Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Charging for the Waste of Some, but Not of Everyone

This is touching: Oregon legislators don't want to get stuck with the bill for cleaning up the detritus of a wave energy company that goes belly up.

Would only that they were so concerned about the detritus from fossil fuel companies and users, whose wastes cost the U.S. at least $120 billion per year, according to a 2010 report from the National Academy of Sciences.

Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use (2010) 
National Academy of Sciences

$120 B/yr is the damage for the year 2005, in 2007 dollars.

(By the way, can someone please tell the enlightened members of the National Academy that us plebians cannot convert dollars in our heads, and to please announce their results in units we can all identify with?)

That comes to $405 per person in 2005, in 2007 dollars (see what I mean??)

That, I think, is $449 per person in 2012 dollars, except for 7 years ago.

That's nearly $1800 for a modern family of four (do the conversions yourself).

Why aren't they paying for the disposal of their wastes?

Will CO2 Reach 400 ppm? (Probably Not.)

https://twitter.com/Keeling_curve/status/327816098978336768Recently the Keeling people tweeted:

Which prompted USA to write "Carbon dioxide now at highest level in 5 million years," which naturally got WUWT's panties in a bunch.

So is CO2 going to hit 400 ppm this year? (Technically that should be "ppmv.") It already has in some northernly monitors, and of course it is already much beyond this in many cities, but will it make this number at Mauna Loa, the Yankee stadium of greenhouse gas monitoring?

It's not obvious, and it's looking a little unlikely.

Here are the recent weekly CO2 numbers from Mauna Loa:

and here is the one-year change for each week:

Lately, for whatever reason, the 1-yr change has been below average. Since last year's MLO CO2 peaked at 397.13 ppm on 5/6/12, we probably need a 2.9 ppm annual increase (assuming the peak occurs on the same week, which isn't always true), which based on the recent numbers isn't looking likely [at least for the weekly published average].

So the odds are you can put away your fireworks for another year. (Anyway, they might contribute to the increase in wildfires.)

But someday you will tell your grandchildren that you remember a distant time when CO2 was in the 300s, and they will look at you with wide open eyes, unable to even fathom the possibility of such an unspoiled world. (Well, the budding science major might -- the rest will just think you're cuckoo.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bush Jr, the Great Liar

Paul Krugman:
"Why did the Bush administration want war? There probably wasn’t a single reason, but can we really doubt at this point that it was in part about wagging the dog? And right there you have something that should block Bush from redemption of any kind, ever: he misled us into a war that probably killed hundreds of thousands of people, and he did it in part for political reasons.

"There was a time when Americans expected their leaders to be more or less truthful. Nobody expected them to be saints, but we thought we could trust them not to lie about fundamental matters. That time is now behind us — and it was Bush who did it."

A Bulletproof Vest for Each Senator?

This sounds like a parody, but no, it's only America:
The Guardian:

US schools weigh bulletproof uniforms: 'It's no different than a seatbelt in a car'
As gun control legislation grinds to halt in Washington, parents and teachers are taking matters into their own hands
Some parents are now outfitting their small children with bulletproof backpacks. And classrooms are doing the same:
Barry Tull, headteacher of Worcester Preparatory School in rural Maryland, has 80 ballistic shields deployed in his classrooms disguised as whiteboards and clipboards. Some teachers use them to assign homework, others lean them up against the wall, but most of Worcester's middle and high-school children know what they are for.
In honor of the recent shameless Senate vote against expanded background checks -- even though 90% of the public approved of them -- someone ought to do a Kickstarter campaign and raise about $25k to send one of these backpacks to each Senator who voted no.

Or, at least, a bulletproof vest for each Senator who voted against this bill. Maybe then they'll think twice about the violent culture Americans now find themselves living in, where gun homocide rates are 10 time higher than in Europe.

My Op-Ed in the Salem Statesman Journal

I have an op-ed in yesterday's Salem Statesman-Journal: "Constant info stream creates climate of fear."

Sorry, but I don't know why my picture seems the biggest part of it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Ice cube volume video - Arctic Sea Ice

At Neven's blog:



Obama to Address National Academy of Sciences

This should be interesting: President Obama will speak on Monday at the 150th anniversary meeting of the founding of the National Academy of Sciences.


"Watch the President′s address via live video webcast beginning at 11:15 a.m. EDT at www.nationalacademies.org."

