Thursday, November 29, 2012

While Corporate Profits Soar....

Corporate profits in America continue to soar -- up now to 11.1% of GDP, the highest level since at least 1947. So where are the jobs? Non-Kenyisans? Tea Partiers? What is your answer??

Graph of Corporate Profits After Tax

Have we reached finally the prefect corporatocracy -- massive profits for corporations, no profits for anyone else?

Bush Could Have Paid Off the Entire Debt - Twice

Here's something you may not know: George W Hoover could have easily paid off the entire federal debt during his administrations -- twice.

When Bush Jr. took office in 1Q2001, federal receipts were 20.7% of GDP. (Today they are 17.0% of GDP.)

FRED Graph

Had federal revenues remained at that level, it's easy to calculate the additional federal revenue that would have come in, using this GDP data.

The answer: an additional $10,820 billion dollars.

When Bush Jr came into office, the total federal debt was $5.7 trillion. When he left office in January 2009 it stood at $10.62 trillion.

Hence, had Bush not decided the surplus was "the people's money," and gave it all to (rich) people, the entire debt would have been easily paid off, with plenty of money left over for wars, killing people, Medicare expansion (Part D), etc.

No conservative gave a crap them. Don't let them tell you they give a crap now.

PS: While Hoover Jr doubled the debt, Reagan increased it by 150%.

Early Work on Climate and CO2

During recent months I have been collecting references to early work on climate and greenhouse gases, going back to Fourier in 1827, and have put them here:

As you can see, many scientists had long been thinking about, and trying to calculate, CO2's effect on climate. (If you have additional papers for this list, let me know.)

The canonical work disproving the claimed 1970's "consensus" on global cooling/new ice age is

"The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus"
W. Peterson et al, Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 89, 1325–1337, 2008

If you haven't read Spencer Weart's work, you should -- and, if you can afford it, The Warming Papers by Pierrehumbert and Archer. Justin Gillis of the NYT reviewed the latter here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More on Autocorrelation of Temperature Data

This is pretty wonkish and probably not of interest to anyone else, but... I have been trying to better understand autocorrelation in time series -- the notion that a data point, like a temperature, depends on the points just before it -- and especially how to calculate autocorrelation coefficients.

Here is a good review of autocorrelation in time series, if you're looking for it, by Dave Meko at the University of Arizona. This Appendix by Tom Wigley explains more, and his equation 9 is especially important.

I do most of my calculations in Excel, so I've been trying to figure out how to calculate the autocorrelation coefficients rk for a given lag k, using Excel. (The "lag" k is the number of points away that you're looking for a correlation -- temperatures in relation to last month is "lag 1," in relation to two months ago is "lag 2," and so on).

Here is the magic formula:

rk = PEARSON(OFFSET($data$,0,0,N-k,1),OFFSET($data$,lag,0,N-k,1))

where N is the number of data points in your time series, k is the lag, and $data$ is the array containing your data, such as A1:A180 for a 15-year series of monthly temperatures contained in column A. (After I figured this out, I then found it in this Excel forum discussion.)

Once you know the autocorrelation coefficients, you can use them in the calculation of the uncertainty of a linear trend. In essence, the number of independent data points in the series is reduced -- usually drastically so. For just 1st-order correlation, the effective number of data points is (Meko eq 15Wigley eq 9)
Neff = N(1-r1)/(1+r1)

This number can be much less than the number of actual data points. For example, for the monthly RSS lower troposphere temperature, and a 15-year linear trend, the number of data points is 180 (=12*15). But even just the lag-1 autocorrelation is so high (r1 = 0.746) that the effective number of independent degrees of freedom is, for the 15 years up to October 2012, only 26.3 --  just over two years.

So you can begin to see why talking about trends over the last 15 years, or since 1998, or whatever, is really meaningless -- because of autocorrelation, you are really only talking about 2-3 years of independent data.

For higher autocorrelations -- and the typical time series you find in climate change usually contains significant autocorrelation beyond lag-1 -- the relationship is much more complicated, and I am still trying to figure this out. (Lee and Lund discuss it here, which I found a copy of somewhere, but it's pretty heavy mathematics that I'm still working through). Most climatologists only consider lag-1 autocorrelation, as did Foster and Rahmstorf here, because it's much easier. But it's not the final word (nor, as Lee and Lund show, do higher autocorrelations necessarily mean more uncertainty about the trend, a somewhat counterintuitive result).

For example, for the 15-year trend of the RSS lower troposphere data, concluding in October 2012, I find:
r1 = 0.746
r2 = 0.648
r3 = 0.533
r4 = 0.421
r5 = 0.320
r6 = 0.264
r7 = 0.146
r8 = 0.300
r9 = -0.024

The correlation coefficients die off slowly.

Like I said, this is pretty far into the weeds, but I find it interesting, and maybe a few others will as well, including Google searchers who land here. I still have things to figure out; the basic question is, given a time series such as temperature anomalies, what is the statistical uncertainty in the trend (slope) including all relevant autocorrelation lags? (And what does "relevant" mean, exactly?)

It's not an easy question, but it does show why considering "short" time intervals is meaningless. The question is, what does "short" mean? Mathematics is the only thing that can answer that.

Science and Taxi Cabs

"Science is not a taxi-cab that we can get in and out of whenever we like."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer 
Via this good article in the Huffington Post.

Caption of the Day

Actually, from two days ago, from the New York Times:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Space Debris and Climate Change (Really?)

