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, April 28, 2010

Michael Mann in the News

Intrepid journalism at work, presented without comment:
Megyn Kelly, Fox News: His [Mann's] emails, or, there were emails from a University in England were released online, that's what really got this whole thing started, because they reflected that, you know, this whole climategate and so on was being invented, or, at least, seriously question the science behind it, and suggested that he has been manipulating it, and then, but then, in Mr. Mann's defense, apparently, he has faced investigations both by Penn State and in England, and (incredulously) both found his work to be acceptable, so, does Mr. Mann have a case?

Marc Morano
: No.


Image: NASA

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Good for the Goose, not for the Gander

Neverending Audit finds evidence provided by Michael Mann, of non-reproducibility, non-cooperation, and statistical error from Wegman et al.

Update: This was hashed out at the time, sort of, at CA. Except for the part about Wegman being wrong.

Moe's Catch 22

The following are excerpted from a rather impenetrable article by Moe G. I think they work better standing alone.

I would call it "The Art of Controversy: Denialist Rules of Engagement" or "The Requirement of Perfect Nihilism".
1) Rollicking dialogue [is] favored over disciplined argumentation

2) Scientists must be held to a higher standard than their critics. The critics of scientists can sink to impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation. It is off limits to point out in the critics their impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation.

3) With the critics of scientists, you must never consider the motivation of those critics (strangely, scrutinizing the motivation of the scientists themselves is encouraged).

4) Scientific facts can be contaminated by a scientist with an outcome preference or a policy preference, and the critics of scientists are under no burden to speculate on the mode of contamination. And demonstrating contamination can be a substitute for demonstrating falsehood.

5) Only certainty can motivate action, and uncertainty can never motivate action. That is why nobody ever buys homeowners insurance without getting a statement of intent from an arsonist that your home is scheduled for a fire.

4 + 5) Scientists must behave as perfect nihilists. A policy or outcome preference from a scientist, even if the logical consequence of a common humane morality of care-taking for the benefit of future generations, is disallowed. (Strangely, this requirement to be perfect nihilists only applies to scientists.) If imperfect nihilism is demonstrated, the publications affected can be discarded.

6) Scientists writing in casual forums always risk their reputation, for a certain group of scientists. Scientists writing in casual forums always have their casual statements enhanced by their reputation from scientific publication, for a certain *different* group of scientists.

7) You are not to notice that delay serves privileged groups well. So the Art of Controversy must be only seen as a Quest for Truth.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Climate Confusion Bugspotter #4

Watts and the Volcano:

Although there have been amusing comparisons between the volcano and the air traffic it displaced, let's stipulate Steven Goddard's calculation for the purposes of argument in "Is Fossil Fuel CO2 Different from Volcanic CO2?":
Volcano CO2 budget (CO2 is emitted independent of ash) ~200,000 tons per day X 30 days of eruption = 6,000,000 tons of CO2.

Plane CO2 Budget – assumes half of EU planes haven’t flown for the past six days 340,000 EU tons per day X 0.5 EU shutdown X 6 days = ~1,000,000 tons of savings.

People using alternative transportation (as Anthony and the BBC pointed out) as a replacement for aircraft – cars, trains, battleships , etc. ~1,000,000 tons of extra CO2 Is a battleship more “green” than a jumbo jet?

The total gain is 6,000,000 – 1,000,000 + 1,000,000 = 6,000,000 tons of excess CO2 from the volcano. The temporary aircraft shutdown has little or no net impact on CO2 emissions, but the volcano has a large impact.
That actually seems reasonable. And as a benefit for going over there and using up Watts's bandwidth there are some very cool videos of Ejfjljkl. But Goddard takes issue with the Guardian's "The eruption started one month ago, and as the Guardian reports, The eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano is unlikely to have any significant impact on climate but has caused a small fall in carbon emissions, experts say."

So let's grant for the sake of argument that whatever CO2 emissions were suppressed by the air traffic shutdown will be made up for in the end. Consider, though, the more important question of whether the eruption will have any significant impact on climate.

Goddard plaintively asks us

"Should climate modelers start differentiating between man made CO2 and “organic” natural CO2?"

How he got to this piece of snark is pretty roundabout. But is the eruption likely to have any significant effect on climate, according to consensus science? What's wrong with the argument?

Answer on Monday along with a new episode of Climate Confusion Bugspotter!