James Hansen's Talk in Portland

I went up to Portland with a friend last night to hear James Hansen speak before about 1,000 people on "Avoiding Climate Catastrophe: Putting Science Before Politics," or, as he renamed his talk, "From Itinerant Famering to White House Arrests."

I didn't realize he came from such a humble background -- his father was an itinerant farmer in Iowa, and they moved around frequently farming rented land paid for with half their crop.

I heard Hansen speak a few years ago at a PAGES conference in Corvallis, and while he's not the most dynamic speaker out there, this time he seemed more polished and, perhaps, more sure of himself. He's clearly embraced full-bore activism since retiring, and didn't hestitate to speak of his arrests, his grandchildren, or his travails with the Bush administration.

One line that got a lot of laughs was when he mentioned he served on a climate task force "chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney."

He put up this slide
NASA Mission Statement

To Understand and Protect the Home Planet
which was a change made during the Bush administration shortly after Hansen started speaking out, often by talking directly to the New York Times.

Hansen said the climate problem is solvable if coal and unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas stay in the ground. He opposes the Keystone XL pipeline because "it's the first big spigot for unconventional fossil fuels." The Canadian environmental minister is "getting worried," he said, and that the tar sands will largely stay in place if the pipeline is not approved.

He is clearly disappointed with the political arena, not just in the United States but with everywhere else too, noting that while Norway looks like a green country from the outside, their state-owned company STATOIL has their hands in the Canadian tar sands.

He said "our Congress people are heavily under the influence of monay," saying clearly it was a problem of both parties, and, noting the recent Senate vote against background checks, "they are obviously not looking out for the public's interest."

He said "I think we have to have a third party that's not a fringe party," but, he said, a centrist party that is neither extreme right like the Tea Party or extreme left like the Green Party. He said he thought the public was very fed up with a Congress that doesn't respond to their needs and seemed optimistic a third party might happen by 2016. (Me, not so much.)

Hansen is part of the Our Children's Trust team that is preparing to file suit against the federal governement on grounds of intergenerational justice. He said "Our parents didn't know" about the climate problem, "but we can only pretend we don't know."

He spent a lot of time talking about a carbon tax that is 100% refunded back to all legal residents on an equal per capita basis. "About 60% of people today would get back more of a carbon tax than they paid," with exceptions being people like those who own more than house or who fly alot. "But they can afford it," he said.

His ideal is a $10/tonne tax that rised $10 each year up to $100/tonne. A steadily rising price allows businesses and people to plan ahead, and make noncarbon purchases accordingly; Hansen said economic models show this would lead to a 30% reduction in US emissions in 10 years. He was adamant that none of the tax should go to the government -- "Democrats cannot keep their hands off your wallet" he said, noting that schemes being talked about by Berner Sanders and Barbara Boxer would keep about 40% of the tax collected for government purposes.

"Reducing your [individual] carbon emissions doesn't help much," he said. "We need policy changes." Though he did ask people to think about becoming more of a vegetarian.

"The UN, the Copenhagen conference -- it's just a zoo. It's not going to work that way -- it requires the US and China."

He that if the US and China both adopted a carbon tax the world would follow.

He was very pro-nuclear, especially for 4th generation nuclear plants, and said "low doses of radiation are not harmful to us, and probably helpful." He noted that 1 million people a year die from air and water pollution mostly from fossil fuels, and nuclear power has never come close to that amount of carnage.

He took some questions and ended by saying "The climate problem is technically solvable, but then we have to introduce humans," and that China will be one of the countries most affected by climate change, but also that "one of the biggest hopes is China -- they do not deny the problem."

I wasn't surprised by anything Hansen said, and with this Portland crowd it all went over very well. Just the other day he won the Ridenhour Courage Prize, and it was well-deserved. When the future looks back on this rather sad era with all its denialism, Hansen will be remembered as perhaps the preeminent scientist who struggled mightily to make the truth not just known, but acted upon.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Moore's Law for the Complexity of Life

Here's a great little calculation that looks easy to have thought of doing oneself, but only in retrospect: plot the number of DNA base pairs (a proxy for the complexity of life) against when that life form arose:

Draw a straight line and extrapolate backwards to when number of base pairs=1: 9.7 billion years ago. With uncertainty the authors put it at 9.7 ± 2.5 billion years ago.

Since that's less than the age of the Earth -- 4.5 billion years, although heavy bombardment didn't stop until 700 million years after that -- life may well have started other than on this planet.