I don't understand this notion that climate change will negatively affect space debris:
In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, a research team led by John Emmert of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's Space Science Division in Washington, described a new method for quantifying increases in carbon dioxide in the hard-to-measure portion of the upper atmosphere known as the thermosphere, which can't be reached by balloons and aircraft.

In that region, more than 50 miles above Earth's surface, carbon emissions cause cooling rather than warming because carbon dioxide molecules collide with oxygen atoms and release heat into space. Because such cooling makes the planet's atmosphere contract, it can reduce drag on satellites and debris that orbit the earth, possibly having "adverse consequences for the orbital debris environment that is already unstable," the researchers wrote.
The orbit of satellites and space debris is already affected by solar storms, which can heat the upper atmosphere and cause it to temporarily expand. Low-orbiting satellites experience more drag, which can shorten their lifetime, but the storms also clear out some low-lying space debris.

Is the rate of change of CO2 in the thermosphere (they find +24 ppm/decade) really enough to cause havoc to satellites on top of this? And space debris is random anyway -- this just mixes it up.... I guess I'm skeptical.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Declaration of the New America

Via Happy Place.

Good News on Drought

John Fleck, on this Nature study:
Some Good News Today on Climate Change: Less Drought than we thought.
Be sure to read his excerpts from the paper, and a perspective on it.

Of the 12 stories on Google News's top page for a search of "drought," only one covers this paper.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Privacy's End

“If the C.I.A. director can get caught, it’s pretty much open season on everyone else.”

-- Marc Rotenburg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, on privacy violations in the investigation of David Petraeus.

Moral Logic vs Scientific Accuracy

One of the deep problems with morality is that, when people think it is on their side, they sometimes abandon the truth.

History is, of course, rife with examples of those who broke with truth in light of what they perceived as a higher moral cause. You have to wonder if that's not the case with today's environmentalism. David Roberts is the most current example.

In a recent post on Grist, he tries to explain his position on "the moral logic of climate communication" (whatever the heck that means) with a loose analogy to a sick patient who is dying, but feels alright at the moment. He sets the very conditions he needs for his argument to prevail.

Roberts writes:
"Scientific accuracy is a virtue. But affective impact and moral resonance are also virtues. We cannot say things we know are false about climate change, but we also cannot, in good conscience, be indifferent to whether our words have any effect. Both moral obligations have a claim on us and, contra the scolds, narrow scientific accuracy is not a trump card in every tough case."
The operative word here is, of course, the "but" that begins the second sentence. He goes on:
"All those involved in communicating climate should take a hand in claiming the storm (Sandy) for that narrative. It is, ultimately, immoral not to."
And then his last sentence gives away the game:
"...narrow scientific accuracy is not a trump card in every tough case."
Look: scientific accuracy is all we have. The entire case for manmade climate change rests on it. Because it is not obvious that man is causing climate change. There is no pollution visible in the sky, no rivers catching on fire. The argument -- the only argument -- is scientific, based on the absorption spectrum of carbon dioxide, robotic measurements of ocean temperatures, the analysis of historical proxies, and the intelligence to connect them all.

Abandoning science now -- even in part -- is to abandon what has got you this far. And I don't think people are that stupid and gullible -- even the ones who (pretend they) don't accept the science.

And what Roberts' is advocating for is abandoning science -- that is is "immoral" not to...stretch the truth. Immoral not to lie.

To me this is an obviously lost position, that I simply can't fathom, or accept.

How does Roberts get to that point? Because his defense essentially boils down to this:
"Humanity is at stake."
Of course, if that truly were the case, it's hard to argue for any limitations at all. If your village is about to be overrun by powerful Vandals, with 100% certainty, all your women and children to be killed, your death certain, what action, what lie, what atrocity isn't justified on your part?

But it's very convenient to take that point of view -- who can possibly argue against you if that's the case? You have shut the door on the argument from your side, and locked it. You have claimed the high ground, de facto, no questions invited, and none tolerated.

But this is a serious logical mistake on Roberts' part. It is far, far from clear that climate change puts humanity "at stake" -- viz., threatens its very existence, viz. means the human species will cease to exist.

He has not, in fact, taken the high ground -- he is just trying to shout louder from his hill.

Climate change is a story just getting started, and there are many paths it can take. Certainly it is an extremely difficult problem. Clearly there is the potential for some to suffer more than they otherwise would in the absence of climate change. (But there are those will gain benefits, too.)

But very smart people realize this problem and are working on it. Some are seriously considering geoengineering, whether it's taking carbon dioxide out of the air or reducing the amount of sunlight that hits earth. Lots of well-meaning people are working on mitigation, on adaptation, on struggling with the deep issues of governance.

And I think people are coming around. Maybe it was Sandy, with all its doubts and uncertainties. Maybe it was the US heat wave this spring, and the Moscow heat wave of 2010. Maybe it's all the scientists who are putting their necks on the line, and all their opponents who seem, any more, to only worm their way along the low road.

Heck, Grover Norquist just uttered the words "carbon" and "tax" in succession. OK, he quickly backtracked -- but then, he's a political animal who survives by the moment. He would never have done this much even a month ago. The wheel is turning.

And these people who are working on the issue -- they are not abandoning truth along the way, or even stretching it. Roberts wants them to abandon the truth for the sake of their (his?) cause. That cannot, and has never, won anything in the long run. It just makes you a liar.

