Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rabett Does Hurricanes

Trends in hurricane damage are a sore spot hereabouts.  The problem is three fold, first the absolute damage varies wildly from storm to storm.  Second, the most studied storms are the ones that make landfall in the US, which are thankfully few and far between.  Third, there is no good way of accounting for many things that would mitigate damage such as early warning of storms from satellites, evacuation measures, higher standards for construction and more.

These thoughts were reinforced a couple of weeks ago talking to Eli Lehrer from R Street at a debate held in DC between Lehrer and Bob Inglis on one side and James Taylor (Heartland) and David Kreutzer,(Heritage) about how to deal with climate change.  As promised, more about that later.  Lehrer said that it was not possible to tease any meaningful trend out of his database for hurricanes.

Ethon has been thinking about this for a while, and it finally occurred to him that there was one unfortunate place in hurricane alley that might provide enough data, Hispanola, a large island in the Caribbean with two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti (bunnies might also toss in Cuba on one side and Puerto Rico on the other).  The NOAA historical hurricane track site can be used to see where hurricanes and tropical storms have passed

And population and GDP information is available from the Maddison Historical Statistics website.  Part of the reason for looking at Hispanola is that population in the DR and Haiti are about equal over the 1950-2012 time period while GDP per capita in the DR has steadily grown from $1400 (constant 1990 $) to about $5500 in 2011, in Haiti, per capita GDP remained constant  at about $1000 till ~1990, and since then has declined to  about $700.

Eli is but a poor bunny, and all he could do is troll the Wikipedia for the number of storm deaths.









If the Rabett looks at the number of killer storms per decade 

1950-59 3
1960-69 4
1970-79 1
1980-89 3
1990-99 3
2000-09 12
2010-12 3

Suggestive that something is going on in hurricane alley.

What this needs, of course, is a serious study with more information about $ damages, numbers of houses destroyed, evacuations and storm tracks.  Including eastern Cuba and Puerto Rico would help as can be seen from the graph showing GDPs below.
To be honest, and Eli is always honest, all this is suggestive that more work might be worthwhile.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Cyanobacteria's Friend and Obama's Second Speech

Ray Pierrehumbert writes about President Obama's speech in Slate

One should be grateful for a president who is willing to stand up and declare—as President Obama did in his speech Tuesday announcing his long-awaited climate action plan—that global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions is a serious problem requiring serious measures, and that “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” After all, as presidents go, we could have done much worse. President Obama is working under serious constraints in the form of a completely uncooperative Congress, and insofar as there is no real substitute for congressional action, there are limits to what he can be expected to do. One can always hope, but anybody hoping for a miracle in the unveiling of Obama's plan will be severely disappointed.
concluding that
So, the decarbonization measures in Obama's plan are good and constructive steps. They include a number of other sensible ideas beyond what I have already discussed, such as worldwide efforts to eliminate perverse subsidies for fossil fuels, substantial reduction of financing of foreign coal-fired power plants, and measures to increase the use of renewables and to improve energy efficiency. But all these measures still don't add up to anything like what is really needed, and nobody should succumb to the illusion that they do. The good news, however, is that Obama has brought the dialogue around to the nature of the solutions to the decarbonization problem. The solutions are many and various, mostly boring and prosaic—and not frightening. They are not precisely painless and risk-free, but neither are they the sort of challenges that Americans have shied away from in the past. President Obama has made a start on leading the nation and world down this path. Where he actually leads, and how much following he picks up, will make all the difference.
In reply (well, sort of) President Obama continues in his Saturday radio talk (text below)

Ray, and Obama are correct.  There is much work to be done first to shift the Overton window, the center of discourse, so that it no longer offers a picture window view of the Flat Earth Society rallies.  Unfortunately, the US has come to the point where such shifting is a necessity for any action on the challenges of climate change.

