Friday, February 27, 2015

Krugman on Climate

Or at least the climate of discourse in these days, expressing perfectly the differences between Eli on one side and, and, . . . . well others.
I see three choices: 
1. Continue to write and speak as if we were still having a genuine intellectual dialogue, in the hope that politeness and persistence will make the pretense come true. I think that’s one way to understand Olivier Blanchard’s now somewhat infamous 2008 paper on the state of macro; he was, you could argue, trying to appeal to the better angels of freshwater nature. The trouble with this strategy, however, is that it can end up legitimizing work that doesn’t deserve respect — and there is also a tendency to let your own work get distorted as you try to find common ground where none exists. 
2. Point out the wrongness, but quietly and politely. This has the virtue of being honest, and useful to anyone who reads it. But nobody will. 
3. Point out the wrongness in ways designed to grab readers’ attention — with ridicule where appropriate, with snark, and with names attached. This will get read; it will get you some devoted followers, and a lot of bitter enemies. One thing it won’t do, however, is change any of those closed minds. 
So is there a reason I go for door #3, other than simply telling the truth and having some fun while I’m at it? Yes — because the point is not to convince Rick Santelli or Allan Meltzer that they are wrong, which is never going to happen. It is, instead, to deter other parties from false equivalence. Inflation cultists can’t be moved; but reporters and editors who tend to put out views-differ-on-shape-of-planet stories because they think it’s safe can be, sometimes, deterred if you show that they are lending credence to charlatans. And this in turn can gradually move the terms of discussion, possibly even pushing the nonsense out of the Overton window. 
And the inflation-cult story is, I think, a prime example. Yes, you still get coverage treating both sides as equivalent — but not nearly as consistently as in the past. When Paul hyperinflation-in-the-Hamptons Singer complains about the “Krugmanization” of the media, who have the impudence to point out that the inflation he and his friends kept predicting never materialized, that’s a sign that we’re getting somewhere. 
It really would be nice not having to do things this way. But that’s the world we live in — and, as I said, there’s some compensation in the fact that one can have a bit of fun doing it.

Chu 'n' tobacco

Last night I went to Palo Alto High School's Great Minds lecture by Steven Chu on climate change. For those unfamiliar with Palo Alto public schools, billionaires send their kids there - they're pretty well decked out.

Chu is all in on using tobacco as the analog for climate, which he did at great length during the discussion (including comparing the corporate disinformation tactics). He did a good job overall, being a professor has made him a good speaker. He said the 500-1000 year period to mostly recover from the effects of GHG emissions is an imposition on costs on umpteen future generations, "500 to 1000 years of future generations breathing our second-hand smoke."

The kindly professor showed some steel at two points during Q&A, sharply correcting two people who misstated something he'd said previously. Guess you need that to survive at a high level in DC.

Few other random notes:  very bullish on wind and solar, believes the business world has really seen the light. He's also bullish on battery technology and has his own business venture in the area. I hope he's right. For all that he still sees a long-term future for fossil fuels - I can't remember quite what he said and don't want to get sharply corrected, but it seemed like 20% of energy to come from fossil fuels well into the second half of this century.

He's supportive of nuclear power but not in the US, saying we take too long to make it happen, and that utilities keep messing around with designs instead of turning out cookie-cutter plants like they do in South Korea and did in France (EDIT - he's pessimistic about near term prospects in the US, but still supports nuclear power). He also supports carbon sequestration and is doing research in that area. I tried to ask a question about the economic failures in that area but didn't get the chance.

He made fun of his fellow physicists for believing they can understand anything in science, but then attempts to do the same thing himself.

New fact:  he was the first scientist ever appointed to a Cabinet-level position, and was replaced by another scientist (Ernest Moniz). He gives Obama a lot of credit for appointing scientists against the advice of people surrounding him, who don't think scientists play well in the DC pool.

EXTENDED REMARKS (Eli)  From YouTube, a talk by Chu at the Stanford Business School.

MOAR EXTENDED REMARKS (Brian) The YouTube clip is pretty similar to his Paly talk. He gives an extended version of the second-hand smoke allegory 15 minutes in, although I think he was pithier with the high school audience.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 5

Think it could not get stranger young bunnies.  Well, four days ago Brendan Montague was lovin it on Desmog UK, reporting on a strange interlude at the 2012 Heartland Climate Science Roast that he had with Willie Soon, something that was so good that he was holding it for a forthcoming (still book).

Willie was on a role, throwin' everyone under the bus, Exxon Mobile, and CfA.  According to Montague he said

The process is we have to go through my centre I am working for, where I get a paycheque, so it goes through our grants office and of course the director has to approve it. My previous director was very friendly. He loved what we do. Then the new director is somewhat, very not friendly so I’m in a bit more trouble. 
Now Eli is the RTFR type of bunny so he went and looked up who the previous director was, Irwin Shapiro, and then Eli looked for some connection between Shapiro and Soon, when this 2013 gem from the Boston Globe popped up
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s former director, Harvard astronomy professor Irwin Shapiro, said there was never any attempt to censor Soon’s views. Nor, he said, was Soon the subject of complaints or concern among the 300 scientists at the center.

“As far as I can tell,’’ said Shapiro, “no one pays any attention to him.’’
True enough and obvious enough for science, but in his own way, as the Globe points out, Soon science has been useful for his funders.  Testimony in its own way to the obliviousness of astronomers.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 4

It just keeps on coming.  Anymore of this and Eli will have to be hospitalized for acute giggles. Chris Mooney at the Washington Post does everyone a service by calling out Willie Soon's research as the fantasy that it is, but buried deep at the top of his article are some interesting quotes

According to a statement from the Smithsonian, Soon is “a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,” and the institution is “greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research.” The acting secretary of the Smithsonian, Albert Horvath, “has asked the Smithsonian Inspector General to review the matter.
A twofer.  Last, the real auditors are being called in, and when they get their hands on the budgets Eli suspects that Charles Alcock, Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is going to have an interesting time explaining how indirect cost money that was originally going to be used to cover institutional operating expenses got converted to discretionary donations under his control.