Answer to the Previous Bugspotter Puzzle

My answer to #3 agrees basically with jg's but goes a little further.

The traditional way of studying releases of toxins into the environment takes the output of the weather model, embeds a model of the source event, and tracks the "tracer" particles through the prescribed large-scale velocity field. So, although a weather model is involved, it is a completely different sort of modeling that goes from weather model output to plume prediction.

And as Atmoz pointed out, the plume prediction was correct.

Arguably incorrect was the threshhold of how much volcanic dust would cause dangerous damage to airplanes. Personally, I am not convinced that the decision to fly has even been justified. But the idea that the caution not only was excessive but also was the fault of atmospheric modelers is ridiculous. Both parts of the atmosphere modeling returned correct results.

And in neither case was a climate prediction involved. This was an initial value (weather) problem; dynamic rather than statistical prediction was involved. Nobody asked what sorts of Icelandic plumes would likely be seen at this time of year (a legitimate climate problem) but rather what exact plume might be expected on this particular Wednesday of this particular week (a weather problem).

In short, it makes no rational sense to blame climate scientists, never mind "climate scientists" in scare quotes, for every scientific result you don't like. It's just cheap snarking, not reason.

I've even seen us blamed for the banking scandal, since after all a computer was involved in there somehow, wasn't it, just like in the IPCC?

The Economist has a fine article explaining how the decisions were made, though alas it doesn't say much about the science.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Weird Events and Social Fragility

We like to have backups for systems that we have some expectation of failing. We have RAID drives for our data, fire insurance for our houses.

Things that we consider highly unlikely, we ignore. Suppose, for instance, that all air travel in Europe were to be shut down for an extended time. Well, surely we'd travel by rail and by boat.

Well, it turns out that it hasn't been cost effective to maintain enough boats to handle the overflow from shut-down airports. We expect air travel to be continuous. A sudden and unexpected failure of air traffic turns out to be a real blow to the system because insufficient backups are in place.

We don't know these brittlenesses until they are unexpectedly exposed. A few years ago the Chicago River found its way into the basements of many buildings in the Loop, a risk nobody had ever considered.

I would even consider ClimateGate a brittleness. The explosion of totally unfounded accusations had a significant impact because of vulnerabilities in the press as well as within scientific institutions. The main consequences of this particular weird failure remain in the future and may yet be avoided, but the risk that a thousand generations will suffer as a consequence of some easliy misinterpreted grumbling about trash science remains real.

What can we learn from finding ourselves in a science fiction world, where we are plagued by failure modes we never even imagined? It seems to me that we are living closer to the edge than we imagined. As complexity increases, the potential for disastrous coupling between systems that aren't conceptually linked (Icelandic vulcanism, German automobile production; coal delivery in 1906 and bridge repair in 1992) increases. How many other things will butt up against other things their users never considered?

This is what makes climate change special. To be honest, we don't know what will go awry when and how much and how under anticipated climate change. But climate butts up against almost everything pretty much everywhere. Building practices that have never been exposed to termites will see termites. Rivers that have never had flash floods will get flash floods. Countries that have never seen hurricanes will get hurricanes. Who knows what all else will happen?

As the T-shirt says, there is no Planet B. If air traffic shuts down forever, we'll get boats quickly and fast boats before you know it. But we have no backup plan for the atmosphere.

Spot the Error #3

Another easy one, via the anti-Gore site Planet Gore. There are several very debatable points in this brief article, but there's a standout mistake. Can you spot it?

What Would an Economy Run by ‘Climate Scientists’ Look Like? [Daniel Foster]
"For an industry that lost $9.4bn last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8bn in 2010, this crisis is devastating," said Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association.

Bisignani also blamed the governments for overhaste in closing airspace, and costing the airline industry over $100 million a day, as a result of climate change models that proved to be flawed.

Addendum: Shall I continue this series? Should it go by its original name "Spot the Denialist Bug"?

Take Action on the Fast Half

I'm still getting press releases from these IGSD people. They seem to make sense so I see no reason not to quote them verbatim.
Take Action on the Fast Half of Climate Change

Washington, DC, April 22, 2010 – Carbon dioxide may be the primary culprit when it comes to climate change, but it’s still only half of the problem: black carbon soot, ground-level ozone, and HFCs (a group of super greenhouse gases with hundreds to thousands the global warming potential of CO2), are some of the non-CO2 gases and pollutants that make up the other half of climate change.

