The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spot the Denier Bug

I think more people should play! It's easy!

Find a typical article on a typical denialist site, and spot the biggest error! (There's pretty much always at least one, you know, because they are pretty much always wrong.)

Here's one!
Assuming that the program actually leads to a reduction of 45,000 tons (a dubious assumption, as the goal is most likely "reductions" against a counterfactual baseline), and that the costs will be between the $17.7 and $35 million suggested by proponents and opponents, respectively, of the program then the costs per ton work out to be between about $400 and $800 per ton.
OK, but these costs are going into home improvements. Supposing such improvements have an average lifetime of twenty years, and presuming that the goal is reduction by 45,000 tons per year, there is a little matter of a factor of twenty to account for. Which would mean $20 to $40 per ton. This is pretty much in line with the usual estimates for CO2 abatement costs.

Of course. Why wouldn't it be? The city says here's a menu of things you can do to upgrade your rental property, and we'll give you a few years to do it. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary there; just a new zoning standard. The point is, that since you get to choose how to meet the standard, presumably the way you would go about it would not cost, um, twenty times more than it costs.

One interesting thing about real-world arithmetic (as opposed to politicians' arithmetic) is that it is consistent.

Update: This was meant as a throwaway posting to reassure everybody that I'm still around, not as a provocation. I did not notice the byline on the linked article if, in fact, it was there at the time I read it.

Apparently "Climate Fraud" republishes articles without obtaining permission.

The original, with updates, is here.

I have held it against Tom Fuller that he was on the "Climate Fraud" site, and against Roy Spencer as well. In both cases I was a bit surprised. In this case I inadvertently tarred RP Jr. I was relying on the expectation that republication of articles is usually preceded by permission to do so. This apparently was an error for which I apologize.

It is worth knowing that publication on CF does not constitute approval of that site on the part of the authors. Whether this constitutes a violation of any rights of the authors is between that site and the authors.

As usual when I do mention Roger, he asks for an update. In this case it is to the following effect:

"Maybe an update is called for here noting my engagement with Will Toor, Boulder County Commissioner, in order to actively seek out a different perspective than that reported in the Daily Camera?"

So noted.

34 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

At RP Jr.'s own blog (masochists and liver lovers know where to find it), he grudgingly accepts a correction from a local official but then finds another reason to complain:

"If it is indeed the case that the program saves money from day 1, which I have no reason to doubt, I do question the emphasis on greenhouse gas reductions, which seems to be a side benefit to a program than can be justified on economics alone, rather than a primary goal which depends upon a range of questionable assumptions to arrive at a reasonable number.

"Will has convinced me that he cost per ton may not be $800, but I'm not buying $25 per ton. But if the program is a net economic winner than this debate is irrelevant, however the characterization of the program as focused on carbon dioxide rather than costs might be rethought."

Spot the denier bug, indeed.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Hi Michael-

Denier, how cute.;-) And you wonder why so many people have such little respect for you guys.

Anyway, if you reference the original source (oddly not linked here) you'll see that it says:

"The city's overall goal is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions coming from homes by 94,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2012. The SmartRegs program, it's estimated, could make up about 45,000 tons of that goal."

You only know of a longer time frame than 2012 (and its not 20 years, you'd best check again) because I provided a different perspective on my blog. Some people are happy to share different views in one place, radical I know.

Perhaps I should be medicated for holding a different view than you on some things? ;-)

Michael Tobis said...

I had no idea that RP Jr was discussing this story when it occurred to me to post it. My main interest was how eager places like "Climate Fraud" are to embrace even obvious errors.

I do not know who originated the error and was not referring to RP Jr. at the time.

RP Jr. jumps to conclusions. The reason I came to 20 years rather than 30 is because I was estimating generously, not because I was aware of it from Pielke's article.

Michael Tobis said...

Whoops! I didn't actually notice the article was by RP Jr.!

I wonder who else will allow their work to be republished on the charming "Climate Fraud" site.

I think participation there is really not a good sign for people claiming neutrality. But the error in calculation actually was obvious to me without reading the updates at RP Jr.'s site, and I had not done so at the time I wrote.