But that's not all folks.  First, after looking at the grant awards and budgets, Eli was thinking that even with the Koch money and the Southern Money and the Donors Trust money, Willie was not covering his salary, and indeed here is proof.  They list him as part time.  Worse, anybunny with a calculator can see that his institutional base salary was not much at all, a bit less than 100K.  Each grant/contract was for three, four months at max and anybunny can do the math on that.  With overhead and fringes the Smithsonian was actually pulling in more money that Willie Soon.  Were there other non-Smithsonian sources that Dr. Soon was taping?  $50-75K is not much to live on in the Boston area.  Perhaps speaking fees?

From the Smithsonian Facebook page, where such things are found
The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research.

The Smithsonian is taking immediate action to address the issue: Acting Secretary Albert Horvath has asked the Smithsonian Inspector General to review the matter. Horvath will also lead a full review of Smithsonian ethics and disclosure policies governing the conduct of sponsored research to ensure they meet the highest standards.

Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon is a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. He was hired to conduct research on long-term stellar and solar variability. The Smithsonian does not fund Dr. Soon; he pursues external grants to fund his research.

The Smithsonian does not support Dr. Soon’s conclusions on climate change. The Smithsonian’s official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming.
Of course, they were quite happy to accept the funding, but now the Smithsonian has tossed Willie Soon under the bus.  Will he have the company of those who thought it was a good thing?

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 3

More fun and games at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics featuring Eli's heroine Amanda Preston.  So Willie Soon sets up some funding for his salary with Exxon Mobile.  Well that's what soft money people do and Eli would have not been too hard on our Willie had he not at an AGU conference long ago been subjected to the single stupidest poster talk through ever by said Soon.

But be not concerned because once the money was in the bag, Amanda Preston lower (or rather raised) the boom indirect cost rate on Exxon-Mobile in a small Email

I am attaching a proposal for your review and a request for payment. You may recall that I mentioned the adjustment in our indirect costs upwards from the 15% that Walt Buchholtz and I negotiated when he was still in your position. You will see in the attached that the project cost increases to -$76.000. 
The adjustment was to 43% of salaries and wages.

Eli is only a few pages into the document dump but he is laughing so hard that a pause is needed

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 2

More hi-jinks from the crew in Cambridge.

Amanda Preston was hip deep in the financials of Willie Soon's support network.  As the Advancement and External Affairs Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics she negotiated the terms for his support from Exxon Mobile among other things.  Today she has moved on to be Executive Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University, where, amongst other things she works works with faculty to squeeze out more dimes.

Looking at the FOI document dump Eli reads this interesting bit in the first Email, from Amanda Preston to various people at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

You will see that $22,181.00 was allocated to task 40301770IS50AP. This amount is equivalent to the indirect costs that would have been charged if the gift had been a grant. on instructions from Charles Alcock, I asked ExxonMobil to allow us to reclassify that amount as an unrestricted contribution. Judith Batty assented to our request (see attached email). 
Charles Alcock is the Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Email continues
I have the following questions and comments: Charles Alcock agrees that this money should be used to defray any shortfall in development funding. Do we move it from 301770 to 101600? Or to the DDF
The DDF is the Director's Discretionary Fund, which is a fund that is dispersed at the, guess what, discretion of the director.  These funds in research centers are used for program development, bridge funding when a soft money person is out of grant/contract funding, or for tea.

Now Eli, maybe Russell, does not have a clue of how money from indirect cost accounts flow at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, but he expects that as the norm, some of it flows to the PI as a reimbursement for undividable costs, some to the PI's department for same and some to the institution director, but the lion's share goes to things like electricity and heating costs, and oh yes, to make sure that the toilet's flush and that the library maintains subscriptions.  Moving the money to development or the DDF means that it was totally available to the director for other stuff.  Oh yeah, and probably that Willie did not get his cut.  This cut is important to defray many costs including travel to conferences.

One of the gotcha's in research institutions like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is that you cannot use federal grant money to support applications for federal grant money.  What this means in practice is that if someone is completely supported by federal grant money, at least in the audit sense, they cannot spend time writing further grants.  The out for this is to allocate a small amount of a researcher's time to general support from the institution, which, so the argument goes, covers the time and effort of the researcher and the support staff in applying for further federal funds. Coming up with non-Federal money to do this is a bit of a problem.

Charles Alcock is one of the principles in the Origins of Life Initiative which was seed funded by Harvard in 2005.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks1

Justin Gillis has lit the fuse on the interesting funding received by Willie Soon from hither and yon.  Eli had done some digging early on into that pile of offal, but admittedly did not follow through as he should have.  However, the results of the FOI requests by the Climate Investigations Center are telling

One of the fuses in this controversy has been the neglect, rather perhaps the purposeful admission of who funded that in particular with respect to Soon's latest provocation, a rather silly article co-authored by Monckton and two guys to be named later.  The Weasel summarizes this as

I’m not sure it’s coherent enough to count as drivel. There’s quite a bit where I had no hope of working out what it means or what the point of saying it was.
and then goes on to shortly summarize why it was drivel.  Jan Perlwitz provides a more measured discussion (e.g. he provides the reasoning why Soon and Monckton were spitting up, in short, they model the response of the system to a 150 increase in greenhouse gas concentrations as if it was a single pulse and other things and calls the paper drivel after providing the reasons rather than in the opposite order).

