Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tornado Hypocrites

Of course, some climate activist somewhere was going to link the horrendous tornadoes in the American south with anthropogenic climate change.

I just never thought it would be someone respectable, like Peter Gleick.

Let's review what the IPCC has to say about tornadoes (IPCC 4AR WG1 Ch3 FAQ3.3 p308):
Observational evidence for changes in small-scale severe weather phenomena (such as tornadoes, hail and thunderstorms) is mostly local and too scattered to draw general conclusions; increases in many areas arise because of increased public awareness and improved efforts to collect reports of these phenomena.

They clarify this, a little, in section, again stressing that the question of tornadoes depends on local measurements, which are too variable to use for any global conclusions. But basically they punt on the issue. Fair enough.

Gleick makes a cursory effort about sticking to the science:
More extreme and violent climate is a direct consequence of human-caused climate change (whether or not we can determine if these particular tornado outbreaks were caused or worsened by climate change).

but then he just can't help himself:

The extreme nature of the ongoing severe weather is well described by Jeff Masters on his Weather Blog. The 3-day total of preliminary tornado reports from this week's outbreak is nearing 300, close to the 323 preliminary tornado reports logged during the massive April 14 - 16 tornado outbreak. That outbreak has 155 confirmed tornadoes so far, making it the largest April tornado outbreak on record.

You don't have to look very far to disprove this -- in fact, you don't even have to look farther than the Drudge Report, which today links to this story:
5 P.M. UPDATE: Hundreds treated at DCH
"The loss of life is the greatest from an outbreak of U.S. tornadoes since April 1974, when 329 people were killed by a storm that swept across 13 Southern and Midwestern states."

When are activists going to learn that they will never make their case by falsifying the science, and that, in fact, they only harm their cause when they do so? You cannot draw conclusions about climate based on weather. You can only do it via long-term (decadal or more) statistics.

Please tattoo this on your foreheads, so you don't ruin this for those of us trying to communicate actual, real science, with all its inconvenient unknowns and uncertainties.

More on Conspiracy Theories

Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post on conspiracy theories: is the nature of a conspiracy theory that all information must pass through a very discerning, yet simple, filter. Information that is confirmational is accepted; that which is contradictory is rejected.

Conspiracy theories have the self-sustaining gift of ramification: They sprout new tendrils, like a mad vine that has invaded from another continent. For the committed conspiracy theorist, there is always another angle to explore, another anomaly to scrutinize.

[emphasis mine] And:
These theories do not always find a purchase on one distinct portion of the ideological spectrum. What they have in common is the emotional investment of the believers: The theory becomes not merely a hunch or a notion, but rather a core belief that is part of the believer’s identity. The person isn’t going to abandon the faith simply because a piece of paper surfaces that would seem — to others who are not so invested in the theory — to refute the central notion.

“It’s easier psychologically to come up with a rationalization than it is to admit that you were wrong,” said Ronald Lindsay, president of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, in Amherst, N.Y., publisher of the myth-debunking magazine The Skeptical Inquirer.

“If you have a pre-commitment to a certain point of view, and that point of view is important for your identity — if you are emotionally attached to it — your emotion is going to shape your reasoning process. You’ll be presented with facts, but you’ll find some way to minimize the significance of those fact,” Lindsay said.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Conspiracy Theories

"Arguments, speculation—-conspiracy theories of all kind. The usual thing, right? No one is ever simply assassinated anymore. Ever since your Kennedys, it is always a matter of how many stories you can invent to explain the same body of facts. This is the great pleasure of conspiracy theory—not explanation, but narrative. It is like Scheherazade."

-- Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars

Obama's Birth Certificate

Now that President Obama has released the long form of his birth certificate, the country can focus on more important issues: why wasn't this released before? How do we know the file wasn't digitally manipulated, or created digitally out of thin air? Where is the paper copy? Is the paper on which it's supposedly printed age-appropriate? The ink? Did the fonts on the document exist when the President was born? Is the spacing right? Why is the document number out of sequence? When role did mainstream climate scientists play in this fraud?

