Thursday, October 31, 2013


To the Editors: Victor Davis Hanson doesn't understand income taxes

My LTE published by the Mercury News:

Hanson fails to understand tax rates

Victor Davis Hanson (Opinion, Oct. 25) strips more from the credibility of his arguments than anything else when he writes of the quiet desperation of the 1 percent in Silicon Valley, beginning with his assertion that they pay well above 50 percent in aggregate income tax rates. Hanson is unaware that a marginal rate applies only to income above the rate cutoff -- the amount a person earns below a rate cutoff is taxed at lower rates. A California couple has to earn more than a half-million dollars annually to begin paying slightly over 50 percent income tax on the additional money they make. They would have to earn many millions of dollars annually before their aggregate rate exceeds 50 percent. We're discussing far fewer than 1 percent at this point, people who can afford to give back to the California economy that helped them build that wealth. The rest of his argument is no better.

Hanson's Op-Ed read "Beneath veneers of high-end living, there are lives of quiet 1-percent desperation. With new federal and California tax hikes, aggregate income-tax rates on dot.commers can easily exceed 50 percent of their gross income." And it went south from there.

I expect a couple would have to make over $4 million annually to have a chance at 50% aggregate income tax rates, but that's making the ludicrous assumption that $4m includes no capital gains and ignores deductions. If you define income the way people usually do, as salary plus commission plus all investment income, I think few people below $10m annually pay over 50% in aggregate income tax. And while Romney's 14% rate was probably an outlier, the vast majority of people making over $10m have lots of investment income and pay very little. This doesn't include payroll taxes but those become a rounding error when your annual income exceeds $4m, and other taxes are also unimportant unless you've chosen a bonfire of vanities lifestyle.

Buffett said he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, and he seems more accurate about the wealthiest than Hanson.

In other financial news, the US budget deficit is the lowest since the 2007-2008 fiscal year, at $680 billion. Interest on the debt is $415b, so the US is effectively spending only $265b above revenues and the rest is debt turnover. We're very close to having an operating/primary surplus in the near future, probably not a good idea with a still-limping economy.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Should be standard feature in high-rise neighborhoods

From SFGate:

Residents of the small Norwegian town of Rjukan have finally seen the light.

Tucked in between steep mountains, the town is normally shrouded in shadow for almost six months a year, with residents having to catch a cable car to the top of a nearby precipice to get a fix of midday vitamin D.

But on Wednesday faint rays from the winter sun for the first time reached the town's market square, thanks to three 183-square-foot (17-square-meter) mirrors placed on a mountain.

Cheering families, some on sun loungers, drinking cocktails and waving Norwegian flags, donned shades as the sun crept from behind a cloud to hit the mirrors and reflect down onto the faces of delighted children below.

People who live on the north side of high-rises could get sunlight the same way, with remote-controlled mirrors on the south side of adjacent buildings directing reflected sunlight.

Little quality of life amenities like this can reduce the downside of high-density living and increase the number of people who choose that option.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Four Seas Interludes

To be played as the oceans warm

Krugman part 2: you can get pretty far just by regulating coal

Eli's excerpted Krugman's book review of Nordhaus below, but there was one other part of the review that especially interested me:

[Nordhaus] more or less ridicules claims that climate change isn’t happening or that it isn’t the result of human activity. And he calls for strong action: his best estimate of what we should be doing involves placing a substantial immediate tax on carbon.... 
Why is putting a price on carbon better than direct regulation of emissions? Every economist knows the arguments: efforts to reduce emissions can take place along many “margins,” and we should give people an incentive to exploit all of those margins.... The answer is, all of the above. And putting a price on carbon does, in fact, give people an incentive to do all of the above....

And yet there is a slightly odd dissonance in this book’s emphasis on carbon pricing. As I’ve just suggested, the standard economic argument for emissions pricing comes from the observation that there are many margins on which we should operate. Yet as Nordhaus himself points out, studies attempting to analyze how we might most efficiently reduce carbon emissions strongly suggest that just one of these margins should account for the bulk of any improvement—namely, we have to sharply reduce emissions from coal-fired electricity generation. Certainly it would be good to operate on other margins, especially because these studies might be wrong—maybe, for example, it would be easier than we think for consumers to shift to a radically lower-energy lifestyle, or there might be radical new ideas for scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere. Nonetheless, the message I took from this book was that direct action to regulate emissions from electricity generation would be a surprisingly good substitute for carbon pricing—not as good, but not bad.

And this conclusion becomes especially interesting given the current legal and political situation in the United States, where nothing like a carbon-pricing scheme has a chance of getting through Congress at least until or unless Democrats regain control of both houses, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency has asserted its right and duty to regulate power plant emissions, and has already introduced rules that will probably prevent the construction of any new coal-fired plants. Taking on the existing plants is going to be much tougher and more controversial, but looks for the moment like a more feasible path than carbon pricing.
(Emphasis added.)

The Republican Party has consistently opposed market mechanisms to help the environment, forcing us to use regulations instead or let the environment go to pot. Some times regulations work better than others, but it would be helpful if the Republicans just gave the market a chance.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lewandowsky Invariance

At the end of the 19th century physics had a significant problem reconciling Newtonian mechanics with Maxwell's theory of electricity and magnetism (E&M).  Roughly, very roughly put, this boiled down to the invariance of physics across frames moving uniformly with respect to each other.  One needs to calculate the time and position of a body, or an electromagnetic wave in one frame compared to that in another moving uniformly with respect to the first.

In human speak this is figuring out how the same process appears when one is moving on a train as opposed to when one is standing the ground watching the train go by.  Of course, both the train and the Earth are moving, and the train could be a really fast space ship, but we really do not need to go there.