You could wonder if life doesn't need some bottom number of genes in order to exist -- the first self-repliating synthetic cell built by the Ventner Institute has 1.08 million base pairs, which would put it on the right-hand side of the Origin of Earth line in the graph above. The symbiotic bacterium Carsonella ruddii has just 159,662 bp (so log10=5.2, also on the right-hand side of the Earth line), but it sponges off sap-feeding insects so perhaps didn't develop on its own (and neither it nor it host makes the essential amino acid tryptophan, so it may also be sponging off a second host).

In any case you might wonder how something with a million base pairs evolved if something simpler didn't come before it; the authors write "life may have started from systems with single heritable elements that are functionally equivalent to a nucleotide."

Anyway...this paper puts the doubling time for the base pair count at 376 million years, and, it says, the doubling time for "human functional complexity" at 20 years.

There looks to be much more interesting and provactive speculations in their paper, which I look forward to reading.

Speaking (well, writing) of reading, there is a wonderful article in Aeon by Ross Andersen on humanity's deep future, whether humans will go extinct, why a few philosophers are hoping the Mars Curiousity rover fails (it's not for the reason you think), and many other interesting ideas. Definitely check it out.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Any Opinions on Windows 8?

It's time to buy a new laptop -- anyone care to share their opinion about Windows 8? Is it just a matter of a week or two learning curve? Or is resistance futile?

Most of the places I've looked are including Windows 8, but many CDW notebooks come with both 7 & 8....

SpaceX, or Firefly?

Supercool: SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket flew 250 meters straight up, hovered, then landed cleanly.

To add to the cool factor, this video was taken by SpaceX's hexacopter. It looks like something from Firefly.

This happened on Tuesday. More details here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Simple Position on Climate Change

MIT quantum computer scientist Scott Aaronson:
On climate change: I’m not a professional climatologist, but neither is Lubos, and nor (correct me if I’m wrong) is anyone else commenting here. Accordingly, I refuse to get drawn into a debate about ice cores and tree rings and hockey sticks, since my experience is that such debates tend to be profoundly unilluminating when not conducted by experts. My position is an incredibly simple one: just like with the link between smoking and cancer, or the lack of a link between vaccines and autism, or any other issue where I lack the expertise to evaluate the evidence myself, I’ll go with what certainly looks like an overwhelming consensus among the scientists who’ve studied the matter carefully. Period. If the climate skeptics want to win me over, then the way for them to do so is straightforward: they should ignore me, and try instead to win over the academic climatology community, majorities of chemists and physicists, Nobel laureates, the IPCC, National Academies of Science, etc. with superior research and arguments.

To this, the skeptics might respond: but of course we can’t win over the mainstream scientific community, since they’re all in the grip of an evil left-wing conspiracy or delusion!  Now, that response is precisely where “the buck stops” for me, and further discussion becomes useless.  If I’m asked which of the following two groups is more likely to be in the grip of a delusion — (a) Senate Republicans, Freeman Dyson, and a certain excitable string-theory blogger, or (b) virtually every single expert in the relevant fields, and virtually every other chemist and physicist who I’ve ever respected or heard of — well then, it comes down to a judgment call, but I’m 100% comfortable with my judgment.
He gets more direct on a guest post at Motl's blog; you can read it here. Naturally he gets all kinds of abuse for it, so they showed him didn't they.

Alas, Aaronson's "simple" position is all too rare.

NOAA: 10th warmest March on Record

Says @NOAA, March global temp 10th warmest on record (http://t.co/e8EwqlRCou). So much 4 blogosphere claims of unusual/record cold globe.

Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/MichaelEMann/status/324917462711799808

Sent via TweetDeck

15yr trend: 0.04 +/- 0.04 C/decade (2-sigma); 98% statistically significant warming
30 yr trend: 0.16 +/- 0.01 C/decade (2-sigma); 100% statistically significant warming
decade-over-decade change: +0.13 C

Monday, April 15, 2013

The AP Blows It Big Time

How could the Associated Press have gotten this so wrong?
Contrary to initial reports from The Associated Press and elsewhere, law enforcement did not shut down the system to prevent another detonation by wireless device. The AP later retracted that claim.
Like everyone else, I heard several times that the cell phone network in Boston was being shut down, for fear that a bomb could be detonated by cell phone. That people should minimize calls on the network, using text if necessary.

Now it seems this wasn't true at all.