The benefit of addressing the non-CO2 side of climate change is not insignificant – taking action now may very well save the world from the most damaging and perhaps irreversible effects of climate change that may be only decades away. This is because cutting non-CO2 climate forcers will produce big climate benefits in a much shorter period of time. Black carbon, for example, only stays in the atmosphere for a few days to a few weeks; CO2 emissions can linger for decades. Reducing short-lived greenhouse gases and pollutants now helps protect the Earth in the near-term while global leaders continue to negotiate the best strategy for cutting CO2.

“The world is short on time when it comes to climate change,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “It is essential that we start focusing on non-CO2 now, so that we actually have a fighting chance to win the long-term battle.”

Solutions and technologies are already available to overcome the non-CO2 challenge: black carbon soot can be significantly reduced with clean-burning cookstoves and filters for diesel vehicles; ground-level ozone can also be addressed through measures that reduce transportation pollution; and HFCs (used in refrigeration and air conditioning) can phased down under the successful Montreal Protocol ozone treaty, potentially avoiding an astounding 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2050. Expanding biochar production to sequester carbon is another strategy that can help to limit temperature increases to 1.5˚C and bring CO2 concentrations back down to safe levels.

Reducing black carbon and ground-level ozone emissions will also produce big benefits for public health: both contribute to air pollution which kills several million people each year.

“There is no doubt that world leaders need to take aggressive action on carbon dioxide, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the other factors that contribute to climate change,” added Zaelke. “If we hope to avoid the impacts of abrupt climate change, we need to take action on the fast half of the problem now.”

Online here:


For more information, please visit:

The mission of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development is to promote just and sustainable societies and to protect the environment by advancing the understanding, development and implementation of effective, accountable and democratic systems of governance for sustainable development. The Institute brings together professionals from around the world who are committed to strengthening environmental law and institutions to promote sustainable development.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spot the Error #2

This one's really easy. The article consists of only one claim which is wrong.

Update: Nevertheless this is the lead story on Morano's site. The author, by virtue of having been a volunteer reviewer of IPCC drafts, is referred to as an "IPCC Scientist".

Morano must be running out of ammo. This is really reaching.

Uncertainties Greatly Reduced

The Geological Society of America has revised its position statement on climate change. It now states:
Decades of scientific research have shown that climate can change from both natural and anthropogenic causes. The Geological Society of America (GSA) concurs with assessments by the National Academies of Science (2005), the National Research Council (2006), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that global climate has warmed and that human activities (mainly greenhouse‐gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s. If current trends continue, the projected increase in global temperature by the end of the twentyfirst century will result in large impacts on humans and other species. Addressing the challenges posed by climate change will require a combination of adaptation to the changes that are likely to occur and global reductions of CO2 emissions from anthropogenic sources.
In the supporting text, despite what you may have heard elsewhere, they assert:
Scientific advances in the first decade of the 21st century have greatly reduced previous uncertainties about the amplitude and causes of recent global warming.
The statement goes on to briefly summarize the evidence in question. It also summarizes consequences as follows:
The projected changes involve risk to humans and other species:
  • (1) continued shrinking of Arctic sea ice with effects on native cultures and ice-dependent biota;
  • (2) less snow accumulation and earlier melt in mountains, with reductions in spring and summer runoff for agricultural and municipal water;
  • (3) disappearance of mountain glaciers and their late-summer runoff;
  • (4) increased evaporation from farmland soils and stress on crops;
  • (5) greater soil erosion due to increases in heavy convective summer rainfall;
  • (6) longer fire seasons and increases in fire frequency;
  • (7) severe insect outbreaks in vulnerable forests;
  • (8) acidification of the global ocean; and
  • (9) fundamental changes in the composition, functioning, and biodiversity of many terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
  • In addition, melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice (still highly uncertain as to amount), along with thermal expansion of seawater and melting of mountain glaciers and small ice caps, will cause substantial future sea-level rise along densely populated coastal regions, inundating farmland and dislocating large populations. Because large, abrupt climatic changes occurred within spans of just decades during previous ice-sheet fluctuations, the possibility exists for rapid future changes as ice sheets become vulnerable to large greenhouse-gas increases.
  • Finally, carbon-climate model simulations indicate that 10–20% of the anthropogenic CO2 “pulse” could stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years, extending the duration of fossil-fuel warming and its effects on humans and other species. The acidification of the global ocean and its effects on ocean life are projected to last for tens of thousands of years.
How much of that did you read in your newspaper lately?