And how can you stand on that?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Climate Newsbits

From the department of "We Will Pay for Climate Change One Way or the Other": New York Governor Andrew Cuomo requests $30 billion in federal assistance for disaster relief and infrastructure improvements.

For example, Mr. Cuomo wants to replace the region’s power grid — at a cost of $30 billion over 10 years — with a so-called smart grid that would improve the ability of utility companies to pinpoint areas with power failures and respond to them.

Earlier I mentioned that Norfolk, VA, a city of 240,000, might need $1 billion for a seawall. The climate queue appears to have begun.

Since the Democrats kept the Senate in last week's election, James Inhofe will not ascend to the majority chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. (It will be retained by Barbara Boxer of California.) In fact, he is term-limited by Republican caucus rules, so the minority chair will be David Vitter (R-La.), "a more moderate climate skeptic (if such a thing exists)."

Oregon's Ron Wyden will become chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Wyden strikes me as one of the most thoughtful and reasonable politicians in the country (except for a little blip where he wanted to work with Paul Ryan on Medicare reform).

New Zealand announces it will not commit to a second Kyoto protocol. Even the good guys are bailing (though 36 countries are on board).

From an editor at Newsday, the biggest paper on Long Island, to James Inhofe: "Hey, senator, how about buying a house on the South Shore of Long Island?"

Andrew Dessler:  “Science papers are frequently like cooking chili — you don’t really know how it’ll turn out until you put it in the fridge for a day or two,” he said.

NOAA is now saying this winter is favored to be "ENSO-neutral."

Growing the Economy

Funny Somewhat Topical Ecard: I hope Obama can grow the economy by the same amount he and Romney spent on their campaigns.

Continental US: Cold October in a Warm Year

October 2012 Temperature Anomalies Map of the Contiguous U.S.NOAA's October temperature for the continental USA is 53.89°F, which is actually below the 1901-2000 baseline (by 0.27°F). It's the 73rd warmest October out of 118 years.

However, it's still a warm year for USA48, and very likely to be the warmest since at least 1895. If November and December are equal to the the 1980-2010 baseline, 2012 will break the previous record by a wide margin, 0.66°F, with its annual average 3.2 standard deviations above the mean.

Here's NOAA's report. (The calculations above are mine.) Over 60% of the continental US is still in drought.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

More on India's Adaptation Costs

Earlier I highlighted a news story that reported India's government says it is spending more on adapting to climate change -- 2.8% of GDP -- than on health care.

I haven't yet found a breakdown of these costs, but did find this 2011 message from Dipak Dasgupta, the  Principal Economic Adviser of their Ministry of Finance, who was quoted in the Hindu Times article. He gives this table:

I've written to ask for more information.

I agree there are reasons to be skeptical about India's self-reported costs adaptation. For example, this FAQ from the Climate Change Finance division of their Finance Ministry is heavy with discussion of adaptation financing coming from developed countries (viz. not India) for developing countries (viz. India). Just having a "Climate Change Finance" division already tells you something about where they're coming from. (That's not a comment about the morals and ethics of climate change impacts, just an observation about their emphasis.) And it's not just adaptation; in the same document as above, Dasgupta writes:
Costs: India will have to sustain a growth rate of 8-9% for the next 20 years to eradicate poverty and meet its other human development goals. Meeting the energy requirements for growth of this magnitude in a sustainable manner presents a major challenge. The need to accommodate India‟s environment pledges is expected to impact growth figures if no external financial support is extended. The investments so far have not been enough to bridge the gap in the need and availability of resources, and the future is likely to be much harder requiring massive amount of  resources, technology transfers and choices, research and development, incentives, etc. , reinforcing the fact that this ambitious pledge of 20-25% emission intensity reduction is not going to be costless.

India Now Spending More on Adaptation Than Health Care

This is notable -- the national government of India is now spending more on adapting to climate change than they are on health care.

From The Hindu newspaper:
The Union government’s spending on climate change “adaptation” is more than its spending on the health sector, said a top official of the Union Finance Ministry on Monday. Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a national workshop on financing strategies for implementing State-level action plans to counter the effects of climate change, Dipak Dasgupta, Principal Economic Adviser to the ministry, said the Union government spent 2.8 per cent of national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010-11 on climate adaptation measures, which are intended to reduce the impact of global warming and climate change on various sections of the population.

“We have not included the expenditures on mitigating the effects of climate change,” Mr. Dasgupta pointed out.... Mr. Dasgupta, who also heads the Climate Change Finance unit in the Finance Ministry, said the expenditure on adaptive measures, as a percentage of GDP, has doubled in the last decade. Mr. Dasgupta said more than 10 per cent of the annual budget of the Union government is devoted to such expenditures across all departments.

“The unpredictable nature of the weather, especially in terms of rainfall, is one of the main problems caused by climate change,” Mr. Dasgupta said, referring to the drought this year.
[The "Union government" is India's name for its central government.]

India's 2011 GDP was $1.8 trillion, but $4.5 T on a PPP basis. So their spending on adaptation would be, if it were in the U.S. society, the equivalent of $422 billion, or $1,350 per American.

And this is for 2011, not 2030 or 2050 or 2100. India's per capita GDP (PPP) is only $3,700, so having to spend 2.8% of that on adapting to climate change is a large sacrifice -- and ought to be shameful to the developed world, especially the U.S.

