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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is suppressing Frank Denial Authoritarian?

Is Systematically Suppressing Frank Climate Science Denial Authoritarian?

Australian Attorney General George Brandis argues that it is:
The great irony to this new “habit of mind”, [Brandis] says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as “throwbacks”, when actually “they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion”. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing “new secular public morality”, he says.
Judith Brett argues cogently that it this is not a workable answer.

I'll just leave you with the flavor of it; go follow the link.
I doubt that Brandis believes that all alternative points of view are deserving of respectful consideration. I doubt that he believes that the Earth is flat or that carrot juice can cure cancer. I’m sure that when he boards a plane he believes that the science of aerodynamics is sufficiently settled to get him to his destination. In many areas of life, he accepts, as we all do, that the science is, broadly speaking, settled. So to support his position on the virtues of scepticism about climate-change science, and his accusations of religious zealotry against those who believe that the science is settled, he needs to claim that there is something particular about this area of science. He has not done this. 
Of course, what is particular about the claims of the climate scientists is the huge implications for the way humans generate and consume energy.
[Fiona] Stanley, a grandmother, referred to the poem ‘hieroglyphic stairway’ by the American social activist Drew Dellinger. It sums up how many of us feel, that now is the time for urgent action.

it’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling? 
Brandis could answer, I defended the right to deny it was happening.
I also really liked the very next sentence: "The narrow focus on freedom of speech distorts a complex debate, pulling it into the political class’s familiar boxing ring of left versus right."

Yes, how true, and how bloody tedious. I am sitting out the Austin climate march tomorrow. I went to the last one, and I thought I'd been baited and switched. I went to support a 350 ppmv CO2 target. I got counted as a supporter of a huge grab-bag of leftish posturing, most of it unrealistic and some of it quite silly.

We have a very hard problem and we cannot solve it by breaking into teams and throwing poop at each other.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Have We Missed the 2C Target Already?

Even a successful outcome in Paris will be a failure. Oliver Geden says so in a way that is exasperatingly remeniscent of R Pielke Jr., who surely agrees. But their smug insouciance doesn't change the picture - if we've missed the boat, no amount of waiting at the dock will get us on board.

Kevin Anderson avoids saying those words, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion from his recent arguments here (and similarly at Nature here).

I sometimes find Anderson a bit too alarmist on the physics. But I think the thrust of this article is totally and sadly true.

The takeaway points:


integrated assessment models are hard-wired to deliver politically palatable outcomes 
the carbon budgets needed for a reasonable probability of avoiding the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change demand profound and immediate changes to the consumption and production of energy for a “likely” chance of 2°C, requires global reductions in emissions from energy of at least 10% p.a. by 2025, with complete cessation of all carbon dioxide emissions from the energy system by 2050 
Whilst the endeavours of the IPCC, since its inception in 1988, are to be welcomed, I have grave reservations as to how the implications of their analysis are being reported. 
ubiquitous use of speculative negative emissions to expand the available 2°C carbon budgets, implies a deeply entrenched and systemic bias in favour of delivering politically palatable rather than scientifically balanced emission scenarios 
In plain language, the complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of 2°C assume either an ability to travel back in time or the successful and large-scale uptake of speculative negative emission technologies.

the failure of the scientific community to vociferously counter the portrayal of the findings as challenging but incremental suggests vested interests and the economic hegemony may be preventing scientific openness and freedom of expression. 
With a growing economy of 3% p.a. the reduction in carbon intensity of global GDP would need to be nearer 13% p.a.; higher still for wealthier industrialised nations, and higher yet again for those individuals with well above average carbon footprints

there remains an almost global-scale cognitive dissonance with regards to acknowledging the quantitative implications of the analysis, including by many of those contributing to its development. We simply are not prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings 
the job of scientists remains pivotal. It is incumbent on our community to be vigilant in guiding the policy process 
Whether our conclusions are liked or not is irrelevant. As we massage the assumptions of our analysis to fit within today’s political and economic hegemony, so we do society a grave disservice – one for which the repercussions will be irreversible.


I agree with all of that. As for this claim:

"Only if the life cycle carbon emissions of CCS could be reduced by an order of magnitude from those postulated for an efficiently operating gas-CCS plant (typically around 80g CO2 per kWh24), could fossil fuels play any significant role post-2050."

