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

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Doom (in seven tweets)

Not debatable: Trillions of $ worth of proven fossil fuel reserves simply can't be allowed to be extracted and burned.

The carbon emissions constraint appears both absolutely necessary and absolutely inaccessible via available social/political affordances.

COP meetings a tug-of-war: nations compete to have least possible impact on their own short term interests. Nobody speaks for Earth.

Everyone on earth is invested in the fossil fuel status quo, most of the powerful very much so, & no sensible alternative is on the table.

Only hope is a global grassroots consensus based on clear shared view of our predicament: what denialsm is funded to prevent at all costs.

Then when I say that people everywhere need to understand a few rudiments of climate science, social scientists mock me for "deficit model".

Was a long shot anyway. So, checkmate? Victory for the cliff, defeat for the lemmings? Any ideas?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The D-Word and the S-word

The D-Word

I don’t usually call anyone a denier or a denialist by name, though I’ve been in a lot of internet arguments and may well have slipped up a time or two.

 I do use the words “denier” and “denialist” generically to refer to a position in the climate debates - I certainly think there is denial going on, and I haven’t been reluctant to point that out.

There is a question as to who is doing the Godwin violation - those using the word or those complaining about it. As someone who grew up in a Holocaust refugee community, as someone who lost his paternal grandfather and his oldest cousin to the death trains, as someone whose aunt still bears a number tattooed on her arm,  I have a pretty strong claim to be part of that group that Keith Kloor refers to as

“Jewish academics, writers, and scientists involved in the climate debate who do use the “denier” term and don’t make that association, so they don’t believe they are trivializing the holocaust or exploiting the original ugliness of the term."
I think bringing Nazis into the question is in the eye of the beholder. Specifically, the Godwin’s Law violation in the climate context is usually (though as Mr Fuller is quick to point out, not always) in the eye of the accused denier.

That said, I agree with Keith that referring to an individual as a “denier” is 
“as inflammatory as calling a climate scientist a fraud, or climate science fraudulent. These are conversation stoppers”
Indeed, when someone is directly offensive to a correspondent, as Willard pointed out to me recently, it may well be because they want to terminate the conversation. If someone is badgering me about renouncing the so-called scandals of so-called “Climategate” I know they have long since checked their rational capacities at the door.

I won’t call them the D-word in response, though you can be assured that I am thinking it.

I will just check out.

The S-Word

This largely comes up in the context of a campaign, recently spearheaded by Mark Boslough, to stop using the word "skeptic" in news reports about people who take a stance in opposition to the climate science consensus. (There's a petition here.)

I support this petition, insofar as it doesn't explicitly demand the used of the "D-word".  Naysayers are not real skeptics and the press shouldn't dignify them with such a compliment. Certainly, for example, the likes of Senator Inhofe with his bible-thumping can't fairly be called a "skeptic", though the press habitually does exactly that.

The trouble is this - the communication landscape has been so thoroughly polluted that people arriving on the landscape as genuine skeptics, interested and willing to engage on the evidence, are frequently successfully recruited by the denial camp.

To those who would ask, incredulously, how could anyone still be legitimately on the fence about this issue, I respond that you must not be taking the long view



Every day, ten thousand people in the US (a quarter million worldwide) think about climate change for the first time. And each of them has to make their way through the thicket of confusion and misdirection that has been thrown up all around this issue, given that Authority has been Questioned, so successfully that a person coming into the area unprepared has no clue who the authority is.

The uncommitted people most willing to engage on the science, and most important to reach, are the big fish in the small ponds, including the most scientifically adept high school kids. There's also engineers and medical types trying to get a grip on this matter every day. They'll be a bit smug to begin with. The fabric of misdirection and outright lies they encounter will not make it easy for them to navigate the issue if they don't have a personal connection to an earth scientist.

And when they try to claim a skeptical stance, it really is a bad idea to get all huffy and jump to calling them "deniers". That's a prediction with a tendency to fulfill itself.

Gaining Trust and Thereby Generating Mistrust

The trouble with the Kahan/Leiserowitz etc. analysis of the debate is not that it's wrong. It is, in fact, correct in addressing part of the problem.

It's correct that there is a spectrum of concern on the issue and that it is increasingly correlated with the usual left-right specturm. It is of course correct that any policy measure requires political support, and that on matters of such fundamental importance, majority support is important.

This means that anyone engaged enough to vote needs to be convinced that the consensus position is sound. And of course, the vast majority of people are not won over by evidence and reason, but by proxy arguments, essentially arguments from authority. We simply don't have the time to resolve every issue from first principles.