Here is Obama's talk
Hi everybody.  A few days ago, I unveiled a new national plan to confront the growing threat of a changing climate. 
Decades of carefully reviewed science tells us our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on the world we leave to our children.  Already, we know that the 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15, and that last year was the warmest in American history.  And while we know no single weather event is caused solely by climate change, we also know that in a world that’s getting warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by it – more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes.
Those who already feel the effects of a changing climate don’t have time to deny it – they’re busy dealing with it.  The firefighters who brave longer wildfire seasons.  The farmers who see crops wilted one year, and washed away the next.  Western families worried about water that’s drying up. 
The cost of these events can be measured in lost lives and livelihoods, lost homes and businesses, and hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief.  And Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction in higher food costs, insurance premiums, and the tab for rebuilding.
The question is not whether we need to act.  The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.
The national Climate Action Plan I unveiled will cut carbon pollution, protect our country from the impacts of climate change, and lead the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.
To reduce carbon pollution, I’ve directed the Environmental Protection Agency to work with states and businesses to set new standards that put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants.  We’ll use more clean energy and waste less energy throughout our economy. 
To prepare Americans for the impacts of climate change we can’t stop, we’ll work with communities to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure to protect our homes and businesses, and withstand more powerful storms. 
And America will lead global efforts to combat the threat of a changing climate by encouraging developing nations to transition to cleaner sources of energy, and by engaging our international partners in this fight – for while we compete for business, we also share a planet.  And we must all shoulder the responsibility for its future together.
This is the fight America can and will lead in the 21st century.  But it will require all of us, as citizens, to do our part.  We’ll need scientists to design new fuels, and farmers to grow them.   We’ll need engineers to devise new technologies, and businesses to make and sell them.  We’ll need workers to man assembly lines that hum with high-tech, zero-carbon components, and builders to hammer into place the foundations for a new clean energy age.  We’ll need to give special care to people and communities unsettled by this transition.  And those of us in positions of responsibility will need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of our children. 
If you agree with me, I’ll need you to act.  Educate your classmates and colleagues, your family and friends.  Speak up in your communities.  Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy – and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.
We will be judged – as a people, as a society, and as a country – on where we go from here.  The plan I have put forward to reduce carbon pollution and protect our country from the effects of climate change is the path we need to take.  And if we remember what’s at stake – the world we leave to our children – I’m convinced that this is a challenge that we will meet.
Thank you, and have a great weekend.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Disarming the Carbon Bomb

After the last AGU, Eli pointed out that there was a huge shift towards worry about coming really bad
climate change consequences.  People were openly dismissive of the fig leaf denialists science types in the membership and even the AGU administration was spoiling for a fight

This Was The Month That Was, with a similar shift occurring amongst the politicians and policy makers.  Of course, there was Obama's speech, less important for what was said, weak tea in many ways.  As a friend of Eli put it
There's not a lot of climate news in Obama's plan; except for the addition of the pointless action on HFC's methane and other shortlived climate pollution, it's pretty much what was outlined in the PCAST report. 
Well maybe except a hint that Keystone is not completely signed sealed and delivered
Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It's relevant."
Obama has been exceedingly cautious about politically aligning himself with anyone to the left of Bob Dole, doing so by stealth when necessary, so it is noteworthy that somebunny deep inside motivated him to actually speak publicly about climate issues, to affirm the Cook Consensus (97% is pretty good, even in Tolsville) in no uncertain terms.  He felt safe to go far beyond his previous public statements.

Perhaps even more important is how the avalanching scientific controversy on weather weirding has empowered politicians from unlikely places to begin speculation.  There have been disasterous floods in India, Eli reads in the Times of India
NEW DELHI: The catastrophic rainfall in Uttarakhand was most likely a climate change event as it is in keeping with a pattern of increasing incidents of extreme weather events that often cause phenomenal damage as was seen in the hill state, earth sciences secretary Shailesh Nayak said.

Nayak told TOI on Friday that although "direct evidence" was lacking, the cloudburst that triggered flash floods in Uttarakhand read like a weather phenomenon brought about by warming. "Extreme weather is becoming more common, the June 17 rains might be read in the context of climate change," he said.
and, of course, all the bunnies know how Fred Singer and Joe Bast's cruise to China was plagued by overflowing toilets.  The Chinese recognize the threat, the link between carbon pollution and extreme weather, and have begun to plan for changes.  Since China has a centrally controlled economy dominated by the government, plans made at the top have the force of law (just a fact folks).  Eli has bolded some of the more important take homes
China is one of the countries most vulnerable to the adverse impact of climate change. Starting in 2011, the country has been hit by a string of extreme weather and climate events, including the low-temperature freezing rain and snow in south China, spring and summer droughts in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, rainstorms and floods in the south, typhoons in coastal areas, autumn rains in western China and serious waterlogging in Beijing. These weather and climate disasters have impacted China’s economic and social development as well as people’s lives and property in a large degree. In 2011 alone, natural disasters affected 430 million peopleand caused direct economic losses of 309.6 billion yuan.

