Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Amazing Jumbo Elephant Landing

This is just wonderful:

Via: Dark Roasted Blend

Monce Replies to Achenbauch

You may have seen the list of 100 climate skeptics who signed a statement that was published in yesterday's Washington Post.

The Post's Joel Achenbauch wrote about the statement, and in particular called out one signer, Micheal Monce of Connecticut College, an atomic and molecular physicist:

Now back to that ad in the Post: Who ARE these people? "Scientists," is the answer, but what kind of scientists? Are they climate experts?

Let's take a look at "Michael Monce, Ph.d., Connecticut College":

"His area of expertise lies in atomic and molecular physics, particularly atomic collisions."

Probably a smart guy. But why do we care what he thinks about climate change? How many of these people have actually published something on climate change in a peer-reviewed journal?

So I wrote to Monce, and he courteously replied with his thoughts on the controversy:
"Wow... I guess I've suddenly become a lightning rod, and in some sense I can see why which leads me to answer your first question:"

No, I have never published about climate change in peer reviewed journals.

My response to Achenbach would be along the lines as: As a physicist I understand energy fairly well. Also as an experimentalist I have some experience in looking at physical data and analyzing what it means, What lead me to my present thoughts on climate change was when I was researching the topic in preparation for a course I was going to teach on energy issues about 4 years ago. As I looked more into the data and also the models that were being generated, a lot of it didn't add up to me. There's fairly good data that there was a warm period greater than what we are experiencing at the moment during medievel times when CO2 was much less than today. Also in historic terms, the current warming actually started in about 1840 when the earth emerged from the Little Ice Age. Why would it do that without a large human CO2 emission? The IPCC models generated in the late 1990's seem to have failed to predict the current leveling of temperature for the past decade. There are many more instances I can cite all of which tend to lead me to think that perhaps the current temperature trends are more due to natural variabillity than due to human causes. So, as a scientist, I came to the conclusion that many of the IPCC's basic premises may not be valid. If the data changes I will change my view.

As to your third question, if a climatologist had an opinion on a new finding in atomic physics, yes I would be skeptical. However, any scientist should always approach any new finding with some skepticism; that's our job. New findings must be verified independently by other researchers, and even then we may continue to try and find holes... that's what drives science. However, maybe that climatologist may have a different insight into the atomic physics finding that would be useful. Here's the real point as an example of how science really works: even today we are trying to find flaws in Einstein's work. Why? Because by finding the flaws we learn more about how nature runs. Wasn't it a physicist (Alvarez) who came up with the idea of the asteroid/comet impact extinction of the dinosaurs? Cross disciplinary discoveries do happen and are often met, appropriately, with great skepticism. However, such discoveries, when verified, lead to greater understanding of nature.

BSG: An Alternative Ending

Did you notice near the end of the last episode of Battlestar Galactica ("Daybreak Part 2"), that was Ronald Moore reading the magazine about mitrochodrial Eve? He is, of course, the creator and chief writer of BSG.... It was a nice cameo. Here's a great cover that was mocked up for an alternative ending he had in mind:

It looks real and kinda gives you shivers.... Just imagine.

Columbia River

Columbia River, St Helens, Oregon.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Avery's Pathetic Error

Dennis Avery has published such a stupid error that, frankly, it ought to end his career.

Avery is the kind of conservative jack-of-all-trades that media outlets insist on using despite the availability of tens of thousands of more qualified scientists.

Opining on climate science, Avery wrote, in something called the American Daily:
The atmospheric CO2 levels at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory have declined since 2004. How can this be when humans keep emitting more greenhouse gases? Could declining atmospheric CO2 levels mean that the whole Greenhouse Warming theory is collapsing?
They're bound to cover up such a ridiculous claim, so here's the screen print:

Of course, this is beyond ridiculous, and so silly that a 7-year old wouldn't make it. Yet this is what passes for skeptical punditry on climate science these days.

