Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Information wants to be free, but bank account passwords very much want to be secret.
Is a person a hero for revealing information that was not intended as private? Are we all being delusional when we assume anything we say or do is private? What should we do when the walls all really, literally have ears, something we could afford to do already?
Dellingpole thinks wikileaks is a good idea. That certainly counts against it.
The senators who most vociferously repeat the "yes but climategate" line seem unwilling to cut Wikileaks any slack.
This is about more than just sharing entertainment media. What are the expectations for privacy, and what should be the penalty for violating those expectations. It seems to me that little enough was revealed by the CRU emails as to make their release unjustifiable, but those celebrating Wikileaks apparently believe that nothing should be private, ever, and that every invasion of privacy or legalistic intrusion attempting invasion of privacy is something to be celebrated.
Having seen how easily the CRU emails can be misconstrued, I have little confidence in the people combing through the leaked diplomatic emails on our collective behalf. If science journalism is too important to be left to journalists, who is to say that international relations journalism is any better?
I think that what I think is that bulk releases of stolen data are criminal, and that even in selective releases a greater crime must be revealed. Even there, there is some room for interpretation.
Apparently the US has been doing the anti-insurgency campaign on behalf of the Yemeni government, and nobody wanted the population to know it. Somehow I doubt this was an actual secret, but it was a handy fig leaf for all concerned.
People who do not support Al Qaeda (presumably this means everybody reading here) ought to be unhappy about this.
We also ought to be unhappy to live in a world where hypocrisy is part of the fabric of life. Still I doubt whether people uncovering such hypocrisy are inevitably doing a service.
The solution as individuals is to avoid such situations. But that is easier in theory than in practice.
What to say and what not to say is a challenge for practically everybody with any effectiveness. What is lying or covering-up, and what is protecting dear old granny from shocking ideas she couldn't and needn't cope with? What is courageous muckraking, and what is just mindless stirring up of dirt?
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
So Climate Spin and I saw the Sunday matinee of the Bjorn Lomborg slef-congratulation movie Cool It in Chicago last Sunday, as far as the Reader knew at the time the only showing of Cool It in Chicago in its second week. Based on the eight tickets apparently sold, we can attest that no less than 25% of the Chicago audience for the week held doctorates in the climate sciences.
It's a bit irritating in its self-congratulation; whoever was bankrolling this effort must have decided to put up with Bjorn's efforts at self-promotion. We have to humanize Bjorn the same way AIT humanized Gore. If Bjorn has led a singularly charmed and practically event-free life, this puts him at something of a disadvantage, but he does still love his mother, at least when a film crew is present. But the self-promotion is clearly a failure, as on conventional terms, the movie is as well. It was boring enough that CS and I both struggled to stay awake through it. (I failed.)
Of the parts that I saw, there was indeed a fundamental dishonesty: the claim that a Kyoto implementation "would only cool the earth 0.01 degrees" (I forget the numebr, perhaps it was even smaller, but this is the idea. The movie claims that "conventionl approaches" to carbon emissions are not just cost ineffective, but are simply ineffective. This trick is a common one in denialist circles. The point is not reduction in CO2 concentration per dollar spent on Kyoto. The point is conversion to non-CO2 infrastructure per dollar spent.
More to the point, if you look at something Kyoto-like as a necessary first step in the right direction, you will see that it is a first step in the right direction. Something we haven't really seen, and, you know, ought to see, because a first step is necessary. Any sensible analysis will agree that we would have a long way to go beyond there even if Kyoto had been enacted. The main difference would be not in the numbers, but in our capacity to credibly exert pressure on other countries (notably the Chinese as it turned out) about now. And our incapacity to do that will have huge impacts into the future.
So that is all, basically, lying. The rest of it, though, seems more like misdirection; a collection of reasonable research endeavors, and a pitch for money. A plea, in other words, to buy off the research community rather than trying to destroy it. I have to say that between those choices I am on Lomborg's side.
Randy "such-a-nonscientist" Olson may have even more of a point than he thinks when he argues that we shouldn't be reassured by the lack of interest in Lomborg's movie. Lomborg offers no villains, nobody to blame. That is not how you make a documentary these days. That in itself is unfortunate. More charitably to the public, you might say that people are concluding that they get enough corporate greenwashing in a typical week without going out of their way to pay or it.
It didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen in a big way. It scored 46% on Rotten Tomatoes — less than the 60% threshold needed to earn a tomato — meaning the consensus is don’t waste your time seeing the movie. It’s not a disastrously bad movie, it’s just not that good. And worst of all, it leaves people in Hollywood, with their ultra-simple, short attention span, saying, “Climate movies don’t sell.” Which means the end of the line for reaching the general public through a movie. At least for a while.But really, isn't that a success from the point of view that Lomborg promotes? Go back to sleep, all, nothing to worry about here, the smart people have it under control. Wouldn't you really rather spend your ten bucks on a romantic comedy or an action adventure? Seriously?
Monday, November 15, 2010
Andy Revkin features a comment regarding an excellent NYTimes article on sea level rise.
Here's the comment:
What takes five long and laugable pages could've been distilled to an honest few sentences:
Since we have no clear way to measure the effect of land-ice melt on sea-level, and, indeed, no reliable way to measure "global" sea levels at all; and, further, only the most primitive models of how such melt might be occuring and what its consequences might be, we can only say that with regard to these phenomena we have no scientific understanding whatsoever and can therefore make no predictions of any kind."