Much of the commentary on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hi-jinks has concerned how one of Dr Willie Soon's sponsors the Southern Company had the right to examine and review any manuscripts that Dr. Willie Soon submitted for publication.

Even before the Gillis piece appeared, Paul Thacker was been hot on pointing out that this paper does not acknowledge Soon's support from various sources including the Southern Company and had noticed that the contract between the Southern Company Services and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics contained the unusual clause
Publicity. Smithsonian shall not publish and utilize the name or otherwise identify SCS or its affiliate companies in any publications or other advertisements without the express written consent of SCS. As further consideration to SCS, Smithsonian shall provide SCS an advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for comment and input, if any, from SCS. 
Eli would guess that even had permission been requested, it might have been, well, not given.

But there is much more in the pile.  Consider the Amanda Preston two step in Hi-Jinks 2 to follow

First Oslo, then the world

Obviously no gas engines when there are no gas stations. In 2013 I argued that each percentage of vehicle sales that EVs take away from gas engines is a percent that will not be maintaining the gas engine infrastructure, and that loss of infrastructure support may make a difference in the near future in some places.

Norwegians are currently buying EVs for about 15% of vehicle sales (admittedly with a lot of incentives that may be gradually reduced). Obviously the existing vehicle fleet composition is different from the new vehicle fleet. Per the video above, a gas engine car bought 20 years from now could still be around 20 years later. Still I think the correct reference for when the gas infrastructure will start becoming spotty and inconvenient uses the percentage of vehicle miles traveled in a given time done by EV. People with two cars generally drive more with the newer one, and with electricity always costing less than gas, it will make sense for people to choose their EV when they can. That 15% will translate into 15% less gas revenue, not today but soon, and gas stations are going to notice it. If I were a young businessperson in Oslo today, I don't think I'd view a gas station as an attractive long term investment.

I don't expect range anxiety for gas vehicles so much as range annoyance as they have to go further and plan more to refill their cars. Mechanics and the rest of the infrastructure that support gas cars will also be less common and more expensive.

The above is obviously true at some large percentage of vehicle miles coming from EVs, the question is whether it can and will happen anytime soon at some smaller percent, say 10%. We could see that in Oslo in 5-10 years.

And FWIW, I don't think gas stations will completely disappear everywhere. There will be some vintage/hobby cars tooling around, maybe retrofitted to run biodiesel or other biofuels, and there will be some businesses that service them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Black Swans, Black Cats

A couple of days ago, when describing the incoherence of the Luckwarmers, Eli cribbed from the Idiot Tracker  (v. 2010) about those wide eyed optimists
So the critical question then becomes: what is the lukewarmers' range? Consensus scientists estimate climate sensitivity at about 3C, but concede that it might be 1.5C, 4.5C or even higher (and very unlikely to be much lower). What range do lukewarmers think is plausible? 
So far, to my knowledge, no self-identified lukewarmer has been persuaded to answer this question. They will find it difficult. Because they have positioned themselves as participants in the scientific debate, they can hardly claim 100% confidence in X climate sensitivity, no error bars. If they are reasonable, they have to accept they they are as fallible as the rest of the scientific community, and although they think the climate sensitivity is 1.5C (say) it might be 1.0C, or 2.0C, or even (gasp!) 3.0C (where the consensus puts it).
Time has moved on Tom Curtis pointed out in the comments
Being fair to the lukewarmers, some including Nic Lewis and Steve Mosher have indicated uncertainty ranges (sort of). The first problem is that Lewis' uncertainty looks an awful lot like dogmatism given how tight his uncertainty interval is relative to that of the IPCC. The second problem is that Mosher's range looks more like a con job. 
Specifically, Mosher has said:  "ECS is not less than 1.2C ( or basically a no feedback value however you want to calculate it And the probablity of it being less than 3C ((Hmm I’ve prolly said 3.2 in a couple places) is greater than 50%." 
The IPCC does not give a PDF, but from their statements it is clear that any distribution maximally coherent with their claims must have a strong right skew. Assuming that their likely range is centrally placed, ie, that it is as unlikely to be below the range as it is above it, that means the modal value is around 2.5 to 2.8 C and the median is likely to be very close to, and possibly below 3 C. So, in an attempt to give a range for a purportedly distinct position, Mosher appears to simply redefine the IPCC as "lukewarmers".
Today, the twits guided Eli to a piece on skepticism by Nassim Taleb, keeper of the black swans. Black swans keepers are, of course, the opposite of Luckwarmers, who, in their way are the Émile Coués of the science blog world

Taleb looks at the effect of ignorance on estimates of probability
The introduction in general in any field with potential iatrogenics of any new element without available track record (hence model uncertainty) fattens the left tail. 
Some straight applications 
• Skepticism about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies in the presence of ruin. It is incoherent to doubt the mean while reducing the variance. 
Which pretty much kills Nic Lewis's squeezed prior and
• "Mitigating" policies aiming at reducing risks –say geoengineering– in fact are likely to increase such risk. 
• Conservatism is a dominant strategy in the tails.               
Taleb elaborates
In thin-tailed domains, an increase in uncertainty changes the probability of ruin by several orders of magnitude, but the effect remains small: from say 10−40 to 10−30 is not quite worrisome. In fat-tailed domains, the effect is sizeable as we start with a substantially higher probability of ruin (which is typically underestimated).
He also makes an interesting point about such issues as GMOs
For standard statistical theory doesn’t allow "acceptance", it only allows "failure to reject". Even when someone in prose says "accept that" he mathematically means "failed to reject at some significance level...", i.e., baring a tail event. Similarly, when someone is indicted, he is treated as innocent unless proven otherwise. This principle is adopted by scientific journals (remember from section 1.3 that statisticians are the "evidence" police and their evidence is "up to" a tail event that is not specified in impact). This is a very big thing and it is ironic. 
For the majority of biologists involved in the GMO debates against the precautionary principle don’t appear to be aware of the central fact that
evidence = ”barring a tail event”
and argue they have "evidence there can’t be a tail event".