Here is the actual data from Mauna Loa -- it took, literally, four seconds to Google this. Atmospheric CO2 levels continue to increase (of course), just as they have for years.

No legitimate author could write this, even in a first draft, and no legitimate editor could possibly sign off on it. Avery's reputation ought to be in the shitter after this. What do you want to bet that lots of places will still publish him and supposedly legitimate outlets like World Have Your Say will continue to host him. How sad.

Via: Joseph Romm.

Petitions and Polls and Consensus

It's funny -- for a bunch of people who claim there is no such thing as "scientific consensus," climate skeptics sure seem to like to imply they have one, whether it's the "31,000" person petition with the OISM or today's statement in the Washington Post.

Here are the signatories. I could take them a bit more seriously without the Obama caricature. I certainly don't think Obama is lying -- I just think he has a different opinion than these people. Of course, in their eyes that means you are a liar and a scoundrel and probably strangle puppies in your basement after midnight. I've been accused of worse.

Friedmann and "Mother Nature's Dow"

I don't buy any of Thomas Friedman's argument that the current economic crisis is partly due to environmental collapse. It's just too easy and too convenient, and too much what every extreme environmentalist hopes for deep down -- "the world's collapsing -- that'll show 'em I was right!"

Friedman has no proof of anything like this -- environmental problems like global warming happen slowly and gradually, which is exactly part of the problem of getting the public interested in them and concerned about them. Only very, very rarely are there sudden, momentous shifts...unlike economics, which runs in people-time and not geologic-time.

On the other hand, despite all this Friedman will probably write a book about it, sell a million copies, and go on a successful tour around the country, solidifying his reputation with the NY Times. Which is maybe why I'm not a successful op-ed writer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I try to write to "skeptical" climateers about their work, just to make sure I cover all bases and don't fall into a rut. But I try to ask good and pointed questions. Anyway, on one reply I got from someone he Bcc'ed a whole group of skeptics -- people I've never heard of, an assorted group of meteorologists and amateurs around the world. And they, of course, can't resist writing back.

I have to say, almost without fail these people are some of the most sour and impolite people I have come across. They have no hesitation in calling me all kinds of names from the beginning, and "naive" and "deluded" are just the start of it. I'm stupid and a fool and can't think for myself and all of that.

It's really off-putting and speaks very badly for their case, I think. I never, ever get that from more legitimate scientists. It's like these people just can't help insulting you because they seem to have no other case. I don't even know if they understand how much their impolite posture harms their potential case.

There's no reason people can't disagree without personally disagreeable. If you can't refrain from personal digs and insults, please do not write me.

The End of Battlestar Galactica

I have spent many evenings in the last month catching up on Battlestar Galactica, which frankly I hadn't seen a single episode of before. It is....pretty good science fiction. Not perfect, but pretty good. OK, excellent. And it's all the better for having no real aliens in it, no genetic therapy, no nanotechnology and the like. The ships are clunky and dirty and not all that appealing. People fight and good people die. There are no phasors, but crude nuclear weapons, inebriation and sloppy love.

If there's anything more impressive than a bunch of Cylon Centurions charging fearlessly into battle (especially alongside the humans), I have yet to see it.

I just have a few major questions/problems:
  • if the Cylons nuked Caprica to extinguish the human race, whey didn't they simply nuke New Caprica when they had 90% of the human race cornered there? Why "occupy" it instead?
  • Kara Thrace in the last episode -- she just vanished. Very unsatisfactory. What was she, anyway?
  • I can't believe that any of the inumerable times a human accused a skinjob Cylon of being just a "machine," the Cylon didn't simply answer back, "Oh yeah? And what exactly are you? A large collection of atoms and molecules, delicately arranged, no less and no more than me." They would then argue about the soul and all that, but I can't imagine the human would have much more to add.
  • I could do without all the FTL jumps... but it's curious that when the 13th Tribe escaped Earth and wandered around, special relativity was invoked to explain how little time passed for them but a great deal of time did for everyone else.... Fine -- we all know about the time dilation aspects of special relativity. But then they have everyone jumping around faster-than-light and don't once touch on the temporal aspects of it all. Whatever faster-than-light travel might be, it's got to seriously screw around with time, no?
  • The only thing I really, really hated was that Asian officier's Australian accent in Razor. A very discordant mix that I still have trouble getting out of my head.
Still, I'm looking forward to the upcoming movie and the upcoming series Caprica.

