"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Like It or Not, We Need Nukes

According to this TED talk, sustained power delivery from solar is less than 10 W / m^2, which means 1200 m^2 / capita for current US consumption, times 350 M people = 4200 Million m^2 = 420,000 km^2 = larger than Montana. And that is optimistic and doesn't account for storage/intermittency.

In reality, at least double the area of Texas needs to be covered with solar panels, plus we need to solve the storage problem, to solve the problem on renewables only.

Can Americans get by on less than 12 KW? Well, most people in other countries do, but, realistically, Americans don't like to be told to cut back, and the ones who consume above the average all the more so.

Similar constraints hold for wind.

Only nuclear power allows us to continue the growth economy. And while you and I might not approve of the growth economy, people will not willingly give it up very soon. (It would pretty much kill most people's retirement strategy, for one thing.) And very soon is when we need a solution.

So I have concluded that like it or not, we need nukes.

Monday, December 7, 2015

100th Anniversary of Birth of Vern Suomi

Vern Suomi's 100th birthday was yesterday.

Vern brought an engineer's perspective to climate science, and was the inventor and first leader of satellite meteorology. I had the great privilege of his acquaintance. He remained a constant presence at UW-Madison's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department until weeks before his passing.

A man both startlingly unassuming (he was normally seen wearing a plaid shirt) and remarkably competent with a variety of talents technical, scientific and administrative, he also was instrumental in making Wisconsin a long-time leader in observational meteorology and space science, which continues today. He also was the organizer of the Charney report in 1979 which was the foundational document of global warming studies.

Vern Suomi was one of the great figures of 20th century science.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Consensus on Consensus

"None of the scientists I interact with think this is a real question", say lots of scientists. For instance


 There are 25 of these little snippets, with about 20 scientists ( a couple of whom get two videos) here.

Nerdghazi Update

L Smith R-TX-21's try to rerun "Climategate" (wilfully misinterpreted science email) scandal fails

There's, equivocal but on the whole good news on the Nerdghazi front.

By Nerdghazi, I mean the latest politics-dressed-as-science from the denier world perpetrated by Lamar Smith. (Thanks to CelloMom for the memorable name, which refers to false scandals in general. I hope it catches on, and eventually we will have a long overdue Ghazi-Ghazi; the mileage Republicans get out of fake scandals is the real scandal.)

There are two pieces of somewhat equivocal good news on this front.

First: after a united and vehement response from the entire American scientific community spearheaded by the AAAS, Lamar Smith's House Science Committee has backed down from demanding scientists' email on the grounds of a trumped up fantasy of a scandal regarding small corrections in data.

Second: the mainstream press is finally taking notice.

The bad news that goes with the good news - First, Smith's backdown is grudging and doesn't really concede the matters of principle involved.

"This week, after eight scientific groups argued that demanding NOAA researchers’ emails could discourage other government scientists from studying anything politically controversial, Mr. Smith told NOAA he would first seek the communications of the agency’s nonscientific staff. He did not, however, rule out the possibility of requesting scientists’ emails in the future."

Second, the press took no serious notice until AFTER the AAAS response.

Still, it's reassuring that the scientific community acting together still has enough influence to restrain the most egregious examples of science-scapegoating.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lamar Smith: Thomas Karl Guilty of Not Being Roy Spencer

According to an op-ed penned by Lamar Smith, the US House Science Committee's subpoena for basically any and all emails between Thomas Karl and his collaborators is based on the fact that they are reporting the surface temperature record when decent scientists are reporting the satellite record.


I elaborate on just how crazy that is at Medium. If you know anyone political or journalistic in the US, I'd appreciate if you would show that article to them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Grypo Saurus on Publicizing Scientists' Conversations

This is a comment subsequent to my notorious F-word posting in response to Steve Mosher suggesting he's "on my side", which I reread and which despite its notoriety I stand by. And it's germane regarding the Lamar Smith inquisition, but I like Grypo Saurus' version better than my own.

Hoisted from comments, April 2011:
There seems to be some bizarre lack of understanding within the obstructionist movement that anything a scientists says or does or emails or anything that can be recorded is a matter of public record, whether the scientist is aware of this or not. This is because we as taxpayers pay this person, therefore, their thoughts are ours for the taking.