Look, people need these networks in an emergency like this. False reporting on its status is a serious, serious error.

If they're going to put us all on cell phones, cell phone companies have a public obligation to meet this need, Even more, journalists have an obligation to accurately report on its status.

Otherwise telecommunications is going backwards just when we need it the most.


A retweet by @JFleck today made me think:


This is all becoming disturbingly routine: something happens -- I always seem to be sitting in front of my computer when it does -- and for the rest of the day I'm glued to my screen in full voyeur mode, the TV (when I had one) on CNN, tuning in (now) to some online television station, tuning in to Twitter feeds, hanging on every word.

The first instance of this was Columbine, but since then it's also been 9/11, the space shuttle disaster, the Gabby Giffords shooting, the Clackamas Mall Shooting, Newtown, and now the Boston explosions. And I surely haven't remembered them all.

As Clayton Cubitt noted above, this probably isn't healthy. Yet it's hard to turn away.

Television -- and now the Internet -- changes everything. Once people plowed their fields and ate their dinners and read their books until it got dark, and then they went to bed. That was life for millennia. But now life comes out of a firehose, and I don't think we're evolved to deal with it.

And lately it's all so much worse. The videos are looped endlessly. The broadcasters on TV talk and talk and talk, speculating on what happened when a minute before they said they didn't want to speculate, making claims while at the same time saying this hasn't been confirmed, bouncing from one correspondent to another, from the deserted scene to the hospital to the press conference to their national reporter in DC. They can't decide if they are journalists or color commentators.

I know they are trying to inform people, some of whom are just tuning in to find out what's going on. Maybe it's my fault for not tuning out.

Now in just the last few years it's gotten even worse -- there are cell phone vidoes to watch from every angle, the inevitable Twitterers who were right on the scene and whose Tweets immediately bubble up the chain, complete with iPhone video. Cameras everywhere. A thousand witnesseses, all want to tell their story.

And the wolves pounce immediately. I went out to buy some food for dinner, and Lars Larson was on the radio -- Portland's wannabe Rush Limbaugh -- already blaming Obama for saying this or not saying that, or saying it wrong or not saying it right or something. Already trying to spin this into points for their side.

Everyone is waiting for word on what happened in Boston, but really, does it matter? It's 3000 miles from me, and doesn't involve me at all. I think. I have a few friends in Boston, I've been to Boylston Street and Copley Square and remember it well, and television makes it all see believable.

But this affected a few thousand people out of a third of a billion. Do we all have to freak out?

I just don't know anymore. Last December my sister was at the Clackmas Mall when the shooting occurred, and had to run out of her store in a rush. I fly just like anyone else, and wonder what 9/11 might have felt like if I was on one of those planes. It seems easily possible, even if the statistics say it's far away. I am annoyed when I have to take my shoes off in the security lines, but I also wonder if my flight will be the next one.

It is television and the Web and our hyperconnectiveness that is making me wonder? Or is there really a legitimate threat? I just don't know anymore, and that bothers me.

Why Scientists Don't Go Into Politics

"You don't have to be nice to constituents; and you can sometimes be sure that what you say is true."

-- Nobel Laureate (physics) Steven Weinberg on why so many scientists prefer to stay in science than go into politics
(via the April issue of Physics World)

Google Person Finder

A brilliant use of the Web -- Google's Person Finder:


This ought to catch on like wildfire....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Seinfeld Dilemma: Should China Frack to Contain Climate Change?

In the New York Times, Elizabeth Mueller of BEST calls on China to exploit its shale gas by fracking it out:
Instead of fighting hydraulic fracturing, environmental activists should recognize that the technique is vital to the broader effort to contain climate change and should be pushing for stronger standards and controls over the process.

Nowhere is this challenge and opportunity more pressing than in China. Exploiting its vast resources of shale gas is the only short-term way for China, the world’s second-largest economy, to avoid huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal.
Except...fracking natural gas actually increases greenhouse gas emissions, emitting more methane through leakage while decreasing carbon dioxide from burning the fuel. That was the conclusion of a 2011 study by Howarth et al:
...Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the lifetime of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured—as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids—and during drill out following the fracturing. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide, particularly over the time horizon of the first few decades following emission. Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon. The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.
Perhaps not coincidentally, atmospheric methane levels measured at Mauna Loa started to rise again just about the time the U.S. started its current round of fracking:

The leveling off in the first half of last decade may have been due to changes in Russian production of natural gas due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here's a paper in ACPD that discusses the increase more thoroughly, which speculates that part of the recent increase was due to natural wetland emissions. Russian natural gas production hasn't increased overall in almost a decade, while US emissions have:

graph of Annual dry natural gas production: U.S. and Russia, 1996-2010, as described in the article text

So should China (or the US, for that matter) frack to contain climate change? It would mean less CO2 emissions, which can be in the atmosphere and oceans for centuries (if not longer -- much longer), while increasing a shorter-lived but more potent greenhouse gas, methane. It's kind of like that Seinfeld skit where he's in a drug store trying to decide between two bottles of cold medicine:
"This is quick-acting, but this is long-lasting. When do I need to feel better, now or later?"
Of course, the reality is that China (and the US) will frack if it's cheaper and provides the energy needed, with little real concern for climate change.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Most U.S. State Maximum Temperatures Occurred Before 1990

A new paper in BAMS evaluated the record of extreme weather in the U.S., state-by-state, going back into data archives and ensuring the same methodology was used through time.

The end result was this table of extremes for each of the 50 states.

Interesting, there is only one 1.5 maximum temperature records that was set in the 2000s -- in South Carolina in 2012, and a tie in South Dakota in 2006 -- and only 4.5 in the 1990s (one was a tie). All others occurred before that, many in the 1930s.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Australia's Carbon Tax is Working

The latest data shows emissions from Australia's power sector have dropped to a 10-year low:
Australia's greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation have fallen to a 10-year low as coal-fired power slumped to its lowest level in a decade, a new report says.

At the same time, the share of renewable energy in the National Electricity Market (NEM) has soared beyond 12 per cent and looks set to continue rising.

In its latest quarterly emissions outlook, energy and carbon research firm RepuTex found coal power made up 74.8 per cent of the NEM in the three months ended in March - its lowest point in 10 years.

Coal was at more than 85 per cent of the NEM four years ago, when wind made up just half a per cent of the overall mix.

Today, wind generation is at 3.8 per cent, hydro 8.7 per cent and gas at 12.7 per cent of the NEM.

"Renewables are basically cancelling out coal," RepuTex executive director Hugh Grossman told AAP on Thursday.

As a result, Australia's CO2 emissions were driven down to a ten-year low, he said.
The country's (and the world's) largest mining company says its effective tax rate in Australia is 45%....

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher on TV...

Published: Yet Another Hockey Stick

Martin Tingley, whose work I wrote about for Scientific American a few years ago, has new work that reconstructs the mean temperature in the Arctic Atlantic Region over the last 2,000 years. He and his colleagues use his Bayesian matrix methods to find...another hockey stick:

Honor Thy Cell Phone

all citizens must fiddle cell phone

via Huffington Post.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Delingpole: All Bluster, no Content

I don't have much to say about James Delingpole. He's a kind of clown, which is clear from his Twitter profile:

These four words -- "I'm right about everything" -- are enough to tell you this is a writer getting by on bluster instead of content.

Like Ann Coulter, outrage is really all he has, so he goes with it.

Of course, any decent publisher would have fired him first thing this morning. But who really expects decency from a UK newspaper, after all the phone hacking revelations? Most of them are getting by on bluster rather than content. His publisher is only interested in how many hits he can bring in.

Scumminess is the only way some of them can make a living. Delingpole is no exception. The man couldn't make sense of climate science if his life depended on it.
Someday, probably soon, Delingpole will go the way of John Derbyshire, another conservative writer who relied on bluster, and finally pissed off the wrong person -- forgotten. The science won't be.

Worthless Without Water

A simple but profound quote, from a NY Times article about the drought in Texas:
Wes Perry, an oilman who doubles as Midland’s mayor, put it this way recently: as valuable as oil and gas are, he said, “we are worthless without water.”

Annette Funicello Has Died

Annette Funicello has died. I had a major crush on her when I was very little; maybe my first ever. There's one more dream that won't come true.

But there is still Cissy from Family Affair.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Enlightenment Vision

In the mail: The Enlightenment Vision: Science, Reason, and the Promise of a Better Future by Stuart Jordan.
"In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a major cultural shift took place in western Europe. Leading thinkers began to emphasize the use of reason to tackle the challenges of material and social life, and they questioned the tenets of Christianity concerning the existence of God, the purpose of life, and the needs of the individual. Instead of religion, intellectuals put their faith in science and humanistic ethics in the hope of improving the secular lives of people everywhere. Today we call this development the Enlightenment. Contemporary society is the principal beneficiary of Enlightenment discoveries. In this thought-provoking analysis, physicist Stuart Jordan evaluates the progress that global society has made since the Enlightenment."

