Sunday, November 18, 2018

My take - The Carbon Tax Is Dead, Long Live the Carbon Tax?

While I'm inventing traditions, how about a new one that a blog post riffing off another blog post should directly steal the headline?

So I'm riffing off of William's post regarding the lab experiment in Washington State, with a revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2016 failing (William appears to obliquely refer to this one), and now a revenue-generating carbon tax in 2018 also failing.

For the audience of climate bloggers and their readers, I'll put the most relevant-to-them point first rather than bury it like I usually do: scientists and engineers seem to treat scientific and engineering challenges as legitimate while political challenges are somehow illegitimate combinations of incompetence and corruption. As a once (and apparently, now again) small-pond politician, I'll just say the political challenges of climate change would be easy if you could provide perfect long term and short term localized forecasts, and provide a no-cost engineering solution to the problem. These are all human problems.

Political challenges are as mind-bendingly difficult. Neither William nor Tyler Cowen are announcing magic solutions that will win political contests, so maybe that's a recognition on their part that the challenge is real.

Not that I have a magic solution either. I think Churchill's sayings about democracy being the worst government type except for all the other types, and that Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after exhausting all other options, might apply to Washingtonians. Maybe third time's the charm for Washington State, and some impure compromise between the two prior initiatives can succeed.

And speaking of impurity, there's the fossil fuel companies. Yes, the public has moral agency and protecting democracy is ultimately up to them, but fossil fuel companies throwing sand in their eyes and buying out their representatives isn't helping. They more than deserve their share of blame, especially as they hypocritically claim to support a carbon tax and then do their best to stop one from happening.

I'll end with a only half-joking suggestion: "Tax Carbon, Not Trucks, Beer, or Harleys". Set up a carbon tax, and stop taxing cars, trucks, beer, and motorcycles. The government gets to keep the extra tax revenue after making up for the lost tax revenue from those other sources.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Eli Explains It All: No Atmospheric CO2 Is Not Saturated

One of the evergreens, besides the one that more CO2 is needed to grow more lettuce, is that the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere is saturated.

Part of the TL:DR to this is actually interesting and in the optional reading below, but the short of it is that the role CO2 plays in the atmosphere is to radiate a considerable amount of energy to space.  This is needed to balance the energy coming in from the sun.

In the atmosphere the higher you go the colder it gets till you hit the tropopause.

The amount of energy that can be radiated to space by COdepends on the fourth power of the temperature at the level it is radiated to space from

The effective level the CO2 can radiate to space from rises linearly with the increase in concentration. 

Until the effective radiative level is above the tropopause, adding more COslows the emission to space and thus the surface has to warm in response.

Eli has written on this before.  If you look at the emission spectrum from way up high the sharp spike in the middle of the CO2 band is where the concentration is so high that radiation cannot be emitted to space except high up in the stratosphere.

Everywhere else in the CO2 band emission is occurring in the troposphere (you can tell by looking at the temperatures, and you can tell by looking at the emission) and adding CO2 will decrease the amount of emission in the CO2 band.

Now the interesting stuff.  The optical density in the CO2 band below the effective radiative altitude is so high that any emission in that region is absorbed, at the surface in the first kilometer, on line center in the first 10 m.  The temperature in the first 10 m is essentially that at the surface.  That means emission from collisionally excited CO2 will be strong, with roughly half going back to the ground.  Increase CO2 and the backradiation will increase proportionally because there is more CO2.

That means by definition that much of the greenhouse gas effect on surface temperature is local to a few meters above the surface.

Worse, the stronger low lying backradiation slows down convection although it will speed up evaporation.

This is actually all buried in the computer code outputs from radiation transfer models, less so from gcms which don't slice and dice the layers so finely, but it is something to think about

Call it Our Party Housecleaning. Or just somewhat-moderating our hypocrisy. Take your pick

I'd like to suggest a new tradition in the period immediately following an election - to choose this time to go after the ugly flaws on one's own side of the political house.

I've written in the past that - during a campaign - I'm not going to highlight the flaws in the candidate I support. I wouldn't deny those flaws if pressed, but I'm not going to bring them up. In this increased partisan environment, I've extended that to the Democratic Party in general, although particular bad guys among the Democrats can overcome that bar.

Now that it's over though, time to at least acknowledge that cleanup is needed. A good example of an ugly flaw is Bob Menendez, the re-elected Democratic Senator in New Jersey and a likely corruption magnet. Keeping that seat Democratic to increase the odds of a Senate takeover was worth it to me. So once you're sworn in, Senator, please resign, and let the Democratic governor appoint an ethical Democratic replacement.

The chance of that request being listened to is pitiful, but we should make it regardless, and be prepared to support a Democratic primary challenger six years from now.

Another example of ugliness on the Democratic side:

The Planetary Society is correct, this is a Democratic Party War on Science campaign ad. I almost blogged about Culberson during the campaign - like him, I'm a space science nut, and very little of the political support for space extends far beyond the scientifically dubious boondoggle of government-supported, human spaceflight. My attitude was that I wanted Culberson to win if Rs kept control of the House, but if it made a difference in control of the House then I didn't. Had I known about this ad then I probably would have (should have) said something.

Fletcher didn't make this ad, it was by Michael Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC, and they should be ashamed for attacking science. Stick to attacking Culberson on earth-bound issues issues instead.

And then there's the gray area which is Keith Ellison and the domestic violence allegations against him that came up around the same time as the Kavanaugh disaster. There are two ex-girlfriends who say he abused them, which is a hell of a lot of smoke, although it's not 19 women either. The more recent accuser pretty much destroyed her credibility IMO by repeatedly talking about a video of the abuse and then refused to produce it, even in edited form or even for a private viewing by investigators. The earlier one appeared to have credibility problems too.

