Monday, December 31, 2012

Shellacking "The Republican Brain"

Responding to a review of their book Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fantasies and the Rise of the Scientific Left in Pacific Standard -- which appeared there (unfavorably) alongside Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain -- co-author Alex Berezow gives Mooney's approach to science a(nother) well-deserved shellacking:
"Herbert fawned over Mooney’s book, the primary thrust of which is that psychology, neuroscience, and genetics explain why Republicans are “smart idiots” and reality deniers. Herbert found Mooney’s book “convincing,” despite the fact that few (if any) scientists would agree. In fact, Mooney’s main premise has been roundly debunked as pseudoscientific nonsense by a neuroscientist, a biochemist, and high-profile evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. As described in the New York Times, such critics resent the “bastardization [of neuroscience] by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers.”

"Similarly, our book makes the point—among many others—that such politicization of science illustrates everything that is wrong with modern science journalism. In our chapter “The Death of Science Journalism,” we discuss how too many science writers have morphed into cheerleaders who uncritically embrace progressive political causes at the expense of good science. For these writers, science isn’t about uncovering the wonders of the natural world; instead, it’s just another platform from which to bash and demonize political opponents. We believe such journalistic malpractice epitomizes science writing at its absolute worst."
He goes on:
"My co-author and I clearly possess a very different science writing philosophy. We believe in order for science journalism to thrive, it must primarily focus on reporting science, not politics. And most importantly, writers should be as objective as possible, fighting for Team Science instead of dedicating their careers to promoting Team Red or Team Blue....

"Anyone who is willing to take off his partisan glasses will quickly come to the conclusion that both sides of the political spectrum—conservatives and progressives—are willing to throw science under the bus whenever it is politically expedient."
To be sure, every popular book about science doesn't have to gush over "the wonders of the natural world," but it does need to be scientifically accurate, which clearly Mooney's book is not. It just seems retrograde to me to be using science -- which has done so much to make political and religious differences irrelevant -- as a bludgeon in support of one's political ideology.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Back to the Old Design

So I'm back to the old, boring design after some lukewarm feedback, and after I couldn't immediately figure out how to leave a comment on my old post.

Maybe some other time.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Design (?)

So, obviously, I'm trying a new design here.

Do you like it? Hate it? Page views are up sharply, but comments are down.

I kind of like it, but am not wedded to it. I'd appreciate any feedback.

The Risks We Accept

In a chapter about the Vioxx fiasco -- when Merck lied about the drug's coronary risk -- Michael Specter writes in Denialism:
"People never measure the risk of keeping the drug off the market, though, and that is the problem. If you applied FDA phase I or II or III criteria--all required for drug approval--to driving an automobile in nearly any American city, nobody would be allowed to enter one. When we compare the risk of taking Vioxx to the risk of getting behind the wheel of a car, it's not all clear which is more dangerous."
It's interesting to compare the risks we accept versus the ones we won't.

Interesting Stuff

You would have thought that James Inhofe had at least two dart boards with Lisa Jackson's picture on it -- one for the office and one for home -- but here's what he released after she announced her resignation as EPA Administrator:
"Lisa Jackson and I disagreed on many issues and regulations while she headed the EPA; however, I have always appreciated her receptivity to my concerns, her accessibility and her honesty.”
Politico said he had a "soft spot" for her. Or maybe he's mellowing in his old age (he recently turned 78).

A paper in Geophysical Research Letters by Nicolaus et al quantifies how younger Arctic sea ice allows more energy into the underlying sea:
"Our results show that transmittance through first-year ice (FYI, 0.11) was almost three times larger than through multi-year ice (MYI, 0.04), and that this is mostly caused by the larger melt-pond coverage of FYI (42 vs. 23 %). Also energy absorption was 50% larger in FYI than in MYI."
They write, though, that total solar input depends on clouds, which can change as the Arctic continues to warm, but overall they expect this to be a positive feedback.