Recent Increase in Sea-level Rise

Average annual global sea-level rise for each of the last 20 years (data from Aviso):

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Blog Posts Are Not Science

A commenter named Frank popped in here to say:
"David: You correctly complain that Steve McIntyre's blog articles are not peer-reviewed science. They are, however, "peer reviewed" by literally hundreds of climate scientists and highly educated readers who would love to catch Steve McIntyre making a serious mistake."
McIntyre's readership is a self-selected group. Such groups are known to exhibit significant biases, which is why polls taken from them, such as the Internet polls some newspapers now run, are meaningless.

If that population was the group participating in a clinical trial, its results would be laughed out of any journal in existence. For good reason -- it is not representative, and McIntyre's readership certainly does not constitute anything like anonymous peer review from experts.

Blog posts are not science. In certain hands, though, they are harassement, which is mostly what their blogs are about.

Pipelines and Disincentives

Ray Pierrehumbert makes a good point about the Alberta tar sands, that also pertains to arguments you hear here in the Pacific Northwest, that if we don't let coal companies ship their coal down the Columbia River basin to China they'll just find another way to do it:
But perhaps this is all beside the point according to the State Department's analysis -- which, as HuffPost previously reported, suggested that Alberta's tar sands would be extracted at pretty much the same rate with or without Keystone, thanks to alternative transport via other pipelines and trains.

"That's pulled directly out of industry writing," said Pierrehumbert. "And it's just nonsense."

"Building a new pipeline provides a new market for the oil. And by providing another outlet, you are increasing the stream of capital going into tar sands development," he added. "If we get Keystone, rail isn't going to go away. It'll be rail plus Keystone."
If coal or oil companies can't ship via their perferred route, which is presumably the cheapest one they can envision, then other routes will be more expensive. That raises the price of the oil or coal, which provides an incentive for alternative energies.

He goes on to say:
"You could always take the world's fossil fuel consumption and break into small-enough pieces to say that each piece is too little to matter," said Pierrehumbert, referring to the oil that flows through any one pipeline. "But each adds up to something that does matter."
The Athabasca oil sands contain about 1.7 trillion barrels of oil. At 0.43 metric tonnes of CO2 per barrel, and a 14-37% premium because the tar sands are harder to extract than conventional oil, that's 230 to 270 gigatonnes of carbon, or about 30 times current annual emissions. At a carbon-climate response of 1.5°C/TtC, it's 0.3-0.4°C of warming (if we burn it all).

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Iain M Banks

This is sad: the science fiction writer Iain M Banks announced he has terminal cancer and only months to live.

Here is a personal statement he made today.

I just read The Hydrogen Sonatawhich I picked up by chance without knowing anything about it or him. What a wild and imaginative book. It's got people downloading their personalities into processors; ships run by AIs who operate independently of their crew, and who have conference calls with AIs from other ships to make plans, gab, whine and moan; a 5-year party in a moving underground blimpy-thing by a species about to "sublime" into a higher zone of existence, lead by a hard-partier who grows dozens of penises all over his body; other species competing for scavaging their civilization after their subliming, and a woman trying to perfectly plan a sonata written so as to be nearly impossible to play, on a instrument the size of a house that she plays from the inside. It just went on and on like that.

Bravo. I look forward to reading more for years to come.

Modern-like Spikes Would Have Been Detected

Tamino puts some modern-like spikes into the Marcott data -- three with 0.9°C warming over 100 years -- and found the Marcott methodology easily detected them.

He concludes:
The spikes are a lot smaller than with no age perturbations, which themselves are smaller than the physical signal. But they’re still there. Plain as day. All three of ‘em.

My opinion: the Marcott et al. reconstruction is powerful evidence that the warming we’ve witnessed in the last 100 years is unlike anything that happened in the previous 11,300 years.
and ends with
The idea so terrifies those in denial of global warming, that they have undertaken a concerted effort to “smear” this research. That’s because it clearly implies that modern global warming is unprecedented, and shines a light on the folly of throwing a monkey wrench into the climate machine. And that means we ought to change our ways, which just happen to involve some of the biggest money-making ventures in the history of humankind.