The other day I calculated national contributions to total historical emissions, updating this table by The Guardian (which stops in 2004) using EIA annual national data. Through 2010, the U.S. is responsible for 28% of world emissions from fossil fuel consumption; China 8%, India 3%.

How big is the check we should be sending to India every year?

Friday, November 09, 2012

About Gas Prices (No, They're Not Higher)

Newt Gingrich admitted he was wrong about the election (he said Romney would take over 300 electoral votes; but then last December he told ABC News, “I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee”), and when explaining himself blamed, in part, gas prices:
"I was wrong," Gingrich said on CNN's "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien" Wednesday morning. "I think you're going to find that whether it's Michael Barone or Karl Rove, the whole group of us, we all thought we understood the historical pattern and the fact that with this level of unemployment, with this level of gasoline prices, what would happen."
This is more "Republican math" done to make themselves feel better, because gas prices have not been much higher under Obama -- just 5%.

I took the weekly national average price of gas from the EIA's "This Week in Petroleum," and adjusted it for inflation via the Consumer Price Index. Here are the results for the last five administrations:

It is false that gas prices have been a lot higher under Obama -- the real increase is only 5%. On the other hand, the increase during Bush's first administration was 16%, and 56% during his second administration.

Don't believe me? The Washington Post has this chart:

Who knows where gas prices are going, but under Obama they have been just a sliver higher than under Bush. But you do have to wonder if it's just coincidence that gas prices jumped upward as they did during the eight years two oilmen ran the country.

Temperature News

GISS reports the second-warmest October since 1879. They now have the last 10 years (120) months) as 0.17°C than the previous 10 years.

With HadCRUT4's September data, the "David Rose Hole" I mentioned earlier has shrunk from 10 months to 8. (Autocorrelation not included; I'm working on that, but haven't yet figured out if lags > 1 matter to the statistical uncertainty. Can anyone point me to a paper that discusses how to calculate the effective number of degrees of freedom of a time series (equation 9 in this Tom Wigley paper) for lags up to some number M, given all the autocorrelation coefficients rk?)

Stratospheric Aerosols, via the Shuttle

Aerosol layers in the stratosphere from the Pinatubo volcanic eruption (1991), as seen by the space shuttle Atlantis:

Layer of aerosols injected into the atmosphere by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, photographed from the Space Shuttle

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Voters are the real people, my friend

The electorate speaks back to Romney: "Voters are the real people, my friend."

Paul Krugman: "’s also the election that lets us ask, finally, "Who cares what’s the matter with Kansas?'"
For a long time, right-wingers — and some pundits — have peddled the notion that the “real America”, all that really counted, was the land of non-urban white people, to which both parties must abase themselves. Meanwhile, the actual electorate was getting racially and ethnically diverse, and increasingly tolerant too. The 2008 Obama coalition wasn’t a fluke; it was the country we are becoming....

Notice too that to the extent that social issues played in this election, they played in favor of Democrats. Gods, guns, and gays didn’t swing voters into supporting corporate interests; instead, human dignity for women swung votes the other way.

Art Robinson Loses Big

In Oregon's Fourth Congressional District, climate denier Art Robinson lost big to Democrat Peter DeFazio, getting only 39.4% of the vote. Two years ago he lost to DeFazio with 44.5%, so you have to figure he's gone from the picture. (He's also 70 years old.)

His legacy will be the Oregon Petition, a wacky interview with Rachel Maddow, and a bunch of other crazy ideas like sprinkling radioactive waste over America. Quite a career.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Big Earthquake in Guatemala....

Subject: 2012-11-07 16:35:50 UPDATED: (Mww 7.4) GUATEMALA 14.1 -91.9 (2b02a)
Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2012 16:56:09 +0000 (UTC)
From: (USGS ENS)
Reply-To: <>

Globe with Earthquake Location


Preliminary Earthquake Report
Magnitude 7.4 Mww
  • 7 Nov 2012 16:35:50 UTC
  • 7 Nov 2012 10:35:50 near epicenter
  • 7 Nov 2012 08:35:50 standard time in your timezone
Location 14.083N 91.916W
Depth 41 km
  • 56 km (35 miles) SSW (206 degrees) of Retalhuleu, Retalhuleu, Guatemala
  • 61 km (38 miles) SSE (148 degrees) of Suchiate, Chiapas, Mexico
  • 66 km (41 miles) SW (221 degrees) of Mazatenango, Suchitepéquez, Guatemala
  • 95 km (59 miles) SSW (208 degrees) of Quezaltenango, Guatemala
  • 163 km (101 miles) WSW (248 degrees) of GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala
Location Uncertainty Horizontal: 15.0 km; Vertical 9.0 km
Parameters Nph = 635; Dmin = 245.1 km; Rmss = 1.17 seconds; Gp = 59°
M-type = Mww; Version = 7
Event ID us b000dlwm ***This event supersedes event AT00md4m3q.

For updates, maps, and technical information, see:
Event Page
USGS Earthquake Hazards Program

National Earthquake Information Center
U.S. Geological Survey


This email was sent to You requested mail for events between -90.0/90.0 latitude and 180.0/-180.0 longitude (Default World) for M6.0 between 00:00 and 23:00 and M6.5 other times. To change your parameters or unsubscribe, go to:

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Obama's Speech

That was one truly amazing speech by Obama.

It's a shame he only does this when he's in a campaign.

Climate Denier Loses

Climate denier Art Robinson loses in Oregon. Again.

