Sunday, January 22, 2017

Best since FDR

I hoped to do a more in-depth-for-me writeup, but I don't think that's happening. The post headline both says it all and is pretty obvious IMHO.

The other post-FDR presidents who've had great things happen - LBJ and Nixon - have obvious huge negatives. We've had okay presidents - Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Bush I, and Clinton - but their achievements were limited. Reagan, Bush II, and Trump so far - were/are disasters.

Obama led out of the Great Recession, got ObamaCare, and took real domestic and international action on climate change. Lots of other stuff, but that's enough. Lots of mistakes, both his and especially the Democratic Congress for the 6-month period out of 8 years when they had a filibuster-proof majority, but the mistakes don't rank at the same historic level. Obama should feel pretty good.

Trump may reverse much of Obama's top three achievements, but Trump himself is temporary. Those achievements will outlast him.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Gravity in the Greenhouse

Gravity is the cause of the greenhouse effect.


Well if a Rabett thinks long enough and hard enough about it, the greenhouse effect is a consequence of three things, two of which are the result of gravity and the other of quantum mechanics.  The quantum mechanics part is that there are gases in the atmosphere that absorb and emit infrared radiation (for  such as CO2 and H2O, let's stick with radiation, there are folks who object to calling IR photons light and Eli does not have enough money to buy the beers needed to settle that one).

The first is the lapse rate, the decline of temperature with altitude in the troposphere.  There are plenty of detailed derivations of the dry lapse rate on the net and a bunny can even throw in some water vapor, but the basic principle is that the atmosphere is for all thermodynamic purposes an ideal gas, and the temperature decreases with pressure, and pressure decreases with altitude because of gravity. 

The second is the decrease in density with altitude, again because pressure decreases with altitude because of gravity.  The higher you go the less stuff.

Both of these effects explain why radiative energy transfer from the ground to space slows, the higher greenhouse gas concentrations are. 

Absorption of IR radiation by greenhouse gases is strong enough that any IR photon doesn't get very
far before being absorbed.  A good rule of thumb is that it will get about 3 m at ground level on an absorption line before being absorbed and maybe about 30 m in the space between the lines.

Because density falls with altitude, at some point the density is so low that IR radiation emitted from greenhouse gases can escape to space rather than being absorbed by another greenhouse gas molecule.  The higher the percentage (or mixing ratio if a bunny prefers) the higher this level will be and because of the lapse rate the colder it will be.

Emission from colder things is slower than from hotter things, thus raising the level at which the atmosphere can emit to space, that is increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases, slows the rate at which the Earth can shed the energy absorbed from the Sun.  If you heat something at a constant rate, and you limit the rate at which it can get rid of that heat, the something will warm. 

The greenhouse effect is a consequence of gravity.  Everything else is detail.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Nero didn't deny that Rome was burning

As our modern Nero (or worse, Gaius Julius) saunters from his election loss and public repudiation by the American people to the White House, the globe burns.

No surprise there, just as there will be no surprise when a tiny decline in 2017 brings concern-trolling by lukewarmists and cherrypicking by denialists.

So I fall back to my own private refuge, winning climate bets. We've completed Year 2 of the five-year measuring point for my 2007-2017 bets with David Evans. Details of the over-complicated bets are here for those who care, but essentially it's separate bets over whether warming will go at .15C or .1C per decade over 10, 15, and 20 years, with bets voiding if results are in a gray zone. Bets are five-year averages, using GISS data.

To get out of the gray zones and win both bets, the planet needs to suffer at a warming rate of .18C/decade. The 2005-2009 five year average above the GISS arbitrary baseline was .63C, so I win both bets if 2015-2019 is .81C or higher. In 2015 it was .87, and 2016 it was .99.

So, my rough calculations say to win both bets through 2019, the next 3 years need to average .73C or higher. That used to be a high temperature, but not compared to the last 3 years. We've been out of El Nino for a while but temps are still far above .73. Last year I thought I was more likely to void the warmest bet than win it, now I think the reverse is true.

To void but not lose the warmest bet, the next 3 years need to be .65C or higher, a GISS annual temperature never exceeded before 2000, but only an average temp since then (and way below average for recent years). To avoid losing the less-warming bet, temps need to be .58C or higher - significantly colder than the 2005-2009 baseline for bets where even my opponent acknowledged some warmth was likely.