Jim Ball writes:
" gas has us idling about half of the existing coal capacity, fooling us into thinking this is progress, and displacing exponential solutions with a fractional one in the guise of being clean and climate-friendly. Not a good outcome for overcoming global warming. Instead of making sound, sober long-term investments in renewables and efficiency that will reap exponential rewards, we are partying it up on a cheap gas credit card with a very high climate-impacts rate."

Friday, December 28, 2012

An Aspect of Denialism

From Michael Specter's Denialism:
"By forgetting the Vioxxes, Vytorins, the nuclear accidents, and constant flirtation with eugenics, and instead speaking only of science as a vehicle for miracles, we dismiss an important aspect of who we are. We need to remember both sides of any equation or we risk acting as if no mistakes are possible, no grievances just. This is an aspect of denialism shared broadly throughout society; we tend to consider only what matters to us now, and we create expectations for all kinds of technology that are simply impossible to meet. That always makes it easier for people, already skittish about their place in a complex world, to question whether vaccines work, or AIDS is caused by HIV, or why they ought to take prescribed pain medication instead of chondroitin or some other useless remedy recommended wholeheartedly by alternative healers throughout the nation."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Evolution of Ocean Garbage Patches

Plastic is accumulating in ocean gyres, called "garbage patches" -- in some parts of the North Pacific there is now more mass in plastic than in biotic life, and the garbage can be trapped there for a millenium, where it breaks down into small plastic pellets and becomes part of the food chain.

A new study by Erik van Sebille and others in Environment Research Letters studies the evolution of these patches, and finds that most of the junk outside the North Atlantic will eventually end up in the North Pacific. They also discovered a sixth gyre, in the Barents Sea.
Here's a great video where he explains their work:

van Sebille says there is "no solution" to the problem -- most of the pieces are just too small -- except to make plastics that do not break down. Oh, yeah: and not to put it there in the first place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tea Party Goes Rogue

Having gotten trounced in last month's election, the Tea Party decides to double down on wacky conspiracy theories:
Mr. Cummings, who is the Midwest coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, a national group, said a major issue he would be focusing on now was Agenda 21, a United Nations resolution that encourages sustainable development. It has no force of law in the United States, but a passionate element of the Tea Party sees it as a plot against American property rights.
That should keep them occupied, and irrelevant. Smart move.

Monday, December 24, 2012

This is Pretty Funny

From Skeptical Science:

Of course, if kids wouldn't burn the lump of coal they get in their stockings, it'd be a form of sequestration.... Anthracite coal is about 80% carbon by weight, and, according to a recent paper by Hansen et al there is over 10,000 gigatons of carbon in recoverable coal reserves, so if a lump of coal weighs 1/4th kg all we need are about 4 x 1016 bad kids and the coal problem is solved in a single year. (There'd still be enough oil and natural gas to frack up the climate, so maybe that could be given away to bad kids for Easter and Halloween.)

Peak Sun

It's looking like solar irradiance (at Earth) has peaked for this solar cycle and is on the way down. Here are the 30-day and 365-day moving averages of total solar irradiance (TSI), as measured by LASP in Colorado:

So now comes the big "bicentennial decrease," at least according to Russian scientist Habibullo I. Abdussamatov.

It's difficult to exaggerate the immensity of a 5-6 W/m2 drop in solar intensity, were it to happen. (It won't.) For example, through the Maunder Minimum solar intensity was only about 1 W/m2 lower than today, according to a reconstruction by Wang, Lean, and Sheeley:

There are some other wacky ideas out there, too, about the coming solar cooldown.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Is Australian Carbon Tax Causing Inflation?

Is Australia's carbon tax caused increased inflation?

That's the claim of the blog The Globalist Report. (They seem pretty conservative and not exactly objective.) It's based on this quarter-by-quarter inflation data from the Australian government (right).

The most recent quarter had a 1.4% increase in prices, which (based on their yearly numbers) doesn't look to be annualized. That's high, but it happened in a quarter just a year and a half ago.

Seems more data is needed, but worth paying attention to.

The Ever-Shrinking David Rose Hole

With the Hadley Centre's release of their November global temperature anomaly, +0.512°C, the "David Rose hole" is now only 5 months long (June-Oct 1997) -- the period where the statistical significance of the warming falls below 95%. The lowest it reaches now is 93%.