Reaganism: Dead. Finally Dead.

The Big Story: Changing Demographics

The big story, it seems -- regardless of who wins, tonight -- is the changing demographics of the electorate, especially from whites to Latinos. The Republican consultant on MSNBC says GW Bush won 40% of the Latino vote in 2000, and Romney is going to get in the high 20s.... GHW Bush won 400 electoral votes with 61% of the white vote in 1988, and Romney is going to win in the low-to-mid 200s with the same percentage.

You gotta think this worry is somewhere deep in the conservative brain stem, and they are going to scream and flail trying to come to grips with it. The beatings will continue until morale improves. It won't be pretty.

Republican Party Platform of 1912

The Republican Party Platform of 1912:

  • Imposition of Tariffs
  • Ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns, directly or indirectly
  • a "prompt scientific inquiry" into the causes of an increase in the cost of living. 
  • conservation of natural resources
  • expenditures on public programs such as flood control, irrigation. 
  • more (familiar, and not)

Making Seawalls Out of Coal

On my way out to pick up some lunch I was listening to Glenn Beck on the radio[1]. He had on George Allen, who is running for the Senate in Virginia. Allen was going on about the "plentiful American energy resources" and how if Obama wins it will mean the death of the coal-dependent southwestern part of Virginia. Etc. (Of course, not two words about carbon dioxide.)

Then I remembered that this morning when I woke up NPR[2] had a story about flooding in Norfolk, Virginia, which has been increasing in recent years, partly due to the sea level rise hot spot along the east coast. They're already spending millions a year to improve drainage, raise roads, etc. One city official estimated it would cost a billion dollars to build a seawall to protect the city, for which, of course, they would need huge state and federal assistance.

People will pay for climate change one way or another. It's too bad they can't just build the seawalls out of coal, and solve the problem from both directions.

[1] My drive was only a couple of minutes, so I was able to avoid going insane.
[2] As you can see, I try to listen to all sides.

The Best Way to Follow the Election?

The best way to follow election day may be via Intrade, where traders buy and sells shares on a Obama or Romney victory. While it's unlikely most traders there have real inside information (but some might), many are no doubt glued to media and trading quickly on any news and rumors. This link can be set up to autorefresh.

Oregon votes by mail, and personally I miss going to a polling booth. It was one day, at least, where you definitely felt like part of a community, part of the country, part of something happening. In New Hampshire it was especially fun, because (especially for the primary) there were often TV cameras out front and people doing exit polling (I always declined).

It's time to spread the primary love around the country (and yes, I felt that way when I lived in NH). Also, it's time to end the electoral college. Obama will surely win Oregon, so my vote (if it were for him) would hardly count.

Ground-level View: Raw, Direct and Kinda Angry

Klaus Jacob, Columbia University earth scientist, speaking from his flooded home -- raw, direct and kinda angry:

via: @Revkin

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Coming International Climate Wars

Lost amidst my thorny thicket of CAPTCHA (sorry about that; I hate it too, but otherwise I get too much comment spam), Andrew Revkin sends along this relevant link to a post he wrote last year:

What if: Standing in Line for Climate Aid
Lisa Friedman of Climatewire has an excellent story on The Times Web site digging in on an issue I’ve touched on periodically here — the prospect of intensifying fights over whatever money might flow someday to poor countries exposed to risks thought to be amplified by human-driven global warming.
He quotes from her piece:
Is it worse to be swallowed by the sea or racked by famine?

As climate change tightens its grip on the world, institutions charged with protecting the most vulnerable nations could be faced with just such a question. Because there is no international consensus for ranking the possibilities of future devastation — and because there are limited dollars lined up to help cope with climate change — some countries already are battling over who will be considered most vulnerable.

“This is a major, major topic of discussion and debate at the moment,” said Saleem Huq, head of the climate change group at the U.K.-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

Judging who is most threatened has real-world implications. Those at the top of the list — if ever such a list is developed and agreed upon internationally — could decide who is first in line to tap a multibillion-dollar Green Climate Fund.
Arguments just within the U.S. over who gets compensated by whom, and for what, are going to be bad enough. Internationally they're going to be an immense climate clusterf*ck. This is a great time to be a student starting a career in international law.

Cuyahoga River Moment?

Here's (depending on how you see Sandy) is a clever simile, from Michael Mann, quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

"This may be that sort of Cuyahoga River moment for climate change," said Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist and Penn State University professor. "It has galvanized attention to this issue and the role that climate change may be playing with regard to the intensification of extreme weather."

Explanation here, if you don't know about the infamous Cuyahoga River. Or, to put it another way:
Lyrics here.

New Jersey, Before and After Images

Here are a couple of impressive pictures from NASA, that I've put side-by-side (or use NASA's "Image Comparison" tool at the links):

Nighttime lighting in New Jersey and New York:

Mantoloking, New Jersey, before (2007) and after:

Click to enlarge.

