It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Think Tanks and Monopsony

Via a lead story at Morano's, and the "SPPI", since 1989, the United States Government has had a "monopsony" on climate science, meaning there have been few alternative buyers, meaning, of course, that the sellers have been satisfying the principal buyer. Sellers of what? Of science. And what science does the government want to see? Apparently science that maximally inconveniences voters.

In the press release, the amount the US government has spent on anything related to climate ($79 Billion over 20 years, $4 billion per year or 12 dollars per capita) is compared to the relatively small amount that Exxon has spent on, err, "skeptics". Exxon has spent much less on a single source of naysayer propaganda than the government has spent on earth observation satellites! This proves which way the monopsony twists the facts, apparently.

(How much funding has gone directly to influencing public opinion is 100% in the case of the Exxon money. It is very small in the case of public funding, because, hmm, public funding of information on controversial issues tends to be hard to come by, because, hmm, because the government that is responsible for all this evil is heavily influenced by the think tanks.)

Note that money expended directly on climate research other than earth observation is on the order of $200 million per year, or 70 cents per capita.

According to the press release, in the 20 years at issue, 11 of which have seen Republicans controlling the White House, and 12 of which has seen Republicans controlling the congress, the result has been that governments, "big" businesses and NGOs have been
recruiting, controlling and rewarding their own 'group-think' scientists who bend climate modeling to justify the State's near-maniacal quest for power, control, wealth, and forced population reduction.

... The truth is more crucial than ever, because American lives, property and constitutional liberties are at risk.
Apparently, there is nobody outside the USA interested in climate, it being something like baseball that other people don't have. Or else, governments everywhere are consistently paying people to tell them stuff that will get them defeated in elections.

Despite all this, I do want to vouch for the monopsony point. There really is some strangeness about the nature of the market for science. The usual impact of a single buyer is to weaken the market position of the seller. It would really be nice if some private nonprofits would pony up for independent climate research.

While I'm entirely serious about that point, think for a minute what you would really do if you were the energy sector and this were really all lies.

See you could shave off a tiny bit of your $1.38 trillion (1,380,000 million dollars) ($1380000000000.00) passing through the energy business every year in the USA alone and use it to fund a climate modeling effort. With 1 % of that money, 13.8 billion, you could buy about 65 times the entire climate science budget of the USA.

With just 0.01% of your gross income, you could easily build a credible climate model that has low CO2 sensitivity, thereby proving the proposed inherent bias in climate modeling (presuming there is one). But maybe you'd rather not bother, and just spend the 0.01% on think tanks.

I need a drink, thanks.


Jeffrey said...

To put these dollar amounts in perspective, note that Exxon is spending $300 million on biofuel research. That would fund NCAR for 3 years.

Aaron said...

Tom Delay and company set (circa 1995) a policy of not funding climate research that was likely to report abrupt sea level rise. The EPA’s program was defunded and the documents archived onto Yosemite. DOE(the long time friend of oil and coal) was given the job of modeling the ice melt that might raise sea level. They modeled sea ice and had their code proudly added to the community GCM. Climate science understood the message, “the only buyer does not want to hear about ice sheet dynamics.” Funding managers “guessed” that a bunch of things could be left out of the climate models.

However, science is interrelated, and geology discovered that sea level could rise tens of meters in a few centuries under the very gentle forcing of orbital mechanics. If all things are linear, this implies that under anthropogenic forcing which is 2 orders of magnitude stronger, sea level could rise two orders of magnitude faster. However, the behavior of ice near its melting point is not linear. To leave ice sheet dynamics out of the GCM was to abandon credibility. Permafrost does not behave in a linear fashion near and above 0C. With permafrost you have local increases in water vapor, methane, and CO2 from the newly thawed soil across a huge expanse. To leave permafrost feedback mechanisms out of a global climate model was to abandon credibility. Clathrate decomposition is very non-linear. To leave clathrates out of a global climate model was to abandon credibility. (Who knew about clathrates back then? The guys that drilled for oil - Tom's donors.)

In short, Science did the science that the buyer wanted. Certainly the scientists that built the current climate models worked hard and have every right to be proud of what they did. The problem was at the funding and management levels.

I strongly agree with Michael that modern climate models are useful for understanding the dynamics of some climate processes. However, I would say that because GCM(s) neglect significant known science, their estimates of risk could be off by 2 orders of magnitude. The error bars on the IPCC charts are silly and dramatically misleading. The decline of Arctic sea ice faster than expected is a prime example of climate science failing to meet the data quality standards required for environmental risk assessment, risk management, and public policy.