The Chinese government attaches great importance to the issue of climate change. In 2011, the Fourth Session of the Eleventh National People’s Congress approved the Outline of the 12th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development, which defines the objectives, tasks and general framework for China’s economic and social development during the 12th Five-Year Plan period. The Outline underlines the importance of climate change and integrates measures for addressing it into the
country’s mid-term and long-term plans for economic and social development. It sets binding targets to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16 percent, cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 17 percent, and raise the proportion of non-fossil fuels in the overall primary energy mix to 11.4 percent. It defines the objectives, tasks and policy orientation of China’s response to climate change over the next five years and identifies key tasks, including controlling greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate change, and strengthening international cooperation.

To fulfill the country’s objectives and tasks in addressing climate change during the 12th Five-Year Plan period and promote green and low-carbon development, the State Council has issued a number of important policy documents, including the Work Plan for Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions During the 12th Five-Year Plan Period and the Comprehensive Work Plan for Energy Conservation and Emission Reduction During the 12th Five-Year Plan Period, to strengthen planning and guidance in addressing climate change. Relevant departments and local governments have actively addressed climate change and made remarkable progress in this regard. China continues to play a positive and constructive role in international climate change negotiations and pushed for positive outcomes at the Durban Climate Change Conference, thereby making a significant contribution to addressing global climate change.
China needs to do more, with a growing economy, emissions will still rise, but every trip starts somewhere.
Just as the Occupy Movement shifted the public discourse so that it was again allowed to discuss inequality, and indeed to the point where those who assert out and out Randian day dreams can be openly mocked, weather weirding allows policy and political discussions of climate change to confront reality without having to deal with the persiflage of the rejectionists.  (This is a blog, ok, different rules.)

Still, as Eli's friend put it there remain problems in the emotionally underdeveloped countries
The biggest carbon bomb is about to be dropped by Australia, if Labor loses and the conservatives drop the coal mining tax, which at least makes China's import of Australian coal a bit more expensive. The coal mining tax is probably even more important than Australia's carbon tax.  Why do so many Australians want to give away their coal practically for free?

Image is from Visual Carbon, which has some, admittedly Canadian (only certain provinces are emotionally underdeveloped and, of course they are underwater currently) centered but interesting and useful graphics

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Worthwhile IEA initiative

Just read their first paragraph, it's actually kind of cheering:

The role of renewable sources in the global power mix continues to increase. On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source. As global renewable electricity generation expands in absolute terms, it is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by 2016, becoming the second most important global electricity source, after coal. Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018, up from 20% in 2011 and 19% in 2006. Driven by fast-growing generation from wind and solar photovoltaics (PV), the share of non-hydro renewable power is seen doubling, to 8% of gross generation in 2018, up from 4% in 2011 and 2% in 2006. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), non-hydro renewable power rises to 11% of OECD gross generation in 2018, up from 7% in 2012 and 3% in 2006.

Rest of the International Energy Agency summary is here. Non-hydro renewables used to be such a tiny component of energy that they could be ignored in the big picture, but not anymore. One trick that opponents will use to demean them is to rely on old data. Stuff from four years ago might not sound too old, but it is when you're talking about the status of the industry.

Guess I'll add one more tidbit:
Renewable electricity broadly on track in clean energy scenarios

As a portfolio of renewable technologies continues to become more competitive, renewable power is on track to meet global climate change objectives, i.e. the interim 2020 targets in the IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 (ETP 2012) 2 °C Scenario (2DS), in absolute generation and investmentlevels. That scenario assumes over 7 400 TWh of renewable generation in 2020, versus total generation of 27 165 TWh. Biofuels for transport face a more challenging path. Production must more than double from current levels to meet the 2DS target of 240 million litres per year in 2020. Advanced biofuels production, in particular, needs to accelerate to meet 2DS objectives.
I didn't even know about this 2012 document, might be worth checking out.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

One Paper and Another - Clouds and Methane

A short while ago, Eli posted about Finnish research on the formation of small atmospheric aerosols.  To repeat it was found that

First, the number of small clusters (< 1.2 nm) was essentially constant over time with loss from evaporation and reaction balancing growth by accretion and reaction. 

Second, growth up to about 1.9 nm occurs through reactions with sulfuric acid.  Significant growth only occurred on days when sulfuric acid concentrations increases and was synchronous with it.  On the other hand, theory shows that sulfuric acid/water aerosols are not stable by themselves requiring amines to stabilize and measurements with an atmospheric pressure inlet time of flight mass spectrometer showed that the intermediate aerosols did incorporate amines.  This means that sulfuric acid from SOx oxidation can be rate limiting

Third, above this limit, organic addition dominates and growth requires (photo)chemical activation by oxidation

Fourth, neutral clusters dominate.  This was surprising and casts a pall on claims that cosmic ray ionization controls aerosol production.