The Newtonian solution is a Galilean transform, that time is the same everywhere and that the difference in position changes as the product of time and velocity, e.g. r(t)' - r(t) = - vt, where t is time, v the relative velocity between the frames and r(t)' and r(t) the positions in the two frames at any time t.  Within this picture, the Newtonian physics remains the same for both the observer on the ground and the one on the train.

For the physics described by Maxwell's equations this does not work.  One needs a more complex looking set of equations called Lorentz transforms.  These allow calculation of such things as the wavelength and energy of an electromagnetic wave, e.g. light, radio waves, in one frame given the time and position in another.

With this key idea, and none of the mathematics, we can appreciate Einstein's contribution.  Physics  should be independent of the rock we are standing on when we measure it.   One way out was intensively explored by Michelson and Morley and others (here and here).   They showed that the laws of E&M did not change when the frame of observation changed.  Therefore, Einstein concluded that the Galilean frame transform was the one that had to be modified.  This leads to a set of Lorentz invariant transforms for particle motion, and prediction of such things as time dilation, the energy equivalence of mass, E = mc2, and more, each having been observed and shown to obey the predictions of what is called the Special Theory of Relativity.

The Theory of Relativity became established science within twenty years.  Some recognized its importance and correctness quickly, for example, Max Planck.  On the other hand, the theory remains distasteful to many, mostly not scientists.  Exploration of that distaste is instructive and there is no better place to start than Einstein's take

This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.” 
Anti-relativists were convinced that their opinions were being suppressed. Indeed, many believed that conspiracies were at work that thwarted the promotion of their ideas. The fact that for them relativity was obviously wrong, yet still so very successful,
There is an historical and philosophical literature about this.  The role of Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's book, Merchants of Doubt, belongs to Milena Wazeck's  Einsteins Gegner:  Die Oeffentliche Kontroverse um die Relativitaetstheorie in de 1920er Jahren (Einsteins opponents:  The public controversy about the theory of relativity in the decade of the 1920s).  Eli has not yet read that book (on order from Amazon) which is untranslated from the German, but there is a review by, Jeron von Dorgens On Enstein's Opponents and Other Crackpots that sets the stage nicely.

One of the first things that jumps out is how the witches of denial cooked relativity and climate change in the same kettle.  Wazeck observes that the physicists who opposed Einstein, and it did get personal, were those who were fearful of being sidelined by the shift of the field to a more mathematical approach.  In the same way, the professional opposition to climate change science was rooted in the observational climatologists seeing a threat to their work from the climate modeling community, the Tim Balls, the William Grays, the Pat Michaels,  of the world, and the regional climatologists, the Roger Pielke Sr.'s.

And, of course, there were the citizen scientists, as Roy Spencer would put it, or in Wazeck's description
Although they had previously played no role in German academic life, during the 1920s scores of self-proclaimed researchers alleged to have proved the theory of relativity to be scientifically incorrect. Because the arguments set out in hundreds of ensuing publications frequently rested on fundamental misunderstandings of Einstein’s new theory, their accounts have largely been ignored by traditional history of science.
Is there any better description of Chris Monckton than this of Arthur Patschke
Non-academic researchers like Patschke announced public lectures, submitted essays, and tried to establish contact with Einstein and other leading scholars in order to warn them—as well-intentioned colleagues—of the falsehood of the theory of relativity and to convince them of the veracity of their own scientific worldviews. Patschke and others like him were often simply ignored; in other instances, it was patiently explained how their criticisms of the theory of relativity had completely missed the mark. But because their observations were anchored in specific worldviews, Patschke and his associates were immune to this type of criticism. 
well, except for the well intentioned part, but that too soon vanished, and the roots of this are explored by Waneck
The controversy surrounding the theory of relativity was exceptionally heated. In many pamphlets one finds what might be described as a martial rhetoric of damnation; his opponents also staged acts of protest that sought to inflame public opinion against Einstein’s work. A complex process of marginalization and protest helps to account for the heated responses to Einstein’s theory. 
Of course, for scientific denialism to gain traction there have to be political and philosophical motivations.  Politically, while anti-Semitism played a major role, it must not be forgotten that Einstein's outspoken and well known pacifism did not play well on the right of post WWI Germany's political spectrum, where defeat and disgrace was blamed on internal enemies (of course, including Jews, liberals, social democrats and communists).  Moreover, the theory of relativity in removing time from its immutable privileged place stirred fierce resentment especially among those who regarded it as a world view rather than a scientific theory. Perhaps it would have been better to call Einstein's work the Theory of Consistent Physics

Still one cannot separate the gathering storm which lead to Hitler and the political context in which the Theory of Relativity was demonized.  Von Dorgen writes in his short book review (go read it and say to yourself every paragraph, hey Eli recognizes that, he read it yesterday at WUWT, at Curry's, etc)
Conspiracy theories tend to do well in uncertain times: they create order in chaos. Hence, they thrived in post-World War I Germany.  Just as there is no real point in debating conspiracy theorists, there was no point in explaining relativity to anti-relativists, Wazeck astutely observes. Their strong opposition was not due to a lack of understanding, but rather the reaction to a perceived threat. Furthermore, anti-relativists were convinced of their own ideas, and were really only interested in pushing through their own theories; any explanation of relativity would not likely have changed their minds. Initially, relativists, and in particular Einstein himself, were willing to engage in correspondence or debate with their critics. By the early 1920’s, however, they concluded that sufficient common ground was lacking, and likely chose not to further waste any valuable time.
and, where have we seen this
Nevertheless, anti-relativists were convinced that their opinions were being suppressed. Indeed, many believed that conspiracies were at work that thwarted the promotion of their ideas. The fact that for them relativity was obviously wrong, yet still so very successful, strengthened the contention that a plot was at play—and some anti-relativists were convinced that the co-conspirators were Jewish. Jews were held to dominate both the newspaper business and the new discipline of theoretical physics; they could thus easily advertize one of their own (Einstein) and his fallacious work (relativity). Gehrcke, for instance, kept emphasizing that the successes of relativity could only be explained by a state of “mass hypnosis”, brought about by excessive and one-sided reporting.