There Is No Perfect Data, Population Version

Here's a analogy about comparing time series.

The U.S. population used to be known every 10 years, from the census. But now it's known every year, because we're a lot better at record-keeping and statistics and such.

Can one therefore not compare the US population of the last few decades to the population in 1790 or 1800 or 1810?

Do we just throw up our hands and say, we just don't know! We simply can't compare today's population time series to that of the early days of the country, because for all we know the U.S. population doubled in 1794 and then halved in 1795 and the census then wouldn't have noticed.

Of course we don't. We lay them beside each other and learn what we can, keeping the uncertainties and limitations of both in mind.

(Yes, I know this isn't a perfect analogy, because there are other records that might have recorded a sudden doubling of colonial population, but no such records for the Holocene thousands of years ago. It's just a rough analogy, OK?)

There is no perfect data.

Spikes Would Make Manmade Warming Worse

Someone made this cartoon graph to illustrate their problem with Marcott et al's resolution, and a commenter at Roger Pielke Jr's blog wrote:
There could have been many temperature spikes--both cold and hot-- in the early and middle Holocene. Many could have been far more dramatic than what we are apparently experiencing today. This cannot be ruled out..
But if there were such spikes, that makes an even stronger case for addressing manmade warming, because it's known that modern warming can't be explained solely in terms of natural factors.

So if there were the possibility of such spikes, we'd have to worry about them adding to CO2-caused warming and causing even more warming.

Also, it would be suspicious, if this were all natural to have all those spikes throughout the Holocene, and to have our period have a strong upward spike. Why an upward spike now? Why not a downward spike, or neutral conditions?

It's absurd, in a field like climate science, to say you can't compare two time series unless they have the same resolution. There is no perfect data, especially in climate science, which isn't an experimental science. You take the data you can get, and do with it what you can. It's a completely obvious question to ask how a reconstrution of the Holocene compares to the modern instrumental record, and that you can't answer it with the rigor of a pure mathematician doesn't mean you should compare what you can. And if you can't keep in mind the limitations and uncertainties of each piece of the larger time series, maybe you should following another field. Because the question of how does the last century compare to the Holocene is important for science, and beyond that too.

Maybe This Helps Explain the Marcott Swiftboating

Another sign that attitudes are changing, from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication:
This report contains topline results of a national survey of 726 adults who recently identified as a Republican or a Republican-leaning Independent.
A majority of respondents (52%) believe climate change is happening, while 26 percent believe it is not, and 22 percent say they “don’t know.”
By a margin of 2 to 1, respondents say America should take action to reduce our fossil fuel use.

Only one third of respondents agree with the Republican Party’s position on climate change, while about half agree with the party’s position on how to meet America’s energy needs.
I'm sure contrarians, desparate to keep from losing even the Republicans, are busy planning the debunking of this poll as we speak, maybe on a conference call originating from Mr. FOIA's lair, because, you know, it looks like the poll didn't include enough people with red-haired Labradoodles.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Real Problem With Quick Claims of Malfeasance

As I was waiting for my not-even-three-years-old-and-already-sclerotic computer to reboot (*), I reached over to a pile of things I had printed months ago and found this article near the top: "The Real Holes in Climate Science" from Nature, over 3 years ago. It contains this:
"Of course there are gaps in our knowledge about Earth's climate system and its components, and yes, nothing has been made clear enough to the public," says Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and one of the moderators and contributors to the influential RealClimate blog. "But this climate of suspicion we're working in is insane. It's really drowning our ability to soberly communicate gaps in our science when some people cry 'fraud' and 'misconduct' for the slightest reasons."
And there it is: the real damage done by those who are quick to claim misconduct or worse.

If it gets to the point where climate scientists need to retain a lawyer every time they publish a paper, there is going to be a lot less openness of the real state of the science, uncertainties and all. Perhaps there already is.

The usual suspects who immediately jump on any inconvenient result, who root around until they find something -- anything -- to whinge about, no matter how trivial or silly, are helping to shut down the science, not, as they like to claim, just criticiquing it. It goes without saying that there is, of course, the need for honest and direct scientific critique, but you have to wonder if any science can properly develop in an environment like this.

(*) But I do ask a lot of her.

