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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The First Tipping Point

The first major threshhold of irreversible climate change seems to have been crossed. Things are probably never going back to "normal" in the Arctic. This may have large consequences.

The international Polar Year has issued a press release entitled

"Arctic sea ice will probably not recover":
As predicted by all IPCC models, Arctic sea ice will most likely disappear during summers in the near future. However, it seems like this is going to happen much sooner than models predicted, as pointed out by recent observations and data reanalysis undertaken during IPY and the Damocles Integrated Project.
Providing an object lesson of one of our main themes:

Yes, the models are imperfect.
No, that is not a reason to relax and forget the whole thing.
That is a reason to be more worried than the models indicate.

So does this matter? The IPY press release concludes that it may matter quite a lot:

The entire Arctic system is evolving to a new super interglacial stage seasonally ice free, and this will have profound consequences for all the elements of the Arctic cryosphere, marine and terrestrial ecosystems and human activities. Both the atmosphere and the ocean circulation and stratification (ventilation) will also be affected. This raises a critical set of issues, with many important implications potentially able to speed up melting of the Greenland ice sheet, accelerating the rise in sea levels and slowing down the world ocean conveyor belt (THC). That would also have a lot of consequences on the ocean carbon sink (Bates et al. 2006) and ocean acidification. Permafrost melting could also accelerate during rapid Arctic sea-ice loss due to an amplification of Arctic land warming 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate trends, as pointed out recently by Lawrence et al. (2008). This permafrost evolution would have important consequences and strong impacts on large carbon reservoirs and methane releases, either in the ocean and/or on land.

Are we having fun yet?

Update 3/14
: Similar news out of Copenhagen.

More on George Will

Much, much, much more... All tolled, (and not yet all told) this is the first major league blogstorm emerging from the non-denialist climo-blogosphere and is thus a historical event regardless of your position on it.

If there's one thing you should understand about this event it is this one: Jonathan Schwarz tells an old Noam Chomsky story about George Will in an article entitled "So Much Nicer To Be George Will Before The Internet".
So she looked it up and called me back, and said, "Yeah, you're right, we found it there; okay, we'll run your letter." An hour later she called again and said, "Gee, I'm sorry, but we can't run the letter." I said, "What's the problem?" She said, "Well, the editor mentioned it to Will and he's having a tantrum; they decided they can't run it." Well, okay.
Of course there's more from Joe Romm. Especially consider this comment from "agog":
The great mystery to me is why in the age of the interweb does anyone bother with US journalism. As disgraceful as these George Will columns have been, after its support for the Iraq war how could any sentient reader of WaPo have credited it with any journalistic or moral integrity? The NYT and WSJ are no better and anything on US television is a waste of time.

For English speakers surely the FT, the Independent, BBC, Channel 4 or Al Jazeera are better alternatives: none of them come close to being perfect but if one consumes critically it is possible to cherry pick the best of them depending on the issue. And, of course, there is the blogosphere where sites like this usefully both contribute and critique.

Americans seem to be living in an information bubble (or is it vacuum?): their own version of The Truman Show. From abroad, the world looks very different. Equally f**ked, but somehow in a way that one can make more sense of.
Then there is Curtis Brainerd on no less than the Columbia Journalism Review. This mostly consists of a clear and cogent history of the episode, but ends with a jawdroppingly muddled piece of journalism-insider blathering:
Revkin quoted American University communications professor Matthew Nisbet, who argues that the wave of criticism of Will “only serves to draw attention to his claims while reinforcing a larger false narrative that liberals and the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”

There is some truth to that. Indeed, because of the hullaballoo, Will is now writing about climate change for the second time this month. On the other hand, this whole affair raises a number of important questions about how the press, particularly columnists, cover climate change. The most important seems to be: can inference rise to the level of such absurdity that it becomes subject to the same rigors as evidence?
Carl Zimmer
What has kept me hooked on this saga is not George Will’s errors. Errors are as common as grass. Some are made out of ignorance, some carefully constructed to give a misleading impression. What has kept me agog is the way the editors at the Washington Post have actually given their stamp of approval on Will’s columns, even claiming to have fact-checked them and seeing no need for a single correction.
The climax to this part of the story came yesterday, when the Columbia Journalism Review was finally able to get Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor at the Post, to speak directly about the ice affair:
It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject–so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don’t make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn’t be allowed to make the contrary point…I think it’s kind of healthy, given how, in so many areas–not just climatology, but medicine, and everything else–there is a tendency on the part of the lay public at times to ascribe certainty to things which are uncertain.
I’ve heard that line before…the one about how people can look at the same scientific data and make different inferences.
I’ve heard it from creationists. They look at the Grand Canyon, at all the data amassed by geologists over the years, and they end up with an inference very different from what you’ll hear from those geologists.
Would Hiatt be pleased to have them writing opinion pieces, too? There is indeed some debate in the scientific community about exactly how old the Grand Canyon is–with some arguing it’s 55 million years old and others arguing for 15 million. Would Hiatt consider it healthy to publish a piece from someone who thinks the Grand Canyon is just a few thousand years old, with just a perfunctory inspection of the information in it?
At this point, it’s hard for me to see how the answer could be no.
Senator John Kerry makes a sympatico pronouncement on HuffPo:
Let's be very clear: Stephen Chu does not make predictions to further an agenda. He does so to inform the public. He is no Cassandra. If his predictions about the effects of our climate crisis are scary, it's because our climate is scary.
Amen. Even the best of our J-school friends seem incapable of getting a grip on that.

Andrew Siegel has more and a huge supply of links, enough to fill your whole rainy day if you're lucky enough to live somewhere they still have those.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Who Framed Roger Pielke?

An interesting and sympathetic take on Roger Pielke Jr. comes to us from from Dylan Otto Krider. One of the first comments on this blog was what I took to be a sincere welcome to the fray from RP Jr, and I've been torn about how to deal with him from well before I took up blogging in earnest.

It seems to me that sometimes he adds value but sometimes he seems to be so far out in right field that he's playing in a different game. It's hard to know what to make of him in any holistic sense. But it's clear to me that dismissing him as a "right-winger" with "ties to industry" as Brad Johnson did in his otherwise elegant takedown of Revkin is excessive and off target. RP Jr. seems to want something different of the debate, and what it is I can't entirely understand, but then again, I suppose that's true of me as well! It does seem he tries so urgently to articulate his something and he fails, which is ironic given the sorts of critique he hurls at others.

On the other hand, it appears from the comments on Dot Earth that he approves of dragging Gore into the article on Will, an exercise I find inexcuseable.