Such a qualification resonated with familiar anti-Semitic reasonings (it was a known anti-Semite strategy to claim Jewish hyping), and was well received in right-wing media. Yet, Wazeck denies any overt anti-Semitic motivations on Gehrcke’s part; in her perspective, a crucial distinction seems to be that he did not necessarily primarily intend to promote the rightist cause, as Weyland appeared to have attempted.
Oh yes, over at Dr. Roy's place this morning
I would guess today’s research funding lopsidedness is currently running at least 100 to 1, humans versus nature. Is that really how the public would like their tax dollars spent?
Eli is not the first to have spotted the analogy or even von Dorgen's essay.  Brenden DeMille had a piece in 2010 at deSmog

The entire analogy is filled with irony (Eli only does snark).  For example, the equivalents of the NIPCC was the "Academy of Nations" bringing together Einstein's opponents organized by Ernst Gehrcke in Germany and Arvid Reutherdahl, engineer and dean at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Alert bunnies may recognize that John Abraham, one of the most successful defenders of climate science, is, at the University, nee College, of St Thomas, and that the administration of the University acted admirably when Chris Monckton bared fangs and attacked John.

In conclusion, one must acknowledge that science denial is the same from every point of observation both in time and in space.  Eli formulates this as Lewandowsky's Denial Invariance Transform. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Nearby (and especially distant) mountains don't prevent sea level rise/saltwater intrusion problems

Per Eli's post below, Judith Curry's put up a silly guest post by Rud Istvan saying that climate change poses no water supply problems to Caribbean islands. There are too many fish to shoot as Istvan gishgallops them in the barrel, so let's talk first about where he's right:  if nobody lived on these islands, then there'd be no water supply problems on those islands for those people who don't live there. In fact, a few people could live on those islands and if they always used far less water than the islands provided with a comfortable margin to spare, then again the problems from climate change would likely be minimal. His lamentation that humans are flawed is correct, while his claim that it doesn't count when climate change makes existing problems worse, not so much.

A brief aside:  I've heard a similar claim from far more credible people that climate change's effects on biodiversity is overemphasized because it only adds to other stresses, most notably habitat destruction that keeps species from being able to migrate to new areas. I'm not buying it.

So the main issue is Istvan's claim that if you can draw a line of any length on the earth's surface from A to B without going below sea level and where A is high up, then B cannot have a saltwater intrusion problem. He only references Caribbean islands, but I don't see why the argument doesn't apply everywhere. So his first example was Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic, at over 3000m elevation:

Pico Duarte's also over 100 km from Santo Domingo, and still further away from many other DR cities. Some of the other peaks he mentions are closer to those island's biggest cities, except for Pico Turquina in Cuba, which is closer to Port-au-Prince in Haiti than to Havana. Moving water a significant distance isn't easy, and contra Istvan, it's made harder when the landscape is mountainous.

Examining his claim, you would think California with a top elevation of 4400m wouldn't have a problem with saltwater intrusion, but we do. Los Angeles has been battling saltwater intrusion since 1915, and now spends millions of dollars injecting freshwater and treated wastewater to keep saltwater out.  LA, btw, has significant mountains in the same county over 3000m tall, and still has the problem. LA probably has an advantage over many Caribbean islands in that its complex geology limits where saltwater can intrude.

Freshwater tends to float on top of salt water, which is good when you've got saltwater intrusion deep below ground but problematic if you live at sea level near the coast when sea level is rising. Coastal cities on continents tend to have saltwater oceans in one direction and freshwater-providing land in the other three. On islands that starts to get problematic, especially the smaller islands. Most contamination also occurs in the upper ground, so drawing from your uppermost freshwater because that's all you got raises another set of issues.

Finally, higher temperatures will mean greater water demand, for farming, landscaping, and for native vegetation that limit how much water gets past their roots and into the water table. My water district sees large changes in water demand depending on whether we have a warm or cool summer. In the next few years we plan to calculate how climate change is going to increase future demand, but it's safe to say that Caribbean islands will need more water for human activities while getting less of it in the water table.

So all that's pretty silly, but the most striking part for me is Rud Istvan's assertion that human mistakes harming the Caribbean societies count when they're committed by the people there, but not when they're committed by Rud Istvan and others who don't want to face the reality of climate change.

UPDATE:  my attempt to comment at Curry's got bounced back. I'll store the comment here for now, pretty much the same as above:

As a director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District in northern California, I would like to inform Rud Istvan that the existence of mountains in a general area does not prevent saltwater intrusion. In Los Angeles, for example, the 3000m San Gabriel Mountains are physically adjacent to the city in the same county, and still they have to spend millions of dollars annually fighting saltwater intrusion. Contrast that to Cuba's highest peak, which is closer to Port-au-Prince Haiti than it is to Havana.

It's also important to note that warmer temperatures increase water demand from both artificial and natural landscapes, which will further depress freshwater tables and increase saltwater intrusion.

Istvan might consider doing further research on these issues before he reaches for what appears to be simplistic conclusions. Climate change makes water supply problems worse as a general matter. Islanders (and for what it's worth, everyone else) may not have handled their other water supply issues perfectly, but that's no excuse to keep greenhouse gas emissions high.

Friday, October 25, 2013

You're getting to be a rabbit with me!