I can't vouch for it but on the other hand I find it plausible. If true it only makes matters even worse.

Looking at the best case out of Paris, it's clear that the 2.0C boat has sailed and we missed it. So when do we fall back, and to what number? 2.5C? 3.0 C? At this point I have to say that zero net emissions prior to a 3 C commitment would look to me to be a good outcome. Welcome to the "good anthropocene", because the other ones are worse.

I do not buy into the "solving the problem would be ridiculously cheap / stimulate the economy / create jobs" framing at all. We have delayed far too long. This will be a huge hit no matter what.

Is sugarcoating it the best approach for moving the body politic? I guess that's the only argument I can see. "We are going to miss the 2 C target, but if we pretend it's possible that at least keeps our options open for staying under 4 C"? I don't think it is a legitimate role of science to make such a judgment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good News for a Change

The UK plans to eliminate coal-fired electricity within 10 years!

Monday, November 16, 2015

In It for the Gold

Where's my cut? "Global warming" is alleged to be a $400 Billion (that's Billion with a B) "industrial complex".

You'd think I could round up a few hundred a week for my efforts...

Of course, at best that's a maximizing view of the non-fossil energy sector, not the "global warming industry".

It's reasonable that this should be a big number. Is it accurate?

Regardless, it's not accurate for the throughput of the various expert communities that touch on climate. Though by now that amount is itself a Big Number, it's not That Big.

It may be creeping up to a couple billion, again if estimated inclusively (with WG II and WG III related research folded in. There's another billion or so for NASA earth observations.

The first Clinton administration decided to count earth observation satellites in the U S Global Change Research Program's budget, thereby painting a bit target symbol on NASA's back to go with our own one.

This all said, though I hate to see NASA cut, with the US in relative decline to other countries, and possibly in absolute decline, it seems unreasonable to expect America to foot the bill for everything of global value, and under present disconcerting circumstances foolish to rely on it doing so.

Just by coincidence this came across my feed just moments after I wrote the above:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Z Comendador's response

Normally I don't offer a guest posting to people who have contributed to Watt's site.

But I did take on Alberto Z Comendador at some length in Medium, and he has asked to continue the conversation. His response was too long for a Blogger comment, so I agreed to post it. Also he seems rather polite for a Wattsian, and indeed given my approach to him seems rather open-minded. Also his counterarguments here show that he has been thinking about the problem - agree or otherwise these comments are not shallow or ideological.

Perhaps one can hope against hope for some meaningful communication, or at least some exchange of opinions that doesn't descend into rudeness.

I encourage anyone participating to take special care to be polite in this case. I will moderate this thread rather fiercely, though as usual, not necessarily quickly, with my apologies to all for delay in removing ad hominem attacks and polarizing rhetorical flourishes.

Correspondents are reminded that Blogger doesn't allow editing of comments - it's either all or nothing. Please speak as if you were debating with a cousin at Thanksgiving dinner at your grandmother's house, and drop the sneering before you post, or your effort may be in vain.

- mt

Hi, first of all thanks for letting me post here.

So it's not like I disagree with the points. It's just that I don't think they really matter.

1) '2 degrees C is claimed to be “Thermageddon”'

It's true that mainstream climate scientists usually steer clear of doomsday rhetoric (well maybe Hansen is an exception but he's sort of retired). This doesn't really matter, in my view, because the people striking deals do engage in this sort of thing.

500 days to avoid climate chaos. You can find plenty of similar statements from Kerry, Figueres, etc. So it's not like this stuff comes only from Bill McKibben and his ilk.

And not even this Fabius gentleman explicitly said 2ºC = disaster. The proposition sounds ridiculous when phrased that way. But many alarmists (because that's the only way to describe Fabius, Kerry and others) engage in a sleight  of hand to IMPLY that, in fact, 2ºC or a similar temperature rise is equivalent to some sort of mega-catastrophe.

Think about it: what happens if a deal isn't hammered out in COP21? Well it could be done in COP22, or 23, by which time CO2 concentrations will have risen, uhm, 8ppm? That is to say, 2%. How much additional warming does that 'lock in'?