Some folks are gearing up to push the Will case at the Washington Post for all its worth. That is definitely a good thing. It is time the press was forced to let go of its unearned carte blanche. So I suppose I shouldn't try to rail against Revkin too hard; it's just a distraction as long as the real action looks to be elsewhere.

Still, I don't forgive Revkin. (Update: I don't think his dragging Gore into Will's muck was a minor transgression of a fine point of propriety. I think it was palpably evil.) To the extent RP Jr had a hand in it, I don't forgive him either, even though he is something other than a corporate lackey, which is I don't know exactly what.

Update: The massive blogstorm continues with a presistent mesoscale convective complex centered over Roger Pielke Jr . David Roberts had some musings about RPJr recently, for which John Fleck took him to task (see comments), much as I was uncomfortable with Brad Johnson's stuff above. And Dylan Otto Krider is on the topic right now. ( Meta-Update: So is Backseat Driving. Brian updates: " edited to tone down a bit. Must find the right tone...." Indeed. So, what is it about RPJr that makes that so hard?)

I also have some inside information that Joe Romm intends to weigh in soon, and one guesses not in the gentlest way. ( Meta-Update: It's here. )

I should add that RPJr. did not originate any linkage between Gore and Will that I have been able to see. Although he did comment on the linkage after the fact, well, so did I.

Criticizing Gore on content is an odd sport and one which I find unsavory, but it is not in a league with finding symmetry in a comparison of Gore to Will. As far as I can tell the blame for this particular travesty rests squarely with Revkin.

I think there is little doubt that Pielke enjoys saying things that Republicans want to hear, but that is very different from being scientifically dishonest. It's not even, necessarily, malign, despite the alarming current state of the federal Republicans. He does, at least, get a voice for legitimate climate science into quarters where it might not otherwise be heard.

I'm not convinced that he is entirely sincere, though. I find myself suspecting that he gets so much pleasure from explaining how things go awry that he is disinclined for them to go reasonably.

New: Eli posits a different explanation.

Update May 6: Though I have become a fan of Kevin Kloor's (despite the obvious cause for suspicion that he was a willing participant in my railroading a couple months back), I am a bit hurt that he has sent people back to this thread without providing some needed context, by which I mean specifically this almost contemporaneous posting, wherein what hit the fan in this present posting, leading to the above-mentioned railroading, was discussed at some length.


I feel a death-of-journalism topic coming on. Here's a teaser.

I've been following @jayrosen_nyu on Twitter. He's an excellent source of post-web meta-journalism stories. Including this one by Steve Rhodes mentioning among many other things my pet peeve about how the NYTimes uses link tags:
I was reading a trade industry publication last week informing those of our profession that you don't have to use the old AP inverted pyramid style when writing your stories. You can use feature leads! You can write in narrative style! You can use all sorts of gimmicks to "write" if you just learn the craft of newspaperese! You'll win awards!

Um, what is this, the wayback machine to 1975? Not only is that an amazingly stale discussion, it's amazingly outdated. The revolution of the simple link has irrevocably altered the way we should be writing and structuring our stories. But guess what? Newspaper reporters don't put links in their stories! It's true! And when newspapers put stories online, an editor doesn't put links in those, either!

Oh sure, there are auto-generated links that helpfully point readers to encyclopedia entries of every proper name mentioned . . . woo-hoo!

If you haven't ever made a link, you have no business being within 500 miles of any "town hall" on how to save journalism.
Much more at the link.

Update: Another very insightful column, this one from Whet Moser, remarking on the same event.

and so it goes...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shovel Ready

Please, sir, may we have another?
(CNN) -- A NASA satellite crashed back to Earth about three minutes after launch early Tuesday, officials said.

"We could not make orbit," NASA program manager John Brunschwyler said. "Initial indications are the vehicle did not have enough [force] to reach orbit and landed just short of Antarctica in the ocean."

"Certainly for the science community, it's a huge disappointment."

The $273 million satellite, called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, would have collected global measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere to help better forecast changes in carbon-dioxide levels and their effect on the Earth's climate.
Hard luck for sure. We all need this thing, and the clean coal people need it especially. Look at the bright side: it's expensive! Plus, all the bureaucratic snags have already been cleared once. It's shovel ready!

I guess rewarding NASA for this is like sending money to bank managers in gratitude for them destroying the banks, though. Maybe we can outsource the launch vehicle to the French or the Chinese?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Revkin Beyond the Pale

Revkin falls into his old habit of splitting the difference between lies and truth, and then offers some lame justification on his blog.

This is not acceptable. Revkin should take a hint from Joe Romm on what the actual climate news is this week.

I am also 100% behind Joe Romm on his take on Revkin's article. Just when you think Revkin is actually performing a service he comes up with this sort of poison.

Unlike George Will, Revkin knows better. That being the case, this sacrifice of genuine balance for a cute but shallow sort of journalistic symmetry is not just lazy but unethical.

Update: If this sort of tempest is your cup of tea, there's a vast array of related links at Thing's. Whatever you do, though, don't read Revkin's rant without also looking at Brad Johnson's detailed critique of it.

Update: Comment by me at Climate Progress:

For me this isn’t nearly as much about George Will or the Post as it is about Revkin and the Times. To be sure, neither part of the tale is pretty.

In the article in question, Revkin frames the debate as balanced between Gore and Will. Yet, from the point of view of the most informed people on the topic of climate change, the IPCC represents the middle of the road, not an extreme, and Gore himself is a dyed-in-the-wool moderate. Anything that casts Gore’s position as extreme drastically misframes the issues we should be talking about.

Revkin clearly knows enough about the situation to know that the posited equivalence between Gore and Will is not just strained but ludicrous. His readers may not know this.

The disservice of knowingly and falsely presenting the two as roughly symmetrical in the interest of a tidy little article is more than run of the mill journalistic laziness. It is a betrayal of the public trust. If ever a journalist were eligible for impeachment it would be Revkin as a consequence of this travesty.

Any sensible points made in passing (and there were some) notwithstanding, his article is unacceptable and uncivilized, because Revkin surely knows better. I care little for George Will’s opinions. On this matter he is a confused old man, and will for the most part be ignored.

Revkin is presumably not so confused, but if one presumes so, it seems that he is willing to confuse others. It is no exaggeration to suggest that by capitulating to the Times’ desire to be nonthreatening, Revkin may have contributed directly to worsening the scope of the catastrophe our world will face.