Friday, March 27, 2009

McKibben's Exaggerations

Bill McKibben has an article in yesterday's Boston Globe, and includes this:
In the meantime, though, scientists - and environmentalists - have figured out a more important reason to worry about coal-fired power plants, and that's the carbon dioxide they spew into the atmosphere. This is what causes global warming, and the scrubbers PSNH is talking about will do nothing to remove it from the exhaust. Which is too bad, because if the scientists are right about climate change, soon New Hampshire anglers will be able to catch salt-water species in their own living rooms.
Perhaps he meant this last sentence as tongue-in-cheek -- I honestly can't tell. If he did, he didn't set it up properly or pull it off. If he didn't, as I suspect, then it's exactly -- exactly -- the kind of completely ludicrous statement that makes people immediately dismiss him and his ilk and, with them, the entire case for anthropogenic climate change.

It really doesn't fool anybody, and does serious harm to the effort.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lindzen at Heartland

Here's Richard Lindzen's talk at the Heartland Institute conference earlier this month. It's well-worth listening to.

His scientific arguments (as presented here) are very high-level and there's really not much you can say about them. But I do think one of his ideas is worth thinking about: if you really do not accept the AGW statements given by the various scientific societies, quit your membership with that society. Perhaps you should even go and form your own society. That would be a much more useful statement than signing some petition with thousands of essentially untraceable names which lack institutional affiliations, addresses, etc., which has also been signed by Ginger Spice.

50 Years of Global Warming

Here's some ammunition for you -- an article about the potential of anthropogenic global warming in Scientific American magazine from 1959.

Yes, that's right: 50 years ago. Read it. It's amazing how much they knew back then, and how the basic concept hasn't change at all.

Was the article perfect? Not quite.
Quite accurate records of the amount of fossil fuel consumed in the world each year show that in the past 100 years man has added about 360 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As a result the atmospheric concentration has increased by about 13 per cent. The carbon dioxide theory predicts that such an increase should raise the average temperature of the earth one degree F [0.6 deg C]. This is almost exactly the average increase recorded all over the world during the past century! If fuel consumption continues to increase at the present rate, we will have sent more than a trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the air by the year 2000. This should raise the earth's average temperature 3.6 degrees [2 degrees C].
Instead of 2°C, the world warmed about 0.5 - 0.6 °C. It concludes:

We shall be able to test the carbon dioxide theory against other theories of climatic change quite conclusively during the next half-century. Since we now can measure the sun's energy output independent of the distorting influence of the atmosphere, we shall see whether the earth's temperature trend correlates with measured fluctuations in solar radiation. If volcanic dust is the more important factor, then we may observe the earth's temperature following fluctuations in the number of large volcanic eruptions. But if carbon dioxide is the most important factor, long-term temperature records will rise continuously as long as man consumes the earth's reserves of fossil fuels.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gaslight Anthem

"It's no secret that after Bruce Springsteen saw the Ramones in Asbury Park, he went home and wrote "Hungry Heart" for the Forest Hills legends. Of course, Jon Landau convinced the Boss to keep the song and it went on to become one of his biggest hits. The Ramones, meanwhile, remained just outside the mainstream, always lacking the one massive single that would have brought them the fame they deserved. Now, three decades later, the Gaslight Anthem are like something out of speculative fiction: this is what pop music would be if Springsteen hadn't listened to his producer, let the Ramones record the song, and launched the C.B.G.B.'ers into megastardom."

-- Sobriquet Magazine

The Coming Climate Wars

If we have to go to war with Michele Bachmann over Cap-and-Trade, can we at least use tanks that run on ethanol?