"You're getting to be a habit with me" was a popular song in the 1930's, which was part of the Broadway musical 42nd street. To hear the 2001 revival of the 1932 musical, click here. But since RR is infested with rabbits, let's also listen to the satirical version, "You're getting to be a rabbit with me," by folk singer and humorist Allen Sherman.

Some People Are Just Lucky

In a review of William Nordhaus' new book, Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty and Economics for a Warming World,  Paul Krugman reveals that he was Nordhaus' undergraduate research assistant at Yale for the first Integrated Assessment Model. 

Forty years ago a brilliant young Yale economist named William Nordhaus published a landmark paper, “The Allocation of Energy Resources,” that opened new frontiers in economic analysis.1 Nordhaus argued that to think clearly about the economics of exhaustible resources like oil and coal, it was necessary to look far into the future, to assess their value as they become more scarce—and that this look into the future necessarily involved considering not just available resources and expected future economic growth, but likely future technologies as well. Moreover, he developed a method for incorporating all of this information—resource estimates, long-run economic forecasts, and engineers’ best guesses about the costs of future technologies—into a quantitative model of energy prices over the long term.

The resource and engineering data for Nordhaus’s paper were for the most part compiled by his research assistant, a twenty-year-old undergraduate, who spent long hours immured in Yale’s Geology Library, poring over Bureau of Mines circulars and the like. It was an invaluable apprenticeship. My reasons for bringing up this bit of intellectual history, however, go beyond personal disclosure—although readers of this review should know that Bill Nordhaus was my first professional mentor. For if one looks back at “The Allocation of Energy Resources,” one learns two crucial lessons. First, predictions are hard, especially about the distant future. Second, sometimes such predictions must be made nonetheless.
Of course, these models have both their uses and abuses like any model.  One of the problems, of course, is that damages are a non linear function of the warming and that is hard to capture if the economic world, the one we function in has never experienced such conditions.  For example, since progress, encapsulated as an increase in world GDP, is assumed to grow, one finds that economic damage in IAM models tends, shall one say, to be charitable, to be limited for even global warmings of 10 C.  There is a lot of misplaced confidence by practisioners of IAMism.  Krugman explains
However it’s done, how ambitious should an emissions reduction program be? There’s an international consensus that we should aim to limit the temperature rise to 2°C; sure enough, Nordhaus goes into full debunking mode here: “The scientific rationale for the 2°C target is not really very scientific.” Instead, he argues for cost-benefit analysis—but this leads him to an only slightly higher target: his best estimate of the optimal climate policy if done right would limit the temperature rise to 2.3°C.

The qualifier “if done right” is important. Stabilizing temperature rise in the 2–3 degree range already requires very large reductions in CO2 emissions, albeit reductions that Nordhaus (and just about all serious energy economists) believe can be achieved at only moderate cost, given sufficient lead time.
While the NYRB does not have a comments section, Krugman has written a lead in on his blog where bunnies can comment

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Judy Finds Willis XIV

As has been remarked upon wandering into climate science provides a healthy dose of catnip to the self satisfied.  Judy Curry, of course, is happy, sometimes at her cost, to provide a forum for the Sky Dragons and whomever else wanders into her Email box, and, of course, Roy is having great fun with Willis.  Willis is not so happy about this. 

Eli, Eli was enjoying life, when he happened to wander into Judith Curry's house of mirrors to find another digression by one of her pet polymorphs (she really should collect lagomorphs, a much better and nicer bunch), Rud Istvan.  Rud is pushing new carbon based materials for energy storage capacitors in real life.  At least Russell blows microbubbles.   But as a hobby, Istvan has been here and there in comments and the occasional guest post in the usual places.  He really values his opinion.

Few others do.  In this case he goes after people who know something about the fresh water supply in the Caribbean, perhaps because he is so much smarter than them, than all of us.  He tries ridicule
Experts like Avril Alexander, Caribbean coordinator of Global Water Partnership:
“When you look at the projected impact of climate change, a lot of the impact is going to be felt through water.”
Experts like Lystra Fletcher-Paul, Caribbean land/water officer for the UN FAO:                    
 “ Inaction is not an option. The water resources will not be available.”
Istvan is not impressed
Yet another anthropogenic global warming alarm, and just in time for IPCC AR5, whose newly released WG1 chapters 7 and 11 say there is high confidence that dry regions will get drier, wet regions will get wetter, and storms will get stormier. “But there is only low confidence in the magnitude.” These Caribbean experts are much more certain—Caribbean water resources will not be available.
And then he tosses himself in at the deep end
Saltwater intrusion doesn’t apply much to Caribbean island groundwater. The islands are mountainous. Pico Duarte in the DR is 3098m. Pic la Selle in Haiti is 2680m. Jamaica’s Blue Mountain is 2256m. Cuba’s Pico Turquina is 1974m. Antigua’s ‘Boggy Peak’ is 402m. St. Croix’ ‘Mount Eagle’ is 355m.  Barbados is only hilly, with a maximum elevation of ‘just’ 343m.
Rising sea levels will not contaminate Caribbean fresh water supplies.
Rud has maybe never visited the Caribbean.  While mountains on many Caribbean islands rise up from the sea, most of the population and infrastructure lives on the coast. That is especially true of the tourist infrastructure.  Runoff, especially on the volcanic islands can be really fast.  Aquifers and water supplies are often (when they exist, in Bermuda for example many collect rainwater run off) local to the coastal cities and settlements, and thus vulnerable to sea water intrusion. The nature of the climate with wet and dry seasons exacerbates the situation.  Oh yeah, storm surge pushing sea water inland is not wonderful for agricultural lands and water supplies.
This was made clear in the article that Istvan linked to.  The reporter talked to Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology & Hydrology.
Van Meerbeeck said water supplies will continue to decrease if individuals as well as agriculture and tourism, the region's key industries, do not monitor use.
"Climate is maybe not the biggest factor, but it's a drop in an already full bucket of water," he said. "It will have quite dramatic consequences if we keep using water the way we do right now."
Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados have ordered rationing this year, with Barbados reducing pressure and occasionally cutting off supply to some areas. The island also began to recycle water, with officials collecting treated wastewater to operate airport toilets.
Overuse of wells elsewhere has caused saltwater seepage and a deterioration of potable water underground, leading to the construction of hundreds of desalination plants in the Caribbean.
There is a bunch of other childish misdirection in Istvan’s writing, for example, Jamaica and Cuba may have mountains, but the highest point in Bermuda is 76 m, and in the Bahamas 63 m. As Van Meerbeeck said the issue is not sea water intrusion due to sea level rise or subsidence due to depletion but sea water intrusion due to sea level rise and subsidence due to depletion. For a summary of the issues, the AR4 WGII Chapter 16 is a useful place to start