Revkin owes us a vastly more cogent explanation or apology for this gobsmackingly shallow and vile blithering than he has managed to date. If he was pressured to produce this travesty by management at the Times, all the more so. I believe this matter is so severe that Revkin ought to make it his highest priority to repair it immediately or failing that to resign.

Update: Will goes on as expected. Revkin, to my eye, backpedals a bit without addressing the core malpractice in his column:

The office of former Vice President Al Gore complained about my story on climate exaggeration the other day and now George Will, the other (very different) example in that piece, has weighed in as well with a column, “Climate Science in a Tornado,” defending his accuracy and questioning my competence. I’ll leave the competence judgment to readers.

Update: I've recently become a huge fan of Jay Rosen. I am pleased to note that he gets it exactly right in the comments at Dot Earth (#183):

... in my opinion you have seriously under-estimated and mishandled the "false equivalence" issue. It's good that you acknowledged it; it's bad that you dismissed it. And I don't know why you reduced it to a question of qualifications. I think you've seen in the days since how little resemblance there is between Gore as a mistake-maker and George Will. This alone should cause you to regret what you wrote suggesting they were caught in the same trap.

You talked of temptation in your original story on exaggerations in the climate change debate. I urge you to please consider what a temptation there is for editors and reporters in a "both sides engage in hype" story. The temptation to portray the two sides as equally at fault, equally misleading, equally loose with facts is HUGE, and you failed to resist it.

Please re-consider. I think your judgment about the original story is off. Way off.

In case you missed my point, I am very, very, very disappointed by this. I see all the moaning about the future of the press, including by a couple of my friends who are practicing old-school newspaper journalists, and I worry about it, I really do. But frankly, if this is the best the press can do, I have to say to hell with it. (edits blogroll)

Henchman: I promise you it won't happen again.

Zorg: I know.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Will Progress in Climatology Affect Mitigation Policy?

Will progress in climatology affect mitigation policy? Not very much, no.

"Steven Chu, the new secretary of energy, said Wednesday that solving the world’s energy and environment problems would require Nobel-level breakthroughs in three areas: electric batteries, solar power and the development of new crops that can be turned into fuel."
according to a recent article in the New York Times.

Note what he doesn't mention: supercomputing, climate modeling, earth system modeling frameworks. Dr. Chu is putting his attention in the right places.

It can be argued that climatology is not an important input into climate change related policy. It is premature to take climatological input into account in adaptation strategy, while on the other hand as far as mitigation goes (i.e., on the global scale) the picture has pretty much stayed about the same for some substantial time.

Many readers will find this peculiar. Certain sorts of denialists are arguing that the tide has turned against the IPCC consensus over the last couple of years. With regard to that, nothing has changed; they have been making similar statements for twenty years. Certain sorts of alarmists meanwhile are emphasizing how things have gotten so much worse, but again these sorts of claims are nothing new. The fact is that things are pretty much about as bad as we have thought for a long time, except on the sea level rise front, where relatively new insights into ice sheet dynamics and new data about sudden postglacial sea level rise in the past raise the possibility of rapid changes in sea level.

It's not outside the realm of possibility that ice sheet modeling will make sufficient progress to constrain the behavior of ice sheets effectively. It is certainly worth a try.

On the other hand, consider this. Carefully targeted expenditures on science can be effective, but you cannot hire nine women to make a baby in a month. Intellectual progress can reach some maximum rate but then it reaches a point where more manpower and more funding is just redundant.

Some problems in earth science are undecidable. We may never understand the ocean circulation of the Eocene, much though we might want to.

My guess is that the most likely outcome is that there will be several viable scenarios for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet until one of them occurs. Maybe Greenland will turn out to be a tad less capricious, but we don't know that for sure yet either.

As for aerosols, (and as for clouds, and so on) yes improvements can perhaps narrow the uncertainty of climate prediction a bit, and I'm happy to be helping out in that regard, but the chances of the first order picture changing very much are slim.

The real issues are environmental, agricultural and civil engineering problems, and the response issues are in the social, political, economic and geopolitical realms.

Climatology is a worthy pursuit in itself as a pure science. As far as application goes, if geoengineering is necessary you will need to rely on huge advancement in the field. Possibly we can improve our abilities for local and regional predictions, which would add a lot of value to adaptation startegies. So by all means support climatology, but don't look to us for input into what needs doing now on the mitigation front.

We have said our piece and it is unlikely to change, not because we are stubborn, but because there are some things we understand pretty well. And certainly not because we are in it for the gold. The big money is not heading our way, nor should it.

PS from the same article:
Dr. Chu said he was still adjusting to his surroundings and title after most of a career spent as an academic scientist. Asked whether he preferred to be called “Dr. Chu” or “Mr. Secretary,” he answered, “Steve is fine.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New York City

Wherein our hero indulges himself in an actual blog entry...

So while it was all hitting the fan in Austin, I find myself in New York City where people don't know what picante sauce is supposed to taste like, mostly for the  purpose of talking about applying the web to the problem of elicitation of expert opinion and formal development of collective wisdom with Paul Baer. This is entirely off budget and outside my formal job description as far as U Texas is concerned, though perhaps it shouldn't be. (I took vacation time.) 

Today I had an interesting conversations with Paul and his colleague Sivan Kartha, who gave me quite a bit more respectful a hearing about the prospects and limitations of climate modeling than I normally get. 

It turns out that a well-known climatologist of our mutual acquaintance has said "We're done", meaning that physical climatology has essentially nothing more to contribute to the discussion of global change. I said that barring a substantial change of direction which I could imagine but could not envision getting funding for, that I agree. (I exclude geochemists, who have a lot more work to do on the carbon cycles. We also talked about glaciologists a bit. I think the glaciologists are doing fascinating science, but I don't think they'll answer the motivating policy questions effectively. Even though the field is suddenly data rich doesn't mean the question "when will what melt" is sufficiently constrained.) 

Climate change policy is not about climatology anymore, as I've said here on more than one occasion, and all efforts to make it so are efforts to divert from the much harder questions of what to do about it. All this conversation took place at an amazing and bustling pizza/pasta/pannini/patisserie near Penn Station. I'm grateful to my companions for letting me expound on my opinions, which I have had few chances to express in as much detail.

Then we all took the subway up to Columbia where Paul and Sivan had a meeting with the Nobel prize winning economist Joe Stiglitz who is a professor there (and who was giving a public lecture that evening). Remarkably, my Twitter feed had made me aware of a panel the very same day at Columbia, at which Coturnix/Bora Zivkovic was one of the panelists. So I had an excellent opportunity to keep myself occupied while Paul was busy.