I am going to win the slow-warming bet, and I'm likely to win the moderate-warming bet. In the 15 and 20 year periods ahead, signal will dominate noise even more than now. Especially with Nero/Gaius Julius ignoring what's happening.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Trust Everybunny, But Cut the Cards

Peter Finley Dunne has long been one of Eli's favorite observers of the human, especially the political condition.  Writing at the beginning of the 20th century in the voice of Mr. Dooley, a publican of the Irish persuasion, he instructed Eli in the necessary amount of jaundice needed to observe the world as it is.

So it was with that basic training that the Rabett wandered into a twitter exchange between ATTP and one Lucas Bergkamp who was mightily defending the reputation of one Wil Happer, a physicist of the Princetonian persuasion.

Again, to be honest, Eli knows somethings about the good Professor Happer, but that is almost entirely tangential to the tale of caution he will spin.  The question that soon arose in the mind of the Bunny was more, why is Lucas Bergkamp so adamant in defending Professor Happer's reputation and specifically why is Lucas Bergkamp so insistent on insisting that Professor Happer is such an independent guy in his denial of the threat posed by climate change.
As with all such thing, a good start is to figure out who Lucas Bergkamp is, and that isn't too hard by simply following his twitter ID to his place of employment.  Dr. Bergkamp is a partner at Hunton and Williams, a law firm that made its bones defending tobacco interests such as Philip Morris.  But what does that have to do with Wil Happer.

Wil Happer, it turns out (among other things) was a paidexpert witness for Peabody Coal in their losing action against the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission setting a social cost of carbon levy on power generated using coal.  Peabody lost, and Happer's testimony was, let Eli be nice and say destroyed, by John Abraham amongst others as the administrative law judge sided against Peabody in no uncertain terms.

In the nature of the thing, such rulings can be appealed and certainly the record from the hearing is available to other cases, so the reputation of Prof. Happer as an independent soul is of some value to any appeal against the ruling.

Dig a bit further and it turns out that Peabody Coal has been represented by Hunton and Williams, the firm of which Dr. Bergkamp is partner.  Eli can leave it there although others may wish to dig deeper, but it is clear that Dr. Bergkamp indeed has a horse in this twitter exchange.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Acquired Reading

Shorter than a tweet, but an excellent review of ocean acidification from the National Academy.

Bio types can follow on to the next chapter.


Of course, this arose in one of those Dunning-Krugar things about acidification of the oceans, like how can you talk about acidification when then pH of the oceans is ~8.  Eli has had some words about that in the past (see also the comments by Kenneth Johnson and Bernard J).

The root of teh probelm dates back to Arrhenius (yes, him again) who was the first to define the chemical basis of acids and bases.  Since the Earth is a water world and in 1884 organic chemistry was the wild west and the properties of ions in solutions newfangled stuff that would win him a Nobel Prize in 1903, Svante A defined an acid as a source of H+ ions and a base as a source of OH- ions.  The problem is that there are other ions which are the sources of both via the hydrolysis of water.  For example, if you dump a bunch of carbonate (CO3)2- ions into water you get OH- via

H2O(l) + CO3(aq)2-  -->  HCO3(aq) - + OH(aq)-

Using the Arrhenius definition of acids and bases quickly gets a bunny into trouble when discussing what happens in complex aqueous solutions where there are a variety of ions, let alone solutions in solvents besides water, a trouble that was ameliorated by Brønsted and Lowry, who moved the attention of chemists to the behavior of hydrogen ions aka protons. 
In their view an acid was any molecule or ion that donates a hydrogen ion to another and a base any species that receives it.  In the reaction above, chemists would describe the water molecule (H2O(l)) as an acid because one of its hydrogens is donated to the carbonate ion CO32-to form the hydrogen carbonate ion  HCO3 -on the product side.  Similarly, the carbonate ion CO32-  is a base, because it receives the hydrogen ion.   

In the reverse reaction the OH(aq)- accepts a proton so it is the base and the HCO3(aq) - donates one so it is an acid. 