Finally, how do we know that the nonnative baby Obama wasn't exchanged for some legitimate American baby who has been kept hidden all these years in a sea cave on the far side of Oahu?

This only proves that the conspiracy is larger than we ever suspected.


PS: Or, as Amanda Marcotte notes, "you can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into." I wonder where else that might apply....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wise Words

Marty Hoffert has an excellent opinion piece in the April 14th issue of Nature, with a very high ratio of wisdom-to-words.

In "Governments must pay for clean-energy innovation" he writes:
Some assert that government investment in transformative energy technology is code for tax and spend, and that suitable technologies already exist, or will be delivered by market forces. Others argue that government incentives such as feed-in tariffs for solar and wind energy are unnecessary, and that clean energy should compete in the market from the beginning. But the idea that private sector entrepreneurship can do the job alone is based on a myth. It took 30 years of government funding of the Internet by the military research
agency DARPA and the National Science Foundation before Wall Street discovered that there was money to be made out of it.
No money? US debt now is a comparable per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to what it was in the Great Depression before the Second World War. By massively borrowing from ourselves to finance President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s miracles of war production and technology development, we saw aircraft morph from biplanes to jets, and nuclear power become a reality, even as the US debt-to-GDP ratio increased to more than 100% by the end of the war. We bet the farm on a stimulus package on steroids — and we won. The United States emerged as the strongest economy on the planet.
In the latter part of the ‘American century’, the United States somehow lost its way. No longer ‘makers’, we became a nation of rustbelts, Ponzi schemes and subprime mortgage risk, myopically focused on quarterly earnings and consumerism. What a tragedy it would be to lose America’s talent for innovation after 200 years. Mr President and Congress: open your minds to a civilization powered by wind turbines in harmony with our landscape and continental shelves; solar electricity from deserts and Earth orbit powering our cites; safe, proliferation resistant nuclear reactors; coal gasifiers driving efficient electric power plants with CO2 stored underground; along with energy-efficient homes and public buildings, smart power grids, high-speed rail, electric and biofuelled cars, even carbon-neutral fuels made from sunlight, water and CO2 in the atmosphere more efficiently than nature does by photosynthesis. These are no longer impossible dreams, but realities of new US industries revitalized by American entrepreneurs and a high-tech workforce, much like the one Roosevelt created to fight the Second World War.
and he finishes with:
This is a dream worth rededicating the American experiment to: visionary, and yet science-based, that goal will lift the spirit of our children and grandchildren with passion and the tenacity to make it so. Say it, Barack, shout it from the rooftops, dedicate your presidency to it, and you will stand immortal in the pantheon of American leaders who changed everything.

Nobel Laureate Loners

Krugman’s wife, Robin Wells, an academic economist herself, was recently reading the Ian McEwan novel Solar, whose protagonist is a Nobel Prize–winning physicist who has been married five times, and she found the scenario implausible. "You could never win the Nobel Prize with that kind of personal life," she says. "It’s too distracting."

-- from a profile of Paul Krugman in New York magazine

Price of Gas

Now that gas prices are high people are complaining again, but the thing is, relative to the price of oil it's cheaper than it used to be:

(click to enlarge)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Energy Use By Data Centers

LA Times:
Each month, electricity used to power searches on Google produces 260,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide and is enough to power a freezer for 5,400 years, according to WordStream. The searches use up 3.9 million kilowatt-hours -– the equivalent of 5 million loads of laundry.

A single spam email of the 62 trillion sent each year creates 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide. A Google search for “Soylent Green” spawns the same amount as driving a car three inches.

So spam is responsible for about 20M mt of CO2 each year, or that of about 4 million cars.

Trump, Then, On Universal Health Care

King Combover:
“We must have universal healthcare. I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses.... [The goal of health care reform, wrote Trump, should be a system that looks a lot like Canada.] “Doctors might be paid less than they are now, as is the case in Canada, but they would be able to treat more patients because of the reduction in their paperwork,” he writes.