Now, it's true that depending on the ECS one chooses to believe, CO2 concentrations could in a couple decades  reach concentrations that would make a rise of 2ºC (or a similar figure) inevitable, unless massive emission reductions are implemented soon. So it's true that this may indeed be the last chance to remain within one of these targets... but when people say something like 'we have 500 days to avoid climate chaos' and in fact they mean 'we have 500 days to avoid 2ºC', or 1.9ºC, or 2.3ºC or whatever similar number, the only conclusion one can draw is that the speaker is making an equivalence between 'climate chaos' and said temperature rise.

Like I said, they don't state it explicitly but the implication is there. Somehow, 'we have 500 days to avoid 2ºC'  doesn't quite cut it, because anyone who has any idea of the numbers involved knows there isn't anything special  about this ‘tipping point’ – the deal could simply be signed 0.2ºC later.

At the end of this post I will revisit this exercise, to find out just how much 'urgency' there has been in the issue since Exxon ‘discovered’ climate change in 1977.

2) 'Impacts of a Given Warming are implied Instantaneous'

True that many of the impacts may simply be taking longer and thus haven't been detected/analyzed yet, but what can one do when talking about this? Other than adding the caveat that 'bad stuff may just take longer to happen'.

3) 'Damage is Implied to be Linear with Temperature Change'

Not really. I actually 100% with what you wrote here - obviously temperature increases (or decreases) don't work linearly, just like beer, or eggs or exercise don't benefit/harm you linearly. Actually this might be one of the few points of certainty: a very large change in temps will be harmful, no matter the sign. 30ºC up would be devastating, and 30ºC down would kill us all. Or nearly all.

My point is that 1ºC is a small change. Perhaps an additional degree is 10 times more harmful, or perhaps the first degree is actually beneficial while the second is harmful (in which case the 'x times more harmful' comparison doesn't make sense). My point was simply that, given the lack of evidence that this first 1C rise (over 130 years) has actually caused a lot of damage, one should not be especially worried about one degree more.

4) 'IPCC (AR5) Report is implied Contemporaneous with 1 C global warming'

Since the news started with Met Office I checked HadCRUT. Not much happening - temps were high in the 2010 El Niño, then went down, then went to a record high in the 2015 El Niño. So I don't see how this affects the overall picture – perhaps by 2010 temp rise had been 0.9C instead of 1C, and it will go down to 0.9C again with La Niña, then 0.95C or whatever. Not much to write about.

5) 'Statistical Analyses are presumed Instantaneous'

They are not instantaneous, but in the US temp records go back to the XIX century. So do hurricane, tornado, and precipitation/flood records. So in fact the records on weather events are among the longest-running in the whole climate field. It's not like satellite temps or CO2 concentrations which have only been known for a few decades.

This issue reminds of a comment Willis Eschenbach made about solar-inspired theories of climate change in WUWT.

More or less it read: people have been looking for a correlation between the sun and stuff on Earth for 200 years... if it was there, wouldn’t we have found it already?

In the case of warming, there are several variables (temperature itself, moisture, pressure) and one can slice the data in pretty much infinite ways. Something similar happens with solar-related stuff, as anyone looking for a ‘connection’ can choose among TSI, hotspots, the 11-year cycle, cosmic rays, whatever – and then you can choose from different datasets and slice and dice the numbers. These things are then theorized to cause reduced cloud cover… or something about the sea level… or something about temperature itself… or anything else, really.

When you have a big number of ‘factors’ that can correlate to an infinite number of things happening (‘increased tornado activity in Norway during autumn months’), of course you are going to find something. It would be astonishing if nothing correlated with anything else. And now, I won’t pretend I understand the stats involved, but anybody reading a discussion can guess who talks straight and who talks dodgy… and I can tell that after every Willis article dissecting a paper solar-induced weather, the authors of said papers either don’t show up at all or offer only hand-waving responses.

So this non-scientist thinks warming-induced bad weather is in a similar situation to the solar-induced kind. Of course one cannot totally close the door on a hypothesis. Perhaps people have been crunching the temperature-vs-weather-disaster numbers the wrong way all this time and there is in fact a connection... but the evidence in that direction isn't strong.

6) 'CO2 is presumed to be on Trial'

So this is probably the only point where we disagree. You say: 'the questions we should be asking ourselves are at about what level our monkeying with [the effect of CO2] is risky. And so far, the vast predominance of evidence is that we are near this point'. Then you cite the corresponding IPCC chapters.

