Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The sofritas solution

I have a blogging theory in need of a good name, that all blogs eventually deteriorate into discussions of the authors' pets or meals. Eli and John have done a terrible job of validating my theory, which leaves the degeneration to me. I don't have pets, assuming you discount the salamanders that moved into our worm composting bin six years ago and are still there. I think I've verified them to be arboreal salamanders, a pretty cool type that doesn't bother with lungs or a tadpole stage and can climb buildings. Still, not a pet.

So that leaves the sofritas vegetarian meals I've been ordering at our local Chipotle Mexican restaurant. I've not talked too much about personal steps to limit climate change impacts, partly because it's not my main interest and partly because I'm hardly a world-leading example. Still, I'm not impressed with the contempt dripping from statements like "changing a light bulb won't fix global warming." It sure is part of the fix, and personal action should be one of the steps that climate activists take.

I'm not a vegetarian, love the taste of meat, and feel better on low-carb diets that are easier when they're non-vegetarian. Despite that, vegetarianism is generally (maybe not always) a better thing for the climate and should be encouraged, especially as the whole world gets richer. When it's easy to make a switch, just do it.

So if you have a Chipotle restaurant in your area and they've added sofritas to the menu, you should try it. Sofritas is an annoying made-up word for shredded tofu mixed with other ingredients, and it has a chewy texture that makes it competitive with meat (speaking as a meat-eater). If more non-meat options were this easy, I'd do a lot better on the personal level.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Variability Makes Stuff Tuff

Steinacher, Joos and Stocker write in Nature about how "Allowable Carbon Emissions Lowered by Multiple Climate Targets", that hitting a single target, for example 2 C requires a lot less effort than limiting harm from multiple limits.  Essentially the same tautology as given natural variability on top of a rising base, then the hotter extremes are going to get hotter and you don't need a degree in meteorology or statistics to figure that out.  The authors selected a number of global metrics, mean sea level rise, steric sea level rise, Aragonite undersaturation in the Southern Ocean, global loss of aragonite saturated waters, cropland loss and soil carbon loss. 

Meeting the multi-target 1 is very unlikely (<10 360="" eff="" exceed="" if="" u="">+
40 GtC mean and maximum-minimum range from RFNC scenario uncertainty), although it becomes likely to meet the 1.5 C target (which is a part of set 1) at this range of emissions (Fig. 4).  Similarly it is unlikely that multi-target 2 can be met if Eff exceed 470 + 80 GtC while it is still likely to meet the 2 C target if they stay below.
Now certainly bunnies can argue about the choice of metrics, the emission scenarios and the models used to play what if, but the central point remain, it is easy to mislead policy makers if one focuses on a single metric. 

Worse, fitting a single globally and temporally averaged metric, such as temperature anomaly is an exercise in making von Neumann's elephant wiggle his trunk without a dose of physics and chemistry.  Further, anyone who uses global metrics fall into the trap one anonymouse saw with another study
It's the creeping statistical hints between the lines of this paper that really bother me. Long before or even if we never see broad areas permanently enter a existentially threatening torrid regime, what about excursions? For instance, Pakistan this year has seen record temperatures approaching 54 degrees C in places where many people live, fortunately with lower humidity and only for handful of days but what about when/if such aberrations extend to a handful of weeks and are accompanied by inexorably increasing humidity? The resulting disaster would cause migrations. The worst-case scenario in Sherwood and Huber would not have to happen before we effectively lose major swathes of territory for year-round habitability.
Eli is an optimist of course.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The American South should learn to embrace its heroic underdog history

Nice quote of one Perry DeAngelis highlighted in a recent Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast:

If you strip the horrors of history from history, the flip side of that is you strip the nobility of rising above such horrors

There's been some discussion lately about the libertarian split over embracing the Lost Cause of the Southern Confederacy and the general Southern attitude to their history. While I'm sure this has been said elsewhere, I think the whitewashing of the horrors of the antebellum South* denies the heroism of the people that resisted those horrors. Rather than downplaying those horrors, the libertarians and more importantly the popular histories of the South could discuss the true underdog Southerners - Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, the white Virginians who tried to abolish slavery in their state in 1851, many others who fought a Lost Cause as underdogs against horrible tyrants. Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and the others may have become underdogs during the Civil War, but the history of the South before the war didn't put them in that category. If modern Southern schools want to teach a heroic heritage, there's a nobility there that they should emphasize instead.


*And the North also had its own horrors, and its own heroes who fought them.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Late to the lawsuit party (even Eli got there first). Anyway, mind the footnote

Started writing out a little happy dance over Michael Mann's defamation suit winning a preliminary battle and then saw Eli's already covered it several hours ago, so go read. I'll just add four points:

1. It's especially good because one motion by the naughty parties was an anti-SLAPP motion, intended to shut down, quickly, those frivolous SLAPP cases that are brought to oppress free speech. Among other things, a successful anti-SLAPP motion usually changes the normal American rule and allows the defendant to recover attorney fees from the suing plaintiff.* Barring a successful appeal, Mann is now free of that monetary threat.

2. It's good news for Mann, but mind the footnote following the statement (p. 15) "The Court must, at this stage, find the evidence indicates that the CEI Defendants' statements are not pure opinion but statements based on provably false facts." The footnote reads in full, "The Court does view this as a very close case." IOW, it could go the other way at trial.

3. A difficult issue even if Mann wins may be proving damages to Mann's reputation, in that it's difficult for statements by disreputable liars to have much effect on the reputation of honest people. OTOH, Mann's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress also gets to proceed, and that can get him damage awards, especially if the judge is angry with the defendant over the defamation and looking for a way to make the defendant provide compensation.

4. I think this case and the Supreme's actions on California Prop. 8 are good examples of why the law is like The Force, to be used for good or for evil. Anti-SLAPP motions were meant to be used for good, to help the little people who are sued by giant corporations for defamation when they tell city councils to vote down bad developments. Obviously, they can be twisted. Conversely, the modern version of legal standing that shut down Prop. 8 and brought gay marriage back to California was expanded by rightwingers to violate environmental laws by making it difficult for citizens to enforce the laws on their own. Standing then came around to catch the rightwingers on their own petards. This time.