This Morning's Bad, Good and Ugly

Three weeks ago Bill McKibben was calling the weather "weird" because there weren't any storms:

On the other hand, the un-scienctism continues elsewhere:

At least some people are trying; Gavin Schmidt quoted in USA Today, last year:
Another outside climate scientist, Gavin Schmidt of Columbia University, said by email that public discussions of the role of climate change in extreme weather events, "oscillate between two equally unlikely extremes - that all weather events are caused by global warming or that global warming has no effect on weather at all." Too often, the discussion finally descends to name-calling ("alarmist" or "denier") between disagreeing sides, he adds:

"The facts of the matter are this: the planet's climate has changed over the last 30 years, chiefly because of human activities. This will impact the weather - in the trivial sense that the specific weather we are having is not the same as the weather that we would have had without human actions, but also in the non-trivial sense that probabilities of various outcomes will shift - sometimes towards more extremes and sometimes towards less. We have a great deal of difficulty characterizing these changes because of insufficient observations (not enough 100 year periods to properly estimate 100 year events), insufficient attention to extremes in modeling and theory, inaccessibility of model results for extremes, and the basic statistical difficulty in attributing infrequent occurrences.

"Nonetheless, the data are good enough to say some things about certain kinds of extremes (heat waves, rainfall intensity (both going up), cold snaps (going down) etc.). In far more cases however, the studies simply have not been done, or the data are simply not good enough to say much, and pundits are tending to extrapolate. That is something most scientists are loath to do."

For researchers, he adds, tracing the role of global warming in extreme weather presents an intriguing problem. "However, the portrayal of this nuanced field in public as either proving that global warming is bad, or that scientists are alarmists, is a travesty. The impact on extremes from human emissions is one of a myriad reasons why we probably don't want to continue to mess with the planetary energy balance."
From the same article:
"There's really no such thing as natural weather anymore," says climate scientist Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois, who was not involved with the report, but said he largely agreed with its conclusions. "Anything that takes place today in the weather system has been affected by the changes we've made to the climate system. That's just the background situation and it's good for people to know that," Wuebbles says. Although scientists cannot immediately tie what percentage of an extreme weather event relies on global warming to make it more severe, he says. "It's always a factor in today's world."
And while the IPCC has clarified who can and who can't called themself a Nobel Laureaute, this campus ad by National Review wasn't worthy of a magazine who seeks to have their ideas taken seriously:

Honoring Michael Mann&#8217;s Nobel Prize

To mark Michael Mann&#8217;s Nobel Prize, we bought this full-page ad that ran in today&#8217;s Penn State student newspaper. 

&#8212;Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. 

I guess they are trying to gin up a few donations for their legal fund.

I still think "Nobel Contributor" has just the right ring to it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Why Overblaming is a Bad Idea

Andrew Revkin sent along some links to his previous coverage of the "blame-ologists": Hurricane Irene, Colorado fires, Texas fires. This piece by him is from 2006.

Thinking about this, there are at least two other good reasons to be careful about attributing events to manmade climate change:
  1. At some point, people are going to demand compensation for weather catastrophes due to climate change. Many, like U.S. farmers, will already be getting some compensation for the U.S. drought, regardless of its cause, and of course many on the east coast will (rightly) be getting government help to repair Sandy's damage. But, probably sooner than later, everyone is going to get into the act -- owners of ski resorts, oyster harvesters who see their beds affected by ocean acidification, coastal homeowners threatened by rising seas, India should their monsoon fail, and on and on and on. Such compensation will be especially important to the poor of the world, and since many activists wish to minimize climate change for their sake, being careful about attribution now will prevent smearing cause-and-effect into a meaningless smudge. If every storm is due to climate change, then all you have is a new climate state with everyone, in some sense, affected equally (or so some might argue.) 
  2.  Geoenginnering, when and if it occurs, will double this problem -- there will be those who say that a geoengineering scheme reduced their rainfall, altered their monsoon, dimmed their land. At the same time there will be demands from those seeking protection from manmade climate change. These future arguments will no doubt make today's arguments look like childhood squabbles, played out in courts, international bodies, and between countries with nasty weapons and large armies. So, again, being careful about cause-and-effect is crucial (and responsible).
If everything is due to climate change, then in a sense nothing is, because economics as currently understood has no way to price the cost of every weather event in existence.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

If Your Mountain Is Not in the Right Place

A while back I mentioned Project Chariot -- a late-1950s proposal to carve out a harbor in an Alaskan town using nuclear weapons. Eli Kintisch's book mentions that Edward Teller told reporters, before he flew up to the site:
"If your mountain is not in the right place, drop us a card."
Teller certainly knew how to get attention.

Stunning Photomicrography

There are some stunning photographs in the 2012 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition. Most are of small structures of animals or groups of cells, but I think this is my favorite, of a snowflake illuminated with color lights:

Fashionable Apocalypses

In summary (I hope), the problem with the Sandy discussion is two-fold, I think:
  1. The notion that it and the flooding and destruction was caused by climate change, that it's a binary situation and this, or something very much like it, wouldn't have happened if climate change wasn't occurring. Andrew Revkin put it well on Science Friday yesterday, and it's worth a listen
  2. The situation we're now in where every extreme weather event being somehow due to climate change. They are not -- hurricanes, floods, and fires have happened through history, some of them devastating. (Even drowned animals -- see below).
Here is just a small set of claims I found this morning:

Hurricane Sandy (October 2012):
Politico: "'This is an absolutely unprecedented storm,' McKibben said."

Hurricane Isaac (August 2012):
Climate Progress: "Hurricane Isaac Caps Off America’s Summer of Extreme Weather"

Colorado Wildfires (June 2012):
Brad Johnson, Think Progress: June 2012: "Obama announces an “all-hands-on-deck” response in his weekly address to the nation from Colorado Springs, after visiting the devastating wildfires, but does not mention the role climate change had in fueling the fires, including higher temperatures, more intense drought, and bark beetle infestations."