Or wait a couple of months for the AR5 WGII.  Or not.

Sympathy for those lost in the shuffle

Interesting editorial in the Mercury News over the "resource reshuffling" issue and California's effort to control climate change. And attention, carbon tax fans, you're not safe from this issue either.

It's a variation on the leakage problem, that reducing carbon emissions in one jurisdiction might result in more emissions elsewhere. The argument in this case is that coal and gas plants outside of California that previously supplied the California and other state markets would just reshuffle who gets supplied with what, with California achieving "reduced" emissions only because other states are being credited with the "increased" emissions.

I'm not sure what to think of the argument. To be fair, it reminds me a lot of my Burma boycott days from the 1990s, when a retail buyer of clothing from a manufacturer would promise not to take any of their Burma imports. We said that's unacceptable, the manufacture will just reshuffle the Burma stuff to another retailer who doesn't even pretend to care about ethics.

But there's always another hand. The resource reshuffling mentioned here shrinks the market for the worst fuels - gas can sell anywhere, while coal can't. And doesn't that reshuffling happen all the time anyway - if I buy an electric car and a bunch of solar panels, wouldn't just a tiny decrease in gas price result in more purchases that (almost) make up for my removal of my vehicle from the market? What's the real solution - is California supposed to go to other states, buy and shut down their coal plants, and then buy and shut down any new coal plants proposed to take the old plants' place? As for the editorial, it suggests continued responsibility for the reshuffled emissions - but for how long? Forever?

I think I could agree with some transitional responsibility for reshuffled emissions for one or a few years, but after a while I'd say the emissions belong to whoever's creating them, not whoever used to create them in the past.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Notes from the Seattle Divestment Forum today and yesterday

I got my five minutes at the press conference, starting about 10 minutes into the video below:

(Link here for Oct. 17 video - no idea why the freeze frame is on my blathering mug instead the mayor's....)

The main takeaway from the conference - two thirds of fossil fuel reserves represented on world capital stock exchanges have to stay in the ground to stay within the 2C temp rise goal. The valuation of the rest is a carbon bubble.
     My note - I suppose it could be that the carbon returns to the ground instead of the fossil fuel stays, although CCS hasn't done well.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn:  we're the first generation to experience climate change, and the last to be able to stop it.
     My note - a bit of an overstatement and understatement - we can't stop it, and even a business as usual scenario for X years in the future would be disastrous but not a reason to do nothing starting X years in the future.

A contract-and-grow strategy works for fossil fuel companies - e.g., an oil company that stops throwing away profits on finding new fossil reserves and increases dividends instead will be worth more and serve its owners better than a typical oil company that spends money finding reserves it will never burn.

Lots of discussion on fiduciary duty, something used as an excuse to not divest. Bob Massie calls it a Harry Potter spell - "Fiduciarydutyparalyis!" Given the risks from companies that say they don't care about the future, the fiduciary duty could actually support divestment - what does that say about the quality of the management?

One speaker presented two portfolios, one with fossil fuel companies and one without. The one without had a larger carbon footprint. Climate divestment can get tricky.
       My note - I expect that most of the time, this would not be the usual outcome. Perfect v good issue.

Talking to financial people, it sounds like the recognition of financial exposure that you see in the insurance sector is starting to happen in the financial sector.

A number of professionals showed backcast simulations of divested portfolios v. typical portfolios. Overall it seemed to not diverge all that much.

One person asked a question I had - would recognizing the carbon bubble create a race by companies to get the fuel burnt first, before we hit the ceiling? Response said no, projects are currently being cancelled. YMMV.

Investor engagement/shareholder activism - speakers acknowledged this can be a viable alternative in some circumstances, but argued that if a problem with a business is its core business strategy, then shareholder activism won't work. One speaker made a slightly contrary argument - they're going to engage directly with fossil fuel companies to get them to drop the $100b most expensive new fossil fuel projects in planning stages, setting the stage for shareholder lawsuits if they don't drop them and then the projects crash and burn metaphorically.

Someone raised the slippery slope issue that climate divestment is only one issue and that it opens the door to still other ways to reduce the investment universe. I can understand the reasoning - I think a reasonable response might be that you can consider multiple causes, up to whatever line you choose to draw on restricting your investment universe. Then cage match the causes against each other. The speaker said you also have to look at the investor's mission and the cost of a screen - e.g., divesting from Russia-investing companies would be much more difficult than divesting from top 200 fossil fuels.

On a personal note, I ran into a guy who I used to work with on Burma human-rights issues 18 years ago, and saw him today for the first time since then. Small world.