Personally, if I were in Minnesota I would've voted against Ellison in the Democratic primary and, with the limited information I had, voted for him in the general. I don't need to be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that Ellison was an abuser in order to support the Republican, but I'd want more than I had, given the damage the Republican Attorney General would do. And we need to watch Ellison very carefully moving forward.

As for Bill Clinton, please go away.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Where I stopped resisiting Vox's call to resist - it's a matter of distance

I wasn't thrilled reading the title and intro to Yglesias' article, "House Democrats must resist Trump’s infrastructure trap":

President Donald Trump’s infrastructure trap is back, and for the new House Democratic majority to succeed, they need to escape it.

It’s forgotten now, but in the transition winter of 2016-’17, a shockingly large and diverse set of congressional Democrats — from both the progressive and moderate wings of the party and including some key leaders — spent enormous time and energy making friendly noises toward Trump and suggesting that the result of his election should be some kind of bipartisan infrastructure deal.

....Trump rapidly fell into the clutches of congressional Republicans’ hard-right agenda. He continued to tout vaporware infrastructure plans, only to eventually come up with a scheme to make grants stingier and privatize some airports, which went nowhere.

But with Democrats now running the House of Representatives, infrastructure is back. And Trumpworld figures, looking at the polls, maybe Trump and the Democrats should come together around a random debt-financed increase in infrastructure spending that lets Trump regain his reputation as a dealmaker and lets Democrats say they accomplished something.

....Since Trump is not very subtle, his team even explicitly told a group of Washington Post reporters that the infrastructure dangle is a trap designed to weaken Democrats’ political position. But in case anyone doesn’t get the message: This is a trap designed to weaken Democrats’ political position.

....Democrats of course can’t categorically rule out the possibility of doing a legislative deal with him. But you also don't trade away the rule of law and the basic integrity of the American government for the sake of some pork barrel spending.

Then it got better:

....Democrats also can’t afford to let Trump tour the country complaining that all Democrats want to do is investigate him while he is trying to fix the country’s infrastructure.

....This requires Democrats to come up with a plan that is striking and visionary enough that normal people stand a chance of actually hearing about and understanding it. But it needs to also be genuinely transformative in a way that would make it legitimately worth doing on the off-chance that Trump somehow decides to agree to it. ....[T]he country (and the world) really does need a transformative infrastructure plan. If Trump is desperate enough for a deal, maybe he’d go for it.

But the key is to put ideas on the table that would genuinely alarm the conservative movement — and, more important, the corporate interests who stand behind it — and force Trump to make a serious choice about breaking with the plutocrats who prop up his regime or clearly standing in the way of an infrastructure transformation.

That means massive investments in clean energy generation and transmission, municipal broadband, a serious revival of airline competition, and competitive grants to states for carbon-cutting transportation programs.

....priority No. 1 for that congressional resistance should be developing a strategy to counter Trump on infrastructure.

The key here is long distance power transmission. Yglesias argues for forcing Trump to break with his backers. I'm all in favor of forcing bad people to reveal the vile positions through symbolic votes,  but I don't think forcing Trump to break with plutocrats is a realistic path to get actual policy change. OTOH, long distance transmission puts jobs in red and purple states and helps expand the market renewable energy sources in those states, and the less-ideological/more-pragmatic conservatives in those states kind of like that profit motive. Given that power transmission could even theoretically be used by massive nuclear power plants, that constituency could also provide a minor amount of support.

Clean transportation is another potential area of cooperation - there are some advantages to purple areas and profit-seeking corporate interests, but long distance transmission is a real opportunity and a very important need.

Final note - while a deal may help Trump's image, it won't improve the economic fundamentals in time for the November 2020 election. Speaking as someone involved in receipt of the Obama stimulus for water projects, it will take more than two years for real expenditures to happen, and a deal is months away from happening.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Eli Explains It All: How Back Radiation Warms the Oceans

There appears to be a limited but vital audience for this newish series, Eli Explains It All, so once more the Bunny Brings Enlightenment.  An everygreen amongst the ignorati is that backradiation can't heat the ocean because it is all absorbed in the first millimeter or less.

And indeed this is true, the distance that IR light radiated from greenhouse molecules penetrates into water is a few wavelengths.  That distance is called the skin depth and it is not without consequence in some interesting and amusing ways as St. Jackson has taught us (well some of us).

Yet, as Einstein teaches us, the world is not malicious, but it is subtle, and the reason why heating the surface warms the ocean is closely related to why increasing greenhouse gases warm the Earth.

Eli will now explain.  Others have done so, Real Climate for one, but the Bunny has another simple picture that USAns can use on their uncs in a couple of weeks.

Start with the observation that sunlight is absorbed in the first few meters of the oceans.  How deep depends, of course, on what other kind of crap is there, bio and anthro, but for arguments sake a few meters.  That warms the top few meters, but the surface, that skin layer cools by evaporation.  Heat from the mixing layer will move by convection to the cooler skin layer.

Now comes the elegant part, back radiation warms the skin layer.  That means back radiation decreases the temperature difference between the skin layer and the mixing layer, Since convection depends on temperature difference, the rate of heat loss from the mixing layer decreases.  Thus the mixing layer will be warmer than it would be without back radiation and the extra warmth will be carried into the deeper ocean by conduction and currents.

Greenhouse gas warming of the surface thus acts as a control valve regulating the heating of the oceans by the sun.  The same thought about how greenhouse gases regulate the emission of heat from the Earth into space was expressed many years ago by John Tyndall
[T]he atmosphere admits of the entrance of the solar heat, but checks its exit; and the result is a tendency to accumulate heat at the surface of the planet.
To which Eli would add
The ocean surface  admits of the entrance of the solar heat, but infrared surface warming checks its exit; and the result is a tendency to accumulate heat in the oceans.