And indeed the "scientists" in the article are obliged to say such things, over and over. Except when they extra-scientifically announce that, despite their total and complete ignorance and admittedly utterly primitive grasp of these phenomena, they "feel" that things are "bad" and "getting worse all the time."
There's more; that's just the polite part. Yes, I love being called a scare-quote scientist. Nothing better to start a conversation on an even keel. Of course, that isn't the intent, is it?
But look at what's being said. This is Watts Up technique asea; the measurements are uncertain; therefore they might as well not exist; therefore there is no cause for concern!
Does one have to answer this sort of reasoning? Dress anything in high enough dudgeon and it sound plausible at first reading.
But no, if sea levels go up two meters we won't have any doubt about it, any more than if global mean temperature goes up 5 C. If there are inaccuracies in the precursor information, that does not mean there is no information available at all. And even if there were no empirical evidence whatsover, that doesn't invalidate the concern, because there is already no empirical evidence whatsover that the concern is invalid.
So this is an example of how the perfectly ordinary scientific concept of uncertainty gets conflated with the nasty irrationalism of denialism.
So here's a piece by Matt McCormick that examines this turf:
But the nature of this impulse is coming into focus with recent efforts in empirical psychology. Geoffrey Munro of Towson University recently showed that when we are confronted with scientific, empirical evidence that challenges a position we favor, we are more likely to reject science altogether and claim that it cannot be employed to address questions of that type at all. The Scientific Impotence Excuse: Discounting Belief-Threatening Scientific Abstracts. Munro took test subjects with views about stereotypes, such as homosexuality. Subjects were tested beforehand to determine what views they held. Then they were given fake abstracts of scientific studies that purported to either prove or disconfirm the stereotype. So some studies indicated that homosexuals had a higher rate of mental illness, for example, while others indicated that their rate of mental illness was lower. Not surprisingly, the subjects who read abstracts that supported their preconceived views concluded that their views had been vindicated. But something remarkable happened with the the subjects who had their prior views challenged. Rather than acknowledge that they were mistaken and change their minds, these subjects were much more likely to conclude that proving (or disproving) the thesis simply couldn’t be done by science. They rejected science itself, rather than give up their cherished idea.
Their charges are in need of protection; they need their faith strengthened against doubts that would undermine them. Sermons, prayers, devotionals, and cermonies serve to fortify beliefs and behaviors in them that would not be sustained otherwise. Doubt, criticisms, and objections are the point of the scientific method. Finding reasons to reject a hypothesis makes it possible for us to make some provisional claims about what is true. Without some methodological procedure for vetting hypotheses and separating the good from the bad, we can’t claim to have any justification for them. The method of doubting is what justifies and keeps the floodgates of failed views closed.
Insidiously, failing to doubt is the charge increasingly hurled at us.
As Oreskes points out, it's very common for the opposition to hurl charges that describe themselves! It's hard to answer. No, you're stubborn and gullible, not me. Are too!
But the credulity is not ours. We actually know the difference between uncertainty and ignorance. And yet, people who might realistically have been expected to be allies are being convinced that all we are doing is being stubborn and closedminded. We are politically outclassed. We are a pickup street team playing on professional turf. Their job is too easy, and I don't think recent developments change this much.
But they're still wrongheaded and foolish. The fact that they have won the year and look to win the decade is nothing to celebrate.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Now I have to admit that I can't recall which way it works!
I avoided chemistry and biology as a student because I have trouble committing facts to memory. I had a great work-around for exams, mind you. I would create a dense single page of notes for any closed book exam. I would copy and recopy it about eight times. If the exam was a morning exam, I'd stay up all night doing so; for an afternoon exam I'd just do this in the morning. I would not vary the format in any way. Thus, I would commit the materials to short term memory, secure in the knowledge that I would forget them the next day. I did well as an undergraduate.
In grad school, I tended to expect being tested on understanding, not on memorization, but I did have to resort to the page-recopying trick for Dr. Hastenrath's class on Tropical Meteorology. His class and his book were a thick compendium of observations, rather light on principles. (There were a couple of very crude equations, concessions to basics like the thermal wind law, for instance). One of them was whether a warm north Atlantic was good news or bad for Northern Brazil. It was one or the other, and I'm sure I had the fact ready at hand during the exam.
This sort of heuristic has some modest value I suppose. If you can say this will be a dry year more likely than not, or a year with more tropical storms than usual, based on a collection of heuristics, then to the extent that is reliable, you can help people plan. And you can just comb through the data looking for correlations with some predictive value. It's an activity which looks like science. It has enough value that you can get grants for it. NOAA regularly puts out seasonal outlooks for the US which have a couple of regions marked as '>60% chance of above normal temperatures' or the like.
I've always had a couple of problems with this technique. First, I'm unconvinced it actually helps anybody do anything. 60% chance of above normal really isn't a very strong statement. Are there really activities which are rationally conducted differently in the light of such information? Second, it confuses people about climate science; this is neither climate science nor weather prediction, both of which are based in physics. It's pure heuristics. Yet it's usually called a "short-term climate prediction". Given the importance of climate change in the future, this is unfortunate and misleading nomenclature. Third, there is indeed accelerating climate change, so the value of heuristics will decline as the underlying conditions which supported the heuristics also change. The heuristic method is pretty much guaranteed to get worse.