The West

Since moving to the West I've been reading a lot of books about Lewis & Clark and the founding of Oregon.... and I really like this quote from John Fleck's blog, which seems to sum up all the noble and unseemly things done to overtake this place:

From Larry Calloway:

I asked Wallace Stegner if he could define the history of the West, expecting a Frontier Thesis answer consistent with his Wilderness Letter and “the geography of hope.” He leaned forward as cool as his heavy drift of snowy hair and said:

“One big real estate deal.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hire a Physicist Today

“A Nobel scientist is more likely to figure out Washington than a career politician is to figure out how to deal with carbon sequestration."

-- Dan Leistikow, Energy Department’s director of public affairs, NY Times

Redoubt Erupts

Mt. Redoubt in Alaska erupted overnight, four times. The ash plum has gone nine miles high, but so far there appears to be little ash fallout regionally.

This doesn't appear to be the size volcano to influence global temperatures. Volcanic activity is measured by the Volcanic Explosive Index (VEI), a nonlinear scale that takes into account volume of products, eruption cloud height, and qualitative observations.
  • Mt St Helens in 1980 was about 5.
  • Pinatubo in 1991 was a high 6. (That one did influence climate for a year or so).
  • Tambora in 1815 was a very high 7. (It was the largest eruption in recorded history, and caused "The Year Without a Summer" in northern countries in 1816 -- or, my favorite term for it, "Eighteen hundred and froze to death.")
In 1989 Reboubt exploded with a VEI = 3.

Here's the Twitter page for the volcano, and an updating site from the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pity the Poor GM Engineer

From Nate Silver, via Andrew Sullivan:

The government has dictated that nobody at anybody of these companies is deserving of incentive-based compensation, unless their household income is less than $250,000 per year.

Just think about some of the implications of this. A senior engineer at General Motors, who shepherds the production of a new hybrid vehicle that will turn out to be a best-seller, shouldn't get a bonus for that. Really?

Well... yes. If this Sr engineer's great invention is supposed to be such a great seller, then why is GM's stock price scrapping along near zero? Apparently no one on Wall Street thinks he has a viable product, or that he can't break it through GM's no doubt impenetrable bureaucracy... so why should he be rewarded for it?

I thought the capitalistic system was about rewarding the winners, not just those who try.

If this Sr engineer's hybrid idea is so great, why hasn't it reached the market? And if it hasn't, why should the American taxpayers pay anything extra for it?

For that matter, why should this clearly intelligent, skilled Sr engineer not leave GM and go start his own company making hybrid cars. Let him put his idea on the line, not bury it under 8 layers of management at GM. We're not paying for his idea, we're paying for GM's implementation of it. This John Galt deserves no more than his company can achieve.

If he has any stones, he will quit his $250,000/yr job at GM and start his own company making hybrids, and if his idea is a good one he will be a significant impact in the market and make a huge amount of money.

Isn't that what all this is supposed to be about? Or are we just supposed to reward middling engineers too afraid to risk their ideas with their own capital and/or initiative, forever kowtowing to upper management to just please, please release their product, and if not, oh well, I'll still get a safe retirement.

By those lights, Bill Gates would be a division manager at IBM, living in a really nice house in Westchester County, with great ideas that never made it past his executive director. And we would all be the poorer for it. Should he be rewarded for just making a decent effort? And if he should, why shouldn't you or I?

Arctic Ice Peak

The extent of sea ice in the Arctic appears to have peaked for the year, at 14.4 M square-kilometers.

How does this compare to previous years?

It's a relatively early peak, and lower than last year's, but higher than 2004-2007.

(I'm using data from the ARC-JAXA Information System (IJIS) from the International Arctic Research Center in corporation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Advanced Earth Science and Technology Organization of Japan.)

(click to enlarge).

Here's the full picture, from IARC-JAXA:

(click to enlarge).