Let me be honest, I have read chunks of climate papers here and there, but I don't follow the issue in nearly enough detail to talk about that (and I haven't read the IPCC stuff beyond the SPM). So I would prefer to shut up on this point, though I would be grateful if you could summarize what these chapters have found that is so concerning... and

I know it's a complex issue, but if the IPCC's conclusions on extreme weather can be summarized, I suppose this can as well.

7) 'Absence of Proof is conflated with Proof of Absence'

True, but again, other than adding the caveat that 'X may well have happened – it's just that we cannot prove it', what can one say?

Absence of proof is not proof of absence... nor is it a reason to do anything in particular.

8) About 'Thermageddon', well, some in the climate debate are in fact alarmists who spin every single storm as a 'fingerprint' of the damage we're doing to Mother Nature. I don't think there is a conspiracy, but I do find it ridiculous – hence the term.

Does this mean I'm mocking anyone who is concerned by global warming, wants to reduce GHG emissions, etc? No.

Going back to the 'Exxon knew' issue, one of the 'smoking guns' is a presentation somebody made at the company in 1977. Now, you'll be asking what the hell does this have to do with your article, as you didn't even mention this.

Let's do a thought experiment. Suppose that upon seeing this massively speculative, handwaving presentation with temperature projections that turned out to be massively wrong, Exxon execs have a change of heart and decide to give up on oil and gas. After doing so they convince the rest of the world to give up on fossil fuels altogether or nearly so, and emissions are reduced to a nadir - just enough to offset CO2 concentration declines, thus leaving us with 330ppm nowadays, just like in 1977 or so. Forget for a second that if we cannot get rid of fossil fuels now, and it would have been a tad more difficult in 1977 due to the price of batteries and solar panels and all.

Today we're at 400ppm, so the increase has been 21%, or 28% logarithmically. With ECS of 2ºC (most recent studies are around that figure), these 38 years have 'locked in' an additional... 0.56C.

So it looks like giving up on fossil fuels 38 years ago wouldn’t have changed things that much, and waiting a decade to sign that climate deal isn’t going to hurt much either. I’ll tell John Kerry if I see him.

And sorry if some of my tweets seemed offensive. Things can sound very brusque in twitter.


What If...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My 20 year predictions from 5 years ago

In 2010, apparently at Keith Kloor's instigation, I made some predictions about 2030.

See how you think they are panning out a quarter of the way through. Some interesting comments, too.

Related, just two years after entering the climate business, in 1992, I made these rather wild prognostications that mostly ran through 2019, and a few words about the further future.

A hat tip to Robert Nagle for reminding me of these.

This week I am thinking we will drop the ball just on sheer nationalist belligerence, replaying the calamities of the early 20th century, long before the climate thing kicks in.

Remember, the thing about existential threats is you have to get ALL of them right.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Exxon as Egg, Defeating Organized Denial as Omelette?

We have to forgive Big Oil and offer it paths to move on without undue disruption, just as we have to forgive ourselves and design our own transition.

William Connolley has challenged me to take up Exxon's side of the battle in the question of whether their behavior should be investigated on the same principles that convicted the major tobacco companies a few years back.

I have thought about it and I am not going to do that. I think the investigation of Exxon should proceed. On the other hand, I think the demonization of Exxon must stop.

Mike Mann is definitely on board with the investigation of Exxon, according to a thought-provoking interview with Inside Climate News.
Mann: I think it’s a legitimate question to ask, "Was there some collusion here?" Were they intentionally misleading the public and policymakers and their own stockholders about what they knew about climate change...when they knew better—when their own scientists had told them that the science is real and the outcomes would potentially be catastrophic?
I've seen compelling arguments from one of the lawyers who was involved in the RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] case against the tobacco industry. She was quoted as saying that based on what she has seen, there is a prima facie case for suspecting the possibility that they [Exxon] were engaging in what is effectively racketeering.
I think we all deserve to learn more about what they knew and when they knew it...and I assume that will come out in the course of [the] investigation.
ICN: Do you think we'll find evidence that other oil companies behaved similarly?
Mann: Oh yeah. I think this is the veritable tip of the iceberg. If this investigation from [Schneiderman's office] leads to legal action, then there will be a process of discovery, and my guess would be that then we start to see stuff from the Global Climate Coalition [an industry group, disbanded in 2002, that opposed carbon emissions cuts], of which ExxonMobil was a member, but there were many other members. I suspect that we’ll learn a lot about the other actors that were involved, and ExxonMobil might not even be the worst of the actors.
I have little doubt that this is true. As Mike said, this is stuff we have "long suspected".
On the other hand, Exxon/Mobil is a vast enterprise, and the question of collective culpability is complicated, even though it's no surprise that there's reason to believe that some people pulling levers at Exxon were behaving maliciously.
Here, Mike spins it rather negatively:

ICN: One big difference between the tobacco and Exxon cases is that Exxon didn't hide its climate change research. Exxon scientists have published peer-reviewed papers and participated in government panels. How do you think that changes the situation?
Mann: Frankly, there was sort of a good cop/bad cop thing going on there...The cynic in me thinks that they were playing both sides. In fact, we know that they continued to have some scientists who participated in the IPCC process into the 2000s, while they were obviously engaged in massive funding of climate change disinformation, basically financing propaganda that was fundamentally inconsistent with the sort of work that their own scientists were doing.
So this internal dissonance feeds the notion that it wasn't really a good faith effort on their part to try to find a way forward to solving this problem. It was to buy them some plausible deniability and apparent credibility by appearing to engage with the scientific community, while at the same time, behind the scenes, massively funding efforts to attack the science and to attack the scientists. That's my view.
That's hardly the most charitable view one could take.

Presumably in an institution as vast as Exxon/Mobil, some people were acting in good faith and others were not.

The comparison to tobacco is weak on at least three grounds:
  • Firstly, the tobacco companies were more tightly knit and smaller than big oil, so their intentionality was more cohesive. 
  • Second, the oil companies are producing a product with enormous short term benefits, and what were originally long-range and speculative drawbacks. As Mike said, the knowledge that intolerable global risks were built into the fossil fuel business model must have been obvious to some people within the organization, but it's hard to identify what the organization as a whole knew or should have known. That one's own business, and a mightily impressive one, is ultimately also destructive is surely something people will be slow to understand.
  • Third, while the tobacco companies were exclusively promulgating pseudoscience to support their model, Exxon was not. Big oil is a legitimate presence at the same annual AGU meeting where American climate science comes together.
To be sure, on the other hand, pseudoscience on climate has certainly been produced in copious proportion, largely by by dubious non-profits, some of which were modestly but directly supported by Exxon. I think, presuming that any shred of civilization survives the coming bottleneck, that it will be historically important to determine to what extent this is true, and to find legally and ethically sound ways of discouraging the organized promulgation of agenda-driven pseudoscience.

I am not insensitive to the echoes of this position in what Lamar Smith is doing to NOAA which the Texas Observer summarizes as "to ferret out out how — not whether — politically motivated government scientists are using what Smith believes are “skewed” numbers."

The issue really lies in the disconnect between what science actually says and what the body politic understands. From the outside, there is an easily perceived symmetry between what Lamar Smith says about Thomas Karl and what Mike Mann says about Exxon. The adjudication of this question, which is harassment and which legitimate investigation, depends crucially on what the science actually says. And yet, we don't want the courts deciding that - lawyers deciding what science is legitimate obviously fraught with risk. If the courts err in such a judgment, it could lead directly to Lysenkoism, wherein totally bogus theories are enshrined in law.

I have, until recently, been an enthusiastic supporter of Bill McKibben, whom I always thought of as (like Hansen) balancing a serious and measured disposition with a horrified comprehension of the long-term ethical travesty that our current civilization is based upon. But his targeting of Exxon as scapegoat goes too far. With this he's stopped seeming to me the reluctant activist and more the political gamesman.

The problem is that blaming Big Oil is not the way out of our quandary. We cannot shut these industries down. Not only do they represent significant investment that we cannot afford to throw into chaos, they are also legitimate and crucial stakeholders in the energy problem. We have to work with the incumbents in the energy industry, not against them. We have to understand the constraints under which they operate, some of which they can;t afford to be frank about. While those of us in the most developed countries need to consider the possibility of moving to less energy-intensive approaches to life, we also need to understand that the world will need more, not less energy to proceed to a state of civilization and sane governance, where daily life is not fraught with risk of deprivation and violence.