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.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Is Eyjafjallajoekull the Joe Cool of volcanoes or what? Is this the first volcano to have a net negative CO2 emission?

Usually I don't like infographics which contain very little information. This one is thought-provoking, though. Here's "Planes or volcano?" with a hat tip to Scruffy Dan.

(Note: Most Icelandic volcanoes are called Joe Cool. "jokulhlaup" (pronounced approximately yokel-hoop if I recall correctly) is Icelandic for a sub-ice volcano. This is pretty serious business in Iceland, as if they didn't have enough problems these days.)

Related, a very spooky portrait of Eyjafjallajoekull from the air.

Update: According to Roger Ebert, admittedly not an expert, this amazing image is an actual photo of Eyjafjalla.

Update: I got some twitter notoriety for suggesting that Ejfjljkl might be the first "carbon negative volcano" but Eater of Sun/Heliophage/Oliver Morton convincingly argues otherwise.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still Bupkis

Of course, the scientific investigation of CRU turned up, what do you know, nothing but scientists doing science.

Here are the things worth thinking about from the report.
2. We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that
depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close
collaboration with professional statisticians. Indeed there would be mutual
benefit if there were closer collaboration and interaction between CRU and a
much wider scientific group outside the relatively small international circle of
temperature specialists.

3. It was not the immediate concern of the Panel, but we observed that there were
important and unresolved questions that related to the availability of
environmental data sets. It was pointed out that since UK government adopted
a policy that resulted in charging for access to data sets collected by
government agencies, other countries have followed suit impeding the flow of
processed and raw data to and between researchers. This is unfortunate and
seems inconsistent with policies of open access to data promoted elsewhere in

4. A host of important unresolved questions also arises from the application of
Freedom of Information legislation in an academic context. We agree with the
CRU view that the authority for releasing unpublished raw data to third parties
should stay with those who collected it.
We have not exhaustively reviewed the external criticism of the
dendroclimatological work, but it seems that some of these criticisms show a
rather selective and uncharitable approach to information made available by
CRU. They seem also to reflect a lack of awareness of the ongoing and
dynamic nature of chronologies, and of the difficult circumstances under
which university research is sometimes conducted. Funding and labour
pressures and the need to publish have meant that pressing ahead with new
work has been at the expense of what was regarded as non-essential record
keeping. From our perspective it seems that the CRU sins were of omission
rather than commission. Although we deplore the tone of much of the criticism
that has been directed at CRU, we believe that this questioning of the methods
and data used in dendroclimatology will ultimately have a beneficial effect and
improve working practices
I believe that there is indeed lemonade to be made of this pressure with regard to new approaches to scientific practice, especially where computation is involved, which by now is practically everywhere.

On the other hand, for the attacks on CRU to be described as "deplorable" in a formal report should be regarded as what it is.


Here is the thing not worth thinking about:
1. We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the
work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely
that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if
slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of
public attention
. As with many small research groups their internal procedures
were rather informal
Like I said, the scientific review found some scientists.

As Gavin said on RC:

[Watch those goalposts move! Let me be sure that I have your position correct: all of the noise, insults, threats, libel and cries of fraud, fabrication and misconduct are because you feel that more statisticians should have been coauthors on the CRU papers? Got it. - gavin]
Bupkis. They got bupkis because there is bupkis.

Sing it with me.

Muntig bupkis
Dinstig bupkis
Mitvoch Donnerstig bupkis...

Update: Kloor thinks this article amounts, primarily, to gloating. I try to set him straight in the comments over there.

This article is trying to get the point across as emphatically as possible that there isn't anything worth mentioning wrong at CRU. Unfortunately, people looking at it from the outside are likely to get a different impression. This needs to be repaired. I use "bupkis" in the traditional way, as an emphatic statement of nothing-there-ness.

Until the innocence of CRU becomes clear to the casual observer, the press is complicit in a vile and inexcusable act of calumny. We won't have much to gloat about until the press examines its role in this absurd disaster.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Danger of Science Denial

Not what you're expecting, perhaps.

"Be sceptical, ask questions, demand proof. Demand evidence. Don't take anything for granted. But here is the thing: When you get proof, you need to accept the proof. And we're not that good at doing that." (*)

"You know, science isn't a company. It's not a country. It's not even an idea. It's a process. It's a process. And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But the idea that we should not allow science to do its job because we're afraid, is really very deadening and it prevents millions of people from prospering."
There's some discussion at the TED site.