Including lag-1 autocorrelation -- that is, a month's relationship to its prior or following month -- the minimum statistical significance is 64% -- up from last month's 62%.

Where will they hang their hat after this hole closes?

A more scientifically meaningful trend, like 30 years, is still a highly significant +0.16°C/decade. That's 0.9°F of warming in just 3 decades.

Grey bar intersections with the black line (5 months in 1997) represents the "David Rose Hole," the
period of no statistically significant warming of the HadCRUT4 temperature series

Friday, December 21, 2012

This Holiday Season

This Holiday Season

Acts of kindness
are up twelve percent
on an annualized basis
compared to the same period
of a year ago.

Doors are being opened
for the elderly and frail
at twice the rate
of anything seen before.

Pain and suffering
are down by a third,
though health experts cannot account
for the change.

Economists have all taken the month off,
declaring, to the surprise of many,
that some things are more important
than Bloomingdale’s bottom line.

--  David Appell

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Irrationality of the Megan McArdles

My God -- now we are blaming people for not rushing mass murderers???

What the hell is this world coming to?

The Newtown Connecticut shooting has shook up the nation, rightfully so. But perhaps nothing that has appeared has a higher product of stupidity-times-reputation than Megan McArdle:
"I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once." 
This is clear proof that even seemingly smart people can be total morons, and it is especially good proof that the libertarian philosophy ultimately comes up against hard reality where it no longer has anything useful to say, which is exactly why it hasn't made any headway in the real arena of governance.

This is just completely stupid. It reminds us of John Derbyshire's idiocy after the Virginia Tech shooting:
"Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn’t anyone rush the guy? It’s not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness’ sake–one of them reportedly a .22.  At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren’t very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can’t hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage–your chances aren’t bad.  Yes, yes, I know it’s easy to say these things: but didn’t the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything?"
Derbyshire, of course, has never faced the slightest bit of harm. Neither did McArdle. Neither of them has any conception at all of what it means to rush a shooter who is spraying bullets, trying to kill everyone in sight.

The real question that is pressing down on America is: why are some people acting completely irratrionally? Why do some people think the government is out to get them, that the economy is going to collapse and we will go Red Dawn, that the gumint is going to lock us all up in concentration camps.

If even someone as purportedly smart as Megan McArdle is thinking so irrationally, what has gone wrong here? We really need to figure this out.

Shocker: Art Robinson to Be Promoted?

Reportedly, Art Robinson is seeking the chairmanship of the Oregon Republican Party.

Robinson just lost -- for the second time -- to Congressional representative Peter DeFazio, 59%-39%.

He lost big. Robinson has made a career out of kooky ideas, such as denying climate change and suggesting that radioactive waste ought to be sprinkled across America.

Nothing could make the Republican party in Oregon less relevant than to elevate someone like Art Robinson. I happen to think a second party is necessary to counter the extreme left. (And frankly, I'd like to see a third party, too.) But here Republicans don't seem to have learned a thing from last month's election -- which is good news for Democrats and Progressives, really.

Why It Doesn't Matter if Matt Ridley is Wrong

A good point, which I'll use in relation to Matt Ridley's WSJ piece, which Media Matters calls a "dud":
"Another reason that arguing the politics through science is a poor approach to dealing with complex political issues is that such an approach has a disproportionately negative downside for scientific institutions and the process of science. Advocates for inaction on climate change who base their arguments on science (however flawed these arguments may be), being in the minority, can play David to the majority's Goliath. If David is caught exaggerating or simply making a mistake, the damage to science is small because not much is expected of an underdog, especially one repeatedly characterized as being out of the mainstream. But when those who present themselves as representing the science itself are caught, the damage can be dramatic. After all, if the "outsider" lies or makes a mistake, who cares? He can be (and typically is) dismissed as just a kook.... But if advocates who claim to represent the mainstream scientific establishment tell lies or make mistakes, they become an argument in favor of inaction. There is thus an asymmetry in the consequences of politicizing science that falls in the favor of those opposed to action."