The Canadian plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans. There are fewer medical lawsuits, less loss of labor to sickness, and lower costs to companies paying for the medical care of their employees. If the program were in place in Massachusetts in 1999 it would have reduced administrative costs by $2.5 million. We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing.

-- Donald Trump, The America We Deserve (published 2000)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

I wonder if the next planet we destroy will also get its own holiday.

On Trump

With a wink and a smile, Muhammad Ali showed that self-promoting obnoxiousness could be charming. Trump shows that it can be merely vulgar.

-- Charles Krauthammer, actually writing something reasonable.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Progress in Climate Models

Here's an image that Phil Mote showed yesterday that I'd never seen before. It's a good illustration of the progress in computer modeling over the 17 years during which four IPCC reports have been issued:

Climate model resolution

from: IPCC AR4 WG 1 Chapter 1 Fig 1.4 page 113.

UN Blew It on Predictions of Climate Refugees

Six years ago the UN Environmental Program said there would be 50M climate refugees by 2010. Oops. Turns out there are now even more people living in the areas they considered at-risk.

der Spiegel reports:
It was a dramatic prediction that was widely picked up by the world's media. In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations University declared that 50 million people could become environmental refugees by 2010, fleeing the effects of climate change.

But now the UN is distancing itself from the forecast: "It is not a UNEP prediction," a UNEP spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The forecast has since been removed from UNEP's website.

Official statistics show that the population in areas threatened by global warming is actually rising. The expected environmental disasters have yet to materialize.
In October 2005, UNU said: "Amid predictions that by 2010 the world will need to cope with as many as 50 million people escaping the effects of creeping environmental deterioration, United Nations University experts say the international community urgently needs to define, recognize and extend support to this new category of 'refugee.'"

It added that "such problems as sea level rise, expanding deserts and catastrophic weather-induced flooding have already contributed to large permanent migrations and could eventually displace hundreds of millions."

In 2008, Srgjan Kerim, president of the UN General Assembly, said it had been estimated that there would be between 50 million and 200 million environmental migrants by 2010. A UNEP web page showed a map of regions where people were likely to be displaced by the ravages of global warming. It has recently been taken offline but is still visible in a Google cache.

The rest of the article is worth reading. It ends:
Meanwhile a new forecast is doing the rounds. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in February, Cristina Tirado, an environment researcher at the University of California in Los Angeles, warned of 50 million environmental refugees in the future. That figure was a UN projection she said -- for 2020.

I think lots of people need to realize that climate change, excepting the possibility of some kind of climate regime shift, is a problem that unfolds over decades, not years, though the solution cannot (but probably will not, if it does at all). In fact, in some way that's a big part of the problem. And to assign definite years to definite numbers, though that's what governments and policy makers are always going to want, is just going to get you in trouble -- at least at this state of the science. Error bars, people!

PS: der Spiegel has a nice photo gallery that goes along with their article.


If Donald Trump can't be honest about the top of his head, how can he possibly be honest with America?

Funny Somewhat Topical Ecard: Let's hope America isn't the fourth venture Donald Trump bankrupts.


Funny Confession Ecard: I'd rather complain about high gas prices than take public transportation.


Climate Seminar Marred by Skeptics

Yesterday I went to a climate change seminar at Portland State University, where OCCRI Director Phil Mote spoke about regional climate models. Mote is always interesting and it was a good talk, but there were some awkward moments where some Portland area climate skeptics tried to use the seminar as an opportunity to score points instead of understand and question Mote's research.

Chuck Wiese, who was once a TV weatherman around here, asked a question about water vapor, but it was basically a lead-in to ask why Oregon should try to cut its '68 metric tons of CO2' when the world emits '3T mt' (I think he said) and so Oregon's contribution would only lower global temperatures some miniscule fraction of a degree. He blitzed Mote with all kinds of numbers (which someone in the audience, who said he worked in exactly this field, say were way off), and finished up with "You guys always say..." to which Mote responded "sounds like an inquisition" and brought the talk back to the his intended topic.