*I don't actually know the law in Washington DC where this case was brought, but I'd be pretty surprised if it's different from anti-SLAPP done elsewhere, and it uses California law as a model which does allow fee recovery.

Bus Tossing

As many have noted, the judge, Natalia Combs Greene, has tossed out the National Review Online (NRO) and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), petition to apply the  anti-SLAPP law to Michael Mann's suit against them for libel.  Eli has commented on the suite previously, others have done the job on the judge's denial, but Eli, Eli always has an eye for the amusing, and NRO's recent filing claiming that the judge blew it by confusing poor old innocent them with the evel CEI is a new record in kicking your friends under the bus.

Judge Greene was not pleased with CEI's and NRO's claims of innocence writing

There is sufficient evidence presented that is indicative of “actual malice.” The CEI Defendants have consistently accused Plaintiff of fraud and inaccurate theories, despite Plaintiff’s work having been investigated several times and found to be proper. The CEI Defendants’ persistence despite the EPA and other investigative bodies’ conclusion that Plaintiff’s work is accurate (or that there is no evidence of data manipulation) is equal to a blatant disregard for the falsity of their statements. Thus, given the evidence presented the Court finds that Plaintiff could prove “actual malice.
with similar for NRO.  This is a worse defeat for CEI and NRO than it appears on the surface which is bad enough, because their motions argue that their statements about Prof. Mann were opinion, not fact, which is going to make it tough for them to argue that they were telling the truth about him and askin for discovery to dig dirt, but wait, there is more.

In a new motion, NRO argues that well yes, CEI libeled Mann, but they didn't
Specifically, the Order conflates the conduct of co-defendant Competitive Enterprise Institute (“CEI”) with that of National Review and Steyn, who never petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate Plaintiff or otherwise pressured the agency concerning Plaintiff’s research. Similarly, National Review and Steyn did not criticize Plaintiff’s scientific research for years, as CEI did
Eli does not remember NRO and Mark Steyn being especially friendly to Mann, and indeed if not before, after this people are going to go looking in the archives, but this is a sharp message to CEI that they are on their own.

More popcorn.
1.  Michael Mann's complaint

2.  CEI's motion to dismiss based on the DC anti-SLAPP act

3.  NRO's motion to dismiss based on the DC anti-SLAPP act

4.  Mann's reply to the NROs anti-SLAPP petition

5.  CEI's response to Mann's reply

6.  Judge's decision denying the CEI motion to dismiss

7.  Judge's decision denying the NRO motion to dismiss

8.  Judge's decision denying the NRO motion to dismiss based on the anti-SLAPP law

9.  NRO's motion to reconsider
10. Mann's reply to the motion to reconsider
11. NRO's motion to reconsider gets tossed and their lawyers are dissed for being clueless about how to file motions UPDATED

Monday, July 22, 2013

Measuring pH

Anybunny who has been following Judith Curry's display of purposeful ignorance, the Weasel's rather stoat like contempt for her and her fans Sargasso Sea like level of stupidity and Willard Tony's braying knows that just about no one offering their opinion has a clue about how pH is measured in the oceans and the precision and accuracy thereof.  Most of the bunnies, of course, at least those who took general chemistry, have some ideas about pH meters, indeed, in one of the later comments at WUWT, Joe, plain old Joe, puts it quite well

pH Meters are often unstable and not always reliable. They are the fussbudgety spoiled brats of scientific instrumentation. As a chemist, it was depressing how difficult it was to get reliable data, for those of us in OSHA who monitored factory operations. The first point is that, the makeup of the solution can radically affect the readings. as there can be surfactants, a large number of ionic species, and organic molecules. So, one would expect that since the ionic and organic constituents of local oceanic waters vary widely from location to location, it will similarly produce variability in pH readings. The second problem is the inherent instability of the pH probes. They can work reliably (perhaps), but then after sitting for any time, not work. It’s in their nature….
Which, to the cautious, might have been a strong hint that maybe pH meters are not used.  So Eli, being Eli, asked over at Curry's and Willard T's what the Dumb Bunnies though was the precision and accuracy of measuring pH in the oceans.  Chirping.  Something that the Some Bunny Eli wrote about earlier might have also  considered.  And indeed this is not the case.

There are two methods, one pretty old, the other newish.  First the newish one, an ion selective field SeaFET, accurate uncalibrated to 0.01 pH units, with a precision of 0.005.  The SeaFET can be left alone to operate and read out later and here is something about a system under use on the California coast.  Basically they are comprised of an ion selective membrane (only lets certain ions pass) on top of an FET. 

Second, the old one.  Like Joe, everybunny knows that pH meters suck.  If nothing else, the damn electrodes always dry out because people don't keep them wet and they cost a fortune.  However there is a better way and quite an old one.  Many chemicals change color when they ionize in solution.  In particular weak acids are happy to do this, and there are shelves in chemistry stockrooms full of different indicators.  The basic reaction is
HIn = H+ + In-
where HIn is a weak acid and In-  is the indicator anion.  The concention, [H+] is simply given by
Ka = [H+][In-]
where Ka is the acid dissociation constant, a weak function of temperature, or, if the bunnies prefer
pH = -log [H+] = log ([In-]/Ka)
determining pH then becomes an exercise in determining the color change as a concentration of  [In-].   In one deployed version, the precision is + 0.0007 pH unit sand an accuracy of  0.0005 relative to a reference system the principal requirement being holding the temperature in the spectrophotometer cell constant.   Indeed, part of the issue with accuracy is that the method really pushes the ability to mix buffers for calibration.  This is OLD technology, although there may have been modern refinements, so Eli would not be surprised to see measurements going back to 1950, if not earlier (stay tuned).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Deja Vu All Over Again


 A short while ago, Eli was reading Chemical and Engineering News when his eye gazed across a letter from somebunny, never mind who