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tea Time

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The coal divestment and oil divestment arguments are the same

Some people make a qualitative distinction between divesting from coal businesses versus divesting from oil. I'll concede at the start that coal is the worst, so if you choose to only divest from one sector then it should be coal. That doesn't serve as a reason to oppose oil divestment.

The main reason I hear for distinguishing coal and oil is that we can live semi-normally without coal but not without oil. Depending on the time frames, though, we arguably can't live without coal and we can live without oil.

Two hypotheticals:

First, the one thing that changes tomorrow is that the political willpower suddenly exists worldwide to stop using coal, completely, and the question you get to decide is when to implement that decision to maximize human benefit. I think it's pretty clear that while immediately ramping down coal use is a good idea, ending all coal use literally tomorrow would not be a good idea. The energy grid would collapse in many countries and take months and years to reconstruct, causing a deep global recession.

Instead you'd want to use a time frame - I'd guess the best balance of reducing emissions with minimizing economic disruption would mean 5 to 15 years for eliminating coal use in developed countries, and add five years for developing countries.

Second hypothetical is the same as the first except the political willpower also suddenly exists worldwide to stop using oil, and you get to choose whether and when to get to zero. In this case an appropriate time frame does allow us to live without oil. We switch the power grid to near-zero emission sources and switch transportation systems to electricity, maybe with some use of biofuels (managing land use impacts) and hydrogen. Maybe very limited, continued use of oil balanced by carbon-negative practices. All you need is time, maybe 30-50 years.

So no, we can't live semi-normally without coal tomorrow, but if that doesn't keep you from supporting coal divestment then it shouldn't stop you from supporting oil divestment. We can get to a point of living without oil, so it's not wrong to use oil divestment to push us in that direction.

I haven't talked about natural gas divestment, which is a little trickier. While the time frame arguments apply to it, there's also the fact that natural gas competes with coal at the same time that it competes with renewables. I think it's a close argument and I'd welcome the natural gas industry reaching a deal with renewable energy, but in the absence of that deal then I'd rather pressure the natural gas industry as well through divestment.

Finally, some other folks may lump in tar sand oil with coal divestment. I agree that tar sands are the worst oil option so it's a start, but not the place to stop.

UPDATE:  thought I'd add that Palo Alto City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the state agency CalPERS, which manages Palo Alto pensions, to divest from fossil fuels. Palo Alto has done some pretty good work on limiting their own emissions, so that's evidence that divestment is compatible with direct emission reductions.

Fish in the Milk

There is an old story about how finding a fish swimming in your bottle of milk is an indicator of something or other.  Now over the past couple of weeks, the fish swimming in the climate bottle has been a provocation published by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph.  Any bunnies who are not up to date on the quality of Booker's writing, well what John Nance Garner called a bucket of warm spit (well, he really called it something else, but the else could not be printed in those days), can read up at Real Climate, ATTP, Climate Etc, and etc.  Of course, this quickly entered the right wing food chain.

Now some, not Eli to be sure, have wondered about the Telegraph.  Today we need not wonder any more.  Peter Oborne the chief political commentator of the Telegraph has resigned, (yeah yeah not Osborne) and pulled back the curtain from that corner of oz.  Although as he writes, things have always been a bit off at the Telegraph, they have become downright suspicious ever since the paper was bought by the Barclay Brothers.


Well, think the Koch brothers, but with less of a sense of shame and more of entitlement.

Oborne details many stories where the commercial interests of the papers advertisers determined what did or did not appear in the paper.  The recent treatment of HSBCs troubles with the tax authorities in several countries but particularly the UK and Switzerland was the last straw but
The reporting of HSBC is part of a wider problem. On 10 May last year the Telegraph ran a long feature on Cunard’s Queen Mary II liner on the news review page. This episode looked to many like a plug for an advertiser on a page normally dedicated to serious news analysis. I again checked and certainly Telegraph competitors did not view Cunard’s liner as a major news story. Cunard is an important Telegraph advertiser.

The paper’s comment on last year’s protests in Hong Kong was bizarre. One would have expected the Telegraph of all papers to have taken a keen interest and adopted a robust position. Yet (in sharp contrast to competitors like the Times), I could not find a single leader on the subject.

At the start of December the Financial Times, the Times and the Guardian all wrote powerful leaders on the refusal by the Chinese government to allow a committee of British MPs into Hong Kong. The Telegraph remained silent. I can think of few subjects which anger and concern Telegraph readers more.

On 15 September the Telegraph published a commentary by the Chinese ambassador, just before the lucrative China Watch supplement. The headline of the ambassador’s article was beyond parody: ‘Let’s not allow Hong Kong to come between us’. On 17 September there was a four-page fashion pull-out in the middle of the news run, granted more coverage than the Scottish referendum. The Tesco false accounting story on 23 September was covered only in the business section. By contrast it was the splash, inside spread and leader in the Mail. Not that the Telegraph is short of Tesco coverage. Tesco pledging £10m to fight cancer, an inside peak at Tesco’s £35m jet and ‘Meet the cat that has lived in Tesco for 4 years’ were all deemed newsworthy.
Oborne continues and Eli ends
I duly went to see the chief executive in mid-December. He was civil, served me tea and asked me to take off my jacket. He said that I was a valued writer, and said that he wanted me to stay.