From the Brønsted Lowry point of view, OH(aq)- is nothing special, just another damned proton catcher. 
ADDED:  A useful example of this is neutralization of carbonic acid by carbonate ions.  Carbonic acid is formed when CO2(aq) reacts with water

H2O(l) + CO2(aq) -->  H2CO3(aq)
 The carbonic acid then can react with the carbonate ion to form two hydrogen carbonate ions

 H2CO3(aq) + CO3(aq)2-  -->  HCO3(aq)-  + HCO3(aq) -

there is no OH(aq)- generated in this reaction but the carbonic acid is neutralized by the  CO3(aq)2- which is the base.  In the reverse reaction one of the hydrogen carbonates is an acid (proton doner) and the other a base (proton acceptor).  FWIW water and  HCO3(aq) - can both catch and toss protons, so they are called amphoteric.
From this point of view alkalinity is defined as the capacity to neutralize acid, or if you will to catch protons.  

On the water world, this makes sense because the lakes, streams and oceans are filled with ions of weak acids like carbonic acid, which can hydrolyze water.  That is why alkalinity and especially the alkalinity of the oceans is defined as the concentrations (indicated by [] and see the link to the NAS pub above)

alk = [HCO3-(aq)] +2 [CO32-(aq)] + [B(OH)4-(aq)] + other minor bases

and not as just [OH(aq)-], [OH(aq)-] being just another minor base for ocean geochemists. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The most important political takeaway from the Mann defamation case against denialists

I've been slowly slowly making my way through the 111-page court decision. I agree with the main takeaways elsewhere - Michael Mann won some important-if-only-intermediary victories against the Competitive Enterprise Institute/Rand Simberg and National Review/Mark Steyn, completely lost a less-important and weaker argument against Rich Lowry/National Review, and the fight goes on.

The real takeaway is what the denialists have not said in their own defense. Take it away, DC Court of Appeals:

Appellants do not argue that Mr. Simberg’s article, if capable of conveying a defamatory meaning, is not actionable because the statements that Dr. Mann engaged in deception and misconduct are true.

The first line of defense you as a defendant can use in a defamation case, when you've done a good job, is that what you've said is true. They don't even attempt to make that argument for Simberg, jumping instead to a version of the 'well that's just my opinion, man' argument (apologies to The Dude). You can use the truth argument even if you haven't done a great job if it has a some plausibility. In Simberg's case at least, they don't even want to waste a tiny amount of the court's attention on a truth defense, because it's so weak that they would just detract from their overall credibility. And this is true regardless of what happens ultimately in this case.

Some random notes below:

Casual readers who may want to check out the case, may choose to skip the first 50-plus pages of procedural wrangling. That part is interesting to see how a case moves forward, though.


There's some confusion around on legal fees, so a couple of notes:  the usual American rule is each side pays its own legal fees, with exceptions. When plaintiffs win, they don't get fees from defendants, but the plaintiff attorneys often get paid part of the winnings. An exception to the above is the anti-SLAPP procedures this appellate opinion decided. Anti-SLAPP wasn't designed for this situation, btw, it was designed to protect little people from being bankrupted by big corporations when they criticize the corporations. Still, Big Denialists get to use it here, and if they win the anti-SLAPP motion, then defendants get their appropriate legal fees. Defendants lost two and won one of their motions. As to the first two, they won't get legal fees (nor will Mann) no matter what happens from here on out. As to Lowry/National Review, they will - but National Review could be on the losing side of the Steyn case, so we'll just have to see how that works out in the end.


This thing, originally filed in 2012, is far, far, from over. Yes, that's American justice for you. At least we're not Italy. Anyway, absent a settlement that could theoretically happen anytime, I'd guess two more years at the trial level, then maybe one or two more years on appeal, and then a short additional delay before the US Supreme Court refuses to hear a final appeal. All I can say in marginal defense of my field is that it can move faster when absolutely necessary, for example with child custody or otherwise to prevent future harm. Otherwise, and especially as in here where both sides have lots of resources and no innate requirement for speed, things move slowly.