Having recently become a 50-year member of the American Chemical Society, I am embarrassed to see that C&EN has become a propaganda machine attempting to brainwash ACS members. Strong claim, you say?
The cover of the March 25 issue points to the article about ocean acidification with the words: “Shellfish die-off threatens Pacific Northwest” (C&EN, March 25, page 36). The article says: “Over the past 250 years, the average upper-ocean pH has decreased by about 0.1 units, from about 8.2 to 8.1.” This is the only quantitative data, relative to ocean acidification, in this two-page article.
But 250 years ago an acid was a substance that tasted sour, and a base was a substance that tasted bitter. Fritz Haber and Zygmunt Klemensiewicz constructed the first glass pH electrode in 1906. So the pH scale did not exist before 1909. In 1934 Arnold Beckman began marketing his commercial pH meter, the first manufactured in the U.S
The convention taught in chemistry was that the right-most digit of a quantitative measurement was uncertain; it could be at least one or two units greater or lesser. Therefore, the data cited in the article should not be interpreted as if any change has occurred.
Relative to a shellfish die-off threatening the Pacific Northwest, near the end of the article it says: “In recent years, the tribe’s natural resources have been threatened by oil spills, overharvesting, and illegal poachers supplying the Asian seafood market.” Maybe it is these three factors, instead of ocean acidification, that threaten Pacific Northwest shellfish.
 Now, this is Curry class foolishness and Eli has no need to point the moving finger which anybunny could, if they were so motivated find to no real point, but the Rabett was pleased to see a wonderful reply published a few weeks later with names altered to protect some bunny or other.
The proper way of responding to a letter such as that from Some Bunny on the issue of ocean acidification is difficult (C&EN, May 13, page 2). Perhaps it’s best to mention simple things. Bunny points out that the acid concept is relatively new, and electrochemical methods of measuring pH date back only to 1906. He asks how it is possible, then, that we have measurements of pH going back more than 250 years.

As one who follows such things, I know there are biogeochemical proxies for pH including, among others, boron isotope ratios of foraminiferal carbonate, which can take us back much further than 250 years. Bunny tries to minimize the measured decrease of pH in the oceans from 8.2 to 8.1 as not being precise. He can be assured that pH variations with location and time have been measured well enough by both proxy and more recent instrumental methods to make such a statement meaningful. In addition, we have observed the expected decrease in the amounts of aragonite from which many sea animals build their shells.

I agree with Bunny that many factors are stressing the productivity of Pacific Northwest fisheries. Indeed, this is a classic case of not one thing or another—but rather one thing and another and yet another and so on. But each “another” counts, and for the fishery to flourish each must be dealt with, including acidification, the effects of which are global.
Eli, and Ms. Rabett have been doing other stuff, so imagine his surprise to find that similar foolishness has caused the long suffering Weasel to reach his limit, and that, especially after a winning boat races, is for the sharp toothed one a high barrier, but he has found it in Curry's Wide Sargasso Sea of Stupidity
The motive for this was, now that I have a moment from the rowing to pause to think, me thinking “hmm, I haven’t written about science much recently”. That is partly an inevitable, and predicted, consequence of me not doing science any more. But also, it seems to me, because there isn’t that much going on. So since James and Eli are on hols, and not much was showing up elsewhere, I thought I’d range off into Curry-land, to see what she had found. And it was looking pretty thin to me: weekend discussion threads and stuff. But then I found Ocean acidification discussion thread, and took a look. On the surface, its yet another of those rubbish posts that JC does which boil down to “I haven’t got a clue about subject X, but here are two people who disagree, errrm, well that didn’t teach anyone anything did it, never mind I got a pile of page hits”. But there is far more wrong with it than that.
and indeed, it is the usual swamp.  For example, Harold NLN
pH is measured with an electrochemical probe. They may have had some very crude galvinometer – based device 200 years ago, but it wouldn’t be very accurate. Until the de Forest tube was invented, the measurement was low precision.
and Nick Stokes tries his best but cannot beat the difference between a chemical equilibrium and a static equilibrium into Jim NLN

Well, those were some of the better ones, but blog scientists are on the case, 473 comments as of now.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Climate divestment for the water district

Below's my memo that I sent to the Water District Board yesterday - we'll decide Monday or Wednesday whether to move it forward. Many many thanks to Jay Carmona at 350.org for their work and her research help.

(BTW, I'll be offline until Monday, can respond to questions then. "Unburnable carbon" deserves its own blog post....)
----------------------------------------------------
SUBJECT: Recommendation on developing a Climate Divestment Policy for the Water District

DATE: July 18, 2013

Our residents and the Water District itself are paying millions of dollars and incurring significant risks from climate change. We are losing water supplies in the Sierras, forced to use more water in reaction to rising temperatures, face increased risks from stream and tidal flooding, and manage environmental degradation from climate change. Why then should we finance the industry promoting the same problem that we work so hard to fix?

I urge the Board to direct staff to return at an appropriate time with a proposed Climate Divestment Policy using the model under consideration in a number of cities (see attachments) developed by the non-profit 350.org. The effect would be to exclude from investment the top 200 fossil fuel companies. Our reserve investments in corporate financial instruments are relatively small and limited to bonds, so I assume it will not be difficult to put a policy into place with few if any financial implications. Pension funds and OPEB funds are controlled by CalPERS, so I recommend in addition that we direct staff to return to the Board with a draft letter that the Board can send to CalPERS asking it to begin climate divestment.

In addition to climate divestment being in the best interest of our residents, not to mention the general public interest, it may also be in our direct financial interest. Recent studies have shown fossil fuel companies underperforming the broader market. More generally, the stock and collateral value of the industry is based in large part on the value of their fossil fuel reserves, but those reserves contain far more carbon that can be burnt safely. This “unburnable carbon” constitutes overvalued equity and underestimated risk.

We have made a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. I believe we can make use of the 350.org list and exempt any company that makes a similar commitment. While eliminating fossil fuels is impossible right now, I believe this proposal is a practical and feasible way to help get us to a global carbon neutrality as soon as is practicable, something we should do for our own sake and that of everyone else.