This is achievable at the same time as decarbonization. There are no serious technical obstacles. But making enemies of the incumbent powers in the energy industry is not the way to do it.

In the end, an oil major can more easily sustain an investigation than a science team; they are plenty lawyered up already. What to NOAA is an upheaval must at the present time seem to Exxon as an irritant. But on the other hand, this analogization of the oil industry and the tobacco industry can be taken too far. The fossil fuel business model must be replaced by an energy business model, but the road for the big producers must be made easy, not hard, or they will fight tooth and nail, and bring us down along with them.

That corporations are entities with free will is an absurd legal fiction that does enormous damage.

They are animated by people, but the people are fungible and replaceable. A corporation is a machine which responds to the marketplace and the legal and social environment. Our objective cannot be to destroy the crucial components of industry. Rather we should be looking for ways to motivate them to act collaboratively.

It would be great to get to the bottom of the climate BS industry. I think we will find that corporations like Exxon played a minor role, and that it's more rich and socially malign oil billionnaires as individuals who are behind the production of manipulative pseudoscience. But if prying at Exxon offers a way to investigate, I think I have to support it. I am not convinced that a huge amount of culpability is going to end up on their shoulders, though, and frankly, I hope that it won't.

On the other hand, McKibben's developing posture that the oil industry must be destroyed is a turn very much for the worse. The history of scapegoating is not a pretty one. In the end, the oil industry is us. We have to forgive Big Oil and offer it paths to move on without undue disruption, just as we have to forgive ourselves and design our own transition.

Big Oil itself increasingly understands this. The rest of us should do so as well.

Our task is to energize the world in the near future while minimizing the (already inevitably large) losses to our descendants over times to come. Defeating organized denial is a part of that task, but breaking the energy industry in pursuit of that goal is a catastrophically disproportionate strategy.

Tightened up version of this rant at Medium entitled "Investigate Exxon, but Blame Yourself"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The law of BS and the 8 Error Tweet

As proof of the proposition that
the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is AT LEAST an order of magnitude greater than the effort required to produce it
which is the fundamental flaw with the "my opinion is every bit as good as yours" school of democracy, I offer this article on Medium, wherein I take 2500 words to refute a single tweet, a tweet which manages to hide at least eight identifiable implicit but substantive errors.

Indeed, although @AZComendador is somewhat obscure and probably not very influential, the misinformation density in that single tweet was so high that I decided to award him the Golden Horseshoe for (correction) 2015.

The author replies on Twitter that he "mostly agrees with me". Weird. Anyway he wants to discuss but doesn't want to take it up on Medium. (I agree that Medium is better for publishing than for discussing.)

But I don't want to take it up on Twitter. Arguing on Twitter is such a useless time sink. It's very hard to craft 140 characters that are immune to willful misinterpretation. Twitter is useful for sharing news and exchanging ideas with people with whom one has a shared understanding. As a medium for debate, it is a horrible time sink.

So if AZComendador wants to discuss matters, he is welcome here.

(Moderation is turned off again, until such time as he-who-shall-not-be-named decides to monopolize the conversation again.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This is all I have to say about the CRU emails

Monday, November 9, 2015

This morning's tweets

I think I was on. Nothing you haven't heard before, but in pithy quotable 140-character chunks. Kicked off by my pointing Fab at my article CO2 On Trial

Sunday, November 8, 2015

David Roberts on Keystone

When he starts off on the right foot, nobody is more cogent on climate issues than David Roberts:
Fossil fuel extraction and transport projects have a presumptive social warrant. Local opposition or environmental standards may sometimes trump that warrant, but the heuristic applied defaults to positive, to yes.

That attitude simply isn't commensurate with the urgency that climate change imposes. Limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees means not burning 80 percent of the fossil fuel reserves already available to us. At the rate we're going, we're going to burn through that 20 percent in just a few decades. There's got to be some decisions made somewhere not to dig it up, not to build distribution infrastructure for it — to leave it in the ground.