I'm unsure what the logic is here, but this is an ideological conundrum, seeing as how many obstructionists argue against action due to a rigid belief in personal liberty. A belief even the non-ideological hold dear. This personal liberty is important to them and most others for reasons that should be obvious, but in this instance, it does not seem to be. Why?

As we've seen from recent attempts from right-wing groups and politicians, the academic establishment is fighting hard against these attempts to provide the public the open access to other's private communications. Academia has taken a stance that it cannot effectively find the truth while under the type of scrutiny that people Mosher advocate and take advantage of when presented to them.

So how does this work itself out logically? Do these people reject that notion that academics take? It's not like we record phone calls, or tape conversations at conventions, or other such things. right? If that were the case there may be better context to fill in the blanks, blanks that so easily allow to be filled with subjective narratives that in no way can be matched up for reality, and in no way gives the person access to the mind. So what is the final goal behind wanting this access to scientist’s emails? For what reason?

The open access types say it is to promote trust. But is that promoted?

Climategate showed us that didn't happen. In fact, the entire reason that Climategate looks so bad is that scientists didn't trust. I wonder if scientists had access to Mosher's and McIntyre's emails, would they trust them more or less? I took a look at my own emails and realized that certain readers would no longer trust me. Any Exchange tech will tell you the same about anyone.

I think we need to look at more closely the logic behind open access, what the goals are, and whether or not the extreme views of Mosher are at all necessary to the results. Especially if personal liberty and the future academia and science itself are at stake. 
Emphasis added.

Bray and von Storch Survey

I've been invited to participate in a new Bray & von Storch survey of climate scientists.

The questions seem structured to de-authenticate climate models. These questions will have a different meaning within the field and outside the field.

When asked for instance "How well do you think atmospheric models can deal with influence of clouds?" on a scale of 1= "very inadequate", 7 = "very adequate", my honest answer for the modeling community is far more severe than my honest answer for the public, because the context in which they will perceive the answer is dramatically different. Many respondents will be unlikely to notice this bait and switch.

There's also this question:

What can I say to that? "No answer" is not my answer, nor are any of the choices.

The lack of a >100% option shows that the survey is being conducted by people who are not paying attention.

I'm not sure I understand the purpose of such surveys anyway. If you want the consensus of a field, you ask the research leaders of that field.

I'm afraid I don't qualify. I guess I don't want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.

I'm inclined not to complete the survey. Or I could just be ornery and fill out the most alarmist-friendly box on every question, because unreal answers opposite to the intended skew are appropriate for an unreal survey?

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.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Fool That Was Mentioned

Gus McPherson posted

Here's Revkin's piece.

I'm softening on Nye, whom I didn't like a long time ago when I saw Lindzen chewing him up for lunch in an ill-considered debate. He seems to have upped his climate game considerably.

Anyway, I'm gratified to see that Revkin saw fit to mention my takedown of McPherson.

Also I'm bemused that I came up in McPherson's thread.


Didactic Malpractice Defended

I object to this article on Medium, which alleges that 5 x 3 is correctly understood as 3 + 3  + 3 + 3 + 3, but NOT as 5 + 5 + 5. Seriously.

I don’t think the parents “jumped the gun” by posting this. If this is didactic theory in mathematics it is insane.
It’s not a new insanity — they tried to teach me set theory in sixth grade or so. It was called “the new math”. Everybody hated it, even kids like me who loved math.
The point is that we don’t learn axiomatically, we learn by experience. Trying to replicate the basis of formal analysis in teaching concepts is completely foreign to the way learning actually happens. It seems to me that anyone who actually remembers learning anything ought to know this.
A kid who fully grasped the equivalence of 5 sets of 3x1 blocks with 3 sets of 5x1 blocks would be well ahead of the class, and would be duly punished.
The lesson here is that math is not about knowledge but about pleasing the bureaucracy. I can imagine nothing more toxic to the idea of “converting YOU to a math person” as the author's bio smugly claims to do. You’re taking a budding math person and convincing him that teachers are not interested in math so much as in bureaucratic BS, and that the whole process is to be resented.
My career was set back years by an off-putting teacher in first year calculus. Make no mistake that this sort of discouragement happens.
I am not just in disagreement with this article. I am angry about it.