I expressed all of my concerns about the direction of the paper. I told him that I was not leaving to join another paper. I was resigning as a matter of conscience. Mr MacLennan agreed that advertising was allowed to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that “it was not as bad as all that” and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at the Telegraph.  (emphasis added)
I have since consulted Charles Moore, the last editor of the Telegraph before the Barclays bought the paper in 2004. Mr Moore confessed that the published accounts of Hollinger Inc, then the holding company for the Telegraph, did not receive the scrutiny they deserved. But no newspaper in history has ever given an unfavourable gloss on its owner’s accounts. Beyond that, Mr Moore told me, there had been no advertising influence on the paper’s news coverage.
There are bridges to be sold in Brooklyn, and evidently buyers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rotating Eyeballs

Eli would not even try to make this up.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Eli's Position on This Is Ghandi's on Western Civilization

File under how did Eli miss this.  While looking over the toos and fros of the APS Climate Change Statement enhanced review committee, Eli missed the bottom line, found at the POPA web site

On Oct. 10, POPA reported out a draft statement for consideration by the APS.

The APS Council will review the statement in November, followed by the APS Board of Directors. Consistent with APS by-laws, all APS members will be given an opportunity to review the statement and provide input during a comment period. The Climate Change Statement Review is a deliberative process. As a membership organization of more than 50,000 physicists, APS adheres to rigorous scientific standards in developing all its statements.
Can't wait for the October meeting minutes to be posted.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Nice place to rest

Walking back through Stanford campus yesterday, I decided to detour through the New Guinea sculpture garden and came across this simple memorial. I had no idea it was there.

The inscription on the top just reads "Teach your children well."

Friday, February 13, 2015


The current outrage of the week, or maybe it was last week, things move so fast here abouts, is what do you call the folks who deny the truth of scientific results.  Deniers, denialists, whatever.  There has been considerable posting and commenting on this, but there has been always been a constant undercurrent even back into the days of USENET.

Matt Ridley and David Rose touched this flare up off.  ATTP has been a willing participant with Richard Betts as guest blogger.  Of course, Mother Kloor had his say and today Justin Gillis at the NY Times has a piece up which will appear in dead trees next week

..the fight about what to call the various factions has been going on for a long time. Recently, though, the issue has taken a new turn, with a public appeal that has garnered 22,000 signatures and counting. 
The petition asks the news media to abandon the most frequently used term for people who question climate science, “skeptic,” and call them “climate deniers” instead.
The petition was organized by Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia National Labs and Forecast the Facts.  Gillis points out that while climate scientists may have fist fights about the details there is essential unanimity that climate change is an extraordinary risky thing.
As a first step, it helps to understand why they so vigorously denounce the science. The opposition is coming from a certain faction of the political right. Many of these conservatives understand that since greenhouse emissions are caused by virtually every economic activity of modern society, they are likely to be reduced only by extensive government intervention in the market.

So casting doubt on the science is a way to ward off such regulation. This movement is mainly rooted in ideology, but much of the money to disseminate its writings comes from companies that profit from fossil fuels.
and goes on to describe how the tree tries to distinguish itself from the nuts to maintain some credibility
Some make scientifically ludicrous claims, such as denying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas or rejecting the idea that humans are responsible for its increase in the atmosphere. Others deny that Earth is actually warming, despite overwhelming evidence that it is, including the rapid melting of billions of tons of land ice all over the planet.
Yet the critics of established climate science also include a handful of people with credentials in atmospheric physics, and track records of publishing in the field. They acknowledge the heat-trapping powers of greenhouse gases, and they distance themselves from people who deny such basic points.

“For God’s sake, I can’t be lumped in with that crowd,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a former University of Virginia scientist employed by the libertarian  Cato Institute in Washington. 
Contrarian scientists like Dr. Michaels tend to argue that the warming will be limited, or will occur so gradually that people will cope with it successfully, or that technology will come along to save the day – or all of the above.
Eli has agreed in the interests of comity to call those who deny climate science, rejectionists.   OTOH, how to describe those fiendishly trying to define climate sensitivity down?

No one ever did a better job of this than the Idiot Tracker, using the then current term of art, lukewarmers and describing their tactic as jimmying the Overton window by minimizing climate sensitivity while acknowledging the greenhouse effect.
The real contrast here is not between "activists" and "skeptics" but between deniers and everybody else – between the science and the right-wing lunacy. But lukewarmers are exploiting the shift in the Overton window brought about by voluble climate deniers to position their radical views as a sane middle ground.
In part two, the Tracker points out the incoherence of the lukewarmer position because, if they want to play scientist, they simply cannot pick a value for climate sensitivity, or future warming, or whatever, but need to assign a range, in Baysean language a prior, in frequentist terms a distribution, but then you would need a few dozen Earths, so let Eli stick with the Rev. Bayes and his alter boys James Annan and Andrew Gelman.
So the critical question then becomes: what is the lukewarmers' range? Consensus scientists estimate climate sensitivity at about 3C, but concede that it might be 1.5C, 4.5C or even higher (and very unlikely to be much lower). What range do lukewarmers think is plausible?