A future, potential legal pitfall for Mann:
National Review takes a different position. It argues that it cannot be held liable for any of the statements made by Mr. Simberg or Mr. Steyn that appeared on its website. According to National Review, it is shielded from liability by the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”), because its website is a “provider . . . of an interactive computer service” 49 that may not be “treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 50 47 U.S.C. § 230 (c)(1 ). Under the CDA “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with” § 230 (c)(1). 47 U.S.C. § 230 (e)(3). This argument was not raised in the trial court and is not properly before us. See Akassy v. William Penn Apartments Ltd. P’ship , 891 A.2d 291, 304 n.11 (D.C. 2006) (“Generally, issues not raised in the trial court will not be considered on appeal.”).
This strikes me as a fairly weak argument, but still the appellate court is saying that now isn't the time for it to rule on this argument, so defendants can raise it again later in the proceedings.


Something that opens up some interesting lines for discovery against CEI and National Review:

There is, in this case, another factor that a jury could take into account in evaluating appellants’ state of mind in publishing the statements accusing Dr. Mann of misconduct and deception. As the articles that form the basis of Dr. Mann’s complaint make clear, appellants and Mr. Steyn are deeply invested in one side of the global warming debate that is opposed to the view supported by Dr. Mann’s research. Although animus against Dr. Mann and his research is by itself insufficient to support a finding of actual malice where First Amendment rights are implicated, bias providing a motive to defame by making a false statement may be a relevant consideration in evaluating other evidence to determine whether a statement was made with reckless disregard for its truth.

Discovery can explore how and why these organizations are so opposed to climate science. Let's see where that goes! I should probably note here that discovery isn't a blank check - you can only get to see evidence that's relevant to your case. Here the court is saying that motive is relevant - so let's see what they really believe and why they're doing this.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Ethical Depravity of Wishing Coal and Oil on the Poor

Today being Boxing Day observed or maybe later, Eli brings the gift of ethical behavior to his coal tarred friends who remain not in this century but the one passed a hundred years ago, who demand the rest of us remember the poors by giving them the Gift (german usage) of coal.

Yet this is a tactic which reality has passed by, as solar and wind costs rapidly descend today to roughly the price of gas and below.

The perfect storm for oil and gas is the oversupply, to which the investment in renewables is providing additional pressure
Oil and gas woes are driven less by renewables than by a mismatch of too much supply and too little demand. But with renewable energy expanding at record rates and with more efficient cars—including all-electric vehicles—siphoning off oil profits at the margins, the fossil-fuel insolvency zone is only going to get more crowded, according to BNEF. Natural gas will still be needed for when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, but even that will change as utility-scale batteries grow cheaper.  
Eli has quite enjoyed pointing out to the smug and self satisfied that you really have to hate the poor to condemn them to using expensive and unreliable coal and oil for power and heating.  In the poorest regions coal and oil are unreliable because supply chains are fragile and transportation expensive.  In the developed world fossil fuels are unreliable because of political game playing, as Europe which depends on Russia for gas often finds out

As a tactic crocodile tears for the poor depended on those of us who understand the threat of climate change, or indeed anything, having some regard for the less well off and offering a hand because of the costs.  Of course, if one says well, we can help the poor, those in denial say, not us boss.  Today with solar and wind costing less than fossil fuels the situation has changed for the less expensive renewables

As Tom Peterson put it, we are in a modern age
Eli has pointed out telephone poles cost money and so do fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels are an evil habit that drains the wallets of the poor.  In isolated villages lighting is provided by kerosene lamps, and kerosene costs money, a significant amount for billions of poor villagers in Africa and Asia and Latin America

Transportation into rural areas adds significantly to the cost.  On the other hand sunlight doesn't, which makes the payback time for a solar lantern that is much brighter than the kerosene lamp shorter.  Moreover, kerosene lamps  impose a health cost, solar lamps do not and after the payback time it is all solar lagniappe.

The situation with coal is even worse.  Dirtier, heavier to carry and leaving a poisonous ash behind, to demand that the poor use coal to satisfy the political wishes of the fat and happy deniers of human progress in the developed world is, well what you expect from the fat and happy deniers of human progress in the developed world.

Given the short payback time (8 months and falling) microloans, donations and real charity not fake politically driven croc tears can contribute to lighting the remaining dark corners of the world.