The article concludes:

I know it’s frustrating but 
Respect the Teachers 
They are qualified experts on child education. They have the best intentions for the students in mind. If you are confused, ask them why they did something before you slam and discredit them on the internet.

This is the wrong reason to trust any profession, be it elementary education, economics, or climate science for that matter. Trust must be deserved to be earned. It's a hard problem, but "we all think this and we're the experts" is a shortcut that can lead to very serious problems.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Some Miscast Pearls: On Climate Sensitivity

I wrote this on Tom Fuller's. I hope you appreciate it more than his crowd did:

Others may be accused of shifting goalposts, but I am innocent of the charge.
The ECS is probably between 2.5 and 3, where it has always been. The TCR is ill-defined, as it has always been. Global warming is not the key socially relevant metric of climate disruption, as I said before anyone was talking about the hiatus and as I still say now that the hiatus is apparently ending.
Changing the radiative properties of the atmosphere to a larger extent than the Milankovic forcing will cause substantial climate change.
The changed climate will almost certainly be substantially warmer, whence all the obsession on global mean surface temperature, which is after all relatively easy to measure. But the warmed global climate is not the cause of climate change – it is a consequence of climate change.
The main issue that people will have to deal with is not this global measure, but that this measure is the result of climate changing locally everywhere in ways that are hard to predict and hard to manage. The extent of change can already be expected to be comparable in magnitude to the Milakovic cycle changes but much faster, leaving local adaptations, both artificial and natural, stressed and at risk of decline. The longer we delay in reaching carbon neutrality, the larger the disruption we have committed to.
Nothing in the recent observational data calls any of this into question in the least.
The process is slow on political time scales. Talk about what will happen to GMST in 2017 is a fine example of missing the point. People may be silly enough that this will affect politics. But the climate system won’t care a bit.
The response of the climate system is dominated by how much fossil carbon gets emitted from the beginning of the industrial revolution until the day we reach carbon neutrality. The rest is secondary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Representative

Not content with his sponsorship of the notorious pernicious anti-free-internet SOPA legislation, the representative for Downtown and near South Austin, Lamar Smith, is now doing a full Cuccinelli paranoid attack on Thomas Karl, a very apolitical and diligent curator of America's meteorological data.

Why? Well, there's been a new correction to the National Climate Data Center's observational record, which had already been somewhat corrected in the early years. The older correction actually reduced the estimated overall global warming over the observational record, and the new correction did, um, nothing much worth noting, but you wouldn't know it to hear people like Smith talk.

The corrections look like this.

Smith's response to this obvious bit of subversive chicanery looks like this:
NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda,” Smith said. “The Committee intends to use all tools at its disposal to undertake its Constitutionally-mandated oversight responsibilities.”
I am losing my mind - I'm really upset that such a person even exists, never mind that he supposedly represents me.


For Rob, from the letter to Smith written by ranking committee minority member Eddie Bernice Johnson:

Morning Memes

The internet has been cussedly interesting this morning:

I'm finding myself thinking about Stoat vs McKibben (and not The Book) but I'm not sure I have anything interesting to say about it. As I see it they are both right. Is that even possible?

Also: probably few reading will have missed this, but for what it's worth, the high-tech NYTimes story clarifying the Greenland ice situation, so different from what we expected 15 years ago. It's interesting also in that it's exemplary and likely a milestone in what digital media can do that books and magazines cannot.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The fever is not the disease

Our problem is uncontrolled anthropogenic climate change.

The global temperature is a measure of the change, but it is not the change we care about. We care about what happens on the ground at one place and another as the temperature changes.

"Global warming" is like the fever; climate disruption is the disease.

You can eliminate a fever with an ice bath, but you'll just stress the patient. While someone with an abnormal body temperature is probably sick, having a normal body temperature does not prove that someone is well.

A lot of analogies are easily strained but this one is pretty good. We're obsessing over a number, sometimes even to the exclusion of the patient's health.

Shifting goalposts? Maybe for you. I said this before the hiatus and I am saying it now that the hiatus is disappearing into the puff of smoke that it was.