(*) Or, as my wife, Irene, puts it, "Question authority, but listen to the answers!"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Alarming Shortfall in Foolishness

This graph at economist Brad DeLong's caught my eye. It sure looks at first glance that we are entering a regime shift. Will the growth paradigm ever re-establish itself?

On brief reflection, I realized that I was falling into the cherry-picking trap. I note that the whole graph only represents five years. Is this really representative of the big picture? Now I get the sense that among conventional economists, DeLong is relatively smart and honest, so I'd be disappointed to find otherwise, but as we already know from the "no warming since 1998" crowd, a five year picture really isn't enough for an outsider without much context to form a sensible impression of a multidecadal process. It was surprisingly tedious to find a more extensive version of the plot, but a modest amount of diligence yielded this:

Note the logarithmic scale, which isn't really necessary on the shorter time period. Essentially we are looking at a remarkably steady growth rate, wherein the "size" of the US economy is about twenty times what it was in the mid-60s.

Now I am privileged to actually remember the mid-60s (the early 70s is another story...) and I can pretty much state that while well-being in North-America has not increased twenty-fold, it is not unreasonable to state that resource consumption has gone up on that order. Update: Apparently there is something I do not understand about the second diagram. See comments. However, my qualitative point still stands. (See also update at end of article.) Bigger and more houses and cars, more travel, more bread and circuses. Don't get me wrong. While I would trade Google and Apple for unwinding the ecosystem damage, it would be with a sense of sacrifice. But I don't think Google and Apple account for the 20-fold increase.

Now we also see from the chart why the economists are so sure that this "recession" will end. The pattern is amazingly steady, with the tiniest of kinks here and there. This one is a bigger than average kink, but now that the free-fall has been stanched (thanks almost entirely to the brilliance and good luck of the Obama administration and the good will it has overseas, I would point out) it's hard to see the huge momentum of the overall pattern breaking.

But of course, it will break. The pattern you see, steady though it may appear, is quite literally unsustainable. So it won't be sustained. What the graph shows us is why so many people are blind to the fact that a growth rate like this, in the grand scheme of things, is abnormal. They think we "neo-malthusians" WANT to stop the gravy train because we hate fun and pleasure, or crave power, or enjoy scary stories or something.

No. We want to stop the gravy train because the bridge is out ahead.

This being the case, I can only hope we never entirely recover from the current glitch. There are some (good) "bad" signs that we won't. The topsy turvy fake money trick that drove the ramp in the Bush years was perhaps sort of a last desperate play of the growth economy. Resources are running out. People are finally understanding that time is worth more than money.

One interesting question raised by the graph is how it managed to sustain such a steady pattern for so long. Was it intrinsic to capitalism under abundant resources, or was it forced by policy? Is the growth imperative built in to the system or is it grafted on by policies aimed at full employment? Either way, the behaviors it has motivated of late (for instance, far too many people own and maintain several houses due to the speculative bubble in real estate) seem simply crazy from a whole systems perspective and an individual perspective alike.

It's worth understanding why this bumpy line has the shape it does, rather than simply presuming it will go on forever. Note that it's on a semi-log scale, which means we really are looking at an exponential. Exponentials commonly reach abrupt ends in nature. (Update: I would have done better to say: positive exponentials eventually break in nature, sometimes abruptly.) Is there any reason to expect we are exempt?

Or is it simply a matter of when the pattern will break, rather than whether it will?

For what it's worth, I think the amazingly sustained growth is a consequence of the growth imperative in the policy sector, which in turn is a consequence of a deep-rooted conceptual error shared by left, right and center. This policy is only feasible in the presence of great abundance, an abundance which appears to be ending.

In short, what we need is security, comfort, purpose, and community, not "jobs". The substitute worked for historical reasons that are no longer valid. Consequently, we need to stop working for the substitute goal, just as Easter Islanders needed to stop building statues, even though the statue-building culture had served them well in their recent past. Alas, they could no longer conceive of any alternative.

Update: Despite the appearance of legitimacy, the second graph appears actually to be, simply, wrong. It doesn't match any dataset I can find. I can't figure out what it's going on about.