Bottom line? The Arctic is still relatively cool compared to the last half-dozen years, but warmer than last year, as is also seen in the NASA GISS and Hadley surface measurements.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday stuff

Just some things I've come across:
  • Hadley says... Feb 2009 was +0.343°C above the baseline. Seven of their last eight months have been warmer than the year before.
  • Even National Public Radio is canceling their newspaper subscriptions.
  • The international radio program World Have Your Say had a program last Friday on "Why is the World Full of Climate Change Deniers." Guests included Mike Hume, Dennis Avery, and George Marshall. Worth checking out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Feb 09 from NASA

NASA GISS says Feb 2009 was +0.41°C above the long-term average -- cooler than last month, but warmer than last year.

For the sixth month in a row, global temperatures are warmer than the year before.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

St Helens, the Movie

I warned you that I just got a new digital camera:

GOCE on Twitter

Here's an interesting use of Twitter: you can use it to follow the European Space Agency's upcoming launch of the GOCE spacecraft.

GOCE is the Gravity field and steady-state OCean Explorer, and will launch from northern Russia on March 16th at 14:21 GMT (10:21 am EDT, 7:21 am PDT).

GOCE will map variations in the gravitational field around the Earth. That doesn't sound overly exciting, but it will allow more accurate measurements of ocean circulation and sea-level change, both of which are affected by climate change.

(Actually, the Earth's deviations from a sphere is a long, deep and interesting subject. In undergraduate classical mechanics, we spent a few weeks doing detailed perturbative calculations on the gravitational field resulting from a nonspherical Earth. It involved lots of interesting mathematics, not too complex but heady enough. You kind of feel like a rocket engineer. Look into it if you want to lose yourself for a few good weeks.)

Billionaires Who Save Millions

Timothy Egan writes about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropy:
Consider one example of how that money changes lives: global deaths from measles have fallen from 750,000 to 197,000 in just seven years, in part because the foundation started focusing on vaccinations for such diseases.
That's in deaths per year -- still 22/hour.

And what have you been doing with your life?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Outright Corporate Theft

If you want an eye-opening look into the depths of the ripoff of taxpayers in the last six months in the name of saving the economy, be sure to listen to Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren on yesterday's episode of Fresh Air on NPR.

Warren was also chairwoman of the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) first panel meeting.

Not that it seemed to matter. You can listen to her talk about how the federal government -- especially Henry Paulson -- rammed through programs that absolutely did not respect American taxpayers and, in fact, gave them the worst deals in all these mysterious transactions, while powerful corporations got sweet-heart, favorable deals that gave them 10s of billions of dollars, literally, to do whatever they wanted.

And Warren, by necessity of her position, clearly must be circumspect. Her curt, one-word answers reveal her true feelings about this travesty.

It's clear that over the last few months hundreds of billions of dollars have essentially been given -- just given -- to large American corporations to do whatever they want to do with it. No accountability, no transparency, nothing.

American taxpayers have gotten ripped off in perhaps the most extreme transfer of wealth ever. And they don't even fucking know it.

Perhaps most culpable of all are the so-called "financial journalists" who have reported essentially none of this. They have never been more than corporate lackeys for Wall Street and have seemed utterly incapable of escaping that role.

Someday -- it won't be for decades -- this financial "crisis" will be dissected and documented. No one -- not anyone -- is going to look clean. Corporations and their executives will be revealed for the selfish pigs they are, the middle class for the dupes they always have been, and financial journalists for the useless, ass-licking peons they always were.

Of course, it will be about $2T too late. And the worse fucking thing is that the middle class doesn't even know they've just been fucked hard up the ass.

Download Physics World

The March issue of Physics World, about several aspects of today's astronomy, is available for free. It's worth checking out.

February RSS & UAH temperatures

I know the monthly global temperature data shouldn't be treated like a horse race. But it's fun.

RSS puts the Feb-2009 MSU global temperature anomaly[1] at +0.230°C, and UAH at +0.36°C. That's an unusually wide difference between the two.