(Now, if we ever get to predictive models of deep ocean circulation, maybe short term predictions of climate will be physically meaningful. At present this seems rather speculative, but people do seem to be working on it quite seriously.)
There's a another issue, though. The empiricists have always, to some extent, treated the physicists as a threat. Somebody who is good at digging into history should look into this, but I have several points of corroboration. First, there is the (from where I sit) unexplained tension between the famed empiricist Reid Bryson and the groundbreaking climate physicist Vern Suomi that is at the heart of the meteorology program at Wisconsin splitting into two institutions. Second, there was my brief meeting way back in 1993 or so with Bill Gray, the famous hurricane prediction guy, the classic empiricist. I hadn't even made a name for myself on sci.environment in those days; and it was really unlikely that he had heard of me. My advisor, John R. Anderson, was known more as a modeler than as a climate change guy. In those days there was little sense that the topics were tightly connected. John introduced me to Gray just as a grad student, period. It wasn't a minute into the conversation before Gray was ranting and raving about how hurricanes were more important than global warming, and how his money was drying up, etc.
So it's interesting to see that Gray is not alone among tropical storm researchers in this hostility. There are certainly signs of more than ordinary strife within the tropical storm science community. I can't say I have an inside view of what's going on but I note that Knappenberg and Curry both come out of the tropical storm community. I don't know how close they come to the Bill Gray tradition but I suspect there is some connection.
See, empiricism lacks consilience. When the science moves in a particular direction, they have nothing to offer. They can only read their tea leaves. Empiricists live in a world which is all correlation, and no causation.
This is the third installment of the empiricism series.
2) The Empiricist Fallacy
Next: Empiricism and Denialism
Image: NOAA. Extra credit: why do Mexicans and Canadians find this map irritating?
Saturday, November 13, 2010
It is important to note exactly who made those predictions, (or moreWhile Bryson's warnings about global cooling were intuitive ("the human volcano"), Lamb's were dressed up in harmonic theory. Unfortunately, harmonic theory clearly doesn't apply even were the system largely unforced. In a forced system where you look only at the system behavior and not at the inputs, and apply harmonic analysis blindly (I doubt Lamb was aware of Tukey) you'll basically end up predicting that a rapid cooling is imminent for two reasons: first, the assumption that there is no trend, and second, the emphasis of the FFT on the edges of the record (hence "windowing").
properly, who expressed those worries) about an imminent ice age, and
who is now predicting rapid global warming. By and large these are not
the same people. The first group was essentially the observational
paleoclimatologists. Bryson still claims that "the proper tool of the
climatologist is the shovel". The compendium by Lamb which Tom Moore
takes as his primary reference was essentially the pinnacle of achievement
in that field.
With all due respect (I mean this quite seriously - the erudition and
breadth of knowledge of these people, Lamb in particular - is enormously
impressive) to that group, their grasp of mathematics and statistics
was weak, and of physics weaker still.
For instance, Lamb's prediction in particular of imminent and rapid
cooling was based on, essentially, a crude Fourier analysis (best fits
of sinusoidal curves to his record). Since one of the dominant features
was a rapid rise over the last century, the *presumption* of a cyclical
nature of the record forced a prediction of a rapid cooling *precisely
because there had been a recent rapid warming*. And although the niceties
of periodograms had all been worked out by that time, Lamb seemed blissfully
ignorant of the need to take particular care when fitting sinusoids to
a record with significant information at its termination.
In the 1970s, a separate discipline of physical climatology was just
emerging from an infancy at the peripheries of mathematics and astrophysics.
Since the 1890s, physical climatologists or their precursors have always
asserted that the anthropogenic cooling of the human volcano was
counterbalanced and probably outweighed by anthropogenic warming of
the human greenhouse.
The groups making the assertions were essentially distinct, the group
asserting warming was making far more specific and testable predictions,
and the reasoning behind the assertions was far more clearly based in
established and demonstrated results in physical science.
Note: in the linked usenet article I express doubts that Schneider ever expected cooling, but that is incorrect; he was coauthor of a paper with Rasool in the 70s that compared the forcings and expected aerosol cooling to dominate. He didn't hold that position long. I have not seen a proper statement of what's wrong with that paper.
The basic idea of empiricism, which I see implicit in everything Curry is saying, by the way, is that the data "speak for themselves" and no context is necessary. This is silly, since it amounts to a presumption that sightings of cousin Albrecht wearing a baseball cap and carrying a feather duster wading in a pond are as likely as a duck (regular readers need not follow the link; they know where it goes).
The empiricist view has never entirely faded from climatology, as, I think, we see from Curry. But it's essentially useless in examining climate change. Under its precepts, the only thing that is predictable is stasis. Once things start changing, empirical science closes the books and goes home. At that point you need to bring some physics into your reasoning.
More to follow.
Friday, November 12, 2010
This ties into my generic dislike of what I would call empiricism in climate science. Actually, of course, without empirical evidence you are not doing science, but rather pure math. (or else economics!) The trouble comes when the empiricism is combined with a hypothesis that climate is stationary, which is implicit in how many of their analyses work. It's essentially begging the question. More to follow.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
An interesting comment on YouTube: "I bet Carl Sagan could have explained it without being a dick."