-- Roger Pielke Jr., The Climate Fix, Chapter 8

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ethics of Geoengineering, Part 2

Part 2 of my Yale Forum series on the ethics of geoengineering is out. (Part 1 is here.) Here's one excerpt from philosopher Stephen Gardiner of U-Washington, writing about “whatever it takes-style emergency arguments” for geoengineering:
"It is ethically short-sighted (in the sense of “missing the bigger picture”) in so far as it arbitrarily marginalizes central moral issues such as how we got into this predicament, and why we are not seriously pursuing better ways out. It is also frequently morally schizophrenic (in the sense of being “a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements”) since it tends to bring on a form of creative myopia: it requires us to emphasize and endorse strong ethical concerns that we are otherwise unwilling to act on, and which would, if earnestly and coherently embraced, lead us to approach both climate policy in general and geoengineering in particular in very different ways."
The rest is here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Harvesting the Wind

From David Keith's excellent 2007 TED talk on geoengineering.

The Ethics of Geoengineering

I have an two-part series about the ethics of geoengineering out in the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Part 1 came out last week, and Part 2 comes out tomorrow (I think).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun Violence Denial

The WSJ has biographies of the Newtown shooting victims, some of them heartbreaking.

There is an online petition to the White House to "Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress" that already has over 120,000 signatures. It probably won't do any good, but if it could garner a few million signatures it could be a vehicle for some useful media attention. It's the least you can do (almost literally).

And then there's this, from the mother of a disturbed 13-year old, about the scant options for treating mental illness in the U.S. outside the prison system.

One of the most odious aspects of these events are the gun creeps who use the occasion to tell us that if only more people were armed, these mass shootings wouldn't happen. Piers Morgan erupted on a few of them here. Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, who on more than one issue has struck me as being as dumb as a sack of rocks, said today:
"Chris, I wish to god she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said.
This kind of analysis seems to me as little different from denial of climate change or other scientific facts. It assumes the conditions needed for the success of its argument: if this, and if the principal did this, and if that happened, then the shooting wouldn't have happened.

Well, sure, but the gun creeps seem incapable of understanding that a lot of other things might happen instead: the principal might lose the keys to her gun locker, or someone else might get ahold of her gun and cause havoc, or the principle might go beserk, or the principal might, you know, hit some little kids as she tried to take down a heavily armed, determined gunman wearing body armor.

The fact is that when guns are around, they get used and people die -- not mass shooters, but usually someone known to the shooter -- wives, neighbors, kids. A famous 1986 study by Arthur Kellerman of a 5-year period in Seattle found that 'for every case in which an individual used a firearm kept in the home in a self-defense homicide, there were 1.3 unintentional deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides, and 37 suicides involving firearms.'

In fact, it seems to me the Newtown shootings are largely an example of this: someone had guns in their home that were used for another purpose other than that intended.

The shooter reportedly got these guns from his mother's home. Why did a middle-aged women living in a leafy Connecticut suburb keep (or need) high-powered assault weapons?

"Guns were her hobby," a neighbor said. Fine -- until someone else gets ahold of them. And too often, someone does. In "12 Facts About Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States," Ezra Klein writes:
8. More guns tend to mean more homicide.
9. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.
Who is surprised at either of these? They're perfectly predictable. More guns means more gun violence.

You want to use a gun? Sign up for your state's militia, on which the 2nd Amendment is predicated. No one needs an assault rifle unless they intend to kill large numbers of human beings very quickly, and no one outside the military should be allowed to have one. Period.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

" are in a trance"

In other news yesterday, a high school student in Oklahoma was arrested "on charges he plotted to bomb and shoot students at the campus auditorium," and a man opened fire at a hospital in Alabama, wounding two people. Just another day in America.

A Canadian comments at the NY Times:
"Reading the blogs and comments, one is made aware of how divided a country you are, how impossible you are now to govern. You are slipping each day into becoming a failed state: a government that not only does not function, but is in fact owned by the rich (Democrats almost as bad as Republicans) and lobbying interests (NRA, the religious Right, etc.) All these things - the disappearance of the middle class, among them - have led you to this place. A violent past, a militaristic presence in the world, and like the drones you have pummelling civilians in parts of the world you couldn't care less about, you are killing each other because, in the end, you are in a trance."