That study only looked at aerosols that were no bigger than 2 or 3 nm, not at the mechanism of how clouds are formed.  A recent Science paper (open link here), doesn't quite answer that question, but does provide a strong indicator by measuring the residues from the ice nuclei from which cirrus clouds form. 

The paper, Clarifying the Dominant Sources and Mechanisms of Cirrus Cloud Formation, D,J. Cziczo, et al. find that most of the ice nuclei form around mineral dust.  Cirrus clouds are relatively high thin clouds formed from ice crystals.  The hand wave goes that the ice crystals form by homogeneous freezing of water vapor, but, as pointed out by Cziczo, et al, this would require a much higher relative humidity than is generally found.

Somewhat complicated, but the point is that most aerosols, especially soot, aka elemental carbon, but also to a great extent mixtures of sulfates, volatile organics and/or nitrates do not much nucleate ice crystals, but mineral dust does so effectively.  The figure shows tracks for  five aircraft campaigns during which 0.2 - 3 micron residues from the ice crystals in the cirrus clouds were measured.  Homogeneous freezing was only found in two clouds.  In all of the rest the mineral dust residue dominated, accounting for 61% of freezing.  Sulfate and/or organic coatings were missing on the crystals.  Sea salt was important over the oceans.  In all, heterogeneous nucleation accounted for 94% of the cloud ice particles.

So where does the mineral dust come from?  Well a lot blows off the surface, but the bunnies blow up a few mountains of the stuff.  Eli would be curious to see how much comes from brake linings, but what is clear is that cosmic rays and adaptive irises will have a hard time with this paper.

However, you bunnies out there knew there was an however, this morning, Eli was talking to a buddy who brought up the idea that atmospheric methane lifetime might have something to do with cloud properties.  The friend (Eli has a small number and Willard Tony knows why), mentioned things like the cloud radiation field, photochemistry, etc.  Eli, demurred.  Why you ask, well, the Rabett had just read another paper in Science, Enhanced Role of Transition Metal Ion Catalysis During In Cloud Oxidation of SO2 by Harris, et al (open link here maybe)
Global sulfate production plays a key role in aerosol radiative forcing; more than half of this production occurs in clouds. We found that sulfur dioxide oxidation catalyzed by natural transition metal ions is the dominant in-cloud oxidation pathway. The pathway was observed to occur primarily on coarse mineral dust, so the sulfate produced will have a short lifetime and little direct or indirect climatic effect. Taking this into account will lead to large changes in estimates of the magnitude and spatial distribution of aerosol forcing. Therefore, this oxidation pathway—which is currently included in only one of the 12 major global climate models—will have a significant impact on assessments of current and future climate.
In other words, the SO2 will be oxidized to sulfuric acid by such reactions and fall out .  This might also play merry hell with various ideas about injecting SO2 high up in the atmosphere to counteract climate changes produced by increased carbon loading of the atmosphere,  Still, this is not where Eli is going.

Remember how the Bunny was talking with his buddy about what happens to methane (and other organics) in the atmosphere?  It is well known that transition metal ions catalyze oxidation and other reactions of organics.  There is a name for that.  It is called an oil refinery.  This also works in aqueous media.  Fun:)

Thanks, Ginsburg, and now please retire. Also, Anthony Kennedy's mixed legacy.

Glad that we got some good court rulings out today on gay rights. Definitely good in a policy sense; I haven't made a deep dive to decide if I completely agree on the law. So thanks to Ginsburg for all her good votes, and as I said after the election, now is the time for the 80-year old, two-time cancer survivor to step aside because it's the best chance in at least 4 years to get a decent nominee through the Senate.

End of Court term is a traditional time to announce resignation. If she waits until next year, it'll be campaign season with even fewer Republican senators willing to vote rationally. In Fall 2014, some 21 Democrats will be up for re-election as opposed to 14 Republicans in an off-year election that usually disfavors the president's party, so the Senate make-up is very likely to get worse. Hopefully the make-up will improve after November 2016 when the ratio for that election is reversed, but whether it will meet or beat what we've got today is unclear (not to mention we don't know who'll be President).

Regardless of whether even a healthy 80-year old has good odds of being to work another 4 years, I can guarantee that a 50-something replacement has better odds, as well as lasting through the contingency of four or more years of a Republican presidency. She should quit.

Hopefully I'll soon look like an idiot for my next statement:  she won't do it. Judges have truly impressive sense of their own importance, and I doubt the Supreme Court reduces that sense.