While I was familiar with Bora's work on the PLoS journals, the other two panelists were new to me. I was very entertained by the idea of treating DNA sequences "like one of those old Texas Instruments TTL chip catalogs" I may have been the only person in the audience who knew exactly what Barry Canton meant by that. A certain shade of bright orange-yellow was activated in my memory. (It certainly revived my confidence that such if such a thing is possible for living beings, it certainly should be possible for a computational model of physics, contemporary boondoggles notwithstanding.) But that's not the direction I seem to be heading. 

I was much more interested in Jean-Claude Bradley's description of "open notebook" science, which ties in both with the work I am doing with Paul and with some of the ideas I have for extending Sergey Fomel et al's Madagascar package. In open notebook science, every little step you take is instantly public.  Bradley showed how this sort of collaboration can advance chemical science; both contemporary work and ancient out-of-copyright texts can be imported into a vast and multilayered structure. This seems to me the a substantial step in the real world into the sort of science envisioned back in the 1940s by Vannevar Bush. I also see applications of their approach in the world of collective intelligence, but here it might pay me to be a tiny bit closed for awhile.

I also had a brief conversation with the charming Miriam Gordon, who was very taken with my mention of Marshall McCluhan in the context of new media and my question about the future of peer review. (The panel really threw up their hands with a vague hope that peer review might somehow get better someday in the distant future.)

I would be remiss, though, if I didn't mention how much I enjoyed Bora's talk. He's obviously a fine writer, but I didn't expect what an extraordinarily engaging speaker he is. Though there was little in his presentation that was new to me, I enjoyed it thoroughly and highly recommend you give Bora a listen if you ever have the opportunity.

I can't begin to express how much more productive this day was than my day job in Texas. It's not just that I had more fun. I meanwhile added more value to the world. (I captured essentially none of the value, though Paul is covering my expenses through a small grant of his.) I have been miscast and I don't know quite what to do about it. I think I might convince Paul to coauthor some papers to help get me into policy space for real. Cause y'know, blogging "doesn't count".

I do know that the answer has something to do with the internet. I would never have met Bora, or Paul, or for that matter Damon Gambuto, Clifford Johnson, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Chris Mooney, John Mashey, Erik Conway, John Fleck,  Julia Hargreaves, James Annan and and even (indirectly through Paul) Michael Mastrandrea and Stephen Schneider were it not for this blog, meetings which easily constitute some of the most interesting and encouraging moments of the past two years. (I hope to meet more of y'all in future!)

So then I walked directly from this remarkable event to the next building, home of the business school at Columbia, to meet up again with Paul and to listen to Joe Stiglitz talk about the Great Unwinding. While, to be sure, he was in many ways far more sophisticated than I, it reamined, like most talk by most economists, profoundly unsatisfying to me, in that "growth" was treated as normal and non-growth as pathological. This whole way of thinking still seems divorced from reality. 

In any case, Stiglitz made what seemed to be a strong case for nationalizing banks (ironic that capitalism itself will be the first business to be socialized) a strong case for Keynesian expenditures, and a strong case against rescuing shareholders and executives of banks and other companies that are struggling. Those latter he considered "looting". He adamantly opposes any sort of government action where the government is left holding the bag in case of failure but gains nothing in case of success. That, he said, "is not capitalism". 

He also allowed that things would not go back to "normal" until "demand" reasserted itself, and he could not see how that was going to happen. He believes that the consequences of the recent financial failures will be very long-lasting. 

Isn't it bizarre? Nothing was burned or flooded. How do such things happen? Why is paper more important than physical reality? Anyway, it all seemed so weird to me. Not only did the word "climate" not pass his lips, but not even the word "energy" entered the picture for Stiglitz. Sometimes I wonder if most economists live on a different planet from the rest of us. 

In any case, there is little question that I have to be here in the land of bad salsa (try Ollie's Noodles for some easy on the wallet and the palate consolation. Yumm!) burning vacation time under the terms of Tim O'Reilly's rule of productivity: "Work on stuff that matters". It sure would be nice if the stuff that matters didn't actually compete with the stuff that pays, though. I hope to have more to report to you soon.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Opinions Expressed by My Employer

My opinions aren't necessarily those of my employer, and the opinions of my employer aren't necessarily mine, either.

My employer, the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas, has invited Fred Singer to give a talk this Thursday to a public lecture series that has required student attendance. The lecture is entitled "Nature — Not Human Activity — Rules the Climate".

I feel rather lucky that I will be out of town and unable to attend. I would be tempted to make a scene. I intend to say nothing further about this event, except for the easily surmised fact that this is not an invitation I would have made.

Any opinions out there?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Academics and QA

Did you even know what I meant by QA? If not, I'd venture you are an academic.

I love the Neal Stephenson quote from Dethe Elza's comment:
“In order to set her straight, I had to let her know that the reason she’d never heard of me was because I was famous. ”
Much as I favor openness, it's amazing how many people confused my sticking my neck out about having more respect for people outside the academy, in particular with regard to software quality assurance, as being about "openness".

Pielke Jr: Collapse of Climate Policy, Risk to Science

Roger Pielke's Jr.'s recent article "The Collapse of Climate Policy and the Sustainability of Climate Science" is interesting:

Climate politics is collapsing because of political realities, and not real or perceived changes in how people see the science. As I have often argued, in the ongoing battle between climate scientists and skeptics there will be disproportionate carnage, because the climate scientists have so much more to lose, and not just as individuals, but also for the broader field, which includes many people simply on the sidelines.

The collapse of the political consensus surrounding climate could well be an opportunity to recast decarbonization of the global economy and adaptation to climate impacts in a manner that is much more consistent with progress toward policy goals. If climate science can be saved from itself, that would be a bonus. However, for climate science I fully expect things to get worse before they get better, simply because the most vocal, politically active climate scientists have shown no skill at operating in the political arena. The skeptics could not wish for a more convenient set of opponents.

I don't really agree or even understand that there is a political consensus in the first place. (It's hard to undermine something which doesn't exist). Unfortunately, there is definitely a case to be made here for the last two sentences above.

As I have tried to argue, there are reasons that the deck is stacked that way. Pielke doesn't address those here.

Also, the fact that most of the vocal, politically active climate scientists are politically inept in no way implies that they are incorrect.

That said, it is reasonable to make a case that we haven't been effective in making such a case to the body politic in America, or elsewhere for that matter.

I'm not sure there ever was a "political consensus surrounding climate" to collapse, though as Roger alleges. He will have to make quite a case for that. Regardless, it's easy to agree that the political process is certainly doing climate science itself no good, and that climate science isn't affecting the policy arena skillfully. I certainly would like to understand why this would be so.