That's the whole idea of representative democracy, after all - we delegate decisions to people we trust. At least in principle. What we have to do in these matters is to determine who the real experts are. And in the presence of systematic antisocial behavior, this becomes very difficult.

There really is no fundamental doubt among the relevant professions that CO2 accumulation is increasingly risky with every passing year and that the current policies are woefully ill-advised. There really is no doubt that organized denial, partly motivated by protecting enormous wealth, is trying to prevent action The existence of people who are not engaged with the science who believe these things is a good thing.

But it has a very unfortunate side effect, insofar as the next level of sophistication is concerned. When a skeptic of the sort willing to engage scientifically arrives on the scene, he or she will be far more likely to encounter people who "believe in" or "don't believe in" "the science" than people who are actually in a position to explain it effectively. When beliefs are challenged, defenses go up. And the first defense of the novice is to accuse the challenger of "denial".

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent. And on this score Keith Kloor is right:
If your objective is to get more people seriously engaged with the climate change issue, you probably want to avoid  unwittingly antagonizing them with derogatory language.
Keith goes on to say
And by them, I mean the lurkers and fence-sitters in the mushy middle who tune in and out of the volatile climate discussion.

But that's not who I mean. I mean the people willing to engage the science.  The trouble arises when a somewhat sophisticated person challenging the science looks around for someone to discuss it and as is more likely than not encounters a person less sophisticated trying to defend it. I don't know that there's much precedent for this constellation of factors.

As I've said before, climate science has the worst relationship with its hobbyist community in the history of science. This entanglement with politics is part of it. Every time we listen to the Kahans and Leiserowitzes and their advice on how to "move the needle", how to move the bulk of the population to be more amenable to a reasonable climate policy, we create more people who are poor ambassadors for the science itself to those who want to engage the science. That in turn may or may not create more favorable conditions for climate policy among the tuned-out mushy middle, but this is a long run problem.

In the long run, it is crucial to make the science sufficiently accessible that people can access it. This despite the fact that more people are trying to subvert that goal than to facilitate it.

I don't know whose job it is to solve this. But it helps to start by understanding it.

TL;DR - Politics Isn't Everything

Willard says this is too long, and should be three or even four posts, but I think it is a single coherent argument. Admittedly, there are multiple points in the argument.

1) There is lots of denial about climate.
2) The only reason to call a specific person a denier is to cut off conversation with them, to state you find them uninteresting.
3) There are better ways to do this.
4) True skeptics, genuinely neutral and curious about climate science, are born every day.
5) Deniers have resources and talents intended to win them over.
6) Some skeptics succumb, and become deniers.
7) Playing the political battle is necessary.
8) But playing on the political battlefield creates unsophisticated allies.
9) Unsophisticated allies will tend to use the "D-word" to cut off conversation when threatened.
10) Skeptics will be turned away from reality by being accused of denial.
11) Skeptics have difficulty finding scientific exposition suitable for their interests and skills.
12) The combination of the previous two patterns contributes to the recruitment of deniers.
13) The political battlefield alone is not sufficient. Science must be made accessible.

Willard also says I've made these points before. Maybe so. But people still don't seem to get it, so I might as well repeat myself.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More Than All

MORE THAN ALL OF IT
I’ve been concerned about the frequent theme in the media about the fraction of global warming that is man-made. It is a poorly posed question, because it implies that there is a pie chart with some slice or slices of the pie being man-made and some slice or slices being natural. 

But what if, in the absence (or relative near-absence ) of human interference, the climate would be cooling?  After all, it’s agreed that the world has been cooling since the “Holocene optimum” - this is a point that is commonly wielded by the inactivist camps after all. Look:



If you extrapolate the background trend (ignoring the hockey stick blade at the end) you will see that from first principles, a slow cooling is a reasonable expectation for the natural trend. This would mean that the anthropogenic contribution is not sharing in the warming with natural factors, but actually pulling against a (relatively small) natural cooling, probably orbitally forced. Thus if one had to express anthropogenic warming as a percentage of total warming, the total fraction would be over 100%. 

And indeed, on top of the natural background cooling, indications are that the natural forcings (volcanic, solar) are also slightly toward cooling. None of this is overwhelming - the natural trends and forcings on global mean temperature are small, and internal variability (basically just the slow sloshing around of the water masses of the ocean) is also important on the decadal time scale. The net result is that we have an uncertainty in the percentage attribution:



but it’s also true that the best bet is in excess of 100%.