In my "also" about Kennedy, I think the last two days' ruling against voter rights and for gay rights are a decent example of the mixed legacy I've seen since 2005. While he's responsible for many awful decisions, he also supported human rights on some occasions that came at a personal cost during the Bush administration, losing the chance to be Chief Justice.

Still, if you assume he's acting with a legacy motivation (possibly a motivation for Obama on climate too), then I think he personally comes out better this way. He'll be remembered for making the right decision on social values at a minor personal cost, as opposed to being the Chief Justice who made terrible decisions. Think about that, John Roberts.

UPDATE:  yep, Ginsburg refuses to retire. More proof that the Supreme Court and possibly the appellate courts need term limits.

Monday, June 24, 2013

6 AM EST Tuesday - Brian wins

Well, the rumor mill has acquired a grist farm, and it is looking increasingly like Brian has a direct line to President Obama

Lots of speculation on what will be in it. You've got mine from February and May:  no shutdown of Keystone, but something else substantial, with fingers crossed it's the NRDC proposal to regulate existing coal power plants. The speculation suggests a bunch of other climate-related actions will also get thrown in, both on adaptation (which makes sense practically and politically) and carbon sequestration (which makes sense politically, I'm less sure practically except that it needs to be fully researched).
Brian's advice, "How's this deal:  everyone, including other fossil fuel interests, gangs up against coal" appears to be what will happen.

Consider this an open thread on the speech tomorrow.  In the meantime the other Whitehouse can entertain the assembled

Sunday, June 23, 2013

New Old Voices

Back in the yester year, Eli, Dano, and especially Ethon had great fun tag teaming the pretentious.  It was such fun that Eli has asked Dano to take up the feathered nib again and contribute to Rabett Run on Ecology.  Just remember, compared to the web of life, climate is simple.

I remember the first time I read something by Dano. I asked myself, "Where in the world did this guy come from? Venus?" Dano may be from Venus, but, as the author of "Men are from mars, Women are from Venus" knows, the Venusian tactics seem to work well against the Martians.- Anon

Dano on Ecology

I’d like to thank Eli for allowing me to have a bunny’s voice on his blog after I’ve been down the rabbit hole for a while. He asked me to bring an ecological voice to the discussion here, and that’s what I’ll try to do. In my posts I’m going to focus on different indicators, one at a time, and use that indicator as a jumping-off point to something that may be good or interesting or challenging to think about. I’ll then finally wrap it into climate for the bunny appeasement. (Always a good thing-ER) I welcome and appreciate your feedback, and if I’m not too swamped I’ll do my best to reply to some selected comments. I will also do my best to be semi-regular. Posting. Semi-regular posting.

I focus now on a headline that was in the news recently, received fairly wide coverage, and reveals a much wider set of issues as well: New England fishing cuts looming for 2013.

Notice the vastly different  perspectives  on this  fisheries issue. Yes, well, OK you say. So what? A few guys go out of business and we eat mullet instead. And? Fish catch is a key ecological indicator for a number of reasons: it allows us to have a proxy to track local ocean health (albeit inaccurately), it allows us to track species, protein consumption by humans, etc.

An axiom in ecology is: man is the simplifier of ecosystems. Ever since we abandoned hunter-gathering and entered the agrarian age (some say the Anthropocene Era), we have altered the landscape to secure food. With increasing technology we have more “effectively” exploited resources to secure food. What we have done up to this point to feed 7B people is remarkable, but can we continue? (Sidebar: Some may be aware of a fascinating exchange  about the issues surrounding the feeding of 9B people in 2050. Of course, as with any issue, some choose  not to grasp the difficulties we face.  I offered money  to anyone who could get a paper published stating we could feed 9B humans via Business As Usual.)

I recently attended a climate change conference where the attendees were sharing policies for societal climate solutions - and agriculture was an especially difficult problem to discuss policies for adaptation.. Our fisheries are important components of our food system and are threatened not only by overfishing but by man-made climate change as well, and need policies to maintain fish populations. Catch limits affect families’ livelihoods and regions’ economies, as does the collapse of fisheries. Can we adapt and shift our protein consumption to more terrestrial sources, or must we continue to depend on the oceans for protein? It turns out that it would be very difficult to increase protein production from terrestrial sources. As wealth increases,  protein consumption increases. Switching to terrestrial protein when rainfall becomes more episodic and groundwater depletion increases poses a daunting challenge.

So, choose your indicator for your own purposes: for planning purposes, worrying purposes, or another purpose?