Roger has promised further exposition on this subject and I for one will be watching with interest.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Lumpy Container, Yet.

Now that I've explained what I'm trying to do, maybe I should start to explain where I'm coming from.

I come at this from a branch of what I call Messy Classical Physics. MCP deals with ordinary non-exotic physics, but in really complicated situations where pencil and paper math is quickly overwhelmed.  The branch of MCP that most interests me deals with rotating, stratified, radiatively forced, mixed state, convective... (etc.) fluids. In a lumpy container.

I like approaching climatology as a problem in physics. While it's big and messy there's nothing weird or counterintuitive. It's got a lot of pieces, but it starts in the realm of things that are intuitively accessible; meters, seconds, ordinary everyday temperatures and pressures.  So it's one of the easiest of all messy physics problems, much easier than biophysics, very much easier than particle physics or cosmology, infinitely easier than a complete model of psychology or economics, if such a thing is even possible. 

There turns out to be beautiful and elaborate math which models the system pretty well, but it's only approximate.  It's too messy for getting very far with pencil and paper, but see, we have these computers. What fun! Let's try to put all the important bits into a computer and see what happens. 
"Wow, that looks sort of right! Did you get a Hadley cell? A Walker circulation? A Gulf Stream? An El Nino? Cool!"

"Wonder what would happen if you twist this knob here? I'll bet it would do... "

"Naw, it wouldn't, what would happen is..."

"Bet you a beer..."

"You're on..."
But oops, it turns out that while we are happily geeking away learning how to make our toy model, people out in the real world are twiddling the knobs of the real system, tweaking them this way and that like a bunch of cavorting chimpanzees. (Before we even have a properly instrumented baseline! Great plan!) 

So what will happens to the real system? Don't know? So, naturally, some of y'all knob-twiddlers think to ask us nerdy guys who have a sorta-kinda-working model.
"Um, uh, that's a pretty big deal, it looks like", we say. "Maybe four watts per square meter, bigger than the forcing that kicks off ice ages, for sure."

"Four watts per square meter?" you reply. "Are you sure? Are you sure you're sure? Ha! So you're not 100% sure you're sure, are you?"
So here we are.

Now let me ask you this. If you really understood how the climate system worked, by which I mean the real system, the one where you live, where your house is, where everybody's house is, would you be 
  • a) more worried or 
  • b) less worried about the knob twiddling? 
I mean, compared to if you had no idea whatsoever?

OK, following on that, suppose NOBODY understood how it worked. Suppose you couldn't even find anyone who looked like a genuine climate nerd. Would you be 
  • a) more worried or 
  • b) less worried 
than if there were folks whose opinion you believed you could trust?

I, myself, sometimes doubt that climatology is all that robust.  Yup, (usually when I've been away from the real geniuses for a few months) there are even those days when I feel my field is hopelessly confused. Those are the days I worry the most.

So those of you who make a naughty schoolboy game of mocking and angering the climate nerds really ought to reconsider. You want happy and comfortable climate nerds.You want hardworking and productive climate nerds. Dissing us is a very bad habit. You want this thing figured out for real. And if at times you suspect that we aren't very good at it, that's when you really should start worrying.

Because if we climate nerds are right, you are already in big trouble, but if we're completely off base, you could be in very very very big trouble -- for all you know.

Why is it that so many people get this exactly backwards? The press gets it wrong, the "climate auditors" get it wrong, and the public is misled. 

So if you enjoy practicing the manly sport of asking climate geeks for their source code, I can see where you are coming from. It is something you really ought to be worried about, though you ought to be doing it for something more than schoolboy giggles.

But remember this. The less you know about the boat you are on, the more careful you should be about rocking it. 

The less sound you believe our understanding of the world climate to be, the more you should avoid twiddling the knobs that affect it. The less impressed you are with us and our theories and our codes, the sooner you should be recycling your SUV, riding your bike downtown, and joining the marching masses in the streets, demanding a stringent carbon cap. 

Slag in Oz

Craig Kidd looks at the melted metal of alloy wheels from his burnt out vehicles after a bushfire swept through his property on February 9, 2009 in Bendigo, 160 km from Melbourne, Australia. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Lifted brazenly from ; Go look at the rest of the pictures. Maybe they won't get on my case. Click a few links. Buy something from Boston.

Then there's this:

Barry Brook quotes an anonymous colleague, and agrees.
“Given that this was the hottest day on record on top of the driest start to a year on record on top of the longest driest drought on record on top of the hottest drought on record the implications are clear...

It is clear to me that climate change is now becoming such a strong contributor to these hitherto unimaginable events that the language starts to change from one of “climate change increased the chances of an event” to “without climate change this event could not have occured”.
Eventually things get too weird. Eventually you don't have to say "the sort of thing that is more likely to happen under climate change". Eventually you have to say, my God, this is unnatural. 

People in Australia are starting to say that; even people who know what they are talking about. Australians are second in line, after the Arctic people. 

Who's up next? 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What this blog is about

For my old friend, the King of the Road, 


This blog was always intended for the choir: people who are convinced that CO2-forced climate is real, disturbed about the failure to communicate this effectively, and alarmed at the obstacles placed in the way of a reasonable response, sometimes deliberately. This is how I put it in the original header of the blog layout:
It's easy to refute all the contrarian arguments but that seems to have very little effect on how commonly they are believed. Refuted arguments seem to live on in the public imagination. To bring the public on board to a rational discussion of climate policy needs more than logical argument. So what should we actually do?
So that's the core purpose here. It's not about convincing people as such, but more about understanding why we have failed to convince people, and what we ought to do about it. I already knew
  • Some unknown number of people, including many PhDs, numbering at least in the dozens, have been paid as their professional field of concentration to argue against the scientific consensus. They pretend to be honest inquisitors but they are polemicists. You can usually spot them by their high-school-debate-club approach and their National Review vocabulary.
  • Innocent well-meaning people sometimes follow their lead, amplifying their voice.
  • Members of the scientific community are reluctant by tradition, culture, and inclination to get very good as polemicists. The professional defenders of climate science are far less equipped for the debate.
  • The longer this nonsense goes on the more serious the consequences. It no longer appears as if large scale consequences can be avoided entirely. (See Australia, Alaska, Galveston)
  • The field of play in this "debate" about things that should no longer be debated is as lopsided as ever if not worse
  • Prototypes for the opposition were developed in the tobacco industry
  • A very similar effort exists in the movement to keep evolution out of schools. 
  • People's hostility, paranoia and xenophobia have been stoked to a very dangerous level 
  • Smart people coming in to weigh the evidence sometimes get things wrong (which rarely happens with evolution or tobacco, admittedly)
  • Either we need reinforcements or we need to find a different way to play the game
The core audience of this blog is people who agree with the above. The above is considered as given in the articles.