Drop That Paper And Back Slowly Away

What, bunnies ask, do zombies wanting to eat your brains have to do with the Stadium Wave?

Well consider, the Weasel's take on Wyatt and Curry's Role for Eurasian Arctic shelf sea ice in a secularly varying hemispheric climate signal during the 20th century.  Eli's friend actually reads the paper and notices several things.  First, the waves, that W&C claim to be displaced from one another in several different climate indicators (see the figure below for a quick look, read the link to Stoat for more details) are the result of massive filtering of the AMO, PDO, etc.  To get an idea of how much smoothing, compare the two figures below).  Second, all of the signals were normalized in the figure displayed by W&C, even though most of them had little power in the frequency pass band.  Stoat goes on to show that

Removing this, along with the other three that have essentially no in-band variance, leaves me with this crudely retouched version of their figure 2 a. Its now much less obviously a wave; its just three (four really, but two essentially overlay) different lines filtered to within an inch of their lives into a 60-year-ish band.

I think that’s about it, really. All the stuff about exploding sardines is just fluff and can be ignored. The “mechanisms” is an extended exercise in self-delusion.


Again, what does this have to do with zombies.  Well, there is a long, as these things go, history of amateurs and pros, trying to use the PDO alone or with the AMO or the AMO alone as a climate forcing to brew statistical moonshine

One can see exactly how much W&C are loosing by comparing the five year smoothed PDO shown in red with the figure above, let alone the yearly data.

Wyatt and Curry calculated correlations amongst time series
Correlated indicies, considered along with M-SSA results potentially add further insight into dynamics associated with the signal's propagation.  Prior to computing correlations between pairs of linearly detrended normalized raw time series, values were smoothed with a 13-year running mean filter to sort out shorter-term fluctuations in order to highlight longer term behavior of indicies.  We also experimented with a variety of filter sizes from five years to 20; results were virtually unhanged  values
That, as they say is a big no-no.  Obviously even a five year smoothing eliminates much of the variability, which if left would decrease the correlations.  Detrending is also problematical.  In a quoting the devil (well the citizen-devil) mode, Eli will send you to Climate Audit and a post by Willis Eschenbach, Data Smoothing and Spurious Correlation,  and here is one from Willard Tony hisself.

Calculating correlation and assigning significance to it after you have filtered out everything except a narrow part of the variation is, shall we say, a bit like Lizzie Bordon pleading for mercy as an orphan.  Some facts are missing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eye-opening for those of us who don't have to deal with this ourselves

Sexual harassment from Bora Zivkovic, who's done so much good for science blogging and then used it to harass women. What a shame. Comments worth reading too, one woman after another talking about dealing with the same damn thing.

More context here.

Arctic shifts to a new normal

Most publications about climate change fall into one of two categories:
(1) research reports in the peer-reviewed scientific literature
(2) popular articles for the lay public. Publications in the first category are typically too specialized for the lay reader. Publications in the second category often simplify because they have to in order to reach the audience.

This makes "in-between" publications rare and valuable. This is the case for an article in the latest (October 2013) issue of Physics Today, entitled the Arctic shifts to a new normal. The authors, Martin Jeffries, James Overland and Don Perovich, are research scientists with academic appointments. For brevity, the authors are referred to collectively as JOP.

JOP document the decline of sea ice. From September 1980 to  September 2012, the minimum extent of sea ice has declined by 55%. The six most recent years (2007-2012) have seen the lowest ice extents (i.e., area) since the satellite record began in 1979. This dramatic decline has been driven by an increase of CO2 at Barrow, Alaska, of only 15% from 1980 to 2012.

The sea ice is also thinner and newer: In September 1980, 62% was multi-year ice, which survives one or more more summer melt seasons, and only 38% was first-year sea ice. By September 2012, 58% of the sea ice was less than a year old.

The minimum extent of sea ice (in September) is declining at -13% per decade, relative to the 1979-2000 average. The maximum extent of sea ice (typically in March) is declining more slowly, at -2.6% per decade.  In March 2013, only  30% of the ice cover consists of ice more than a year old.

The retreat of sea ice leads to a decrease in the albedo, because ocean water absorbs more sunlight and reflects less, compared with white ice.  This causes "polar amplification", meaning that the increase in the Arctic temperature is higher than the increase in the global average temperature.

JOR state that "polar amplification" is driven by modest external forcing from mid-latitudes, combined with multiple positive feedbacks within the Arctic system itself. For details, JOR refer to a 2011 article by Mark Serreze and Roger Barry and a 2012 article by Julienne Stroeve et al.

Mean annual temperature in the Arctic is now 1.5 C higher than the 1971-2000 average. The sea-surface temperature in August is now as much as 3 C higher than the 1982-2006 average. Upper ocean heat content has increased by as much as 25% in the Canada Basin's Beaufort Gyre, compared to the heat content in the 1970's.

There is much more in the JOR article, including changes in ocean currents, plankton growth, and changes in the migration of Arctic mammals (e.g., walruses) and other sea life.

The changes in the Arctic are happening much more rapidly than expected several decades ago. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed a high-level study group to investigate the possibility of global warming. The study group was headed by Jules Charney, physicist at MIT, who framed the problem thus: suppose that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were instantly doubled, but nothing else changed. What would be the resulting temperature rise? (This way of posing the question is still used by the IPCC today).

At the time, Charney (and everybody else) assumed that polar ice sheets would respond so slowly that their change could be neglected on a time scale of decades. It was thought that ice sheets would change mainly on millennial (thousand year) time scales. (Hansen,  p. 41)

Even today's computer models do not predict the rapid and  profound changes that are observed.  Computer models (used for the AR5 report) predict that ice-free summers will not happen until about 2060, i.e., 47 years from now. The extrapolation of today's trends predicts that this will happen in about another decade.