But he couldn't really. He could conceivably have evaded it more elegantly, perhaps. But the question is unanswerable at the level of sophistication of the questioner.
It started off on the wrong foot because the question was asked so awkwardly that there was some effort at first trying to figure out what the question really means, too.
This is all too familiar. I'm not saying climate science is pure physics, or climate scientists are as smart as Feynman or anything, just that sometimes the best answer is "because that is the way it is, you'll have to trust me; it would take a lot of effort on both of our parts to come up with something better." At least in the case of a magnet, it's part of ordinary mundane experience.
Lucky for Feynman he didn't have Barton commissions and Heartland institutions coming after him.
Still, the fact is that there really isn't a very kind way of saying "I don't expect you to understand this but you really ought to trust me".
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
A reasonable goal at this point in time is to stabilize CO2 concentrations around 600-650 ppm. Given the the current CO2 concentrations (~390 ppm) and the political challenges reaching a deal, an extremely ambitious goal of 350 or 450 is simply not realistic. The most important thing is that the global community agrees to take some type of action now. Setting a goal of around 650 ppm entails national policies that countries might actually be willing to agree to and, most importantly, is still aggressive enough to avoid/significantly reduce the worst risks of climate change. Most of the effort of our plan is supported by developed countries, but developing countries are still required to reduce their emissions relative to BAU.NOTE In comments L Carey clarifies: your post is not clear that the text is from a grad student submission and not an "official" MIT document - in light of the heated nature of the topic, I'd suggest that you might want to clarify that and forestall the likely "green doom-monger" comments.
Is 650 ppmv as a goal tantamount to doom? I mean, given how quickly we have slipped from 450 to 650, this is pretty scary. I hope we get some sort of a grip before even that goal slips out of reach. I think we can survive it, but not without tragic loss. We are committing our future selves and our descendants to a much diminihsed natural world, at very best.
But in any case, it makes it more urgent than ever to cut back on ancillary greenhouse gases, a goal that perhaps can achieve more support. (After all, the saturation argument, however wrongheaded, doesn't even apply to the trace GHGs.)
To that end, I will take up Alex Viets of INECE's suggestion to draw your attention to a recent New York Times article on expanding the Montreal protocol to limit HFC emissions.
In any case, the possibility of avoiding unprecedented climate change is likely out of reach. So it's biosphere management time for us. We just smashed the autopilot. Time to start thinking about steering.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi!
"There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record."
This is from Magurran and Dornelas, writing in Phil Trans Royal Society, the PNAS of the old world.
Joe Romm has more. You can accuse Joe of overstating his case sometimes, but "far exceeds anything in the fossil record" is something that is really, really, really hard to exaggerate.
The scary assertion is referenced back to The Future of Biological Diversity in a Crowded World by Robert May (2002).
He shows this graph of the great extinctions of the past:
recent extinction rates in well-documented groups haveMay makes three cases for conservation:
run one hundred to one thousand times faster than the
average background rates
Such figures correspond to likely extinction rates of a
factor of ten thousand, give or take at most an order of
magnitude, above background, over the next century or
so. This represents a sixth great wave of extinction, fully
comparable with the Big Five mass extinctions of the
A narrowly utilitarian argumentYet he admits that these arguments may not be seen as compelling. Personally, I find the highlighted text dispositive. Anyone who has read Lovelock's Gaia books will understand that at least conceivably we may breaking things which we may never have the capacity to fix.
One argument for the preservation of biological diversity
is narrowly utilitarian. It correctly emphasizes the benefits
already derived from natural products, as foods,
medicines, and so on. Currently, 25% of the drugs on the
shelves in the pharmacy derive from a mere 120 species
of plants. But, throughout the world, the traditional
medicines of native peoples make use of around 25,000
species of plants (about 10% of the total number of plant
species); we have much to learn. More generally, as our
understanding of the natural world advances, both at the
level of new species and at the level of the molecular
machinery from which all organisms are self-assembled,
the planet’s genetic diversity is increasingly the raw stuff
from which our future can be constructed. It seems a pity
to be burning the books before we can read them, and
before we can create wealth from the recipes on their
A broadly utilitarian argument
Another class of arguments is more diffusely utilitarian.
The interactions between biological and physical processes
created and maintain the earth’s biosphere as a
place where life can flourish. With impending changes in
climate caused by the increasing scale of human activity,
we should be worried about reductions in biological
diversity, at least until we understand its role in maintaining
the planet’s life-support systems. The first rule of
intelligent tinkering is to keep all the pieces.
An ethical argument
For me, however, a third class of argument is the most
compelling. It is clearly set out by the UK Government in
This Common Inheritance22. It is ‘the ethical imperative
of stewardship . . . we have a moral duty to look after our
planet and hand it on in good order to future generations’.
“We have to make it clear that the ice sheets are not Republicans or Democrats – they don’t have a political agenda as they disappear,” said Michael Mann, a physicist at Pennsylvania State University, who has been at the recent forefront of climate research. “Certain facts cannot be denied. We have to find a way to steer the conversation to a good faith debate about what we do about the problem, not this bad faith debate about the reality of it.”So why the bad faith debate? Indeed, why the politicization of the non-political parts of the question?