"Global warming" is just a symptom.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

IAMs Cannot Be Fixed

Also in re IAMs from David Roberts's Vox article, and rather a separate point:
There are tons of other interesting results buried in this monster paper — for instance, out of various parameters, uncertainty about future productivity growth has by far the largest implications for outcomes, "which suggests that uncertainty in GDP growth dominates the uncertainty in emissions"
Please note - GDP growth is a parameter of IAMs; it's not an output, it's an input. This alone makes them unfit for purpose, as I determined independently, but David wrote up before I got around to it.
Right now, the most frequently used climate IAMs treat economic growth as mostly or entirely exogenous. Here’s a very brief explanation of endogenous vs. exogenous variables in economic models:

Some economic variables are determined by our models, while others are usually assumed to be determined by factors outside of our models. We call the former endogenous variables and the latter exogenous variables.

For econometric applications, the crucial difference between an endogenous and an exogenous variable is that we must assume that exogenous variables are not systematically affected by changes in the other variables of the model, especially by changes in the endogenous variables.

In other words, an exogenous variable is something you plug into the model, not an outcome of the dynamics within the model.

So what does it mean for GDP growth to be treated as exogenous in economic models? It means that growth cannot be systematically affected by endogenous variables like, say, temperature — by definition, in these models, climate impacts cannot affect the rate of GDP growth. Climate impacts might subtract something from total economic output, but they do not alter the rate or trajectory of growth.
This doesn't mean that complacent economic models are better than disturbing economic models nor the other way around. It means that this approach is of no value whatsoever in assessing long term climate risk. At all. Period.

Now people have finally got around to realizing this and are plugging in a fveedback from climate to the growth parameter. If course, they aren't going to publish the results. It's not hard to imagine the rosy models turning collapsitarian with this minor tweak. That doesn't make them right, of course. Presumably an approach with such a fundamental flaw as to tread GDP as a parameter is pretty flawed in other ways.

It's funny how people who criticize climate scientists tend to be such empiricists, obsessing over every bump and wiggle in every chart and using each little excursion as an excuse to dismiss a fairly mature body of physical theory. But when it comes to economics, they are utterly happy with the economists utter indifference to data collection and their silly handwaving predictions.

If our circumstances weren't so dire it would be funny.

Roberts on IAMs

David Roberts has an interesting article in Vox today which discusses the very severe limitations of the sorts of models economists typically use to study climate change (Integrated Assessment Models or IAMs). His conclusion is quoted from Ackerman et al 2009:
Policy decisions should be based on a judgment concerning the maximum tolerable increase in temperature and/or carbon dioxide levels given the state of scientific understanding. The appropriate role for economists would then be to determine the least-cost global strategy to achieve that target. While this remains a demanding and complex problem, it is far more tractable and epistemically defensible than the cost-benefit comparisons attempted by most IAMs.
I agree wholeheartedly.

Indeed, that is why we have a 2 C target. It’s not just that the economics of the problem is hopelessly intractable, though it is.

We have delayed long enough that economics does not meaningfully enter into target-setting. See this article by me and a more detailed analysis by Dana Nuccitelli at Skeptical Science.

The strategy may have been an interesting economic question once, but it is not so any longer. We have delayed so much that the optimum rate of decarbonization is simply "as quickly as is feasible", that is, we need to achieve the absolute minimum cumulative net CO2 emissions that we can without the decarbonization kicking off destabilizing damage to society in itself.

So the question we can put to economists - how fast can we put the brakes on without spinning out of control economically or politically - may actually fall within the range of the sorts of analysis that, at least purportedly, they can do. Since it’s on a short time scale and by assumption avoids tipping points, maybe their methodologies will help.

Of course, as with any policy/expertise interface, distinguishing the real experts from the charlatans is also a crucial issue.

I am not entirely happy with David's opening for the article, though, and it raises a cluster of ideas that I have been meaning to write about for a while. I hope to explain shortly.

Renaming this Blog

Once while utterly disgruntled about my academic staff job at U Texas, I briefly renamed this blog to "Only In It for the Health Insurance". While that was up, someone found an article of mine he liked and linked to it, as "Michael Tobis, over at Only In It for the Health Insurance, says..." So that was a bit embarassing.

A blog's name should reflect its contents, though, and clearly the focus of this blog has shifted some. So I'd like to porpose some alternative names.

Based on the conversations here of late several alternatives present themselves.

"Tom Fuller Strawmans mt"

"Tom Fuller Misses the Point"

"Tom Fuller's False Balance Only Goes One Way"

Or I could just turn moderation back on.