Attachments:

Memo from Councilmember Worthington, City of Berkeley, including draft letter to CalPERS

Staff Report, City of Santa Monica

350.org article on financial performance of fossil fuel industries, available at http://gofossilfree.org/analysts-fossil-fuel-free-portfolios-outperform-investments-that-include-carbon-polluters/

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Simon's climatic battle over higher powers

Because I just now stumbled across this, I thought I'd write about a good article from 2011 by Simon Donner on how thousands of years of cultural beliefs that weather and climate are controlled by supernatural forces, not people, constitute a major barrier to action on climate. Key sentence:

It is unreasonable to expect a lay audience, not armed with the same analytical tools as scientists, to develop lasting acceptance during a 1-h public seminar of a scientific conclusion that runs counter to thousands of years of human belief.

Simon concedes the obvious that people have thought they could ask supernatural forces for help, but argues that still reserves the power to make changes to those forces themselves.

One thing I'd add to his points is the last two centuries of adding science to our understanding of weather have argued that we can't control the weather, even indirectly via prayer to the supernatural. So thousands of years of religious cultural beliefs saying the supernatural controls the weather is reinforced by two centuries of scientific cultural beliefs saying we humans have not even indirect influence via supplication. People have to overcome both biases to accept climate change. And there are plenty of people who can hold both biases - the randomness of weather lets them accept basic meteorological predictions and still find their prayers "rewarded" on an occasional basis.

So it's good, but I'm not quite ready yet to say I'm convinced. People don't seem to be that resistant to dropping supernatural explanations of weather (e.g. lightning) for scientific ones. Why does that willingness to end supernatural control stop when it involves human control? OTOH, the religious resistance is undeniable. The Creation Care movement seems to have been stymied so far, when it could have been a groundbreaker. My conspiracy theory I've floated before is that climate denialists sought out the marriage with evolution denialists more than the other way around, despite the fact that creationism has even more scientific disrepute, because that was the way to bleed the Creation Care momentum. I think influential people should consider what they can do to get Creation Care moving again, especially among Hispanics.

I'm sure Simon's right that we have to handle religious sensibilities with respect, although I'm not sure it's any more of a problem for climate than in any other area involving religious issues.

More generally, we had a huge blowup over "framing" several years ago. Ironically, the pro-framing bloggers did a bad job of communicating, and their antipathy to New Atheism was a mistake, but the framing concept of using language that appeals to the relevant audience is a no-brainer. They've won on that issue.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Snuggle Bunnies



Climate snapshots

1.
European Parliament approves a partial fix of its cap-and-trade program, whose allowance price collapsed because industry found it too easy to meet the overall cap goal. The fix, needing approval by member states, "backloads" some of the unneeded allowances to a future time (and hopefully they'll just be eliminated at some point). I criticized the EP for its failure to do this earlier, so they deserve acknowledgment when they fix it.

I'll just note that it's not the worst thing in the world for the Europeans to find they set too-easy goals on carbon. It reminds me a little of a post by Roger Pielke Jr where he claimed the German feed-in tariff on solar was a failure because so many people had installed solar panels that the funding for the program was being overwhelmed. Consider the contrary possibilities:  allocation prices through the roof because reductions were too hard, or no financing problems for solar because it was still too expensive to install.

2.
I provoke a partial disagreement among Same Facts bloggers when two of them say that cap-and-trade has assessment problems that carbon tax doesn't, because a cap requires consideration of the social cost of carbon and mitigation, while a tax only considers the social cost of carbon. My response at the same post:

I’m not sure I’m buying this argument, although I can’t claim to be an expert. It does seem pretty clear that we need to be in the vicinity of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 or so. Whether you get there in 2050, 2060, or 2070 might be a function of economic analyses, but that’s a marginal difference. So it might be easier to start with a cap allocation over time than it is to know you have to head in that direction and figure out a tax that takes you there.

The other and better argument IMHO is that allocating rights is how you grease the wheel. It’s not pure, but it gets things done.
A third blogger agreed it's not a technical issue, but argues a tax is still simpler.

More generally, I think scientists and some public policy academics may not accept political problems as being legitimately hard in the same way that scientific and engineering problems are legitimately hard. More about this at a later point, but for now I'll just say that if the politics are so easy to solve, then go make it happen.

3.
Provocative paper arguing for what I'd call a boomerang carbon policy:  we overshoot the 2C target in this century and then use carbon-negative biomass-plus-carbon-sequestration to get back to the target by  2150. (BTW, I realize the economic argument they make somewhat contradicts my point #2 above about cost/benefit analysis.)

I think something like this is the reasonable-best case outcome: we overshoot, and then the wealth and technology of future generations allows carbon-negative solutions that pull us back from disaster. Not exactly a low-risk approach.

4.
Noted with one comment:
The impact of adding such uncertainties would weigh for or against the conclusion that uncertainty should imply moderation.... And this is where I depart most sharply from Williams' conclusions. Uncertainty implies moderation only if the sources of uncertainty, on balance, add more to the risks of action than they do to the risks of inaction.
My comment is this wasn't written about climate change, but could have been pretty easily.


UPDATE:  I can't resist adding this from William:
This is just silly, you need to slap yourself about the face with a wet fish and reconsider.
I might have to try that the next time I get stuck on a problem.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Play Bunny Play

From Frank and Theresa Caplan, The Power of Play, about what makes for success in creative professions

To create one must have a sense of adventure and playfulness.  One needs toughness to experiment and hazard the risk of failure.  One has to be strong enough to start all over again if need be and alert enough to learn from whatever happens.  One needs a strong ego to be propelled forward in one's drive toward an untried goal.  Above all, one has to possess the ability to play!
Ms. Rabett calls Eli's lab his toy chest.  He mutters about her stash taking over the house.  Live safely, die bored.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Nuclear Meltdown at The Nation: Round Two

In my previous article I criticized an article by journalist Mark Hertsgaard and activist Terry Tempest Williams. My article received nearly 90 comments. This is a follow-on.

In the comments, several of the bunnies have warned me against reliance on the bourgeois media like Der Spiegel. So I checked out a report from Greenpeace Deutschland, entitled Impacts of Germany's Nuclear Phase-out on Electricity Imports and Exports. (warning: big pdf file). To summarize the 99-page document: Greenpeace claims that Germany's imports of electricity from nuclear-power plants in neighboring countries have not increased as a result of shutting down 40% of German nuclear power plants in 2011.