Minnesota Flooding (June 2012):
Steve Perlberg, Think Progress: "Western wildfires, record-setting temperatures, devastating floods, and other extreme weather made more extreme by global warming have welcomed us to summer 2012..... Zoo Animals Drowned in Minnesota Floods"

Hurricane Irene (August 2011):
The Daily Beast: "Hurricane Irene’s dangerous power can be traced to global warming says Bill McKibben—and Obama is at fault for his failed leadership on the environment."

Hurricane Earl (Aug-Sept 2010):
Associated Press: "Warm water, especially more than 80 degrees, fuels hurricanes. As a storm heads north, usually the water is cooler and the hurricane quickly runs out of steam. But not this time.... With global warming, water is likely to be warmer farther north than it is was [sic] for the past century,” Borenstein adds."

New England Flooding (April 2010):
Brad Johnson, Think Progress: "Global Boiling Is Washing Away The Northeast With Wild Wet Weather" (emphasis mine)

Hurricane Ike (September 2008):
Brad Johnson, Think Progress: "Global Boiling: Hurricane Ike Part Of New Era Of More Destructive Storms"

One could, of course, easily go on. And some have. (To be fair, some have not.)

Last night I started reading the novel Earth by David Brin. In a section written as a book excerpt from the year 2035, he wrote,
In ages past, men and women kept foretelling the End of the World. Calamity seemed never farther than the next earthquake or failed harvest. And each dire happening, from tempest to barbarian invasion, was explained as wrathful punishment from Heaven.

Eventually, humanity began accepting more of the credit, or blame, for impending Armageddon. Between the World Wars, for instance, novelists prophesied annihilation by poison gas. Later it was assumed we'd blow ourselves to hell with nuclear weapons. Horrible new diseases and other biological scourges terrified populations during the Helvetian struggle. And between wars, of course, our burgeoning human population fostered countless dread specters of mass starvation.

Apocalypses, apparently, are subject to fashion like everything else. What terrifies one generation can seem obsolete and trivial to the next.
I am not saying climate change will come to be seen as obsolete and trivial. Just the opposite -- it's a potential calamity of a unique order, though we're in the beginning of it -- it's the projections which are scary, which is why so many scientists are so deeply concerned about it in a different sense than any previous threat (even nuclear war -- that would be a decision based on political and diplomatic failures; climate change is due simply to how we live). But it can become an hysteria too, while now might be happening, thanks to pushy activists like those above who are using it for their particular purposes. Even though many of them no doubt think we should be getting hysterical, blaming everything on climate change is as misleading as ignoring or denying it completely. More importantly, it's ineffective, not least because it ruins your credibility. But clearly some activists have calculated that their PR message is worth the risk to their trustworthiness.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Rise of the Oceans


(U.S. annualized CO2 emissions from energy consumption have fallen 11.9% since their peak in January 2008 -- down 716 Mt/yr -- and per capita emissions have been falling since at least December 1973 (my records of the monthly Kaya factors don't go back any further), down 24% since then. Imagine (some would argue) if we hadn't done that -- Sandy might have inundated Nebraska!)

Chained Arguments After-the-Fact

Mark Fischetti at Scientific American lays out a case for why Hurricane Sandy was influenced by (but not due to) climate change (similar to Neven's comment):
"They are emboldened because researchers have gotten very good in the past decade at determining what affects the variables that create big storms. Hurricane Sandy got large because it wandered north along the U.S. coast, where ocean water is still warm this time of year, pumping energy into the swirling system. But it got even larger when a cold Jet Stream made a sharp dip southward from Canada down into the eastern U.S. The cold air, positioned against warm Atlantic air, added energy to the atmosphere and therefore to Sandy, just as it moved into that region, expanding the storm even further.

"Here’s where climate change comes in. The atmospheric pattern that sent the Jet Stream south is colloquially known as a “blocking high”—a big pressure center stuck over the very northern Atlantic Ocean and southern Arctic Ocean. And what led to that? A climate phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)—essentially, the state of atmospheric pressure in that region. This state can be positive or negative, and it had changed from positive to negative two weeks before Sandy arrived. The climate kicker? Recent research by Charles Greene at Cornell University and other climate scientists has shown that as more Arctic sea ice melts in the summer—because of global warming—the NAO is more likely  to be negative during the autumn and winter. A negative NAO makes the Jet Stream more likely to move in a big, wavy pattern across the U.S., Canada and the Atlantic, causing the kind of big southward dip that occurred during Sandy."
I am really skeptical about these kinds of chained arguments about very complex systems -- it seems to me you can string a few such ideas together to prove anything, and the systems are so complex no one can prove you wrong (or right). Here's an example.

And where was this argument in any of the recent years when no major hurricanes hit the U.S.? These kind of arguments only get made after a storm, never before them.

Justin Gillis's article in the New York Times strikes me as more balanced on this subject:
"Was the bizarre storm called Sandy a product, in whole or in part, of human-induced climate change?

...The first thing to say is that climate scientists are just not in a good position to answer it yet.

Some of them are already offering preliminary speculations, true, but a detailed understanding of the anatomy and causes of the storm will take months, at least. In past major climate events, like the Russian heat wave and Pakistani floods of 2010, thorough analysis has taken years — and still failed to produce unanimity about the causes."
He goes on:
"Kevin E. Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said that natural variability very likely accounted for the bulk of that temperature extreme. And many of Sandy’s odd features derived from its origin as a “hybrid” storm — a merger of several weather systems, including a hurricane and a midlatitude storm that had earlier dumped snow in Colorado.