Official inflation-adjusted GDP via US national Bureau of Economic Analysis in chained 2005 gigadollars:

1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
1 Gross domestic product2,830.92,896.93,072.43,206.73,392.33,610.13,845.33,942.54,133.44,261.84,269.94,413.34,647.74,917.04,889.94,879.55,141.35,377.75,677.65,855.05,839.05,987.25,870.96,136.26,577.16,849.37,086.57,313.37,613.97,885.98,033.98,015.18,287.18,523.48,870.79,093.79,433.99,854.310,283.510,779.811,226.011,347.211,553.011,840.712,263.812,638.412,976.213,254.113,312.212,987.4

2,830.9 2,896.9 3,072.4 3,206.7 3,392.3
3,610.1 3,845.3 3,942.5 4,133.4 4,261.8

4,269.9 4,413.3 4,647.7 4,917.0 4,889.9
4,879.5 5,141.3 5,377.7 5,677.6 5,855.0

5,839.0 5,987.2 5,870.9 6,136.2 6,577.1
6,849.3 7,086.5 7,313.3 7,613.9 7,885.9

8,033.9 8,015.1 8,287.1 8,523.4 8,870.7
9,093.7 9,433.9 9,854.3 10,283.5 10,779.8

11,226.0 11,347.2 11,553.0 11,840.7 12,263.8
12,638.4 12,976.2 13,254.1 13,312.2 12,987.4

Total growth factor 1960 - 2009 = 4.7 .

Monbiot Starts to Get It

Substantial progress at Monbiot's in understanding what has been going on at CRU.

(Congratulations to Steve for helping him get it and to Joe for serving as intermediary.)

And thanks to George Monbiot for elucidating his side of the story. Perhaps we can stop eating each other now and go on to developing a healthier relationship between science and the press. Monbiot is one of the best we've got; it's been very disappointing to see him go off the rails on this one.

Nobody says science is perfect. Jones is a fine scientist in terms of production, but a perfectly ordinary one in terms of contextual insight, motivation, and behavior. Had he been more of a Schneider or a Hansen, more of a participant in the larger context, he might have been better able to explain and defend himself. As a part of a flawed system, he shares its flaws, but as an individual, (much like Michael Mann) he is utterly blameless.

I hope Monbiot moves his attentions away from CRU and this Climategate nonsense. If he wants to think and write about the absurd and contradictory pressures on scientists, though, that is a useful topic.

Update: Steve points out in an email that Monbiot is very attached to the FoI process (that's clear enough in the linked article) and thus may be reluctant to acknowledge how it has been abused in this case. This may account for Monbiot's confusion about the whole situation.

I guess one question is whether science counts as government for the purposes of sunlight laws. Nevertheless, I agree that we should move toward openness and reproducibility in science to the extent practical.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Here's the pop version of the global boundaries pitch, thanks in large part to my classmate at UW, Prof. John Foley.

It's meant as a fresh approach to global limits, affording a clear separation between the social sciences on the one hand, and the physical and biological sciences on the other. It does seem to put matters on a clear enough basis that the fundamental ideas are hard to argue with.

The idea is this. Let's not think about Malthusian this and Malthusian that. Let's just consider the global processes of the earth, and identify which ones need to stay within certain limits in order to keep the earth in a state roughly comparable to the one provided by nature. There's no economics or politics here. It's just about physical and biological processes.

The current working set that a group headed by Johann Rockstrom, and including John Foley, ended up with looks like this:

and here's where we stand today (the color codes are for recent decades)

The more sober, serious presentation is here (part 1):

and here's part 2

So. Here we are. Now we need an economic theory that can play inside those boundaries.

The main thing Rockstorm et al. do for us is to separate the questions. But the harder question does not go away.

As I've explained before, I'm not opposed to "growth" that respects those boundaries, but I'm doubtful it can be made to work. If we don't have those boundaries in place though, whatever we are "growing" does not map onto human well-being.