Suppose the Greenpeace is right on this point. If they're right, then this refutes Der Spiegel's claim that Germany went from an exporter to an importer of electricity.

However, I have looked through the Greenspeace document, and discovered that (according to their figures) Germany is a net importer of electricity from France and from the Czech Republic (This is an annual average figure: Germany exports a smaller amount of electrical power to France but the net is that Germany imports from France). And the electrical power exported by France and the Czech Republic is generated in nuclear power plants.

So we have to parse the statement carefully: Statement A: "Germany is a net importer of electrical power" is a false statement.

Statement B: "Germany is a net importer of electric power FROM FRANCE AND THE CZECH REPUBLIC" is a true statement, according to the Greenpeace document.

Several bunnies thrashed me for believing statement A is true, as Der Spiegel claimed. I no longer have any confidence in statement A. But statement B is true, even according to Greenpeace.

Actually, whether Germany is a net importer or not is not the main issue.The main issue is this:

As the US Energy Information Administration writes (at this link)

Coal use [in Germany] has increased since the Fukushima reactor accident since it can be used as a substitute for nuclear power in electricity generation.

In other words, Germany is phasing out nuclear power, increasing fossil fuels, and increasing renewables.

This confirms what James Hansen wrote in his 2009 book, Storms of My Grandchildren:

Germany provides useful empirical evidence about progress in quitting the fossil fuel addiction. Germany is making a major effort to improve energy efficiency. It is also trying hard to promote renewable energy, with large subsidies for wind and solar energies. Wind provides up to 20% o the country's electric energy in winter, but on annual mean the wind and sun produced only 7.3% percent of Germany's electricity in 2008…But what is disturbing about the empirical evidence from Germany is that, despite technical progress and strong efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energies, there are no plans to phase out coal. On the contrary, there are plans to build new coal-fired power plants, which the German government claims will be necessary once the country closes its nuclear reactor plants. The bottom line seems to be that it is not feasible in the foreseeable future to phase out coal unless nuclear power is included in the mix. [Storms of My Grandchildren, pp. 188-189].

It should be added that in addition to using fossil fuels for electricity, Germany imports large amounts of petroleum for use in the transportation sector. The Energy Information Administration (link above) also points out that the primary source of Germany's energy is petroleum, which made up 38% of Germany's total primary energy consumption in 2011.

Journalists like Mark Hertsgaard don't realize the problems that arise when attempting to integrate intermittent sources like wind and solar into a grid with other sources. I spoke with a top engineer at my local electric utility. The utility doesn't like solar because it fluctuates so much. When a cloud suddenly covers a large solar array, the utility has to come up with several MW of power in a real hurry. Their solution is to run a coal or natural gas plant below its capacity, so they can crank it up in a hurry to compensate for a decrease in solar-generated power. This causes some inefficiency because fossil-fuel plant is running below its maximum capacity. But the real problem is that the fossil-fuel plant needs to be comparable in size to the solar or wind power.

So when countries are able to generate 20% or 30% of their electricity generated by wind, the activists rejoice: "Oh great, in only a few more years it will reach 80% or 90%." The celebration is premature. Actually there is a natural barrier because of the need to provide a stable source of power when solar and wind provide little power.

On a related topic, Hertsgaard claims that nuclear power plants are "fantastically expensive". Actually the cost of electricity from nuclear power is comparable the cost of electricity from fossil fuels. [The comparison is apples and oranges, because nuclear has a large up-front capital costs and low fuel prices, while fossil fuels plants have lower capital costs and higher fuel costs.]

One final point: Hertsgaard wrote an admirable book, On Bended Knee (about the Reagan Administration and the Press), but he wandered WAY off the reservation with a scare story about the alleged dangers of fluoridation, contrary what the dentists tell us. For a science-based view, check out the entry in QuackWatch.

Horse-beating, MSM edition

You all heard it earlier here, but I got in a few licks at the 150-word limit in the San Jose Mercury News:

Obama's climate policy is good for region

Charles Krauthammer's diatribe (Opinion, July 5) against President Obama for confronting climate change is a disingenuous insult to our region, where we face tremendous problems from warming.

Krauthammer misleads on the Pew survey, where 28 percent of respondents made climate change a top priority -- not bad for a problem whose worst effects are yet to come. His cherry-picked information leads to wrong or misleading conclusions.

China and India have both committed to never have the same per-capita emission levels as the United States -- Obama should be applauded for trying to accelerate their commitments on climate.

As a director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, I'm keenly aware of the millions that we are spending and will spend to adjust to new flooding, new water demand, and reduced water supplies in the Sierra snowpack. What Obama is doing is good for us locally, but I believe that what Krauthammer wrote is anything but good.

Brian A. Schmidt
Director, District 7 Santa Clara Valley Water District

UPDATE:  found this interesting - after the 2004 election, Bush pushed Social Security "reform" like nobody's business, despite the public disinterest and his failure to make it a priority. Krauthammer had no problem with that presidential decision, talking about it incessantly as example of leadership.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Other shoe dropping after the Egyptian coup

Bringing a group with a marginal commitment to democracy into democratic politics has its risks but also a benefit - the group starts accepting democratic norms at some level, and eventually learns the art of compromise.

So now we see what happens when the same groups feel taken for fools:

But at the same time, Sheik Abu Sidra said, Mr. Morsi’s overthrow had made it far more difficult for him to persuade Benghazi’s Islamist militias to put down their weapons and trust in democracy.

“Do you think I can sell that to the people anymore?” he asked. “I have been saying all along, ‘If you want to build Shariah law, come to elections.’ Now they will just say, ‘Look at Egypt,’ and you don’t need to say anything else.”