I'd rather have no conversation at all than spend my time in a futile effort at getting Tom to read what I actually write rather than what he expects me to have written, so he can have his fun resenting me.

Moderation is on. Sorry for delays. There's no guarantee of service but I will usually respond within a day or so.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"I'm a (insert politically correct category) and I don't believe in Al Gore"

I came across this Twitter account.

Currently self described as

"Pros: labor unions, free expression, secular humanism. Antis: war, corporate rule, climate hysteria"

the account mostly retweets things; although purportedly based in Japan the retweets seem to be about American politics, and indeed lean center-left, although not really lefty enough to use a tendentious phrase like "corporate rule".  Mixed in with these are retweets of classic denier stuff - Tol, Watts, and Tom Nelson. Which is to say not just wrong, but also unkind, illiberal and stunningly inconsiderate.

Now, in my opinion, anyone who retweets "Tom Nelson" is quite likely to actually be, you know, "Tom Nelson".

The suspicion that this is a sock puppet is reinforced by the phrase "climate hysteria" in the account description. Well, you know, the word "hysteria" has a very nasty history and just isn't used "on the left" (that is, by people with any sort of sensitivity to others) anymore.

So, with that and the sort of caricature of a moderate leftist in "anti-corporate rule" I have some doubt that this is a real left-leaning person.

(I could be wrong. For all I know @scottinfukie is a real person whose isolation in Japan makes for some very odd word choices in his self-description. But bear with me.)

BNotice, if it is a sock puppet, how it essentially adopts the sane bit of Kahan's advice. In order to convince someone of something, you have to look like a member of their tribe.

Kahan would advise that, to induce doubt in leftists, you should claim some lefty urban hipster cred.

You know, just as Kathy Hayhoe has credibility (as a climate concerned person) among evangelical Christians since she is so obviously nice, sincere and authentically part of their community.

Note, though, that it's much easier to make this play, at least at a superficial level, if you don't have the burden of sincerity, which carries a whole lot of extra baggage about consistency, responsibility, decency and so on. There are advantages in dispensing with that. Mostly, you don;t have to actually convert a real person.

So even if @scottinfukie is not one of "Tom Nelson"'s sock puppets, it's probably not because "Tom Nelson" is above that sort of thing. If @scottinfukie did not exist, "Tom Nelson" would have been happy to invent him.

I've seen this pattern before - frank denial from someone who otherwise (to a liberal mentality) "seems nice". When first encountered it is very disconcerting.


A recent example of the strategy has come up, and for some reason has garnered some attention. It's an article, supposedly a retraction of prior climate concern, called

As the dog-whistle title would indicate, it's the usual baffled nonsense. For instance:
"Most of what people call “global warming” is natural, not man-made."
"CO2 has very little to do with it."

"Additional man-made CO2 will not likely harm oceans, reef systems, or marine life."

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others are pursuing a political agenda and a PR campaign, not scientific inquiry. "
etc. etc. In short, baseless, shallow, wrong, and irresponsible. Alas, nothing unusual.

For some reason people are a bit taken aback by this particular article. The main thing appears to be the identity politics play at the beginning. The opening paragraphs really are the payload; the rest of the piece is just the vehicle.
If the answer is It would take a ton of evidence to change my mind, because my understanding is that the science is settled, and we need to get going on this important issue, that’s what I thought, too. This is my story.

More than thirty years ago, I became vegan because I believed it was healthier (it’s not), and I’ve stayed vegan because I believe it’s better for the environment (it is). I haven’t owned a car in ten years. I love animals; I’ll gladly fly halfway around the world to take photos of them in their natural habitats. I’m a Democrat: I think governments play a key role in helping preserve our environment for the future in the most cost-effective way possible. Over the years, I built a set of assumptions: that Al Gore was right about global warming, that he was the David going up against the industrial Goliath. In 1993, I even wrote a book about it.
Got that? Even an environmentally motivated vegan can disbelieve in "Al Gore is right"!

That's the interesting part; the science is the usual Wattsian handwaving nonsense.

But is it for real? "This is my story," he claims. So what's the story, really?

A disconcerting clue: People who believe or once believed that Al Gore is right to the point of writing a book about it summarize their opinions about global climate disruption in other, more complex ways than "Al Gore is right". No?