The thing that really crystalized my thinking was this quote from David Mamet, who was writing about a completely different subject (the prospects for art in Hollywood):
"Law, politics and commerce are based on lies. That is, the premises giving rise to opposition are real, but the debate occurs not between these premises but between their proxy, substitute positions. The two parties to a legal dispute (as the opponents in an election) each select an essentially absurd position. "I did not kill my wife and Ron Goldman," "A rising tide raises all boats," "Tobacco does not cause cancer." Should one be able to support this position, such that it prevails over the nonsense of his opponent, he is awarded the decision. ...

"In these fibbing competitions, the party actually wronged, the party with an actual practicable program, or possessing an actually beneficial product, is at a severe disadvantage; he is stuck with a position he cannot abandon, and, thus, cannot engage his talents for elaboration, distraction, drama and subterfuge."

- David Mamet in "Bambi vs Godzilla: Why art loses in Hollywood", Harper's, June 2005.
In the course of the two years I've been blogging and hence thinking hard about it, I've also learned that the following impinge on the question at hand.
  • Economic theory is a core problem, greatly overvalued by powerful interests and fundamentally wrong at several points
  • Fuel depletion ("peak oil") is competing with global warming as among the technical issues most likely to cause disaster; some of the responses to both problems work together and others compete. 
  • The public is interested in the wrong questions. 
  • The academy is interested in different things, but they are also the wrong questions. 
  • The media are in a tailspin of their own and can't be bothered to help.
  • Al Gore, who ought to know better, can't seem to construct a PR organization that can cope with the facts on the ground. (Yes, I would be very happy to discuss this matter, Senator.)
  • Some people in the policy sector ask the right questions, but they tend to be distracted by economists' generalizations that are no longer valid or useful.
  • The main new positive factor currently at work is information technology and social media.
  • Oh, yeah and the drunken lemurs and rabid mole rats are out of the picture in Washington for a few years at least. That's good too, but it doesn't look anywhere near good enough. 
So these are also themes. All in pursuit of the question what "we" should do. In short, "we" is defined as people who have some understanding of the climate science consensus, especially those have been playing the global warming outreach game for a while and if not exactly losing, not winning either.

(I am interested in reaching other audiences in other places. I try to keep other audiences in mind in what I write, and I welcome their participation, but that's not who I'm trying to talk to here.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

sans entertainment, nobody cares about jellyfish swarms

Another great contribution from the O'Reilly Radar site, this one by Michael Jensen.

I am very interested in the little sidelight about scientific publishing. The very peculiar behavior of career scientists vs critical hobbyists revealed in the Climate Audit vs RealClimate rivalry, one where the RC folks seem to frequently miss the boat and miss how they are missing the boat, ties into the very peculiar incentive system built into science. The people who function best within this environment are determined partially by scientific talent and partially by a talent in thriving under the peculiar incentives. Their odd behavior is easily recast by the opposition as malign, alas.

But the article is rich in interesting ideas in many ways. I wanted to share this snippet with you in particular. I'm not sure what to say about it but it's worth thinking about:
For more than a year, my friend Jim and I have been documenting and recording stories on the great unravelling of our livable world, and trying to build entertainment into it.

Climate chaos is a thread, just as is ocean acidification, and overfishing, and amphibian die-off, and pharma-laced water supplies, and giant dead zones, and the toxic plastic gumbo twice the size of Texas gyring in the Pacific. It's the heavy metals we've been spewing willy-nilly out of coal plants, the persistent toxic runoff from our cities and farms, and the debt of poison we're bequeathing to our children.

*These* are the problems that truly must be addressed. *These* are the problems that are "stuff that Really Matters." Our little project is a stab at trying to nudge some momentum of awareness of these really serious issues.

We've been trying to work out ways of making the news entertaining, even funny; we've added a weekly Pre-Apocalypse News and Info Quiz, a collection of paper-free crossword puzzles, and we try to find a punchline to each story we record.

We do this because without entertainment, nobody wants to know about the jellyfish swarms, the orcas and other mammals sickening from eating salmon poisoned with PCBs and flame retardant, the collapse of little brown bats in the Northeast, and the precipitous loss of biomass from the oceans.

Isn't apocalypse fun? Yay!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

RC metasnark

I haven't been watching RC very closely lately, but I stopped in and saw arrogance slipping back into the discourse. Also, I had trouble with the captcha thing, so in case I didn't get through, I thought I should comment here.

So in the excellent and interesting article Antarctic warming is robust appears the following exchange:
jeff Id Says:
4 February 2009 at 11:21 PM
A link to my recent post requesting again that code be released.
I believe your reconstruction is robust. Let me see the detail so I can agree in public.

[Response: What is there about the sentence, “The code, all of it, exactly as we used it, is right here,” that you don’t understand? Or are you asking for a step-by-step guide to Matlab? If so, you’re certainly welcome to enroll in one of my classes at the University of Washington.–eric]
I don't know who Jeff is or whether he should be encouraged, but I find Eric's response unsatisfactory. Here is my reply, slightly expanded.
Eric, you snark: ” What is there about the sentence, “The code, all of it, exactly as we used it, is right here,” that you don’t understand? “
I don’t understand how you think that could be true. You link to a nicely documented and from all appearances elegant library of matlab functions. Where are the data files? Where is the script that invoked those functions and plotted those graphs?

There is absolutely no substantive reason this should not be distributed along with the relevant publication. You shouldn’t be sniffing at people who want to replicate your work in toto. You should be posting a complete makefile that converts input data into output data. This is common practice in exploration seismology, thanks to the example of John Claerbout at Stanford University, and that in a field where there are sensible commercial reasons for confidentiality. A related effort to create tools to facilitate this pervasive
reproducibility approach, called Madagascar, is being developed at U Texas and is 100% open source. A recent issue of Computers in Science and Engineering discussed reproducibility as a topic.

The paradoxical backwardness of science in regard to adopting the social lessons of high tech is well analyzed in
this blog entry by Michael Nielsen. An open source and test-driven approach is far more productive than petty jealousy. "Publish the recipe, and build the restaurant."

If you refuse to be helpful, don't put up a pantomime please. I should be able to reproduce these results in five minutes, not after taking a course in Matlab. The course in Matlab should follow if I find the results interesting. RC again climbs on its high horse, doing none of us any good. You guys are the good guys. Please act like it.