“My view is that a lot of this is chance,” Dr. Trenberth said. “It relates to weather, and the juxtaposition of weather systems. A hybrid storm is certainly one which is always in the cards and it’s one we’ve always worried about.” "But, he added, human-induced global warming has been raising the overall temperature of the surface ocean, by about one degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s. So global warming very likely contributed a notable fraction of the energy on which the storm thrived — perhaps as much as 10 percent, he said."
It's just not possible to look at one storm and envision that 10%, given the wide distribution in storm strengths (which I'm guessing is a normal distribution). You couldn't do it with a storm that is 10% less than average strength, either.

I'm certainly open to the idea that someday -- perhaps in a couple of decades, perhaps a little sooner -- scientists will be able to say, a month or two weeks before a major hurricane, that models show conditions are primed for a major hurricane in a certain region, due to anomalously warm SSTs and a blocking pattern set up by melting ice, and that coastal states should put their citizens and disaster agencies on notice. (Whether they would do so if the Italian's crybaby retribution goes worldwide is another matter.) Predictions that come true make believers out of nearly everyone.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Rethinking Sandy

After seeing these aerial photographs of the Jersey shore, I need to revise my thinking a bit. As I wrote on Tuesday, "storms happen," but clearly this was an historically notable storm. When I worked for Bell Labs I lived on the shore -- a winter rental in Belmar, a girlfriend in Ocean Grove, and spent a lot of time at Seaside Heights, Stone Harbor, and elsewhere -- so it's easy to see the lives in these pictures, even if they're taken from a helicopter.

But big storms happen, too. 1972's Hurricane Agnes caused 128 fatalities and $2.1 billion in damages (in 1972 dollars). In current dollars that's $11.7 B. A Wikipedia article says Sandy is the second-costliest Atlantic storm, at $55 B, but when adjusted for wealth and population (as per Roger Pielke Jr), there are several that would appear to be higher (Sandy isn't (yet) on that list). Roger blogged it will likely be in the top ten.

The problem with blaming it on climate change is you have to then explain why earlier storms -- the New England Hurricane of 1938, the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, the Snow Hurricane of 1804 -- happened anyway. And science cannot yet do that. So needless to say, neither can activists. (And lots of them are shamelessly trying, all coming from their individual biases.)

So you have to use statistical trends. And I don't see that they're there -- not for global hurricane frequency, or global accumulated cyclone energy (ACE), or global power dissipation index. Restricting one's view to the North Atlantic does show a trend, especially in ACE and tropical storms and major hurricanes. But then you have to explain why it's happening in the North Atlantic but not elsewhere on the globe, and why it's not natural.

Plus, the North Atlantic ocean is bordered by the world's biggest media markets, and Sandy just plowed into the biggest media market of them all.

The by-now standard argument of "was this climate change" is getting banal -- it happens with every storm. Activists clearly see storms as material to be harvested for propaganda. You get a lot of statements like this one in Nicholas Kristof's column today:
“You can’t say any one single event is reflective of climate change,” William Solecki, the co-chairman of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, told me. “But it’s illustrative of the conditions and events and scenarios that we expect with climate change.”
So you can't say anything based on this storm, but you can -- which Kristof then goes on to say. And, of course, such caveats are quickly forgotten as people blame the storm on climate change anyway. Andrew Revkin has been challenging these claims:
...there remains far too much natural variability in the frequency and potency of rare and powerful storms — on time scales from decades to centuries – to go beyond pointing to this event being consistent with what’s projected on a human-heated planet.
and is getting a lot of heat for it, like this from an engineer named Dan Miller:
We have increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by about 40% in the last 100 years (mostly the last 50 years) on the way to doubling later this century. The Earth has warmed up about 0.8°C (1.4°F) already due to the extra greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere and it would have warmed even more if we weren’t also putting up smoke that reflects sunlight. This warming has increased Earth’s energy radiation to space, but the excess greenhouse gases are still trapping more heat than the Earth is radiating to space. This “energy imbalance” is about 0.6 watts/square meter. This doesn’t sound like much but it is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs going off every day (see my briefing for the math).
Yes, all these are true -- but not one of them establishes this storm as due to climate change, or enhanced by climate change. Science just cannot do that yet (and, given the vast complexity of climate over a wide range of scales, it may never be able to do it, except in a statistical sense). The energy of a physical system such as a basic gas or fluid scales like the absolute temperature T, so its fractional energy shift ~ ΔT/T. If ΔT = 0.8 K for the surface temperature, ΔE/E ~ 0.003 (0.3%). That's still pretty small (and, granted, somewhat of a simplification of complex physical processes)....

As some scientists are trying to point out, climate change doesn't cause one thing or another, it augments what's already happening (at least, prior to an abrupt shift, which hasn't not happened (yet)). So the correct way to think about it is that all events now have a little AGW mixed in, which will be apparent as shifts in their bell curve -- but again, that's statistical, not individual.

Besides, while storms are spectacular and memorable, and can have an immediate impact on a region, I still think storms are a good way down the list of reasons to be worried about AGW. At top are (IMHO) declines in snowpacks and water supplies, droughts, and shifts in agriculture. Those will devastate entire regions far harder and more permanently than will any hurricane.