Now, as I pointed out in 2004, this is counterintuitive:
What does “people are causing this” mean? Does it mean people are responsible for all of the warming, most of the warming, some of the warming? “At least the majority of it” captures the consensus opinion, I believe. The possibility of the anthropogenic forcing being superimposed on a natural background cooling is not, as far as I know, excluded. Though it complicates the clarity of public communication, “more than all of it” is actually a possibility.
HOW THIS GETS LOST The summary language the IPCC used to express this in AR5 was:
It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. The best estimate of the human induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.”
This seems to make the best of a bad situation - it starts with a very clear near-certainty, then asserts that most likely just about all of the change is anthropogenic and a person thinking about it carefully would realize that “all” is not a cap. That isn’t even implicit. I would say this language handles the complex communication elegantly.


Nevertheless, language of public communication stumbles over this, and often fals back to the weaker but more easily understood assertion that climate change is “mostly” anthropogenic.
NASA Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the "greenhouse effect"http://climate.nasa.gov/causes/
EPA:Most of the warming of the past half century has been caused by human emissions of greenhouse gaseshttp://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/overview.html

UCS:“humans are the main cause of global warming”http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/human-contribution-to-gw-faq.html#.VMFiK2TF8ew

Parliament of Australia:on the basis of considerable evidence, there is a strong consensus in the climate science research community that the changes that have been observed over the past few decades are mainly caused by human activity.”http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Browse_by_Topic/ClimateChange/whyClimate/human
even
Scientific American:Natural climate variability is extremely unlikely to have contributed more than about one-quarter of the temperature rise observed in the past 60 years”http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/three-quarters-of-climate/

Not a word of these claims is remotely false, but they leave a systematic misimpression: that the changes we are seeing have multiple candidate causes among which human forcing is only one. This language leaves room in the reader’s mind for a debate which doesn’t really exist. The warming we see is accounted for **and then some**, but the reader can easily misconstrue these many statements from the more sober participants as saying otherwise.


WHY THIS MATTERS


There’s a sequence of dilutions; from what scientists perceive to what scientists are willing to say publicly; from what scientists say to what the IPCC process will approve; from what the IPCC process approves to what the general public and the policy sector understand. And so, there’s a secondary story buried under the bizarre Senate votes this week that interests me more than the bizarre dance of politics.


The sense of the senate resolution that went down to narrow defeat was that human activity “significantly contributes” to climate change. Nothing about utterly dominating climate change, which in fact is what we are trying to tell the world. I don’t think people get us. This “certainly more than half” language is contributing to a widespread sense that “some other warming cause also exists”. I’d like to see a public opinion poll on that. The reason I've finally given voice to these concerns, though, is damned peculiar.


ENTER JUDITH CURRY


Along those lines, I was pleased to find something Judith Curry said that I could agree with. She tweeted, well, I’m not sure what exactly (the tweet has vanished as far as I can tell), but the general sense of it must have resembled the subsequent tweet


The public views percent as 0-100, part of a divisible whole; not in a mathematical 'budget' sense where can exceed 100%


I've long said best estimate of anthro component to GW slightly over 100%. Agree use of "per cent" misleads. Said that too @curryja .
I understood her to be complaining about the communication problems associated with expressing the anthropogenic component of warming as a fraction or a per cent. And I was pleasantly surprised by this shared insight and this bit of evenhandedness on Curry's part. But I totally forgot the Law of Curry: "It's worse than you think, even when you account for the Law of Curry".

The exchange continued in a similar vein for a bit
mtobis@mtobis  Jan 21My point is that the public seems unaware that 110% is even possible, never mind the best estimate @swimsure Not sure what @curryja's is.
\Judith Curry@curryja  Jan 21@mtobis @swimsure The public views percent as 0-100, part of a divisible whole; not in a mathematical 'budget' sense where can exceed 100%
but then the Law took hold and it took an abrupt turn to the bizarre:
There's Physics@theresphysics  Jan 20 Okay, I'm confused. Isn't "more than half" the same as "> 50%"? http://wp.me/p12Elz-4Al  via @curryja
Judith Curry@curryja  Jan 20 @theresphysics Read the post. Does 110% mean more than half? No - it depends on how big the other slices are, not constrained between 0-100%
There's Physics@theresphysics  Jan 20@curryja Huh? Of course 110% means more than half.  It certainly can't be less than half. F 
Judith Curry@curryja  Jan 20 @theresphysics  what if the other piece is 220%?  your 110% is now less than half.
Judith Curry@curryja  Jan 20 @theresphysics the issue is less than half of 'what', which is not defined.  if constrained to 0-100% all is clear
There's Physics@theresphysics  Jan 20 @curryja Half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature since 1950 - it couldn't be clearer. 
Webb Roberts@webbr  Jan 20 @theresphysics …but these go to eleven
(There's Physics discusses this exchange here.) At first I read this to say that Curry was talking about multiple large pieces totalling to 100% and mocked her position thus


It COULD BE that stable climate of holocene is COINCIDENTALLY now subject to HUGE PERTURBING FORCES much bigger than greenhouse gases right?

and a couple of other people came to that interpretation too, but now I believe that even that interpretation is too generous.