“If you can politicize something in today’s political environment,” Mann continued, “you can immediately get half the population on your side. Unfortunately the forces of anti-science — those who deny the science — have been very effective in politicizing the framing.”Yet many people suggest that Mann is at the core of an ideological push to politicize. Who is right? Well, if you have a few years to devote to the problem full time and a scientific bent, you can figure it out for yourself.
Mann asked for journalists’ help in the future.Emphasis added. I will add this. If journalism does not do its job journalism must be replaced.
“No doubt we are in for a period of months or even years where climate science is likely to be subject to the sort of politically motivated inquisition that we haven’t seen, frankly, since the 1950’s,” he said. “It is necessary and important for the scientific community to do the best it I can to defend itself from this oncoming attack, and frankly, we are entirely reliant on the willingness of the mainstream media to serve in its role as the critical and independent arbiter and not just report the two sides of the so-called debate, but to actually establish what is fact and what is fiction. The scientists will not be successful against the attack that is coming unless the media is serving its role.”
Monday, November 8, 2010
1) New sources of fossil fuels and the defeat of carbon pricing in any form will put the economy more or less "back on track" to its overheated consume-at-any-price every-Christmas-bigger-than-the-last frenzy. Canada and Texas will thrive. Possibly this will happen in time to rescue Obama, since enough people vote their wallet to make US elections completely predictable and not about anything.
2) Congress will have its climate science theater but probably won't press the point, the Republicans having "won" the game for the foreseeable future. This will actually work to the Democrats' advantage ion the short run. A modest gesture in the direction of the Breakthrough Institute's massive investment in energy will prop up the economy a bit and salve people's consciences a bit, and will largely vanish without a trace into the vast money pit of DOE.
3) The relative position of the US with respect to the rest of the world will continue to decline slowly. The holders of American currency seem to have the discipline to let the air out very slowly. In America this will be perceived as substantial inflation. A low interest mortgage will be like free money.
4) There will never be high speed rail in Texas along the I-35 corridor. Never ever ever. We will have a hispanic Democrat governor, but we will never get in a passenger locomotive again anywhere in Texas. There still will be no sidewalks, either.
5) The suggestion that anybody has any spare wealth or attention to care about the future will be treated with cynicism here and overseas; neither biodiversity nor the future climate will matter much. Sustainability will be a complete joke every day until the day it's not a joking matter anymore.
6) The west and southwest US will continue to dry out but this won't be of much concern outside agriculture. Snow cover will continue to retreat, but nobody in America besides ski resorts will care much. Occasional bizarre seasons leading to crop failures will become more common, causing failures of low-capital operations. This will concentrate agriculture production in agribusinesses (except for high-value-add boutique farms for the wealthy and high end restaurants, a much smaller market).
7) There will be no such thing as wild caught seafood.
8) The influence of the university will decline sharply and perhaps vanish altogether outside the hard sciences and engineering. Even there, the universities as we know them will lose control of undergraduate education.
9) As climate deterioration continues, the initial impact will fall, unfortunately but inevitably, largely on less-developed subtropical regions. This year's events in Pakistan will be marked as the harbinger. This will greatly exacerbate the already absurd tensions between the Islamic world and everybody else. The west will not be able to motivate any useful intervention. Low-grade guerilla war will persist. We will find ourselves turning into Israelis.
10) There will be demands for geoengineering, which will keep the field of physical climatology afloat, even though somehow we will end up vaguely blamed for all the problems. However, the geopolitical constraints that made carbon pricing treaties impossible will continue to apply, and implementation will prove politically impossible.
11) Carbon concentrations will not only continue to rise, the rise will continue to accelerate. Still, the problems probably won't seriously hit the fan for a generation.
12) Nature conservation will be a hobby for the wealthy. National Parks will be priced out of most people's budgets. Most remnants of nature will be replaced by landscaping or blight. It will be recognized that once climate change kicks in in earnest, wildlife preservation will essentially be abandoned.
13) Most people will live even more frantic, distracted, entertained, worried lives with even further declining capacity for aesthetic, spiritual or intellectual development. The capacity to devote spare attention to deal with collective problems will continue to decline. Civilization will continue to be replaced by commerce. When real problems arise, we will not have the capacity to deal with them. Collapse may be abrupt, but probably can be put off a good while.
308 (Moscone South)
Dec 15 4:30 PM - 4:45 PM
[note from mt -the above is to say, the annual Fall AGU meeting in SF]h/t James. She's got to say something then, whether she blogs about it between now and then or not. So she'd better get baking.
Climate Surprises, Catastrophes and Fat Tails (Invited)
J. A. Curry
Low-probability, high-consequence events provide particular challenges
to developing robust policies to reduce vulnerability to climate
variability and change. Forced and unforced climate variability may
produce surprises that are abrupt or discontinuous, and extreme events
such as landfalling major hurricanes, floods, extreme heat waves and
droughts can have catastrophic impacts. Inadequacies of the IPCC
scenario simulations for conceptualizing surprises and catastrophes
arise from inadequate consideration of natural climate variability,
model inadequacies, and consideration of a range of scenarios of
natural and anthropogenic forcing that is much too narrow. Hence pdfs
constructed from climate model simulations have the potential to
seriously mislead, and a broader framework is needed to imagine future
abrupt climate change and extreme events. A method for evaluating the
possibility of future events is described that integrates the concepts
evidence support logic, modal falsification and possibility theory.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
The article is sort of species libertarianism. It suggests that the global mixing around of species is not reducing local biodiversity. The "nothing but kudzu" (Great Lakes version: "nothing but purple loosestrife") fear is dismissed. While the article only manages some dubious spin re introduced animal species, it explicitly claims that introduced plants are on the whole, harmless. "There is no evidence that even a single long term resident species has been driven to extinction, or even extirpated within a single U.S. state, because of competition from an introduced plant species,” Bailey claims.