From Benghazi to Abu Dhabi, Islamists are drawing lessons from Mr. Morsi’s ouster that could shape political Islam for a generation. For some, it demonstrated the futility of democracy in a world dominated by Western powers and their client states. But others, acknowledging that the takeover accompanied a broad popular backlash, also faulted the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for reaching too fast for so many levers of power.... 
“The message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims,” Essam el-Haddad, Mr. Morsi’s foreign policy adviser, warned on his official Web site shortly before the military detained him and cut off all his communication. The overthrow of an elected Islamist government in Egypt, the symbolic heart of the Arab world, Mr. Haddad wrote, would fuel more violent terrorism than the Western wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
And he took aim at Western critics of the Islamists. “The silence of all of those voices with an impending military coup is hypocritical,” Mr. Haddad wrote, “and that hypocrisy will not be lost on a large swath of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims...." 
In the United Arab Emirates...Islamists said the crackdowns were driving a deeper wedge into their movement. 
“The practices that we see today will split the Islamists in half,” said Saeed Nasar Alteneji, a former head of the Emirates group, the Islah association. “There are those who always call for centrism and moderation and peaceful political participation,” he said. “The other group condemns democracy and sees today that the West and others will never accept the ballot box if it brings Islamists to power.”

“And they have lots of evidence of this,” he said, now citing Egypt as well as Algeria.

(Emphasis added.)

Of course there's always another hand, and just as Allende rashly governed as if he had won a broad victory instead of 36% of the vote in a not-very-democratic democracy, Morsi went and alienated potential partners in a divided country. In all the discussion I've seen, people acknowledge that democracy isn't just about elections but haven't expressly referred to the right to revolution, something that's been part of the traditional democratic theory for centuries. You could argue that's what happened, although a military coup in support of popular protests doesn't quite fit the archetype.

Regardless though of whether the protesters had the right to do what they and the military did, is whether Egypt and the Arab world is better off for it. I don't think Morsi was completely beyond compromising. A Muslim Brotherhood government maintained a peace treaty with Israel - I'd like to see the analyst, especially in the pro-Likud faction in the US, who predicted that. If the popular protests were truly popular, then barring real movement from Morsi, we would've seen the results in the next elections, but his opponents weren't willing to wait.

Morsi wasn't smart enough to offer snap elections. Had he been smart enough, maybe he also wouldn't have made the other mistakes that brought him to this point. One advantage a long-standing democracy has over a new one is that people like him have usually gone through a lower office election or two and make their career-ending mistakes earlier on. The trick is to get to a stable democracy though, and overthrowing a government every time its leader is stupid will not get you there. Hopefully they'll do better the next time.

As for what the US should do, I'm not sure. If Egypt gets elections soon, then we might as well just find a way to contort around the prohibition of military aid after a coup. Otherwise, start cutting the military off.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Picking up after Krauthammer's Fourth of July litter

Not sure if he merits it, but a point-bypoint reaction to his Fourth of July leftovers:

WASHINGTON -- The economy stagnates. Syria burns. Scandals lap at his feet. China and Russia mock him, even as a "29-year-old hacker" revealed his nation's spy secrets to the world. How does President Obama respond? With a grandiloquent speech on climate change.
Krauthammer is unaware that the Administration is in the process of dealing with those other issues. Perhaps he should read a newspaper to find out what's happening with them. Also, a "WASHINGTON" dateline? Is he pretending to be a journalist writing news?
Climate change? It lies at the very bottom of a list of Americans' concerns (last of 21 -- Pew poll). Which means that Obama's declaration of unilateral American war on global warming, whatever the cost -- and it will be heavy -- is either highly visionary or hopelessly solipsistic. You decide:
So Pew didn't give a long list and ask the public to rank in priority - instead people were asked which is their top priority, and 28% said climate change, which was smaller than the other priorities. Nothing in the polling suggests the public generally considers it unimportant. Is Krauthammer a liar or a poor reader? You decide.
Global temperatures have been flat for 16 years -- a curious time to unveil a grand, hugely costly, socially disruptive anti-warming program.
Sadly, no. Temperatures have gone up, not necessarily as fast as anticipated, but they've gone up.
Now, this inconvenient finding is not dispositive. It doesn't mean there is no global warming. But it is something that the very complex global warming models that Obama naively claims represent settled science have trouble explaining. It therefore highlights the president's presumption in dismissing skeptics as flat-earth know-nothings. 
On the contrary. It's flat-earthers like Obama who refuse to acknowledge the problematic nature of contradictory data. It's flat-earthers like Obama who cite a recent Alaskan heat wave -- a freak event in one place at one time -- as presumptive evidence of planetary climate change. It's flat-earthers like Obama who cite perennial phenomenon such as droughts as cosmic retribution for environmental sinfulness.
I'd agree that specific events aren't nearly as dispositive as long-term records, but the long-term record leaves no doubt. And record extremes as part of long term records are revealing in that we have far more record warm events than record cold events. The climate dice are rolling more 11s and 12s and an occasional 13. Obama's right to talk about climate weirding.
For the sake of argument, let's concede that global warming is precisely what Obama thinks it is. Then answer this: What in God's name is his massive new regulatory and spending program -- which begins with a war on coal and ends with billions in more subsidies for new Solyndras -- going to do about it?
First, we don't know what the program will cost and can adjust if we collectively decide it costs too much. Krauthammer would rather not even figure out costs versus benefits. Regardless, given how many thousands of people are killed on annual basis from coal pollution, I'm not sure the cost will be net negative, even if you ignore climate change.
The U.S. has already radically cut CO2 emissions -- more than any country since 2006, according to the International Energy Agency. Emissions today are back down to 1992 levels.
There's a scene in the original book version of True Grit where Rooster Cogburn says that if he ever meets a Texan who doesn't claim to have drunk water from a horse track in the drying mud, he'll shake the man's hand and give him a cigar. I think I'll do the same thing for a climate denialist who doesn't cherrypick the time periods he looks at. Yes, we've recently improved upon our terrible emission record, but it still remains one of the worst in the world on a per-capita basis.
And yet, global emissions have gone up. That's because -- surprise! -- we don't control the energy use of the other 96 percent of humankind.
He says more than he intended. We're four percent of humankind producing about 16% of global emissions. The criticism that we can make of China and India is that they cannot allow themselves to develop in the same manner we developed, and that's a criticism we should only make with some humility. They need to do more, and they're doing more, but we have do more still.
At the heart of Obama's program are EPA regulations that will make it impossible to open any new coal plant and will systematically shut down existing plants
No, new coal plants can open if they can really be the clean coal they talk about, sequestering their carbon they produce to the extent it's more than comes from natural gas. If coal can't compete on that basis, then that's the free market for you. As for a systematic shut down, I don't know what he means because he doesn't either - we don't have a proposal yet. I think a realistic positive hope is that the initiative will accelerate somewhat an already-existing trend of coal plants shutting down, and that's a good thing.
"Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal," explained one of Obama's climate advisers. "On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed."
First, assuming the quote is accurate, Schrag was speaking for himself and not Obama. More generally, part of the confusion here might spring from the more recent concept of war. Prior to neoconservatives like Krauthammer getting in charge during the Bush Administration, people thought the idea of wars was to make them as short as possible, not the open-ended thing the neocons like to have other people fight. Even I, even Al Gore, don't want to shut down all coal use in the US in less than a decade, and realistically it's going to take longer than that. A "negotiated medium-term end to non-sequestered coal in the US and other developed countries, with the rest of the world soon to follow" is a much fairer description of the actual goal.