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Why We Let School Shootings Continue"

"In the wake of Galen’s murder, I wrote a book about the shooting. In it I suggested that we view gun crime as a public health issue, much the same as smoking or pesticides. I spent a number of years attending rallies, signing petitions, writing letters and making speeches, but eventually I gave up. Gun control, such a live issue in the “early” days of school shootings, inexplicably became a third-rail issue for politicians.

"I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be. We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it. A terrible shame, but hey — didn’t some guy in China just do the same thing with a knife?

"Still, whatever your position on gun control, it is impossible not react with horror to news of the shootings in Connecticut. Our horror is nuanced by knowledge of what those families are going through, and what they will have to endure in years to come.

"More horrible still — to me at least — is the inevitable lament, “How could we have let this happen?”

"It is a horrible question because the answer is so simple. Make it easy for people to get guns and things like this will happen.

"Children will continue to pay for a freedom their elders enjoy."

-- Gregory Gibson, New York Times

The American Heart

Three days after my sister had to run out of an Oregon mall from gunfire that killed 2 people inside, now we have this unimaginable shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Who knows what to say. There seems to be no end to this kind of news, and my keyboard seems to be the place where I hear about them all -- I can still remember the moment of the Columbine shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Gabby Giffords shooting, the Clackmas mall shooting. 

These shootings have now become a phenomenon, a type of statement, I guess, a way for a few people -- always young men -- to express something maybe they can't even identify. There are surely many reasons behind them, arising from our big, complex society, but to me there seems to be something wrong with the American heart.

One thing that seems significant, to me, is that many of these shooters were dressed at least partly in military garb -- in black, or in camo, often wearing a vest designed to hold ammunition. Its often how the police often dress too, especially the responders, or those assigned to police public events. And, of course, it's a big part of many video games. These shooters seem themselves on a mission, and dress accordingly.

I don't think you can separate this from our country's militarism. (The Oregon shooter was reportedly frustrated that he had been unable to join the Marines.) Our country is quick to initiate violence as a solution to our international problems -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen -- and we are killing thousands of civilians in the process. The media barely notices anymore, and the public doesn't care.

They have their drone strikes, ordered by our President. We have our mall and school shootings.

I don't know of any answers, but it seems to me you can't condemn violence on the one hand and utilize it on the other.

And we adults can't continue to merely be shocked at these incidents time and time again, and do nothing about it. If we aren't taking the time to contact our representatives about limiting weapons like assault rifles and automatic weapons -- which have no legitimate purpose as hunting weapons, but are strictly intended to kill large numbers of people quickly -- and closing background check loopholes, then we are failing in our responsibility to be morally responsible human beings. And if we aren't adding our voices to those speaking against extreme and irrational voices like the NRA -- who by now have to seen as an accomplice, I believe -- then you have to accept that our silence is part of the problem.

IPCC and Transparency

Stoat has some thoughts on the SOD leak, especially that these days it's somewhat silly to pretend these things can be kept secret:
...given that any old fool can sign up to be an “expert reviewer” and many do, and that the denialists are self-serving liars, leaking of the report was only to be expected. Which makes a farce of trying to keep it private. The only solution is for the IPCC to stop pretending it isn’t going to be leaked, and make the draft report publically available with the words “draft” stamped on it in nice big letters.

While they’re doing that they should rename the “expert reviewer” category to just “reviewer”, or perhaps just remove it entirely. Certainly at the moment there is no quality control at all over the expertness of the reviewer.
There really doesn't seem to be a lot new about the SODs conclusions, despite how some are trying to spin this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Santa Immediately Took Cover

Witnesses at the Portland-area shooting said the mall's Santa hit the floor when the shooting started. Which might be as good a description of present day America as any.