I simply noticed it was at "Climate Fraud" and I referred to it as a "denialist site". I think that's fair.

keith said...

Michael,

I really thought this sort of thing was below you. I know you're frustrated with the state of the climate debate, but putting Roger in denier context is Romm-like.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

The article was reproduced without my permission. The site you link to is well titled, because it is a fraud.

In this case there is no "error" in a calculation, just different assumptions giving different answers. Economics is like that.

Maybe an update is called for here noting my engagement with Will Toor, Boulder County Commissioner, in order to actively seek out a different perspective than that reported in the Daily Camera?

No good deed goes unpunished, eh?

Michael Tobis said...

I also held it against Fuller that he was on that site. I was surprised on both occasions.

Apparently this was an error on both counts.

It may be impossible to avoid RP Jr. in blogging in this field, as I once intended, but it is possible to avoid characterizing him. The characterization was unintentional.

EliRabett said...

This is, as they say nonsense. Roger made a very bad, and obviously bad assumption and is now trying to bludgeon his way out.

EliRabett said...

Oh yes, when Roger and Keith extend the same courtesy to Phil Jones perhaps I might believe him.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Please check out my comment here:

http://www.climatechangefraud.com/the-money-trail/6808-carbon-dioxide-at-800-per-ton-in-boulder

Steve Bloom said...

Hmm, maybe my point wasn't very clear, plus the subsequent consternation has distracted from it. What I found striking was RP Jr.'s response to discovering that the program was designed to maybe even provide a net positive economic benefit (quoting that last sentence again):

"But if the program is a net economic winner than this debate is irrelevant, however the characterization of the program as focused on carbon dioxide rather than costs might be rethought."

Which is to say he thinks that only the financially unappealing mitigation measures should be justified as such, while the appealing ones should be justified on other grounds (energy efficiency and/or independence, presumably)! I agree that denial is an inappropriate term for that view other than in a very broad sense, but what should it be called instead? Sabotage? Somehow that's too polite.

Tom said...

Oh, so you finally figured out that CF just puts stuff up? You're a piece of work, Tobis.

Michael Tobis said...

Yup. Just did. Just started following them last week, in fact.

Michael Tobis said...

It seems to me that I'm more willing to admit mistakes than most people are. I actually think that's one of my better traits; not only am I willing to hazard making mistakes but I am willing to note them and learn from them.

Most people with academic careers are terrified to admit mistakes for some reason. I think this may be one of the big problems with the academy.

Now I won't say this is the main reason that other people, some no smarter than myself, have actual careers while I basically don't. In fact I see it as the other way around: with no serious reputation to defend I can say what I want and learn from the consequences.

But it is interesting how extreme it gets sometimes. If I were Roger I would just say "Oops, I should have considered multiplying the annual savings in emissions by the lifetime of the improvements. Silly me." It's not exactly a pleasure to make such an admission, but really, it's not that big of a deal.

Academia is such a silly ego contest sometimes. I guess even if there aren't any consequences for a particular error, academics are amazingly loathe to own one.

The future of the world is at stake. It would be nice if people could actually pull together for a change and let go of their own silly dominance heirarchies.

Anna Haynes said...

Who first came up with the admonition "never mistake a mirror for a window"?

I find myself using it so often, s/he ought to get some credit.

Michael Tobis said...

RP Jr. just did object as he informs us in his 9:20 above.

Paul said...

Are we to assume that its OK with Pielke and Fuller that their work is put up on Climate Fraud without permission or acknowledgment? Have either of them taken CF on over this.

You are known by the company you keep as my dear old mom used to remind me.

ourchangingclimate said...

One of the reasons I appreciate this blog so much is indeed Michael's honesty in admitting mistakes and his willingness to make mistakes in order to investigate an issue. It's refreshing and commendable.

Btw, I'm featured on CCFraud as well, via a guestpost at Tom Fuller's (I'd like to think of it as one of the more truthful articles at CCFraud...):

http://www.climatechangefraud.com/climate-reports/4871-conversations-from-no-mans-land-regarding-global-warming

Bart

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

"Oops, I should have considered multiplying the annual savings in emissions by the lifetime of the improvements. Silly me."