Also worth noting that coal plants can be repurposed to use biomass, so some of the jobs could still be there and many likely will be in the negotiated solution.
Net effect: tens of thousands of jobs killed, entire states impoverished. This at a time of chronically and crushingly high unemployment, slow growth, jittery markets and economic uncertainty.
More made up facts with nothing to back it.
But that's not the worst of it. This massive self-sacrifice might be worthwhile if it did actually stop global warming and save the planet. What makes the whole idea nuts is that it won't.

The have-nots are rapidly industrializing. As we speak, China and India together are opening one new coal plant every week. We can kill U.S. coal and devastate coal country all we want, but the industrializing Third World will more than make up for it. The net effect of the Obama plan will simply be dismantling the U.S. coal industry for shipping abroad.
 
To think we will get these countries to cooperate is sheer fantasy. We've been negotiating climate treaties for 20 years and gotten exactly nowhere. China, India and the other rising and modernizing countries point out that the West had a 150-year industrial head start that made it rich. They are still poor. And now, just as they are beginning to get rich, we're telling them to stop dead in their tracks? 
Fat chance.
Covered this, we need to do a lot more and use that as leverage with developing countries. A carbon import tariff is a standard feature in the carbon control legislation that conservatives like Krauthammer keep trying to destroy. Similarly the complaint that international treaties haven't worked well is rich, coming from people who did their best to weaken and destroy the Kyoto Accord. China, by the way, is working on a cap-and-trade system, so they're way ahead of him.
I'm not against a global pact to reduce CO2 emissions. Indeed, I favor it. But in the absence of one -- and there is no chance of getting one in the foreseeable future -- there is no point in America committing economic suicide to no effect on climate change, the reversing of which, after all, is the alleged point of the exercise.
Again, they're working on it, and worth noting that most of the other developed countries are also working on their own emissions while do-nothing types within their countries each whine about their own country not emitting enough to make a difference.

And America will not commit economic suicide on this issue, because Americans won't allow it to happen. Climate action will have to have a reasonable economic cost or it won't move forward.
For a president to propose this with such aggressive certainty is incomprehensible. It is the starkest of examples of belief that is impervious to evidence. And the word for that is faith, not science.
The certainty about climate change is the essence of science. As for what exactly will be done, it's Krauthammer who has faith that we shouldn't even work on a solution.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Nuclear Meltdown at The Nation

The July 8/15 issue of The Nation features a dialog between journalist Mark Hertsgaard and writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams, discussing a recent pro-nuclear-power film, Pandora's Promise.

The article is headlined

Pandora's Terrifying Promise: Can Nuclear Power Save the Planet?

I won't review the entire article here, but will zero in on Hertsgaard's claim that

Germany, the world's fourth-largest economy, is well on the way to leaving nuclear and fossil fuels behind as it embraces a panoply of noncarbon energy sources.

What is really happening in Germany? Back in 2011, two Der Spiegel journalists, Laura Gitschier and Alexander Neubacher (G&N) refuted Hertsgaard's claim, under the headline

Greenwashing after the Phase-Out: German 'Energy Revolution' Depends on Nuclear Imports.

G&N go on to say that

Germany's decision to phase out its nuclear plants by 2022 has rapidly transformed it from power exporter to importer. Despite Berlin's pledge to move away from nuclear, the country is now merely buying atomic energy from neighbors like the Czech Republic and France.

G&N also report that Germany also imports electrical power from Poland, whose electricity is "generated from brown coal in Europe's dirtiest CO2-belching facilities."

Contrast these facts with Hertsgaard's claim that "Germany is well on the way to leaving nuclear and fossil fuels behind".

Hertsgaard clearly doesn't understand what is actually happening in Germany in the last few years.

What really made my hair stand up on end was when Hertsgaard wrote

"If our options really were as simple as Pandora's Promise maintains - either go nuclear or incinerate the planet with more coal - it'd be a tough call."

A tough call? Really??

According to his website, Hertsgaard has written for Vanity Fair, The Nation, Time, The New Yorker, NPR, Die Zeit, and Le Monde Diplomatique. He is the environmental correspondent for The Nation.

The Nation deserves credit for raising the issue of nuclear power and climate change.

The Spiegel story is available in English for those of us who don't understand German.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

R Street Part 2

For several centuries, Eli has been pointing out that he and Barry Bickmore agree on the coming threats from human driven climate change, but probably disagree on how to deal with it.  Bunnies might call this the WG1/WG3 dichotomy.  Mark Boslough, well he and Eli could probably agree that they disagree of WG3, but in both those cases, working from the same physical reality there is at least some possibility that something could be done in the end.

Eli would say the same thing in the other direction about folk like Tenny Naumer or even Joe Romm, in the later case Eli is somewhat intermediate with Barry Brook on the other side, since nuclear and renewables complement each other.

One can work toward solutions together, and let us be frank, work toward defanging the denialist jackels who feast on our future by deluding others.