So far, to my knowledge, no self-identified lukewarmer has been persuaded to answer this question. They will find it difficult. Because they have positioned themselves as participants in the scientific debate, they can hardly claim 100% confidence in X climate sensitivity, no error bars. If they are reasonable, they have to accept they they are as fallible as the rest of the scientific community, and although they think the climate sensitivity is 1.5C (say) it might be 1.0C, or 2.0C, or even (gasp!) 3.0C (where the consensus puts it).
When that is done the argument becomes not one about certainty or uncertainty but about risk.  What is your attitude towards risk, how much risk are the lukewarmers willing to take? And there are serious risks from climate change out there, sea level rise, crop failures, heat waves and the like.
Once you've acknowledged the greenhouse warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases, even a ludicrously low estimate of climate sensitivity will not save you from the iron logic of risk assessment: "maybe not" and even "probably not" are unacceptable for the kind of impacts we're talking about. Even 1% is too high. But, absent a new data set allowing a much, much more exactly calculation of climate sensitivity than we have been able to provide to date, there is no way even the most Pollyanna estimates of climate sensitivity and future emissions can provide any acceptable level of assurance that "business as usual" is anything but a road to ruin.
So how to describe this position?  Eli suggests that the proper description of this luckwarmers.  They feel lucky and are betting the house on it.  Unfortunately it is our house.

Monday, February 09, 2015


Richard Tol has a history of conducting polls which would, according to what he writes about them, have required ethics approval.  Now Richard Tol also has a history of not really liking John Cook and especially Cook, et al 2013, so Eli was interested to see the announcement of a new Tol Poll, ostensibly surveying attitudes toward climate change.

Richard, AFAEK first announced his poll on January 19 on a thread at And Then

Richard S.J. Tol says:
January 19, 2015 at 8:28 am 
Please help our research by taking this survey

there were some comments

jsam says:
January 19, 2015 at 8:39 am  
I started the survey and then stopped early. I’d expected to see a description of who was running the survey, what it’s intention was, etc. I answered the “je ne regrette rien” questions and then stopped at the lottery section.

January 19, 2015 at 9:16 am 
Have you run your survey past the arbiter of all that is good and right in science? I’d hate you to suddenly be accused of fraud and misconduct.

and replies

Richard S.J. Tol says:
January 19, 2015 at 2:25 pm@Joshua
This survey will be used in papers. 

To Eli, this made it clear that the New Toll Poll would require research ethics approval, and, of course, the University of Sussex has people and procedures needed before such a poll is undertaken.  Indeed, Cook et al 2013 has been attacked by the multitudes with various waving hands about ethics approvals that were related to the paper including many supporting demands for data on Prof. Tol's part.

Eli thought, perhaps indeed Prof. Richard Tol has sought such approval, so he wrote to the University of Sussex
A faculty member at the University of Sussex, Richard Tol has organized an on line poll the results of which he writes will be the basis of one or more publications.  Eli writes to you to inquire if he has applied for, submitted, and/or received an ethical review for this survey as required by the policies of the University of Sussex.  The Rabett would appreciate your acknowledging receipt of this Email and indicating whether you will send a copy of the application and the review and decision.  If there  has been NO application for ethical review, please so indicate.
The documentation associated with ethical approval, would, of course, provide insight into the construction and the purpose of the survey.

Today, came this reply
I can confirm that this survey did not have ethical approval and that data from the survey will not be used in future publications.
One may have fun speculating about whether
a.  Prof. Tol was simply lying having the bunnies on about his survey (which is still on the net and web cited) being used in his future papers.
b.  The research ethics officers of the University of Sussex had some words with Prof. Tol.
The fun part of course is that there may well have been interesting exchanges of Emails between the various research ethics officers and between them and Prof. Tol.  Eli would prefer to fantasize about same rather than bother the various parties to open the Tolgate, still there are issues associated with the bother that the good Prof. Tol put others to, which raise ethical issues in and of themselves.

Those taken in, may of course, wish to register their disappointment with the University of Sussex and the appropriate school.

The Professor Snowball lecture on coal carbon sequestration's record to date

FutureGen 2.0 carbon sequestration just lost most of its funding - all that was left from the 2009 Obama federal stimulus funding, because it's far too late to to spend it responsibly between now and the September 2015 deadline.

This is a pattern with CCS (aside from CO2 injection for recovering more fossil fuels). It's kind of like nuclear power, not penciling out under the green eyeshades.

That cancellation happened is also Not A Good Thing - we need options, wedges to reduce carbon, and this was one of them. Biomass-plus-CCS is also one of the very few carbon-negative options available to bring down not just emissions but actual CO2 levels.  It won't be any more economical than coal CCS, quite likely less economical. I'd like CCS and especially biomas CCS to happen, but the facts are being stubborn, absent some revolution.

Guess we're going to have to rely on biochar.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Journal of Economic Perspectives Editor Tries Once More

The winter 2015 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives has what the editor hope is a final word on “The Economic Effects of Climate Change” by Richard S. J. Tol and the several errors therein.

In early 2014, the editors received a complaint pointing out errors in the paper: specifically, several estimates had not been accurately transferred from the original studies. In the Spring 2014 issue, we published a “Correction and Update: The Economic Effects of Climate Change” (vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 221–26) by Richard Tol. However, this version also contained errors that were soon pointed out by various researchers. The editors discussed the situation with Richard Tol and with outside reviewers at some length.
Now followers of that little back and forth might want to do a bit of reading here at Rabett Run
Tol's Demon
A Statistical Analysis of Tol's Demon

and then there's physics
Tol's corrections

over there at Retraction Watch
Gremlins” caused errors in climate change paper showing gains from global warming

and whoa, certainly at Andrew Gelman's
Richard Tol's Gremlins Drive Iffy Policy Recommendations
A Whole Fleet of Gremlins

As Frank Ackerman pointed out in a scholarly matter, there is not much there in that figure with multiple numbers of the few points coming from the same models over a couple of decades.

