel to give his spiel. Gore's camp also says that all promotional activities for his film are carbon neutral (actually Gore says he's carbon neutral overall), but otherwise gets it right:
CEI has created quite the moral dilemma for themselves. They are condemning Al Gore for generating dramatically more Carbon Dioxide emissions than an average person while traveling around the world giving speeches on global warming. You can't condemn Al Gore for traveling and contributing to Global Warming when you are denying Global Warming exists. Either "CO2 is life" or Global Warming exists and the balancing act between to little and too much begins.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Gore Movie

By the way, I thought the best part of An Inconvenient Truth was when Gore got on the hydraulic lift in order to follow the upward rise of CO2 projected on his large screen. That was a great visual and clever, whoever thought of it.

That said, the science is not absolutely perfect. Eric Steig outlined a few small issues last month on RealClimate. But Gore gets almost everything right, even when some conservatives like Jonah Goldberg wrongly claim he doesn't.

Gore to Hitler

Theorem: Any time you compare someone to Adolf Hitler to make a point, you have lost the argument.

Proof: Glenn Beck, Sterling Burnett. QED

P.S.: Beck does seem to have at least one picogram of brain power--at least he can ask a reasonable question:
So, if you look at this chart, you will see the CO2, and it mirrors the temperature. Now, what I find interesting about this chart is CO2 seems to naturally go up by itself.
It's just too bad he doesn't have the desire, will, education, or curiousity to actually answer the question--or seek out someone who does know:
Hmmm, I don't remember those 200,000-year-old cars; I think Henry Ford wasn't around yet. I don't know if Fred Flintstone actually did have a car, but apparently, according to this chart, somebody was driving around in a car or an airplane.
Yeah, that's the answer.

7th Warmest May

Globally, May 2006 was +0.50°C above the long-term average. That does sound like much, but it's still the seventh warmest May on record.


Interesting factoid from Deltoid:
The radiative forcing from increased CO2 of 1.5 W/m2 adds up to a lot of energy over the entire Earth -- 400,000 times as much as the electricity production of the entire world.

An Inconvenient Truth

I went to see An Inconvenient Truth last night, its opening night in Portland. There were about eight different times for the movie, and all of them were sold out. (I had bought tickets a few weeks earlier.)

I thought it was very good. Like watching some kind of parallel universe, only there the joke isn't on you. Gore was informed and passionate and interesting and funny and very knowledgeable, everything Bush is not and never will be. It's interesting to speculate if Gore would be as loose and with-it if he had been elected sworn-in as president -- I mostly doubt it. He'd no doubt be too tossed around by the daily political seas and too much under constant attack by the VRWC. I still wish he were president, but in losing Gore may just have found the calling that he's most suited for.

I also did not see this movie as much of a campaign vehicle. If it were it would have been less wonky and more gauzy, less scientific and more marketing. If Gore were really testing the waters for 2008, the movie would be less understated politically. I take him at his word that he's not running.

This is absolutely a must-see movie for anyone even remotely interested in global warming, and a should-see even if you're just interested in the future. I learned plenty of things I hadn't known before or about which I only has hazy ideas -- most illuminating, I think, was the chart on the lousy CAFE standards in the US and how their projection into the future, even under California's optimistic scenario, is still far less than what the rest of the world is doing. I'm going to buy Gore's book just for that chart alone, and it should be shoved in front of the face of every auto executive who claims they can't produce more energy efficient cars.