In any case, both are warmer than last year at this time, for the fourth month in a row.

[1] base period = 1978-1998

New Star Trek Movie Trailer

The upcoming Star Trek movie has released a third trailer, and this one looks even better than the first two.

The movie premiers on May 8th.

Monday, March 09, 2009

March in Oregon

So far in Oregon today I have seen fog, a brief snow squall, rain, sun, blue skies, storms, hail, and now sun again. And it's only 4 o'clock.

Fleck Interviews Schmidt

John Fleck interviewed Harrison Schmitt in yesterday's Albuquerque Journal (sub or trial pass required). As you may know, Schmitt (former NM senator, last human to walk on the Moon) doesn't believe humans are responsible for the last few decades of warming, and that instead it's the sun.
"Schmitt argues that the current warming is part of a natural cycle that began in the 1800s, as Earth began emerging from the "Little Ice Age" — a warming that began long before industrial emissions could have played a role. Schmitt believes changes in the sun have effects on Earth's climate that are at this point poorly understood by scientists.
"It's a political issue," Schmitt said of global warming fears in a recent interview. "It's not a scientific issue."
Efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, Schmitt said, "would be disastrous to our economy and actually our liberty."
I'd like to see his detailed calculations. Anyway, Schmitt is speaking at the Heartland Institute's skeptic conference, taking place in New York City over the next few days.

Snowiest December

This past December was the snowiest in Portland, OR's history: 18.9 inches. The Oregonian has a nice chart about it all here.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Video: No Global Cooling

I'm in an experimental mood tonight, so am trying something new: a short video explaining why there is no "global cooling" going on.

This is very rough and very experimental. Let me know what you think. But keep in mind:
  • yes, I know I desperately need a haircut.
  • I'm also under the weather, with a lot of gunk clinging the the orifices in my head.


I just got a digital camera and, I'm sorry, but you may be subject to some pictures and videos in the next few weeks until it loses its luster.

Here is my cat Eli, taken this afternoon. I have titled this video, "Eli."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

According to a Steve Milloy-inspired blog, Robert Kennedy Jr. said the following at this past weekend of activism on behalf of the climate in Washington DC:

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said at today’s Capitol Climate Action rally that Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship “should be in jail… for all of eternity.”

Kennedy also said that coal companies Massey Energy, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are “criminal enterprises.”

I'm unable to confirm this right now (write me if you can), but it sounds quite plausible. It also sounds juvenile, immature, and ridiculous.

I don't trust vaunted leftists like Kennedy Jr., who I suspect is only trying to keep his career in the media going, any more than I trust the noted climate skeptics on the right.

If, for example, the power in Kennedy Jr's home in Massachusetts or wherever it is were shut off because all the coal power plants in the US were suddenly terminated, he'd be one of the most prominent (if warbly) voices on the radio bitching for investigations and criminal convictions and who knows what else.

He is a blowhard whom I just cannot respect.

Sure, coal is bad for the climate, compared to other energy sources. That hardly means you have to demonize the people providing it. I grew up in a house with a coal furnace, and for many years remember my mom and my dad taking turns going down into the cellar to shovel coal into the furnace at 3 am in the morning. It kept us warm.

Yes, we need to transition to non-carbon energy sources, and we need to move away from coal. But calls like Kennedy Jr's are just arrogant and stupid, and are exactly why I cannot and will never be an activist. There are no grays in their world, only sharp divisions of black and white. And worse of all, Kennedy Jr. well knows this and deliberately chooses to ignore it for the sake of his personal publicity.

(Let's not even get in to his opposition to the wind farm off Cape Cod, or his extremely misleading article in Salon about vaccines and autism.)

The extreme left and RFK Jr. and Bill McKibben and 350.org and all those people are never going to accomplish anything at this rate. Their language is so inflammatory it is easily written off. Aren't there any adults in their movement?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


"A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism."

-- Carl Sagan

PS: I'd down with the flu, so won't be posting much for a few days....