Monday, April 01, 2013

James Hansen: A Unique Role in a Unique Time

From the New York Times, referring to James Hansen's June 1988 testimony to Congress:
Since the day he spoke, not a single month’s temperatures have fallen below the 20th-century average for that month. Half the world’s population is now too young to have lived through the last colder-than-average month, February 1985.
Hansen is retiring on Wednesday. I'm trying to think of a predecent for the position he's occupied and the influence he's had, but nobody comes to mind. He's played a unique role in a unique time.

Now Bjorn Lomberg Does It Too

Apparently Bjorn Lomberg can't read for comprehension either. On Facebook he writes:
The last hundred years is not only below the resolution of the reconstruction, but also not representative:

"the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions."

It is worrying that they only tell us this *now*, after the story has been broadcast around the world.
Let's quote from the paper again:
Without filling data gaps, our Standard5×5 reconstruction (Fig. 1A) exhibits 0.6°C greater warming over the past ~60 yr B.P. (1890 to 1950 CE) than our equivalent infilled 5° × 5° area-weighted mean stack (Fig. 1, C and D). However, considering the temporal resolution of our data set and the small number of records that cover this interval (Fig. 1G), this difference is probably not robust.
The large red words are my emphasis, but perhaps they should have appeared that way in the paper too, so Lomborg would have seen them.

Is Marcott et al a "Gross Misrepresentation?"

Roger Pielke Jr has a provactive post this morning that comes within a hair's breath of accusing Marcott et al of misconduct. He does accuse them, and the NSF of "gross misrepresentation," which I just don't see at all.

I like Roger, I like a lot of his writing, I loved his book, and he always gives me good interviews. But I have to disagree here.

Roger writes,
There is a big problem with the media reporting of the new paper. It contains a fundamental error which (apparently) originates in the NSF press release and which was furthered by public comments by scientists.

In a belatedly-posted FAQ to the paper, which appeared on Real Climate earlier today, Marcott et al. make this startling admission:
Q: What do paleotemperature reconstructions show about the temperature of the last 100 years?

A: Our global paleotemperature reconstruction includes a so-called “uptick” in temperatures during the 20th-century. However, in the paper we make the point that this particular feature is of shorter duration than the inherent smoothing in our statistical averaging procedure, and that it is based on only a few available paleo-reconstructions of the type we used. Thus, the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions.
Got that?
How is this "startling?" They say in their paper that it's not robust:
Without filling data gaps, our Standard5×5 reconstruction (Fig. 1A) exhibits 0.6°C greater warming over the past ~60 yr B.P. (1890 to 1950 CE) than our equivalent infilled 5° × 5° area-weighted mean stack (Fig. 1, C and D). However, considering the temporal resolution of our data set and the small number of records that cover this interval (Fig. 1G), this difference is probably not robust.
(Emphasis mine.)

  • on the first page, right-hand column, they explicitedly note their reconstruction stops at "100 yr B.P," and their "present" is defined as 1950 CE.
  • The graphs on page 2 have the blade in different colors, and the captions make it clear these aren't their results.
  • On the last page: they write, "Our results indicate...." which is not the same as writing "Our results show...." Anyway this is the discussion portion of their paper, and what's wrong about discussing how their results look in light of the recent instrumental record?
That's just the paper. After its publication both Shakun (in the NY Times) and Marcott (in an email to McIntyre) indicate their blade isn't robust. That's a pretty clear statement (though I wish scientists would stop using the word "robust" when talking to the public, because it sounds overly wonky). Should they have completely avoided any mention at all of how their results compare to what's happening today? Every reader in the world is going to want to know that, and who better to answer it than these scientists?

For the same reason, the press release, which is setting the context, is going to address what every journalist is immediately going to want to know: what does this say about today's warming? Not, what does this categorically prove -- there is no such thing -- but what does this say, what does it "indicate?" Because here we have this 11,000 year reconstruction, and on the other hand we have the instrumental record over the last 130 years or so, so what do they say together? It would be irresponsible (and a waste of taxpayer-funded research) not to say something about the broader context in an issue of this importance.

So it seems to me that
(a) the scientists made it clear in their paper their results were not robust for 1850 CE onward
(b) they addressed, in their discussion and in interviews, the immediate question on everyone's mind: so how do your results compare to today's warming?

And today's warming looks pretty darn troubling, and my cynicism is wondering if that's what almost all of the paper's post-publication criticism is trying to suppress by any means necessary (although my guess is that's not Roger's motivation, which (I'm guessing) he sees along this line).

Update: I made much this same comment on Roger's blog, and he responded here.