Eli would have enjoyed listening in to the exchange of views at JEP, but the JEP editor has settled on using the figure appearing in the AR5

A point of continuing discussion, here at RR has been is whether the several cited studies have any coherent message, for example, can a responsible economist fit the data.  JEP thinks not
The original figure in the 2009 JEP article estimated a best-fit line passing through the points on this kind of figure, along with confidence intervals for that Figure 1 estimate. Given the differences across the studies as mentioned in the IPCC report, several outside reviewers involved in our editorial process expressed a concern that such estimates were not meaningful. As shown, the figure in the IPCC report does not seek to estimate a best-fit line or confidence intervals, but only offers a summary of the results from existing studies. Tol offers further discussion of the curve-fitting issues with this kind of data in “Bootstraps for Meta-Analysis with an Applicationto the Impact of Climate Change,” forthcoming in Computational Economics (doi: 10.1007/s10614-014-9448-5).
Of course, Richard Tol's original correction included a rather forced fit

Which Richard defended vociferously as being even more or less (who remember, who cares) pessimistic than the original.  If anybunny is interested the Computational Economics paper looks like a great pinata.  As far as Eli can see, JEP is washing its hands of the embarrassment.

Ok, You Wanted to See the Worst that Could Happen?

So like a lot of years ago, Eli pointed to a paper by Steven Sherwood and Matthew Huber in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to point out that yes Virginia (GMU) and Roger, death, doom and disaster are saddling up and while they might not arrive before a couple of hundred years, the time horizon for climate change issues extends beyond 2100 and what is out there is seriously worrying.

Since then when the lah-di-dahs start defining denial of climate science down (more on that later after everybunny else has chewed it to death), Eli points out that there is a real end game out there, that humans cannot survive when wet bulb temperatures go over 37 C because the heat engine that they am (Eli is a bunny) gets stuffed.  Moreover if this starts happening a few days a year, why by gosh and golly, folk will pick up and move and some of those folk have nuclear weapons, so it will not be all peaches and cream.  

Now comes a report looking at this issue in the US of A and reported on by Tom Randall at  Bloomberg News.  "Risky Business" looks at the effects of business as usual and points out that large areas of the US will have a few such days each year by 2100 and by 2200, the Midwest will have to move elsewhere to survive more than a month of hell.  That or die.  

It is interesting to compare the map from Risky Business to that from Sherwood and Huber for a high CO2 world. 

as they say
We conclude that a global-mean warming of roughly 7 °C would create small zones where metabolic heat dissipation would for the first time become impossible, calling into question their suitability for human habitation. A warming of 11–12 °C would expand these zones to encompass most of today’s human population. This likely overestimates what could practically be tolerated:

Serengeti Strategy gets the horns

The Serengeti Strategy targets individual climate scientists for personal attacks as a way to intimidate the entire field. Michael Mann is the most famous target, but another one, Andrew Weaver, just proved a flaw in the strategy when it's based on false statements - it can cost the attacker $50,000.

The Canadian denialist newspaper, the National Post, published repeated nonsense about paleoclimatologist (update:  and general climatologist) Weaver by multiple authors. The paper and all the authors just lost a defamation lawsuit in British Columbia (writeup in the Hill Heat and by Greg Laden, and the opinion is here.)

No info so far on whether there are plans to appeal (American courts typically have 60-90 day deadlines to file an appeal after a decision). Assuming somewhat recklessly throughout this post that there's a broad similarity to American law, both sides could appeal:  the plaintiff could argue he deserves more than $50k, especially to dispute the ruling finding no malice, only falsity in the statements (i.e., no conclusion they were deliberately lying). Defendants could argue the court was just wrong.

Appellate courts usually defer to lower court's factual findings, so it will be difficult for either side to change the ruling, (the court is called the BC Supreme Court, but it's a lower court, in a Canadian attempt to prove themselves as ridiculous at naming conventions as New Yorkers are). If I were a defendant and had the money to do it, I'd appeal. I wouldn't if I were Weaver (who mostly won), but I would file a cross-appeal on the amount of damages if the defendants do appeal. No idea if a settlement is possible, but defendants will now have to offer better terms than they needed four years ago when the case was filed.

Three points in particular I'd emphasize:  first, while the decision isn't binding on anyone other than the parties, it does give a sense of what a legal expert with no particular axe to grind thinks about these cases, and there's a lot of similarities to the wild allegations in the other climate defamation cases in Canada and the US.

Second, the legal standard is different in the US, but legal realism suggests a similar outcome. The judge here didn't find malice, which a public figure plaintiff has to show in American defamation law, but she didn't need to make that finding in order to punish bad behavior. Legal realism argues that judges make decisions for many reasons in addition to abstract application of law to the facts. The BC judge could punish the clearly bad behavior just by finding they were indifferent to the truth but in America you have to show at least "reckless" indifference for a public figure to win, and a judge is more likely to make that step if the alternative lets the defendants get away with it.

Third, the individual defendant authors aren't just responsible for their separate defamation of Weaver but are also jointly responsible for the overall damage they jointly caused. IOW, if you're a denialist who wants to write nonsense in a denialist rag because they're willing to regularly publish such nonsense, you could be in more trouble than you bargained for. You might want to be a little more careful of where you publish, or maybe try writing the truth.