Last time -- the choice of amortization period is a variable. In the Daily Camera it was expressed in terms of meeting Boulder's Kyoto targets to 2012. I contacted Will Toor and asked for his views, because I suspected that he had a different stance. He did and I posted them. In other circles (not here apparently) getting multiple perspectives is considered a virtue.

While blogotcha is always fun, you have compounded your original errors in this post. Steve Bloom almost gets there, but not quite.

Since you are always berating the media for such a bad job of reporting, why not get your own reporting straight?

Horatio Algeranon said...

"In this case there is no "error" in a calculation, just different assumptions giving different answers. Economics is like that." -- Roger Pielke

"It's not a bug, it's a feature"

At one time, Horatio actually commented at Prometheus (albeit under a pseudonym)

But Pielke's inability to admit he was mistaken about even the most inconsequential of things (and the Möbius links) convinced Horatio of the uselessness of it all.

Neven said...

"Will has convinced me that he cost per ton may not be $800, but I'm not buying $25 per ton. But if the program is a net economic winner than this debate is irrelevant, however the characterization of the program as focused on carbon dioxide rather than costs might be rethought."

And oh yeah, I never liked Boulder anyway, so there.

I've read and reread this whole thing and it's one of those rare instances where Roger Pielke Jr lets his guard slip. Is it really that hard to say 'I made a little mistake'? I do that almost every week, it's liberating.

Meanwhile, the totally misleading title "Carbon Dioxide at $800 per ton in Boulder" is still standing there, and will be the thing that sticks in everybody's mind. Please, please, tell me this isn't what the author aims to achieve?

Reaching WUWT level here. I don't know if this remark would matter to Roger Pielke? Perhaps he sees it as a compliment.

Tom said...

Now for your next trick, take a look around this wondrous internet and fin out how many other sites scrape and paste. Which is why nobody says anything to CF--because it is widespread.

EliRabett said...

Ms. Rabett's sister the CPA, tells Eli that you pick an amortization period that matches the lifetime of the improvement for such things. Roger is simply trying to cover his mistake, the amortization period is not a year.

Of course, this reminds Eli of the old joke. Michael, Eli and Roger were competing for a job. The committee asked the three what the amortization period should be for replacing all the lights in the factory with compact fluorescent bulbs.

Michael said research and modeling shows that the proper period is exactly four years.

Eli said, well, depends on the quality of the bulbs you buy, for cheap one maybe three years, for better ones five.

Roger looked up and asked "What would you like it to be"

David B. Benson said...

Teapot tempest.

Again.

Neven said...

Roger Pielke, if you're reading along: Do you see that the possible consequences of your (erroneous) action is that people take away the wrong message, ie that it doesn't pay off to take measures to save energy?

Is there a possibility that this is a small example of the consequences of your actions in general (ie the delaying of action)?

Why won't you admit your error, instead of playing a combination of word-mathematical-economical games, and change the title of the article on your blog to start with?

Imagine me writing 'Roger Pielke runs over cats for pleasure' and later adding the update 'hm, it looks like Roger Pielke never ran over any cats, but he has a car and cats do exist' and not changing the title!

Be that level-headed, überpolite guy and bridge that gap! Don't do it for me. Do it because it's the right thing to do and because it's the thing you expect of others as well.

Andy S said...

Thanks for this post, Michael.

Pielke denies he's a denier but then denies that he made a silly error in picking an absurdly short amortization period.

QED

Horatio Algeranon said...

The claim of a COST of "between about $400 and $800 per ton CO2" reduction is actually a rather significant (gross?) distortion of the reality of the suggested program.

In actuality, it will very likely result in CONSIDERABLE $ SAVINGS for homeowners and renters (along with the CO2 reductions) after a payback time of just a few years in most cases.