Well, tell it to the folks at Lake Caddo, is one easy answer. Species don't go extinct easily, but that doesn't mean landscapes can't be ruined.
On the other hand, much of what Bailey says makes intuitive sense to me. The species are all going to get swapped around anyway. There's only so much we can do to protect unique isolated island ecologies. Beyind that, why even try to keep species out? Why I wonder why we don't just stand back and let the species fight it all out. Once climate change kicks in in earnest it's going to be all invasive species, sometimes deliberately introduced. It will be that or nothing, I guess.
I am not making a claim here. I'm asking a question. I asked this question back in the sci.environment days "Hawaii sure doesn't look biologically impoverished" was my politically incorrect utterance. Of course, a fellow (named Alan McGowan) was so horrified at this question that he considered me an agent of the rapacious corporate sector, which people who hate me nowadays may find a headscratcher.
But I never got good answers to these things, and I'm sure, among my readers, there are as good answers as they get.
What, after all, does "ecological services" mean and why can't exotic species provide them?
It's likely I'm terribly ignorant to ask these questions, and I'm not sure I believe Bailey, but, like many intelligent people coming into climate change, I haven't seen an answer I find satsifying.
So where's the IPCC of wildlife ecology?
Update: Received in email:
Please accept my apologies for emailing you directly, but I was trying
to comment on your blog posting regarding the Ron Bailey article, but
Blogger failed me three times.
I am thus emailing you what I wrote, in case you find it of interest
(and also because I hate to have put in the time for nought,
particularly when I should have been working!).
Many thanks, M
Alright, a little bit on plants.
First, if this is the guy I am thinking of, I am a bit dubious based
on what I have heard him say in the past (although I haven't read the
article yet). I remember a talk at my alma mater back in 2004 or so,
given by a chap who works for the Cato Institute and writes for
Reason. I think it might well have been Bailey. Anyway, I remember
asking him a question along the lines of: "what about humans depending
on ecosystems and biodiversity for various services?" (His talk, if I
remember correctly, was about conservation being a nice personal ethic
to have, but it is basically just another belief system). Anyway, to
answer me, he said, 'just look at New York, several million people
live there and they're just fine, and NY doesn't have much in the way
of biodiversity or ecosystem services.' (given the long interval since
then, I paraphrase). He moved on then to the next questioner, but I
remain gobsmacked that he suggested that New Yorkers can survive using
just the resources in their immediate environs, as if their drinking
supply doesn't come from well-forested catchments in the Catskills,
and their food from farmland all over the planet, etc.
Anyway, I say all that because it might give some indication that his
perspectives on ecological matters are rather simplistic. If it's the
On to plants. First, I am not going to give you a documented
extinction, although I have heard that alien plants have caused the
extinction of several plants in South Africa's fynbos biome. If I had
more time I would try hunt down a few references.
Even if it hasn't yet, it is likely only a matter of time in the
aforementioned biome. Fynbos is one of the most endemic-rich biomes on
the planet. There are some species there that are known from only a
handful of very small localities, and there is an enormous invasive
plant problem there. Australian Acacias (such as cyclops, longifolia),
Pinus radiata, and Hakea sericea are a few of them, and they are rife.
Not only do they threaten to over-run the habitat of such isolated
endemics, but they also dramatically alter fire regimes, which in turn
plays havoc with the reproduction of numerous native species that
themselves depend on certain fire regimes for recruitment (this gets
very complicated, and is made messier by the problem of alien ants
(argentine ant) replacing native ants, which affects seed dispersal of
many species that makes the seed less able to survive fires).
So, there is that very real problem. Since many invasions are fairly
young (within the past 50 - 200 years, many of the ones I am familiar
coincide with introductions that occurred during the British empire in
the mid to late 1800s), they are just getting rolling. Just because
there isn't an abundance of documented extinctions doesn't mean they
aren't coming. Saying that an absence of extinctions means that aliens
plants won't cause them is kind of like saying that human population
growth is no worries because Ehrlich's prediction was wrong (which
ignores the fact that we are still expecting another 2-3 billion folks
to arrive in the next few decades).
Last point. Besides extinctions, alien plants cause other ecological
havoc. I return to South Africa, where they take their water resources
very seriously. They have an entire program aimed at removing alien
plants from watercourses (Australian acacias, again, plus Eucalypts)
because they tend to invade down watercourses and such up heaps of
runoff. Some calculations suggest that removing aliens might even
save them from having to build new dams to satisfy growing water
Etc. Anyway, I have certainly gone over my little of forebearance.
Hope this makes some sense.
Like Lyndon I also experience trouble with blogger that precludes me commenting on your site. I thought I'd send you a couple of links to paint a broader picture on the European perspective. Firstly I think you should visit the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat at the link below - they have lots of information that pertains to your question "Are Invasive Species a Threat?"By the way, Blogger actively sucks. Do not start serious blogs here.