Update: Unsurprisingly Jeff is not one of what I'd call the good guys, but he is probably the genuine article, a serious person and an honest critic. Unsurprisingly he says pretty much what I said, though understandably angrier.
Ok, I’m madder than hell by now, my good Irish temper is taking over so this is what I posted.

You know, if you claim you archived the code, you could actually archive the code rather than a link to the functions which may have been used in the aforementioned code.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen Eric accuse people of everything short of fraud including Steve McIntyre who does everything in the open. In the meantime my reasonable requests for data and code have been cut from the threads repeatedly. This man is intentionally deceptive about his openness and he’s doing it pretty effectively because nobody at RC made it through the thread who had questions and because I was actually had to disagree with by smart people at CA who believed Eric actually had archived the code by his link.

Dr. Steig, put up or shut up. Enough bull about the posting all the code and the data (including the satellite data). I will call you out to no end and people will know the truth. If your paper is good, they will know - I promise. If not, I also promise.


Update, I got through. I did I really did. I sent this comment to Real Climate.

4 February 2009 at 11:21 PM

A link to my recent post requesting again that code be released.
I believe your reconstruction is robust. Let me see the detail so I can agree in public.

[Response: What is there about the sentence, “The code, all of it, exactly as we used it, is right here,” that you don’t understand? Or are youasking for a step-by-step guide to Matlab? If so, you’re certainly welcome to enroll in one of my classes at the University of Washington.–eric]

I replied again like this.

I’d love to take your class, but I’m busy running a company.

You point to the RegEm manual for use. I was hoping you could show the setup and implementation used. i.e. The actual code you used. I’m sure you would agree, it is pretty important as far as understanding the result. Also the satellite data set.

If you present this as used and it works as advertised, you’ll find yourselves with a big pile of supporters instead of the ridiculous situation we have now. As I have repeatedly stated, I believe your result simply because warming is true everywhere else.



Banned again Real Climate.

[edit — thanks for your support dhogaza, but I’m not allowing ‘jeff id’s’ rants to show up here, even if passed on to me by someone else–eric]


This stuff is so silly, you know it saps you to listen to it. Doggozza calling me all kinds of things, real climate not allowing quesitons, they want me to be a denier. It’s like they’re saying please Jeff please deny our work just don’t make us disclose the methods.
It's sad really. Honestly I think it's more ignorance than rudeness, but it is amazing. And given the stakes attached to the core credibility of the ideas, amazingly unfortunate.

Update: Tamino's point in #92 is partly true. I find his argument that on the difficulty in publishing results such that they can easily be replicated unconvincing. One should always organize one's work in that way as a matter of elementary sound practice, and it is commonly practiced elsewhere.

On the other hand, it is certainly true that the hacks want to find errors to use as weapons in their overdrawn attacks on the core conclusions of science. Coping with those attacks is indeed an important larger issue here. The advantage in this matter to eschewing openness is not clear, though. The failure to use new tools to enhance the efficacy of the scientific method dominates any convenience effect from having unqualified people poking at the code.

Any confidence that the scientific method will win in the end only works if the scientific method is sufficiently followed for its advantages to work. Not only that but we need it to work fast enough to keep us from that cliff we seem to be barreling toward. Remember that cliff? In principle science will out, maybe, but in practice it can take generations.

If standard practice in software engineering can accelerate the advantages of the scientific method and nonstandard practice (inattention to workflow as a component of work product integrity) can obscure those advantages, which choice should we take? Perhaps Gavin is right in suggesting that I overgeneralize when I say that scientists generally arrogantly refuse to learn from commercial practice. But those scientists who complain about 'learning curves' and lakc of 'demonstrated benefits' in the context of elementary best practices are not serving as counterexamples to the generalization.

Rather than being entirely argumentative here, allow me to commend to those willing to address this matter constructively the work of Greg Wilson of the University of Toronto: here is his excellent article called Where's the Real Bottleneck in Scientific Computing? and his course on software carpentry is here. The relevant lesson for present purposes is automated builds.

Update: Woot! Gavin responds with a front page article on RC! On the other hand, no link back, for some reason.

Lots more commentary from Gavin in that article, much of which I find strange. My last word on this:
Reply to #89:
"[Response: My working directories are always a mess - full of dead ends, things that turned out to be irrelevent or that never made it into the paper, or are part of further ongoing projects. Some elements (such a one line unix processing) aren’t written down anywhere. Extracting exactly the part that corresponds to a single paper and documenting it so that it is clear what your conventions are (often unstated) is non-trivial. - gavin]"

Gavin, what you are describing here is what would be called, in any commercial or industrial setting, bad practice.

That is exactly the point I am trying to make. It's not a point about openness, it's about effectiveness. Good practice in any discipline evolves from long experience. The behavior you are describing is behavior every programmer occasionally does on quick projects. However, most of us know better than to defend such behavior on major work products.

It is considered bad practice with good reason. It takes a lot of effort to go back and replicate your own results from memory, but very little to maintain a script which can do all of it. If steps are expensive, you need to learn a tiny bit of rule-based logic, but that is hardly beyond the abilities of anybody doing scientific computations. The payoff is not just throwing the CA folks a bone to chew on. It's a very important component of reasoning about computations, which are, after all, error-prone.

Basically, you are making it easier to make mistakes.

Why should pure science be held to a lower standard than applied science or commerce? Does climate science matter or doesn't it?

Per #98,

So to make appropriate use of the code and paper (enough to enable us to DEMAND it all be available), we need a team...

The issue is not whether the CA people are competent to examine the process or not. They might or might not be.

The issue is that when Gavin claims that this is unreasonably difficult, he is making a claim that many readers already know, as a consequence of their own daily practice, to be false and indeed absurd. Indeed, these readers overlap strongly with the group of nonscientists most competent and most willing to evaluate scientific claims. This does the credibility of RC, and by further extension the whole of climate science, no good.

In any case, whether this is sound practice on the part of the scientist or not, whether it is responsible behavior on the part of the hobbyists or not, one can expect demands for replication on any observational climatology analysis. Observational climatology is not at fault for having the perhaps worst relationship with its interested public of any science ever. There really are, after all, some truly malign forces involved. But it's nothing to celebrate, and it's worth making some effort not to make it worse.

In summary: First, it is not true that maintaining end-to-end scripts is onerous. If large calculations are involved a series of scripts or a rule-based makefile may be practical, but these are easy skills to develop compared to the background needed to do science. Doing so in commercial and engineering settings is standard practice because it dramatically reduces error and increases the potential for objective tests.