[By the way, that "miniscule fraction of a degree" number that skeptics always throw around comes from the very models they otherwise denigrate.] I debated Wiese in Portland about two years ago, and he actually presented this graph as an example of a valid forecast. It uses, believe it or not, a simple Excel sixth-order polynomial fit, which would predict a temperature below absolute zero in just a few years.

(Naturally, the Portland radio conservative Lars Larson considers Wiese an expert and frequently has him on his program.)

But worse was self-styled climate expert Gordon Fulks, who, after making sure everyone knew he had a Ph.D., asked a question that turned into a rant against Mote that essentially asked 'how is this even science?' He kept interrupting Mote's trying to answer the question and called Mote's work 'calibration.' It was ugly and embarrassing and Mote rightly refused to fall for the bait.

Fulks, by the way, writes op-eds like this one in the Oregonian that needed some serious corrections. Another accused climate scientists of not being honest, and finished with this gem: "All plants and animals owe their very existence to carbon dioxide." An earlier piece he wrote actually heralded the notorious Oregon Global Warming Petition Project, while making sure (again) that everyone knew he had a Ph.D. (Isn't it strange how skeptics always claim there is no such thing as consensus in science, yet point to the Oregon petition to demonstrate a supposed consensus?)

Anyway it was kind of ugly. Hard questions are a good thing at seminars, and I've seen a few heated debates in them about various technical points, but I've never seen people try to simply score points at one.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Followup on the UCS Clean Air Act Ticker

Because, you know, you can never ask too many questions, I contacted the Union of Concerned Scientists to ask about their Clean Air Act Ticker.

As you might recall, my question was: how can the UCS ticker suggest savings of $1.9T from the Clean Air Act when our GDP is only about $15T/yr?

The short answer is: you can't compare the two.

I talked to climate ecologist Rachel Cleetus at the UCS. She explained that avoided costs do not equate to creating GDP, which makes sense.

It is not easy to put an economic figure on the value that people put on life. You can estimate how much people would spend to avoid certain social and environmental negatives, which is what the EPA's report on air pollution does, and then you can extrapolate.

But, how much would you spend to save your life? All that you have, surely, if you really had to.

So these numbers require some interpretation and thought.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Americans Drive Half a Light-Year Annually

Here's an interesting little factoid: Americans collectively drive 3 million million miles a year, which is just over half a light-year.

March GISS Temperature Anomaly is Fairly Large

This is sure to generate some controversy (and no doubt, vitriol thrown in GISS's direction): they've posted their global temperature anomaly for March 2011 as +0.57°C, which is akin to last decade's temperatures and not indicative of a recent worldwide cooling trend (probably due to La Nina and the NAO). UAH pegged it at +0.10°C, though they recently changed their baseline and I don't have time to figure out the conversion right now.

It would be really nice if all those who measured temperatures used the same baseline period.

from "The Two Kinds of Decay"

“This is suffering’s lesson: pay attention. The important parts might come in a form you do not recognize.

You might not know to love it.

But to pay attention is to love everything.”

-- Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cat and Dolphins Playing Together

Interesting stuff

Things I've come across lately:
  • Some scientists are saying it could be a decade until the aftershocks in Japan subside. (There have been over 200 so far.)
  • "...the northern portion of the main island of Honshu lurched more than three feet to the east. Global Positioning System measurements showed places where the surface moved more than 16 feet."
  • Some climate modelers are starting to conclude that limiting average global warming to 2°C is probably impossible. Meanwhile, climate negotiators continue to dither. And journalists continue to write silly things like this: "When the world temperature reaches 2 degrees Celsius catastrophic impact of climate change like more extreme typhoons, hurricanes, rising sea levels and drought will be beyond control [sic]," as if there's some kind of switch that will be flipped.  
  • The Pioneer anomaly -- the unexpected extra deceleration of the Pioneer spacecraft -- may have been solved by a closer examination of how the craft emits and reflects heat.