Getting there means removing that presumptive social warrant, the default yes. It means creating a new heuristic: fossil fuels must be reduced as fast as practically possible. It means creating a new default answer to fossil fuel infrastructure: no, unless a case can be made that the climate damage is worth it. This wouldn't mean cutting off all fossil fuels tomorrow, despite the crude caricatures painted of activists. But it would mean steadily raising the bar, changing a defeasible presumption of innocence to a defeasible presumption of guilt.
Well, um, yeah. What he said.

Go read the whole thing. It will probably be the most important thing you read about climate this month:

 What critics of the Keystone campaign misunderstand about climate activism

Friday, November 6, 2015

In re Smith v Karl

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, under the leadership of my own representative Lamar Smith, has been harassing Thomas Karl, recent past president of the American Meteorological Society and longtime head of the National Climate Data Center, a federal agency under NOAA, because he expressed himself unimpressed by the "hiatus" in global temperature increase, and because he published data that supported his conclusion.

Smith has been demanding defenses of the rather mundane and straightforward measurements and calculations going into NCDC's global temperature estimate.

As I understand it Karl and NCDC have been bending over backwards to be cooperative, and have presented their raw data and algorithms in great detail to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. They stand ready to answer any substantive questions and defend any particular calculation in detail.

The scandal is this: the committee has showed no signs of interest in their honest answer to what might be an honest question, but has pursued the matter to the point of harassment and vile innuendo.

This cannot stand, and by "cannot stand", I mean they probably will get away unscathed, but they really ought not to.

Alas, as the Benghazi metascandal and the Planned Parenthood metascandal prove, the congressional majority have no scruples and the American press has no spine. Fortunately the executive branch has developed a bit of one. NOAA should not be quick to comply and I am pleased that they did not. I think that is the next best thing.

It's not because Smith's committee doesn't have the authority to investigate NCDC, it's that he ought to refrain from abusing it.

A court case would be a very good thing if the press played against type and showed up awake for a change. I don't have a strong answer to a lukewarmer blogger nymmed Fabius Maximus' point that the committee will win on the legal niceties. Perhaps there isn't one. But confusing legal power with responsible government woefully misses the point of democracy.

Still, every time another sliver of the public sees the ethical shabbiness of the majority's actions that would be a good thing. The scientific community is not positively impressed by Smith's ridiculous antics. They should be made plain to see. The press will cower indecently rather than tell the truth here, but Smith is being flatly and transparently abusive, and it would be good if the rest of society did not turn away. But my hopes aren't set high at this point.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tom Fuller Gets One Right

I'd like to commend Tom Fuller for most of this:
Representative Lamar Smith has issued a subpoena for emails and records from NOAA scientists participating in Thomas Karl’s rather desperate attempt to prove the ‘pause’ in global warming never existed. 
The pause did exist, and Karl’s paper is being contested where it should be–in the scientific literature. 
What Representative Smith is doing is both wrong and stupid. Wrong, because we don’t need to create a climate of fear in science. Scientists should be able to communicate via email without re-reading every word they write with an eye on future investigations. Stupid, because witch hunts don’t increase your stature, reputation, amount of information or even the size of your… big toe. 
When Cuccinelli did this with Michael Mann I opposed it, writing an open letter to Cuccinelli equating what he was doing with Salem’s search for witches. What Smith is doing is no different and I oppose it just as strongly. 
To be clear, I have no objection for asking for data, models, calculations. But emails between scientists? No. That way lies poorer science. 
Representative Lamar Smith, call off your dogs.
Other than the 'desperate' (*), this is very sound. Fuller and I disagree so often that I should come out and say that I greatly appreciate his writing this, and I greatly appreciated his position on Cuccinelli vs Mann as well.

(* - Karl's data speaks for itself. Whether he should have come out "against" the hiatus insofar as whether it exists is another story. There are arguments to be made either way but I think it was not a practically wise thing to say, since his latest round of revisions were so minor. This grand claim didn't make sense. There was enough of a hiatus that people are still trying to explain it. However, it was never that MUCH of a hiatus as people liked to claim. It's really small potatoes. So I can't buy into Karl being 'desperate'; 'hubristic' is closer if that's a word.)

Some thoughts

I should be at the coffee shop writing my book, a far less ambitious book than these grandiose tweets imply.

But whatever - this needs to be said. Somebody more famous than me ought to say it, but the only way I can figure for that to happen is for me to get more famous.

They seem to make sense in whatever order, but they were written bottom to top.