More on the Oregon Shooting


My sister is home now, and OK. Perhaps a little dazed, not wanting to tell her kids about what she just went through. But for a rather arbitrary decision to go into one store before the other, she would have been in the very store (Macy's) the gunman walked into with a mask and assault weapon, and at the very counter (cosmetics) the gunman ran past.

The news is saying there are 2 dead, and many injured.

She said as soon as she heard the pops she knew immediately what it was -- apparently Americans are now well-trained to recognize mall shootings -- and was the first one out the door of Barnes and Noble. A helicopter pilot for the local news said he has never seen the level of police (etc.) response he saw here.

The shooter has been "neutralized," according to police. We all know what kind of person he will revealed as. For some reason who the fuck can figure out anymore, he was able to buy an assault weapon.

Of course, there will be all the same hemming and hawing from politicians (if even that) about how their prays are with the families of those killed and injured, blah blah blah -- as if those ever do any good -- and then immediately shut up about gun control because they're afraid of losing a few votes and afraid of the NRA. Utter cowards.

Meanwhile the U.S. will continue to devolve into a place where people can immediately recognize a mall shooting and know to just start running.

Shooting in Clackamas

My sister just called me -- she was shopping at the Clackmas Town Center and heard gun shots in another part of the mall! She had to run out of the store with everyone else, and says now police are flooding the place. Nothing on the news yet except a breaking news banner and this item from Twitter.

Wow. Sometimes you really have to wonder what this country is coming to....

The Closing of the David Rose Hole

Ever since David Rose's article in October claiming that global warming stopped 16 years ago, you hear a lot of 'skeptics' repeating the claim. It is very thin gruel.

As I showed here, it's a total cherry pick, and not even a very good one. There has been warming, it's just not quite significant at the 95% confidence level.

There is more HadCRUT4 data now, and this small hole of no warming is getting smaller. (GISS shows statistically significant warming prior to 2000, so I'll concentrate on HadCRUT4.) There is now only a 6 months period where the warming is not statistically significant at the 95% level:

How small is the David Rose hole? HadCRUT4's warming is only, at worst, 92% statistically significant, instead of the canonical 95%:

This tiny difference is all that the claim now rests on. It will probably be done in a few months anyway.

This (obviously) changes if you include autocorrelation -- the fact that the climate system has inertia, and one month's temperature depends on the temperature of the months before it -- but not by much. Here is the graph of the linear trend including rank-1 autocorrelation (that is, a correlation between immediately neighboring months only):

And the plot of statistical significance:

The math reveals what the physics already knows: 16 years is too short of a time interval to make statistically significant conclusions about temperature trends -- there is just too much autocorrelation (inertia) in the system.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Climate Solution, Year 2060

From a talk on carbon dioxide removal by David Keith.

Warm November = Joe Bastardi Fail

GISS puts up the second-warmest November in their records, after the 2nd-warmest October and 3rd-warmest September. It's not looking good for Joe Bastardi, who in August wrote
"Look for the global temp against the means to really crash in the fall as the true global temp is being masked because the southern hemisphere can not contribute when its cold like it is as much BECAUSE OF THE WATER THERE."

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Another Year Towards an Inverse Ice Age

I'm sorry, but it seems a little silly for the UNFCC to end its Doha COP18 meeting by agreeing to extend the Kyoto Protocol. Countries in the second phase account for only 15% of world emissions -- Canada, Japan, and Russia all will not participate, nor (of course) the U.S., or China or India.

It's simply not credible to simply divide the world up into two groups -- developed and developing (or, rich vs poor) and pretend much of anything can be accomplished by only the first group. When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, North America + Europe accounted for 48% of the world's CO2 emissions. That's now down to 35% (2010).

China+India accounted for 17% of world emissions in 1997; now they're 32% (2010).

Over this interval
North America's emissions have increased by 2%
Europe -2%
China 170%
India 95%.

Of course, the US is still the biggest sinner, with per capita emissions (in 2010) about 2.5 times Europe's 3 times China's and 12.5 times India's.

Then there are silly statements like this:
European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard hailed the fact that nearly 200 countries agreed on a framework for negotiating a pact over the next three years, which will take effect in 2020.