Yesterday Eli talked a bit about R street, and it's head honcho, Eli Lehrer.  Lehrer would fit into the same categories, at least as far as acknowledging the problems that the planet is going to face in the future, starting now.   His opening line is that those on the right need to confront reality or get run over

If conservatives don’t begin to engage on the important issue of climate change, we’ll cede the debate. The result will be a larger, more intrusive government that hurts business and job creation.
President Obama is readying a major push of administrative action on climate change. There will be new regulations on power plants, new subsidies for clean energy and a number of other big government programs in the name of solving climate change.
What he is not confronting is that the reason for the administrative action is and has been the Republican blockade against action.  He is playing this in a way though that is immediately useful to him, but potentially a problem in coming times, e.g. trying to convince the tea party types that if they don't get real, solutions will be imposed by those they hate, and to do that, Lehrer is not above throwing some red meat to the dogs.
To conservatives like us, complicated new regulation is our worst nightmare. There is a conservative approach to dealing with climate change — one that can actually achieve conservative goals: the government-shrinking carbon tax.
Currently, U.S. tax law embodies everything that’s wrong with the federal government. It’s too big (about 17,000 pages), too burdensome (Americans spend nearly $50 billion a year complying with it), and too prone to manipulation. Working toward a simpler, fairer system with lower overall rates has long been a worthy conservative goal that deserves continued support from all liberty-loving Americans.
Lehrer, of course, is a creature of the insurance industry, and of course, they would like to pay less than the nothing they and their executives now pay in taxes.    The tax code is complicated because the top dogs have bunches of lawyers and accountants gaming the system.  And, of course, no one confronts the reality that it costs ~40-50% of GDP to run a country any sane person wants to live in (including Social Security and healthcare).  

So how does one reconcile Hansen's tax and dividend with Lehrer's carbon tax and sink other taxes, well, the answer from yesterday was use cabon taxes to sink health care and retirement taxes





Monday, July 01, 2013

More environmental "just as" can win the climate fight

(I wonder if bad puns will be enough to get Eli to kick me off the blog.)

My well-ordered response to Obama's speech and plan keeps getting delayed, so some random thoughts instead:

The reference to regulating existing power plants is comprehensive, not just about coal plants. This might seem unimportant but I think it fits well with NRDC's proposal for state level emission regulations for existing coal and gas plants. I've referenced it before, and the more I read it, the better I think it does in providing a price for carbon without expressly crossing the line of providing a price for carbon. To summarize, it sets a different emission limit for power plants for each state, with the limit always stricter than what coal can do. The limit is less strict if a state has lots of coal and fewer gas plants, but in such a state there will be many more coal plants that have to take action. Coal plants can't physically meet the limit, but they can make trades like subsidizing energy conservation and renewables, and those trades will set up de facto prices for carbon. As always, RTFP.

The devilish detail is how strict your emission limits will be. Likely it will ratchet over time, so more reason to keep electing non-Republicans to the White House, at least until a Republican accepts science.

For those who think the lack of the detail makes the plan completely meaningless, investors in coal disagreed in the two week run-up to his speech (which I think is a good time frame, the rumors of what Obama was doing were out for several weeks).

EDF had a good podcast discussing Obama's plan, worth your time as always. They gave a nod to their friendly competition at NRDC, more evidence that NRDC's proposal has oomph. They also pass on a rumor that the Keystone decision will be further delayed, which is good. Delays are good when you're fighting defense, because your goal is to not lose.

Eli's already pointed to Ray's excellent Slate article. My one disagreement with Ray is about controlling non-CO2 gases. Ray says they're short-lived and so can be controlled at a future point, and action on them now distracts from the need to cut long-lived CO2. I think that cutting them now means we don't need to use political capital to cut them in the future. More importantly, I think that success builds on success. When we can say "just as we controlled ozone-depleting chemicals, just as we limited HFCs, just as we slashed methane, so we will do the same on CO2", then we're in much better position. This is especially true on international action, where denialists are depending on futility arguments. Ray says he's got a more definitive argument coming up though, so we'll see.

R Street Part I

One of the things that Eli has to thank Peter Gleick for is driving Eli Lehrer out of the Heartland Institute.  Lehrer, in addition to being an Eli, is that Washington DC mixture of think tanker and lobbyist whose practice centers on the insurance industry, and as he puts it

Indeed, if free-market conservatives really want evidence of climate change, they ought to look towards the insurance markets that would bear much of the cost of catastrophic climate change. All three of the major insurance modeling firms and every global insurance company incorporate human-caused climate change into their projections of current and future weather patterns. The big business that has the most to lose from climate change, and that would reap the biggest rewards if it were somehow solved tomorrow, has&nbsp universally decided that climate change is a real problem. An insurance company that ignored climate change predictions could, in the short term, make a lot of money by underpricing its competition on a wide range of products. Not a single firm has done this.
The unmasking of Heartland, followed by the billboard meltdown, as Marx would say, heightened the contradictions.for Lehrer to the point where his team had to leave Heartland before his practice left him.  Eli2 has set up a new organization R Street, and they are doing some interesting things including a recent debate between Andrew Moylan from R Street and Bob Inglis on one side and James Taylor from Heartland and David Kreutzer from Heritage.  The moderator, Ronald Bailey was excellent.  Peter Sinclair at Crocks has some more on the debate.  Lehrer had set up the debate:  Resolved: Under no circumstances should conservatives support a tax on carbon emissions, but it was assumed as part of the debate that human driven climate change was a real threat, and the question before the quite right wing house was whether a carbon tax to meet that challenge could be supported by conservatives.

As a somewhat neutral, this Eli, quite enjoyed the discomfort of Taylor, who kept on trying to push back against the parameters of reality.  The interesting thing, given that he said anything interesting, was how stilted, and weak his arguments were.  Just the usual.  Willis and Willard Tony do a better job, but clearly he thought that he was dealing with an audience who had not followed any of the discussion (and there were some of those there).  Anyone challenged to a debate by Taylor should accept, and if feeling generous give odds.  OTOH be prepared to talk over him.  Kreutzer had a single argument, that any new income to the federal government was evil, that any proposals for rebates were hopelessly naive.  In his words it would be delusional to believe that $200 billion could walk across DC without being molested.

Perhaps the most interesting statement came from Kreutzer when challenged about the regressive nature of a carbon tax he pointed out that simultaneous reduction of payroll taxes could compensate. 

The house stood strong for the negative at the end.  At least that bunch of conservatives would accept a carbon tax.