Second, that some branches of science don't do this is going to be perceived as an embarrassment. Defending the absence of a practice of end-to-end in-house repeatability is difficult, and coming from someone who has not spent much time thinking about it, likely to make silly claims.

Of course, as climatologists, we are barraged with silly claims, but in that we are not unique. We tend to lose patience with people making strident and erroneous claims about things they don't understand. In this, we are not unique.

Strong programmers also tend to dismiss the opinions of those making strong claims they know to be untrue. Every technical mailing list has plenty of examples, some quite funny. (Strong programmers can be quiet clever in their putdowns.) Generally, if one is trying to convince others of the validity of one's ideas, it pays to be modest and willing to learn about points where one may be less expert than the person one is trying to convince.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Excellent pop science book online

Based on first impressions, I highly recommend "Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air" - David MacKay, U. of Cambridge, England.

(H/T Nat Torkington)

My snippet will be a figure rather than text. It shows cumulative per capita emissions (averaged from 1880-2004) on one axis, and population on the other. The area of each rectangle indicates the proportion of responsibility for anthropogenic CO2 forcing to date due to each country. The height of rectangle indicates the average responsibility of the citizens of that country.

This is important. If it's news to you, I recommend you expend some time contemplating it. Click on the image for a sharper picture.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is reuse good for the economy?

 Is reuse good for the economy? vote & discuss:

(RT @altepper )

Admit that the Waters Around You Have Grown

Things don't seem all that abnormal in Texas. Real estate is moving slowly, but the shopping centers are packed. I couldn't find a place to park at a midsized shopping center where I stopped for a quick lunch last Friday. We need to remind ourselves that we're in a bubble of relative stability. Here's a report from Westchester:
The long time family seafood restaurant on Main Street is gone - sign down, place empty. The old RV dealership on the edge of the village is gone too. Surprised at that - they were the only one downcounty. Used to buy Propane there. Looks like some waste collection place is there now. The old electronics company that moved out 5 years ago is now a self-storgage place and the old lumberyard (had been a coal company before that) finally had a new building put up after being sold a decade ago. Another storage place - not the condos that had been rumored. Not much of a neighborhood for housing IMO - light industrial - but such was the housing boom for a while. ANY site was worth building. Up the hill the car dealership of my youth that had been a Verizon garage was being leveled. Walgreen. How many drug stores can you have in a square mile? Seems absurd.

LOTS of empty storefronts in local stores as I drove around. The Florsheim Shoe place further up in the upscale shopping center is now gone. When did that happen? Another restaurant gone. The small strip mall put up 2 years ago across from the Diner remains empty. The steakhouse it replaced was damn good. I miss it. One of the old bars I knew well in college is now gone..... that place was an institution. What happened? The camera store is now a hole in the wall - a shell of its former self when it had the whole building. The Food Emporium is decidedly grungier than it used to be. What happened there? Yuck.

Now these are not the 'worst' places in Westchester - they're pretty average - or on the higher end......

Back on Central Ave there were more vacancies than expected. Lots of long tenure stores gone. Downtown White Plains had taken decades to recover from the urban renewal bulldozing but had finally come back.

But the Galleria - the original mall - is now hurting pretty bad....
Tales of woe like this aren't that uncommon. Presumably previous economic setbacks were similar. What is unusual is how people are thinking about it. Of course, the parties in power are desperately hoping it is a 'recession'; hence it will go away and everything will be back to 'normal' and maybe they can even get some credit for it.

You are also seeing people saying that this is a turning point, not a recession. Here is someone arguing for a communitarian conservatism; linking social conservatism with community cohesion, and having the UK Tories abandon and renounce theior old connection with corporate capitalism. In this view, the decline of society is shared by the statism of the left and the corporatism of the right, a position which is different from any I have taken but which seems to have some force to it. (I think the problem is a shared delusion on left and right about the nature of "normal" economic activity based on a period of extraordinary access to natural resources.)

Anyway check it out, an article by Phillip Blond in Prospect; h/t "Bruno":
Conservatives appear to be proposing a repeat of Thatcherite austerity in the face of economic catastrophe. But this crisis is more than an ordinary recession. It represents a disintegration of the idea of the "market state" and makes obsolete the political consensus of the last 30 years. A fresh analysis of the ruling ideological orthodoxy is required. Certainly, this new thinking isn't going to come from the left. New Labour is intellectually dead, while Gordon Brown promises an indebted return to a now-defunct status quo. But, in truth, Brown's reconversion from post-socialist free marketeer to state interventionist is only plausible because the Conservatives have failed to develop an alternative political economy that explains the crisis, and charts a different future free of the now bankrupt orthodoxies. Until this is achieved, Brown's claim that the Conservatives are the "do nothing" party has real traction, and makes the result of the next election far from assured.

On a deeper level, the present moment is a challenge to conservatism itself. The Conservatives are still viewed as the party of the free market, an idea that has collapsed into monopoly finance, big business and deregulated global capitalism.
It's frankly hard to imagine a similar article from an American Republican. (It's hard to imagine many Republicans having the attention span and open mind to plow through it, frankly.) Seriously, it's long struck me and others how the socially conservative rural backbone of the Republican party have been consistently voting against their own interests in favor of the mega-corporate view of society. The idea of social conservatism opposed to corporate gigantism is unfamiliar, but it's perfectly consistent. In fact, it's more consistent than the alliance that we currently call the "right" or "conservative" position. I've often remarked that growth-addicted mega-capital as the organizing principle of society is anything but "conservative" in any etymologically reasonable sense of the word.

Anti-corporate social conservatism is not without its history. Alas, in America and elsewhere, (recently embodied in Ron Paul's campaign for president) its history is tinged with xenophobia, classism and racism, which is why many of us find the prospect terrifying. As someone who has lived a somewhat damaged life partially as a direct consequence of the direct impact of Nazism on my parents and grandparents, the picture painted of "socially conservative communitarianism" isn't emotionally appealing to me even though I find it conceptually sound. I have a rational basis, not being part of any local tradition anywhere, to expect to be excluded, and perhaps even persecuted.

But the appeal of the local and of tradition night be reconstituted without being exclusionary and without disrespecting the constraints of global sustainability and equity. If that happens, I will support it enthusiastically. Whether it calls itself "liberal" or "conservative" is a matter of complete indifference to me.

If this isn't just a "recession", our present models of "left" and "right" are going to disintegrate. Let's hope we collectively manage to be wise in the challenging times ahead.