See Residential Retrofit Study in Support of Boulder’s Climate Action Plan:
The Potential Role of Residential Energy Conservation Ordinances and other Policy Options
October 2008


To get an idea of the kind of potential overall SAVINGS involved with the retrofit, see "Appendix A
Costs and Benefits of Energy Retrofit Measures"

"Table A-6. Retrofit measures in 850 square foot [2 occupant] apartment retrofit undertaken in response to an imagined RECO; consumption and savings per year"

Savings per year: $771
Cost : $2569
Payback time: 3.3yr
GHG saved: 4.86 m tons per year

So, after JUST 3.3 years to pay back the initial outlay, the retrofit results in $771 SAVINGS every year (which also reduces the CO2 emissions by 4.86 tons every year)

for "RECO retrofit work on 2,000 square foot home with three occupants'
Table A3 gives the following
Savings per year: $969
Cost : $3378
Payback time: 3.5 yr
GHG saved: 5.1 m tons per year

As pointed out in the Daily camera article the cost of the retrofit for landlords could be passed along to renters over a period of years:

"To the extent market conditions allow, staff assumes that property owners will try to recover any expenses through rent increases," a city memo on the SmartRegs concludes.

The memo estimates that a landlord's investment of $2,000, for example, would cost an additional $17 a month over 15 years."

Funny that they mention "15 years" (and not 1, 5 or even 10).

Hmmm...

Hank Roberts said...

> "... if the program is a net
> economic winner than this
> debate is irrelevant, however
> the characterization of the
> program as focused on carbon
> dioxide rather than costs
> might be rethought."

Wait, this really doesn't make sense. Isn't the point to _find_ programs that reduce CO2 emissions?

Don't you want to satisfice here, both reducing CO2 _and_ saving money?

Isn't it better to do both?
(Even assuming nobody's actually calculating a carbon cost or trading benefit) -- who owns the carbon credits for this program, the sponsor or the homeowners?

The latter, by the way, is a big deal -- ownership of any future carbon credit/savings has been written into the fine print of a lot of contracts over the past five years or more -- even in the absence of a carbon trading market, so when one develops, someone will already own the right to whatever carbon credit is calculated. Usually the utility not the homeowner.

Michael Tobis said...

OK, y'all. Point made, no more piling on.

Roger I really didn't mean to set a trap for you. I'm not THAT smart. But you walked into this and I agree with Neven that your best move is to find some gracious way to say "oops on the substance".

Meanwhile, oops on the tone, on my part.

Like I said, I don't think it does any good to try to characterize RP Jr. one way or another. My mistake there.

Horatio Algeranon said...

Interesting mousebit related to the above

"Vice President Joe Biden announced today a plan to invest $452 million in Recovery Act funding to go toward energy-efficient building retrofits in 25 communities.

"Here's a list of the cities that will be getting funds for retrofitting, with the final dollar amount subject to negotiation."


Austin, Texas - $10 million
Boulder County, Colorado - $25 million


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/21/white-house-earth-day-ann_n_546127.html

So, Boulder is getting enough from the Feds to cover most (if not all) of their residential retrofit costs.

How Boulder will ACTUALLY spend that $25 million remains to be seen, of course, but (potentially, at least) it could defray some of the costs to homeowners and apartment owners of retrofitting.

EliRabett said...

Ask yourself this Michael, has someone known to us all ever NOT piled on.

Part of altering behavior is defining the consequences.

Horatio Algeranon said...

Horatio would note that there is a difference between putting the final nail (or two) in the coffin and "piling on" (burying it)

Presumably, the former is meant to ensure that the body does not escape ... before you bury it.

(and just to be clear: Horatio is certainly not talking in a literal sense here.)

Michael Tobis said...

I think "piling on" is a football analogy for jumping on a guy who is already tackled for the sheer joy of causing the opposing team pain.

Not that there is an opposing team, you understand. That's apparently just a figment of our overheated imaginations...

steven said...

I have held it against Tom Fuller that he was on the "Climate Fraud" site, and against Roy Spencer as well. In both cases I was a bit surprised. In this case I inadvertently tarred RP Jr. I was relying on the expectation that republication of articles is usually preceded by permission to do so. This apparently was an error for which I apologize.


That kind of error deserves a full post. spot your own bug.