A colleague of mine Helmut van Emden always maintains that you don't know how threatening an invasive species is until it has been present for seven years. That is the rough amount of time it takes for the local parasitoids and other potential natural enemies take to adapt to a novel species.
You may also want to get in touch with one of the authors of this paper:
How well do we understand the impacts of alien species on ecosystem services? A pan-European, cross-taxa assessment.
Montserrat Vilà et al 2010 Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Volume 8, Issue 3
The paper is paywalled but below is some text I culled from a now-defunct Science Daily article about it:
"Invasive species can disrupt natural and human-made ecosystems, throwing food webs out of balance and damaging the services they provide to people. Now scientists have begun to put a price tag on this damage. In a study published the week of April 20 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-view, ecologists have listed the invasive species that cause the most harm to environment and cost the most money to control.
Vilà and her colleagues produced a list of the top 10 invasive species in Europe by assessing which species had the most impacts in the most categories. Among the top invaders were Canada geese, zebra mussels, brook trout, the Bermuda buttercup and coypu, also known as nutria. Terrestrial vertebrates produced the widest range of impacts, often showing effects in all of the ecosystem service categories.
"Many terrestrial vertebrates are top predators, and their introduction causes cascading effects in the food web," Vilà says.
By contrast, terrestrial invertebrates such as insects and spiders had the narrowest range of effects, but wreaked the most financial havoc. Vilà points out that terrestrial invertebrates cause the most damage to crops and forests, sectors in which there are well-established methods to quantify the costs of food and lumber production. The authors estimate annual crop losses in the United Kingdom due to alien arthropods at €2.8 billion (about $3.7 billion); other studies say that the cost of eradicating the 30 most common weeds could be more than €150 million ($197 million).
The authors also describe the alien species generating the highest reported financial investment, including costs of monitoring, controlling and eradicating the invader, along with environmental education programs. Among the most expensive invaders were water hyacinth (€3.4 /$4.5 million), coypu (€2.8/$3.7 million) and a marine alga (€8.2/$10.9 million)."
Astonishingly, after all that she has said in the last few months, whe writes a piece today asking "how we can end the war with skeptics", where the collective pronoun includes herself not among skeptics but among mainstream scientists. Isn't that peculiar?
I believe the US signed treaties with indigenous tribes in the 19th century using this methodology, appointing non-representative tribesmen of their own choosing to represent the tribes.
I don't want to turn this into a blog about Curry's hasty generalizations, sweeping self-contradictions and peculiar attempts at misdirection. Somebody might want to start one. "Fish-In-A-Barrel.blogspot.com" perhaps? But I can't resist addressing her cure:
Wow. So that's release from dogma, huh?
Well, lets try this. In 2010, lets assume that there are very very few climate scientists left that regard the IPCC as dogma. What might this look like?
- no petitions signed by members of the IPCC or national academy members
- Nature and Science not writing op-eds that decry “deniers”
- no climate scientists writing op-eds that decry the “deniers”
- no climate scientists talking about “consensus” as an argument against disagreement (argumentum ad populam, h/t Nullius in Verba)
- IPCC scientists debating skeptics about the science
- climate scientists stop talking about cap and trade and UNFCCC policies because the science demands that we do this
- no more professional society statements supporting the IPCC
Let’s wipe out dogma from climate science. I look forward to the “insiders” who don’t like my use of the word dogma convincing me that this no longer exists!
This has nothing to do with keeping politics out of science. All of these points (except perhaps the "debate with skeptics" one, as if there were no such debate now!) are about keeping science out of politics. This certainly would be the healthiest thing for science qua science.
But we are in the pay of the larger society, I would think, for reasons other than our own entertainment. If there are issues which the larger society is not properly accounting for by any reasonable estimation of what the society actually wants, it is surely the larger extra-scientific but ethical responsibility of the scientific community to make those issues socially salient. If organized opposition to that communication arises, it becomes an ethical responsibility to overcome that opposition.
Here scientists find ourselves far beyond our expertise or intellectual interests. This is part of the reason that it goes badly. (Also, the prospect we are selling, really large risks in the fairly distant future, is not a very attractive one.)
Does the science "demand" large up-front costs in exchange for avoiding large, far-off risks? No, of course not. That's a category error. But it's a perfectly ordinary short cut in speech. What is meant is that "in the light of the ethical frameworks held by most people in most cultures, the scientific evidence implies an ethical responsibility." A mouthful. "The science demands" is close enough for most purposes.
Dr. Curry claims to be in the scientific mainstream of the climatological sciences, but seems quite unconcerned by the scientific evidence that only near-term action can blunt very large risks in the future. In this, I would say she is an outlier.
The rest of us see it this way: Until the nature and extent of the risk is understood by the political process, the decisions taken by that process are not only contingent and reversible, but in fact need to be reversed.
To say that scientists participating in professional associations should actually avoid taking extraordinary action to communicate implies a social structure wherein those actions are carried out by some other agency. In fact, IPCC was designed to be that agency. If IPCC is constrained from providing that function (by being maximally impotent and defenseless) somebody else has to step up. In fact, we see that IPCC is inadequate, so various scientists as individuals and organizations have been stepping up. But Curry wants that to stop as well.