Now if this is just play acting, it is right out of Dan Kahan's playbook.

Now, I don't think the good guys can benefit from Kahan's advice; our job is to tell the truth. That's where I disagree with him. But Kahan is right about the strategy for the bad guys.

The way I put it is "when deep information is unavailable, we default to shallow information"; we look to people we trust, and with whom we have affinity. That's totally reasonable.

And most people can't really follow the debate. Not because the main points of the science are that difficult, but because of the professional bullshit-slinging and consequent Benghazification of the climate issue.

So did this person really undergo a conversion experience from reasonably sensible understanding to abject confusion? We know it's not inconceivable; Judith Curry seems to have managed it for one. But it would be nice to hear a personal account.

My curiosity was piqued enough to follow the links in his first paragraph.

So I followed the links in his opening paragraph, quoted above,seeking more information about himself and his journey.


First link "I became vegan"
- presumably about Mr Siegel becoming vegan? Nope!

It's a more or less random vegan activist site. Nothing related to Mr Siegel except insofar as it proves that vegans exist.


Second link "I believed it was healthier (it's not)"
- presumably rebutting health benefits of a vegan diet? Nope!

It's a decent piece of skeptical analysis, which criticizes some over-the-top vegan propaganda. It shows some equivocal evidence, but it also is clear that substituting plants for animals is generally good and concludes "The most important take-home message with diet and health is that anyone who ever expresses anything with certainty is basically wrong, because the evidence for cause and effect in this area is almost always weak and circumstantial"


Third link: " I believe it’s better for the environment (it is):
Well, presumably since he is a climate denier, this will point to a site which points to environmental damage other than through greenhouse gases? Nope!

He links to "Cowspiracy" (which I don't endorse at all by the way) which is ALL ABOUT the greenhouse impact of livestock. So he is vegan out of environmental responsibility to a cause he doesn't believe in? ?? ???

Oh, and I have a bridge for sale, in case you are interested.


Fourth link: " I even wrote a book about it."

A climate book about whether Al Gore was right in 1993? Well, to be fair, Earth in the Balance came out in 1992. So it's conceivable. But Google this book. How a book could have so little evidence of having been written is completely baffling. The link goes to an Amazon link to an out-of-print book with two used copies in existence; the author isn't even listed. The sole reviewer admits he hasn't read the book (and obviously followed the link from Medium).

The book is called "What is worth doing? A Conversation on Conservation" The only hits all seem to go back to one or two used copies for sale somewhere, except for one rather spammy thing that pretends to be a PDF. (It isn't.)

Amazon lists no author, but lists David Siegel as publisher!

What is this thing, a term paper?

(Anyway, what the heck, I ordered one of the two copies left in the universe. I'll let you know.)


So, was that a compelling tale of tortured environmental reconsideration or what?

OK, what else can I tell you about this guy? He has a bunch of pointy-hared-boss type articles on his Medium page and on his consulting business site.

I would like to leave you with an example of the sort of clarity of thinking we can expect from this new player on the field. (webcite) Here, Siegel explains Bayesian reasoning:

The essence of Bayesian reasoning is that we should take into account what we already know about something before we analyze a particular situation. Thus, if someone says she's going skydiving and you're concerned about her safety, you should ask questions about how she will get there, how long the trip will take, who's driving, what shape the car is in, traffic, etc. If you hear of another tragic school shooting, and the shooter's name, life, and photos are all over the press and the shooter is an instant celebrity, you can assume there will be another shooting some months later, no matter what people in law-enforcement or government do. If you go to a casino, sit at a $5 blackjack table, and play the optimum strategy, you can expect to lose $3 per hour. If you invest in a hedge fund or mutual fund that has outperformed its peers in the past five years, you can expect it to underperform in the next five. If God has ever answered one of your prayers, you now know how datamining works. A Bayesian outlook requires us to use evidence to see what is most likely to be true and what isn't, so we can be less wrong in our assumptions. And, studies show that only 15% of doctors can answer Bayesian problems properly. We have a long way to go.

I am especially impressed by "If you invest in a hedge fund or mutual fund that has outperformed its peers in the past five years, you can expect it to underperform in the next five." What a subtle and elegant application of Bayes theorem that is!


UPDATE: I participated in a thorough fisking of Siegel's ten points here.