If clathrates are a risk, then comparing different runs of models that do not include clathrates does not tell us anything about the risk INCLUDING clathrates! Thus, current GCM do not tell use anything about total climate change risk. Only when factors such as ice dynamics and feedbacks such as methane from permafrost and sea bed clathrates are incorporated into the climate models are those climate models useful for risk assessment and decision making. Current climate models do not include these issues and thus do not address total risk.

Tom Delay got what he wanted. He got climate models that do not include the full risk of global warming.

Now, do you understand why I am so very eager to see some new climate models? I am not saying that such models are easy to build. I am not saying that more factors will automatically produce better forecasts. I am saying that better models are needed. I am saying that decision makers need to understand the limits of current climate science.

India and China might be willing to risk the land flooded by 1 meter of sea level rise in the next century, but have a very differnt policy if they knew they were risking the land that might be flooded by tens of meters of sea level rise in the next century. Then, fighting AGW is something they need to do to save themselves. Thus, a better understanding of the full risk of AGW could mobilize more efforts to avoid AGW.

Arthur said...

Bringing up the energy industry's trillions of annual revenues is exactly right. Influence is rarely bought directly through paying people to say stuff you want - much better to throw your weight around doing whatever you normally do and trust that your massive pot of gold will attract the attention you want it to.

How much Exxon money goes to media buys in big newspapers, cable channels, etc? Do they even have to hint that they'd like slanted coverage as quid pro quo? The think tanks etc. just give all the other media talking points with that Exxon stamp of approval. I'm sure Exxon and friends are quite expert in the ways of "monopsony"...

Arthur said...

Another point I've raised on this before - doing real science means going out in the world and making thousands of measurements, spending years of human time and effort on analysis and related work. It costs a lot of money.

Making stuff up is very cheap, in comparison...

Michael Tobis said...

Geez, Aaron, ice sheets in GCMs were in no way practicable in 1995. As a matter of fact, pretty much everything now known about ice sheets was unknown in 1995. The field pretty much was just being born 15 years ago.

Right now as I write, our group is actively working with DOE on the project of putting them into the climate models. Do you want us to stop? Because DOE studies energy? Huh?

Paranoia cuts both ways.

Climate models are about atmosphere, ocean and zsea ice, not because they are all that is interesting about global change, but because on certain time scales they form a nearly closed system that is complicated enough.

People want to couple climate models with carbon models. Congress wants this, the funding agencies want this, and the labs want this. I think it's premature.

You think it's already been done and buried under the rug. So either you trust me or not. I have been close enough to this community to say without any doubt that it has not yet been done.

Where I'm an outlier is in that I really doubt it has much utility.

I am worried about the same things you are worried about. I just don't see how the modeling process is going to constrain them. And while DOE scientists have been muzzled form talking to the public, they have not significantly been constrained in what to study or conclude by the politics.

Don't get me wrong. DOE suffers from huge damage from being too close to politics. Just not in the way you are guessing.

Hank Roberts said...

> couple climate models
> with carbon models.

Michael, do "carbon models" as you mean them include biological changes that can happen rapidly -- like population dynamics of plankton for example?

And I recall asking Dr. Bitz over at RC some years back what the sea ice people could say about ensuing changes in the plankton, and she said the biologists were asking their group for data so they could go look.

Hank Roberts said...

er, for example:

Journal of Marine Systems
Volume 76, Issues 1-2, 20 February 2009, Pages 95-112
Skill assessment for coupled biological/physical models of marine systems


Michael Tobis said...

Hmm. I'll look when I'm back on campus. In general, though, models are a dime a dozen.

A GCM is a very much more significantly meaningful beast than most, despite what you may hear.

Aaron said...


DOE can do science, but they are very expensive for the results that they produce. And, in the old days, science that did not conform to the expectations of middle management did not see the light of day. (I worked at USDOE-RL & USDOE-EM with tasks/contracts at other divisions. I know important work from the Fast Flux Test Facility did not get published.)

I would say, work with the Devil himself if you must, to get a better climate model, but know who you are working with and what the terms are.

Would I go to DOE to get a good climate model? No. I would take the money and divide it up between several schools and hold a contest. I think having just one climate model is dangerous. If we only have one climate model, there is no way to validate it. I cannot fault you because you are not the funder. You should go where the money is, and do your best.

Ice has been around for a long time. By 1995, there was lots of information about ice available. The problem was a conceptial model that saw ice as static, and isothermal. I was lucky as I was working in the debris from Lake Missoula. That helped me see ice as very dynamic. I had to look for the information. I had to do – science.