Among the arguments advanced by the deniers is that computer models are not perfect. The deniers then go on to claim that the threat posed by global warming has been overestimated by imperfect computer models. In fact, the threat has been underestimated because computer models underestimate the rate of change in the Arctic, the region of the earth where the rate of change is the most pronounced.

Hat's off to Physics Today for publishing the excellent JOR article!

M. C. Serreze, R. G. Barry, Global Planet. Change 77, 85 (2011)
J. C. Stroeve et al., Climatic Change 110, 1005 (2012)
James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren (Bloomsbury, 2009).

David Archer's Climate 101

David Archer's Climate 101 starts Oct 21 on Coursera as Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change

David discusses the new bells and whistles on Real Climate

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Supreme Court's latest nonsense - it takes four to tango but five to win

The Supremes have decided to accept an industry/US Chamber appeal of a lower court decision saying the EPA was "unambiguously correct" when it used regulating greenhouse gases for motor vehicles as a trigger to begin regulating emissions by power plants. They refused to consider broader questions, including reconsideration of their 2007 decision that effectively mandated the beginning of EPA regulation. The EPA also interpreted legal requirements of the Clean Air Act to allow them to focus only on major polluters - the forces of darkness tried to make a poison pill of the law by forcing them to regulate everybody, and AFAICT that's been shut down.

This issue involves arcana of the CAA, much of it beyond my area. I can just say that it takes only four of the nine supremes to accept an appeal but it takes five to win. The original 2007 vote was 5-4. Granting cert to consider the appeal doesn't necessarily indicate a change in the vote count, but it does indicate that at least four think they've got a chance to ruin the global environment.

While it's legal arcana, the environmental implications are huge. That the US Chamber is again choosing the fossil fuel industry interests over the green business interests shows its dysfunction in failing to represent American businesses.

Never Mind

Al Gore has taken a lot of abuse for prematurely being against climate change over the years.  One of the sillier ones was for a bit of artwork that appeared on the cover of his latest book “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis” with Gore's comment

When you unfold the cover, the image you see if the earth as we know it today with its deep blue oceans, rich soil, and green forests. This side of the cover reveals an artist’s rendering of an earth where unchecked global warming has wreaked havoc. We are at a crossroads. We must choose which earth will be home to future generations.
He would, perhaps have done better to run the image past Kerry Emanuel first, but of course, the jackals pounced.

Well, these days there are three pretty big storms out there, on the other side of the earth, Cyclone Phailin which set a new record for Indian Ocean cyclones, has struck India, Typhoon Nari worked over the Philippeans and another is building up behind it and Typhoon Whipha is out there, strengthening and forcast to sideswipe Tokyo.  Of course, Typhoon Usagi which worked over the Chinese coast between Hong Kong and Shanghai, a few days ago, was early to the party.  Now some, not Eli to be sure, tell us nevermind that because no hurricanes have hit the US in a while (Sandy, having weakened before landing does not count).  Others will note that there have been three tropical cyclones going at the same time before, so never mind.  Ah, never mind.


Perhaps the artist and Al were not so far off

ADDED 9/14/2020

But wait, today we have five four in the Atlantic Basin, one in the Caribean amd one off camera on the west coast 

Take a bow and collect your money Big Al.


Monday, October 14, 2013

LA Times chooses not to publish nonsense Letters to the Editor

Specifically, if a letter asserts that there's no sign humans have caused climate change, then they don't publish it, instead hoping that some other letter may contain factual information.

This strikes me as reasonable enough; the usual comparison to creationism applies. I would limit it somewhat - if a LTE quoted one of the very few peer-reviewed, skeptical abstracts, then that's not complete nonsense. Whether an outlier opinion deserves such a prominent placement is the next question and probably depends on the letter and context.

My anecdotal sense is that the false equivalence of ten and even five years ago in the mainstream media over climate science has changed, and the LA Times is one example.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy Honey Moon !?!??!

Attention bunnies! What to take on your honeymoon? In response to overwhelming demand, RR supplies this handy

Packing list for newlyweds:




Credit card

Driver's license


OOhhhhhh.. I just knew I was forgetting something!!

The 97% Need To Strike Back

Dear Bunnies,

A few days ago, Eli and others pointed to a new paper on natural variability by Camilo Mora and others at the University of Hawaii.  

Mark Morano has called out the flying wingnuts to harrass Prof. Mora, which, as you know can be quite unpleasant, but even if not, those of us who appreciate good work (and Mora has a long and excellent track record on biodiversity issues) do not mind giving a pat on the back, so if you feel that a pat is of value, let him know, if you have a question about his new paper, ask, and if you think you have something to add, that would be nice, better tho if brief. And finally, if you have been the subject of a flying monkey attack, talk about how you dealt with it.

The Email is


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Poster Presentations

Eli has noted some spiffy (tells you how old the Bunny is) artwork motivated by the IPCC report, and thought he would provide a Poster Session.  Late submissions will be considered by the committee.