Could “what if the other piece is 220%?  your 110% is now less than half.really mean she thought we were allowing a total attribution of 330%

Does she really not understand that residual after 110% is accounted for is negative? The more I look at these exchanges (and looking back on Twitter streams is an amazingly awkward task, by the way - please fix this Twitter) the more convinced I am that she thinks that if one piece is 110% of the total then WE DON'T KNOW HOW MANY PER CENT THE TOTAL IS!

You know, I think that is really what she meant. WE'RE DOOMED 

This is the level of confusion we are faced with in dealing with Dr Curry. Far from a good grasp of nonlinear partial differential equations you’d expect from a research meteorologist with a specialty in tropical storms, Curry does not appear to grasp the idea of negative numbers, at least in this context.

She is so fixated on the pie chart, and on the natural component being positive, (despite the fact that she once allowed a possible sensitivity of 10 C per doubling - what’s up with that?) that she thinks an anthro component of 110% means a total change of more than 100% of the total change!


Now I figure if she takes notice of this she will try to find some other way to put it, but I'll be interested to see how she accounts for some of her statements. I am sorry, this is far from the threshhold of qualified or not qualified to be a full professor.
Anyone who thinks all is roses in the garden of science has to account for the rise of Dr Curry to a position of responsibility in academia. (Here I am on the sidelines and there sits Judith Curry on top of the heap. To be honest I never had the energy to try to climb the tenure ladder, but still, try to imagine how I feel about this.)

Then we further have to find some way to account for her being influential enough politically to be invited to give testimony to what passes for a Congress in this country nowadays.

On the whole, my conclusion is this

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kepler Discovered Ellipses: A Dunning-Kreuger Illustration in a Facebook Chat

Spot the intellectual bullying.


Check out my FB timeline, and decide for yourself whether I have a valid viewpoint...


I welcome civilized intellectual debate!
4 hours ago
... it's not like I haven't heard this stuff before. In my (informed, and yes I do have a PhD in climate science, actually) opinion you are very confused. I've been trying to fight back the forces of confusion for decades. I am sure you mean well, but you are just wrong, and I can't just engage with every person who is wrong that I encounter, especially on a closed medium like Facebook. There isn't enough expertise to go around as it is. Those of us who actually get it have to choose our battles carefully.

I hope you eventually find some more credible source of information.


Sigh.
I have a degree in agricultural science from ([university elided to protect identity]) then worked as a government science writer, and technical journalist in another contentious area, agricultural chemicals, for many years. Then in the US I actually worked on the [famous] lab, as a visualization artist, but had access to all the scientists, and interviewed them in the course of my work.

You are in a scientific backwater when it comes to this stuff, deal with it...

Many NASA scientists agree with my views, but recognize they face excommunication, and professional suicide for agreeing with me...
Time will tell, the truth will come out eventually.
Agree with that. Unfortunatley if we dawdle on policy until the worst is obvious, the worst will already have happened
Plus there's all the delays in the system
Copernicus thought he was the center of the universe too...
So "the truth will out" is not reassuring
huh? Copernicus thought we weren't the center.
that was the whole point.

That is my point --- he thought we were the center and everything revolved in circle around us,

Ellipses were beyond him.
You even get Copernicus wrong!

Kepler. He sdiscorved ellipses...

discovered
"Nikolaus Kopernikus; 19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at its center.[a] The publication of this model in his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) just before his death in 1543 is considered a major event in the history of science, triggering the Copernican Revolution and making an important contribution to the Scientific Revolution."

IE what is not the "obvious" answer" is not always the truth...
I am interested in risk management.
At the moment I am at risk of getting into a long conversation that is of no benefit to any of us.

Kepler explained "retrograde" motion in planets...

Not the obvious, beyond the obvious.
Good luck in your endeavors. Signing off.

CO@ is like that.

Chickshit. Deal with Kepler.

Chickenshit I believe is the proper term. Sorry for the typo...

You seem to be nothing more than an intellectual bully. Good luck to you also. Time will tell indeed.

PS just checked out you website with it's focus on Mueller - you are so in the dark ages when it comes to this stuff. This guy is a nuclear scientist, with huge ties to the nuclear energy, he is claining a change of heart based on self interest, little more....

nuclear energy industry

claiming

YOUR website...


lol.