Clean Air Act Ticker

The Union of Concerned Scientists has an embeddable widget that putatively lists the human and economic savings of the Clean Air Act:

It claims an economic savings of $50T (trillion) since the Act was established in 1970, in 2010 dollars. That number comes from a peer-reviewed EPA report -- they list their methodology here.

The tally comes to a savings of $1M every 17 seconds, or $1.9T/yr. Can that possibly be right in a $15T economy? I don't think so.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Europe's Heat Waves

A paper (sub. req.) in this week's Science gives some estimates of the damage from last year's heat wave in Russia:
Preliminary estimates for Russia referred a death toll of 55,000, an annual crop failure of ~25%, more than 1 million ha of burned areas, and ~US$15 billion (~1% gross domestic product) of total economic loss (15).

from "The Hot Summer of 2010: Redrawing the Temperature Record Map of Europe," David Barriopedro, et al, Science, April 8, 2011, v 332, pp 220-224.

Here's a distribution plot from the paper, with the five hottest (red) and coolest (blue) years marked:

and here's the frequency per-decade:

(here the dotted line is the 95th percentile of the distribution of maximum decadal values that would be expected by random chance.)

Nothing suspicious about this, is there? (Though I'm sure we'll learn by next week that this is suspect because one of the authors stole a pack of gum when he was 8-years old and another sometimes fails to wipe his shoes when he comes into the house.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Book Review: How to Live on Mars

How to Live on Mars gives you the straight dope about surviving and prospering on Mars -- finding the cheapest flights there, what to do when your rover breaks down and you're still hours from your inflatable habitat, and learning to hustle, connive and bribe your way to wealth, fame, love and happiness.

I wasn't able to find a venue to review this book when it came out, and so set it aside. But now that I'm almost through Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, I pulled it off my bookshelf. It's a surprising, delightful book.

Zubrin (who in real-life is founder and president of the Mars Society) writes as a future ancestor, "Robert Zubrin," who lives in the early decades of the human colonization of the red planet. This future Zubrin is a character in the best Heinlein tradition -- a smart, hard-working, cynical, money-loving, lusty jack-of-all trades who isn't afraid to bend the rules (or even break them) when they get in his way. He's a survivor who sees development on Mars as the best business opportunity in the solar system, a place for the freedom-loving man (or woman) to stake their claim and then flip it profitably to the to the whoever comes after him, a way for misfits to begin anew and create a world that, this time, avoids all the crap that has come to contaminate living on Earth. He makes his own way, learns what he needs to, accepts his mistakes, and hates government, while always keep an eye open for some potential nookie.

OK, you get the picture. Anyway, Zubrin has clearly thought about all the practical necessities of life on a planet where there is no apparent oxygen, water, food, or building materials. He shows how founders might extract whatever they need, and gives a host of back-of-the-envelope calculations that demonstrate the simple physics, chemistry, biology and geology you'd need to know. So you learn a lot along the way.

This book wasn't at all what I expected. What other reason is there to sit down and read it?

Monday, April 04, 2011

For Muller Before They Were Against Him is in full bully mode after Richard Muller went off-script. Marc Morano is furious and has Muller's email address on his front page at least four times, in case his readers don't get his intention.

Like Watts (I assume you're read Krugman today), Morano was all in support of Muller when he thought Muller was useful to him:

Prof. Richard A. Muller slams 'hide the decline': 'What was their justification for erasing it? The fact that it went down' (March 18, 2011)

Warmist trashes fellow Warmists: Climategate's 'hide the decline' explained by Berkeley professor Richard A. Muller -- 'They are not allowed to do this in science. It isn't up to our standards' (March 17, 2011)

Now Muller must be trashed by all available means -- he's only in it for the moneyby association, by where he's employed, or scientifically.

This is some really, really ugly business, and nothing could be more telling about the these people's true motives and methods. It is reaching new lows all the time, as well as being part and parcel of destroying intellectualism in America. I hope the BEST scientists can withstand the pressure.