Eli will start with Gavin's take on the AR5's POV of climate forcing and the changes therein.  Welcome back Gavin, we need you.  As to the rest of the Real Climate crew (ok, not Stefan), get off your butts, the public outreach of Real Climate is worth ten papers in GRL. For those others out there in AGU/AMS/EGU land without your own blogs or even with, consider strongly contributing to Real Climate (if you have some snark on your chest, Eli is always welcoming)

To an old bunny, some of the comments on how this evolved from Hansen, et al, 1981, miss the point about how hard it was to draw figures and graphs way back then.  LeRoy lettering sets were state of the art, now they sell on Ebay as antiques, cheap ones, but collectable all the same

 but no one should forget Joe's contribution in the comments (read the comments bunnies, you might learn something:)

From Skeptical Science, by way of HE Taylor at A Few Things Ill Considered

Then we have Mary Harte on the IPCC Consensus

Somewhat peripheral, but how about Gary Trudeau on the power of NO!!! tying it all together

Eli hears that the Power of No has put up Nicola "Stellar" Scafetta for the North Carolina Coastal Commission.  This is especially amusing as from Cape Hattarass on north, their coastal islands are under serious threat from the unflat sea, as part of the Northeast Hot Spot

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Government disappearances

A little personal tale from the government shutdown - I came back yesterday from vacation at Baxter State Park visiting three moose, two beaver, one insolent racoon, and a million colored leaves, with the plan of leaving next week for our water district's fall trip to Washington DC. We go to lobby the Feds on funding for our various flood control projects and San Francisco Bay restoration program. So much for that trip - our staff tell us that government officials we'd been planning to meet are basically disappearing - they're not even legally allowed to answer calls we make to them on their government-issue phones. The story's that it will get even worse after Friday - the Office of Management and Budget has allowed a few agencies to teeter forward on rollover funding, but that's done with after this week. So we'll be going in November on the hope that things will work out then.

Here's my thought experiment:  why shouldn't the Democrats demand that the Republican House pass climate change legislation or a fiscal stimulus as a condition of funding the government and raising the debt limit? If the tactic of taking the national and global economy hostage is legitimate, why shouldn't Democrats use it?

This isn't even a case where Republicans can argue the ends justify the means, a utilitarian argument they usually avoid. The ends they seek are the opposite of the ends that Democrats would seek so there's no utility-maximizing outcome, just a government shutdown and potential default. The only way to win the game is not to play - except of course for trying to win elections, a legitimate way to change the law.

One good thing about the strange fact of the Army Corps of Engineers running America's domestic flood control program is they're more likely to operate during a government shutdown, so we were able to do a little negotiation at yesterday's district board meeting. Not sure if it'll be interesting, but I'm attaching below a clip where I tried unsuccessfully to pin down one of their experts on an environmental issue. For decades we've allowed trees and bushy vegetation to grow on our levees along streams, incorporating them into our riparian system and providing important benefits to endangered fish. Recently the Corps has been changing that.

I think he's truly trying to be helpful, but I'm not sure if I failed to ask the right question or if it's just that it's not possible to be more specific.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

(Video here, October 8, Item 2.1)

In a good news item, a request I made over the summer to increase the rebate we give people to tear out their lawns and put in low-water use landscaping is being supported by staff. Some of our local cities match our rebate and will increase their matching, so in some places we're rebating $2 per square foot of removed lawn, which will pick up a significant fraction of the cost.

So, goes the story

. . . . Eli and Ms. Rabett were sipping their coffee when the Bunny noted that Peter Higgs had won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.  Ms. Rabett slyly offered, "Why didn't they give it jointly to Boson?"

Natural Variability Is Local

UPDATE:  C also Fergus

An everygreen in denial land has been that natural variability covers all climate change.  All of those econometrician types,  and some of Eli's favorite crazy aunts are fond of this, but they are lumpers.  There is no single natural variability.

The tropics, of course, are the region with the most species, the most biodiversity, a hell of a lot of people, and an almost unchanging climate.  Why do the bunnies think that the tropics have the most species, the most biodiversity and so many people?  It is a lot easier dealing with a constant climate than one that varies all over the place.  For one thing you don't have to change your fur with the seasons.  The flip side is that nature in the tropics is not so well structured to deal with even small changes.  While variability is low, human climate forcing driving the system beyond its usual local limit is dangerous. 

 Of course, high latitudes are vulnerable exactly because climate variability there is so high.  In that case one worries about damage that is hard to reverse from large excursions (things don't always break the way you want).  If there is a really warm summer, and the permafrost goes really non perm, it's hard to dig the Alaska oil industry out of the muck.

A paper to be published tomorrow in Nature The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability by Camilo Mora and friends at the University of Hawaii that makes an important contribution by recognizing this issue.  Well, it does come from Hawaii, one of the places with the most constant climate on earth.  They examined historic climate using 140 years of data for the past, and Earth System Models for the future (You want data from the future? Sorry, that is not currently available).  They define exceeding natural variability at any position as exceeding the limits of the 140 year data record for various periods of time.  For reference RCP45 is an emissions scenario that brings the CO2 mixing ratio in 2100 to 538 ppmV

Here we present a new index of the year when the projected mean climate of a given location moves to a state continuously outside the bounds of historical variability under alternative greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Using 1860 to 2005 as the historical period, this index has a global mean of 2069 (+18 years s.d.) for near-surface air temperature under an emissions stabilization scenario and2047 (+14 years s.d.)under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries, highlighting the vulnerability of global biodiversity and the limited governmental capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change.  Our findings shed light on the urgency of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions if climates potentially harmful to biodiversity and society are to be prevented.
The years when variability will be exceeded forever on an annual basis are shown in a) below, and on a monthly basis in b) below.  Eli directs your attention to the summers in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

Mora et al., also looked at evaporation, transpiration, sensible heat flux, precipitation and surface pH of the oceans.
the projected timing of the ocean’s climate departure was pushed forward to this decade when pH was considered alongside sea surface temperature. Global mean ocean pH moved outside its historical variability by 2008 (+3 years s.d.), regardless of the emissions scenario analysed.
Eli wonders if Richard Tol would agree that this paper explicitly endorses the IPCC consensus?

Friday, October 04, 2013

The Old Man is Back

Fergus Brown, the old man in a boat is back with a new blog.  Good news.