It seems as if this keeping science out of policy (known as the "end to dogma") is designed above all to create an ignorant policy. It might produce a more comfortable environment for science. Would this work in practice? I don't know as the genie can go back in the bottle. But it would essentially guarantee bad policy and ever-increasing risk, not only on the climate front but on several others as well.
What scientists should or shouldn't do is not an interesting or useful question. The question is this:
Friday, November 5, 2010
The largest problem with Curry imho. is that she is on the way of marginalizing herself. It is a fair point that scientists should try to understand the views of some of the "citizen scientists" - but by not addressing (and even to some extent adding to) the noise to signal ratio, she isn't helping.
If you are going to criticise something, then make sure that you have the facts right - if you generalize, then make certain that you state out front that it is a generalization - and don't make the mistake of giving examples that are easily shown not to match the generalized points.
With regards to the SPM (summary for policy makers): Uncertainties should be stated up front - but only to the same summary level as the general text. Otherwise we end up with a "teach the controversy" unbalanced approach.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
- Have scientists become ‘too political’ in their advocacy of particular climate change mitigation and adaptation policies? Do the benefits of engaging in political advocacy outweigh the risks of losing their credibility as scientists?
- What role has the media, including the blogosphere and the Internet, played in this growing contradiction? How has the media shaped the way that climate science is debated, disputed, and created? Is there a ‘better’ way for climate scientists to work with the media?
- Moving forward, is there a better role for climate scientists in political and policy debates, and if so, what would it look like?
But they're good questions.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
My part of the hopelessly gerrymandered Texas landscape is still represented by the estimable Lloyd Doggett.
"At least we can say we put a little spoonful of sugar in that bitter brew," Doggett said to cheers.Hispanic backlash against racist ad in Nevada re-elects Democrat Reid.
Of the 39 Democrats who voted against Health Care Reform, only 12 are going to be returning in the next Congress.
In Joe Romm's words, "in only two Senate races did a candidate’s position on global warming become a major issue. In those two Senate races, the candidate that stood with the Senate’s top global warming denier and embraced denial of basic scientific reality lost".
California! Jerry Brown!
A climate blogger holds statewide office!
On the other hand, Feingold was defeated! The smartest and most decent person in Washington, summarily fired! Wisconsin! What's got into you? Are you insane?
Update: More surprisingly bad news. Boucher is out.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The net result of such a feedback loop is an overconfident assessment of the importance of greenhouse gases in future climate change.while slyly implying an overstatement of said importance, is at least relatively unobjectionable in its literal content. We could, after all, be overconfidently underestimating greenhouse gas sensitivity as well. Now I'm reasonably convinced by James and Jules that we have the thing well bracketed, while much of the community thinks the low side is better constrained than the high side. Presumably Curry's audience does not want to hear this sort of thing.
Once she gets off trespassing directly on James' turf without mentioning James (surely a faux pas among climate bloggers) and starts talking about the near term future of modeling, she seems to be channeling me.
If we assume that CO2 sensitivity dominates any conceivable combination of natural (forced and unforced) variability, what do the simulations actually say about 21st century climate? Well, the sensitivity range for the IPCC calculations are essentially in the same range (1.5-4.5C) that was estimated in the 1979 Charney report. And the calculations show that the warming proceeds until about 2060 in a manner that is independent of the emissions scenario.Yup.
So exactly what have we learnt about possible 21st century climate from the AR4 relative to the TAR (and even relative to the 1979 Charney report) that refines our ability to set an optimal emissions target? I suspect that we are probably at the point of diminishing returns from learning much more in the next few years (e.g. AR5) from additional simulations by the large climate models of the current structural form.
The big new push in the climate modeling enterprise is for Earth Systems Models. These models are beginning to include biogeochemistry (including a carbon cycle) and ecosystem interactions. Some are proposing to incorporate human dimensions, including economics models and energy consumption models. Such models would could in principle generate their own scenarios of CO2, and so reduce the scenario uncertainty that is believed to become significant towards the end of the 21st century.Yup.
There is also a push for higher resolution global models to provide regional information, particularly on water resources. There is currently no evidence that global models can provide useful simulations on regional scales, particularly of precipitation.
Another push is for credible predictions on a time scale of decades (out 20 years in advance). This necessitates getting the natural variability correct: both the external forcing, and the decadal scale ocean oscillations. I don’t expect the models to do much of use in this regard in the short term, but a focus on the natural variability component is certainly needed.
So it seems like we are gearing up for much more model development in terms of higher resolution and adding additional complexity. Yes, we will learn more about the climate models and possibly something new about how the climate system works. But it is not clear that any of this will provide useful information for decision makers on a time scale of less than 10 years to support decision making on stabilization targets, beyond the information presented in the AR4.
At Curry's conclusion,
The strategy (primarily model based) has provided some increased understanding and a scenario with about 3C sensitivity that is unlikely to budge much with the current modeling framework. A great deal of uncertainty exists, and emissions target policies based on such uncertain model simulations are not robust policies.she refers to a formal definition of robustness given earlier in the piece as [a property of] "a strategy that formally considers uncertainty, whereby decision makers seek to reduce the range of possible scenarios over which the strategy performs poor".
So, on careful reading, I find several points of emphasis to disagree with, which seem to be preparing to lay the groundwork for a somewhat skewed risk assessment. We'll see. To my surprise, I also find an extensive section with which I am entirely in agreement.