I'll end with two excerpts from the opinion, first on joint liability:

In Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 1130 at para. 176, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that it is well-established that all individuals involved in the commission of a joint tort are jointly and severally liable for the injury: 
It is a well-established principle that all persons who are involved in the commission of a joint tort are jointly and severally liable for the damages caused by that tort. If one person writes a libel, another repeats it, and a third approves what is written, they all have made the defamatory libel. Both the person who originally utters the defamatory statement, and the individual who expresses agreement with it, are liable for the injury.

[182] The evidence is that Mr. Foster and Mr. Corcoran communicated on Weaver’s Web; indeed Mr. Corcoran added to it; they communicated about this particular theme that ultimately ran through all four articles, i.e. Dr. Weaver’s deceit and alleged distraction from Climategate.

[183] Furthermore they are all writing for the same publication which published this series of articles. Ultimately, I have found the cumulative effect of the articles, particularly the first three, to make the same defamatory theme of Dr. Weaver’s character, of lack of integrity and scientific incompetence and/or deceit.

Second on the malice issue:

[246] As noted in Creative Salmon at para. 33, malice is a state of mind. While Dr. Weaver argues malice is evident in the defendants’ actions, I do not find malice to be present. Rather, I conclude the defendants definitively espouse a skeptical view of climate change and are unwavering in their expression of this. While certainly entitled to express those views, in this case as part of that expression, they deliberately created a negative impression of Dr. Weaver.

[247] In doing so, I conclude the defendants have been careless or indifferent to the accuracy of the facts. As evident from the testimony of the defendants, they were more interested in espousing a particular view than assessing the accuracy of the facts. This lack of accuracy has led in part to my conclusion that certain aspects of the articles, especially when read together, are defamatory and are not saved by the fair comment defence. This is not sufficient, however, to lead to a finding of malice.

And one more thing:  unless they work it out quietly, there could be an interesting catfight among defendants on who pays the damages.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Sea Also Rises RTFR Version

There has been much comment on Hay, Morrow, Kopp and Mitrovica's "Probabilistic reanalysis of twentieth century sea level rise", much of it centered about the finding that sea level rise was slower than thought in the first nine decades of the twentieth century and has really take off since.

Now some, not Eli to be sure, have been mislead about this, and Eli for one would place a reasonable amount of blame for some of this on the authors, but, of course, others have pitched right in.  For starters the abstract and the paper push the conclusion

Here we revisit estimates of twentieth-century GMSL rise using probabilistic techniques9, 10 and find a rate of GMSL rise from 1901 to 1990 of 1.2 ± 0.2 millimetres per year (90% confidence interval). Based on individual contributions tabulated in the Fifth Assessment Report7 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this estimate closes the twentieth-century sea-level budget. Our analysis, which combines tide gauge records with physics-based and model-derived geometries of the various contributing signals, also indicates that GMSL rose at a rate of 3.0 ± 0.7 millimetres per year between 1993 and 2010, consistent with prior estimates from tide gauge records4. The increase in rate relative to the 1901–90 trend is accordingly larger than previously thought; this revision may affect some projections11 of future sea-level rise.
 Of course, any such calculation depends on a better reading of the intermittant, spotty and just plain strange tidal guage record and other some such before 1990 when satellite measurements became available, both for themselves and for calibration of sea level gauges.

Eli has some experience in this sort of stuff having suffered through the late John Daly's Isle of the Dead tidal sage whose echoes can be found even today.  Daly and his fellow rejectionists succeeded in stirring up enough of a furor that it provoked an official investigation, which, of course, found that Daly was, shall Eli say, indulging in ahistorical fiction.

Make no mistake about it, Hay, et al. have made a major advance in methods
In this Letter, we revisit the analysis of GMSL since the start of the twentieth century using Kalman smoothing. This statistical technique naturally accommodates spatially sparse and temporally incomplete sampling of a global sea-level field, provides a rigorous, probabilistic framework for uncertainty propagation, and can correct for a distribution of GIA and ocean models.We applied the approach to analyse annual records from 622 tide gauges included in the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL) Revised Local Reference database and reconstruct the global field of sea-level change for each year from 1900 to 2010.
and, of course, they can check their tidal gauge record against  satellite measurement in the most recent parts of the period of study as well as making many consistency checks.  Finally their results appear to close the balance
This estimate closes the sea-level budget for 1901–90 estimated in AR5 (ref. 7) without appealing to an underestimation of individual contributions from ocean thermal expansion, glacier melting, or ice sheet mass balance. Moreover, it may contribute to the ultimate resolution of Munk’s sea-level enigma (defined by the argument that Earth rotation measurements and bounds on ocean warming are inconsistentwith a rate of sea-level rise beginning in the late nineteenth century of 1.5–2.0 mm/yr), since it may lower the signal of twentieth century ice melting in Earth rotation measurements.
But, knew there was going to be a but, dinna you?  The take home for Eli which he has not seen much commented on is Figure 4.

 It is not that sea level rise from tidal gauges was a constant ~1 mm/yr or that the rate suddenly accelerated in the 1990s, but it is more complicated than that which is Eli's point.  The impression left by much of the to and fro has been that there was a constant amount of sea level rise until 1990 when it jumped.

Not the case.  The rate varied with a period of ~ 40 years or so (dangerous because the smoothing is over a 15 year period, before starting to grow systematically in the late 1960s (remember the 15 year average).  The insert shows that the most recent times have been the periods of largest sea level rise.  The satellite era tidal gauge record from Hay et al, matches well on the satellite measurements, while the tidal gauge measurements before 1990 are lower than previously thought but show the same sort of variation. (from SKS)

Added on afterthought: The rise per year is a rate, the slope of the line is the acceleration.  From this plot bunnies can say that the acceleration has been monotonically postive since ~1960 and not far off from lines, implying polynomially growth in sea level.