In other words, business as usual may make us comfortable for a few more years but it will be increasingly stupid. The clarity of the picture is fuzzy and the details are not well-known, but the argument is sound. We may not need huge changes in how we live. We can continue to be comfortable and indeed more so. But we need some substantial changes in how we think about the whole arrangement at the large scale.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Climate Disruption

Simon Donner takes on the great "climate change" vs. "global warming" debate. He argues, albeit somewhat tentatively, for capitulation; we should call a thing what everybody else calls the thing:
Rights and wrongs of the different labels aside, the fact is that there is a disconnect here. We use a term that means less to people. And it puts scientists and others communicating the real scientific consensus at a disadvantage. Do a Google search for "global warming" and "climate change". With "global warming", the term the public is more likely to use, a "skeptical" site comes up second [note: search is done from Canada, others may find different results].
Let me take the opportunity to remind everybody that I'm on record taking the opposite position in my RealClimate article "Imprecision of the Phrase 'Global Warming'"

The problem in capitulating to the common usage is that the common usage is woefully imprecise. As I said in that article:
If someone asks me in my capacity as a climate scientist whether I “believe in “global warming”, they are not asking the question in a literal sense. They are asking “what am I to make of this confusing topic called “global warming”?

In the end they are usually asking some combination of questions like 1) whether greenhouse gases are accumulating? 2) whether the greenhouse effect is established science? 3) whether global warming has been observed? 4) whether future climate change is expected to be big enough to worry about? 5) whether cooling at a single location falsifies the “theory”? 6) whether to expect super-hurricanes? 7) whether the Gulf Stream will shut down instantly glaciating Scandinavia and Britain? 8 ) how you can model climate when you can’t predict weather? etc. Often they will bounce incoherently from one to another of these sorts of exasperatingly-missing-the-point sorts of question.

Once in a while someone will have more sophisticated questions like 1) what’s the magnitude of the anthropogenic forcing compared to natural forcings? 2) what’s the lag time in the system response? 3) what is the magnitude of the most disruptive plausible scenarios? 4) what’s the likelihood of the discontinuous shifts in system regime? etc., When I hear people asking the right questions it makes my day, but it’s pretty rare.

What people outside the field universally don’t mean by “global warming” though, is “a tendency for the global mean surface temperature to increase”!
The first trouble in talking about "global warming" is that when you do, you are already in an area where communication is problematic. And shifting goalposts is a key tactic of obfuscators everywhere. "Nothing could be better than early retirement on Maui, and a peanut butter sandwich is better than nothing, so a peanut butter sandwich is better than early retirement on Maui." That sort of thing is their stock in trade. By starting the conversation with an ambiguity, you leave yourself open to all manner of trickery.

Since I wrote that piece, a whole new set of problems has arisen with "global warming", in that the global mean surface temperature has become an unhealthy obsession of the crowd that calls themselves "lukewarmists", i.e., the McIntyreans. Pretty much the only thing they care about is the observational and proxy record of global mean surface temperature. If "global warming" is the theory, and the observational record (mostly unforced) is ambiguous, well then, we can all go home and do business as usual, can't we?

The bizarre fascination with Mann and Jones, the obsession with every little bounce up and down of the satellite record, all of this turns climate policy into a sport, where the amateur critics of science "root for" downturns in the curve and we find ourselves idiotically hoping for equally meaningless upticks. The actual implications of accumulating greenhouse gases are utterly lost in the shuffle.

The issue, of course, is completely miscast. The global mean surface temperature (or if you insist on hair-splitting, the fourth root of the mean of the fourth power of temperature, which is the arguable alternative and which behaves very similarly) is an interesting and useful diagnostic, especially in the study of paleoclimate. But it isn't what we are worried about.

The global mean temperature does not cause impacts.

Local shifts in climate cause impacts. Changes in the radiative balance cause changes in circulation which cause changes in local climate. Human activity causes changes in radiative balance. Carbon dioxide is the biggest and most difficult but by no means the only component of human forcing of radiative balance. The local changes we are seeing are roughly as expected, and are already meaningful and are accelerating. Errors in our understanding are unlikely to be benign. Those are the salient facts.

Obsession with global mean temperature is a debating trick of the opposition. The fact that people are searching on "global warming" means we have to use it as a tag. But we shouldn't use it to mean what the people searching on the term mean by it, because the very use of the term is generally a sign of confusion.

"Global warming" means an increase in the mean surface temperature of a globe. That's all. It applies to any physical spherical object, typically a planet or a large moon. It applies on many time scales. It isn't itself a problem, and doesn't itself require a response. On the time scale of human forcing, it is an expected symptom of anthropogenic climate change.

Some go with "climate chaos" which has two problems: 1) it prejudges the scope of the problem and 2) it raises nomenclature confusion with a relevant mathematical concept. I think "climate disruption" is a good name for the problem.

Image: Dan Farber, a law professor, who I hope has mercy. It's a great picture.