“It was not an easy and comfortable ride,” she said in a statement. “But we have managed to cross the bridge. Very intense negotiations lie ahead of us. What we need now is more ambition and more speed.”
when this is more applicable:
Fred Boltz, senior vice president for international policy at the advocacy group Conservation International, said in a statement, “Nobody expected a major breakthrough to happen at this summit, but there has been virtually no meaningful progress on any important issue.”
More and more these annual meetings seem like diplomatic exercises held merely for the sake of appearances. It'd have been better if Hedegaard, and the other officials in charge, just told the plain truth -- nothing whatsoever was accomplished, and the world is one year further along on its path toward an inverse ice age -- and hope the shock value prods someone into thinking straight.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Divestiture from Fossil Fuel Companies

According to this article, college students are rising up to encourage their universities from divesting in fossil fuels companies, because of climate change problem.

Apparently this has come from the efforts of -- you guessed it -- Bill McKibben, bad math and all.

Actually I think this not a bad idea, but I also don't think it will work.

In short: it's easy to protest against things that don't cost you anything.


When I was in college, there was an effort among college organizations for their universities to divest from companies who did business in South Africa. I wasn't part of these efforts, mind you -- I was too busy with a double major in physics and mathematics. And I've never been able to be part of that kind of crowd anyway.

But the protest worked, and it helped end apartheid there, in its way.

Apartheid -- the segregation and disestablishment of blacks in South Africa (as if it needs explaining, but these days it might) was a hideous moral crime. It followed the struggle of blacks in the U.S. in the 1960s, and so was easy for my generation to identify with -- we grew up (barely) cognizant of that struggle, with the moral ground already well plowed.

And violations of basic humans rights are easy to understand anyway.

Not so much with climate change. Every college student out there today is highly dependent on a vast energy infrastructure that runs almost entirely on fossil fuels. (At last count, only 9% of US energy came from renewable sources, over the last 12 months.)

Turn all that off? No way -- of course. (How would McKibben get to his next protest?)

Use all renewables? Watch the students complain when their tuition goes up to cover the increased cost of renewable energy.

It all comes down to what Roger Pielke Jr calls the Iron Law of Climate Policy:
When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time. 
That's it. That's the bottom line, every time, all the time.

Until noncarbon energy is cheaper than, or at least equal to, the price of fossil fuels, there will be no cutbacks. Period.

So, in my opinion, what these students ought to be protesting for is (at the least) a carbon tax, to incentivize R&D into non-C energy. Better yet (IMO) is a serious federal research program -- $10-20 billion/yr -- into technologies like nuclear fusion and air capture and carbon sequestration. Continued tax breaks for solar and wind. Credits for home-based solar panels. Drive up the demand for solar panels, and (unexpectedly) you will help drive down the price.

We can't stop using energy, and that's the difference from South Africa

The Hypocrisy of Al Gore

Criticizing Obama for not taking more action on global warming, Al Gore said today,
“On a national level, to use a computer term — our democracy has been hacked,”
Give me a freaking break. Until he was shoved out of it, Al Gore was an enthusiastic participant in the hacking of our democracy, doing all he could to remain a politician beholden to corporate interests. And he would have gladly kept all the corporate money he could get in his grubby hands until he might have left office in 2008, had the Supreme Court not stolen the 2000 election from him.

And now we're supposed to consider him pure, some kind of said? I certainly do not.

A Photo of DNA

This is just too good: a picture of DNA, said to be the first ever:

First Photo Of Dna

It looks....just like the physical biologists said it did in 1953, based on the physics of X-ray crystallography.

Did you know that DNA, as a molecule, was first isolated by a Swiss physician named Friedrich Miescher in 1869? He didn't, of course, know about its genetic significance, but still that's pretty impressive.

Several years ago a biologist friend and I tried to isolate the DNA of an onion in my kitchen, but it came out a gloppy mess. Which is kind of how I, and most physicists I know, think of biology -- a wet, gloppy mess. (It's wrong, of course, but a bias among physicists.)

I suspect that in 30 years high school students will be sequencing their teacher's DNA in their bedroom.