Monday, April 27, 2020

Babies, bathwater and Planet Human

So many are dunking so well on Michael Moore's misbegotten Planet Human video on YouTube that it hardly needs my help. Two good places to look are Ketan Joshi, covering how outdated and/or wrong all the information is in the documentary, and Climate Crocks, summarizing and linking to what everyone else has found wrong with it (see also GetEnergySmartNow for even more).

I'll just add three things I haven't seen elsewhere (maybe I just missed it):

1. What's wrong with talking about ideology? People are wrestling with the facts and non-facts of the video when those issues aren't what drove its creation. Just like Naomi Klein with her book, the video's creators are strongly opposed to capitalism - definitely opposed to American capitalism, probably opposed to the European version too. They believe that this capitalism can't make things better in general, and therefore can't solve climate change in particular. When you have massively decreased prices for solar, wind, and storage, that raises the prospect that we don't necessarily have to overthrow capitalism to fix the climate - so if your real mission is overthrow capitalism, then you must deny that renewables and storage actually work.

There's nothing wrong with critiquing capitalism, especially American capitalism and how far it's deviated from free market ideals, but you have to start from the same basis in facts. The video is starting from a basis in ideology and being selective with the facts.

Moving along now to the babies and bathwater;

2. Biomass energy isn't innately wrong, and we should hope it works out. Most of the critiques I've read just shrug at biomass issues and then move on to wind and solar. Like people interviewed in the video, I probably should know more about biomass than I do. I can say that just as it's appropriate to use land to grow food, I think it could be appropriate to use land to grow energy. The concept isn't innately wrong, so it's a matter of how it's done (and I recognize there are lots of problems, particularly with corn ethanol).

I'll also add that not all forests are created (ok, made) equal. It is criminal to cut down old-growth, primary forest to make wood chips, or really to cut down that forest for any reason. Much of the world's forests though are second-growth and plantation monocrop forests. Quick-growing, small-diameter trees from the American South are used for plywood and used for biomass, and I don't know why the former is okay but not the latter. Some, maybe most second-growth forests should be allowed to age, but that doesn't mean every tree plantation is sacred. Other crops like switch grass and algae also remain (distant) possibilities. Finally regarding biomass, there are only limited possibilities of negative carbon emissions, and biomass plus carbon capture is one of them, so we should hope it works out.

3. We need an "antiracists for population control" movement. It is extremely unfortunate that racists love them some population control. If you consider Somalia and the problems it has, the fact that its population will be significantly larger in 20 years doesn't rank high on the list. Drill down a level deeper though and the average mother in rural developing nations generally wants smaller families where she can devote more resources to each child and to herself, so on an antiracist level, population control is relevant and empowering. Looking to broader global issues, it is rich White people (and some East Asian countries) that have the giant ecological footprint that most need population control.

I think people who can't stand the racists and are turned off by the some of the blindness of others in the population control movement are missing the need to get involved and redirect the effort.

So in conclusion, yeah, not a good video. One tip if you're going to watch it is to watch at 1.25 or 1.5 times speed, saving some time and skimming through the emotional manipulation sections. Also an effortless refutation by Bill McKibben of what could be fairly described as lies made about him in the video.

UPDATE: maybe too trivial to add this, but I'm doing it anyway - the solar panels on the Mars rovers didn't cost a $1 million per square inch. I couldn't find their exact dimensions, but I do know the primary mission cost about $400 million and the panels are far larger than 400 square inches, maybe more than twice that size. I'm sure installation and testing was extremely expensive but I doubt the panels themselves cost more than five figures. (UPDATE 2: A Siegel tracks it down in the comments, the panels were just over 2000 square inches.) Others have pointed out that on Earth, PV is far more efficient and cheaper than the system that the video cherrypicked.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Yet another new puzzler

Eli has always been fond of puzzlers, and it is well past time for a new one, the answer to which not only is useful for Twitterati, but also for climate modeling.  Everybunny has seen the atmospheric absorption spectrum that Robert Rhode put together years ago elaborating on earlier versions in Goody and Yung

This figure shows the absorption bands in the Earth's atmosphere (middle panel) and the effect that this has on both solar radiation and upgoing thermal radiation (top panel). Individual absorption spectrum for major greenhouse gases plus Rayleigh scattering are shown in the lower panel. (R. Rhode w. a bit of remixing)
Ask anybunny, or at least the ones into denial of climate change and they will point to Robert's figure and tell you that the CO2 absorption at 14.7 μ is overlapped by water vapor absorption so limiting CO2 will only have a small effect on the greenhouse effect, after all, water vapor accounts for 95% of the greenhouse effect.  Ask Gavin and you get something not so different
 Thus the effect of water vapour and clouds is between 66 and 85% – the range being due to the spectral overlaps with the other absorbers. These calculations were done with the GISS GCM radiation code, which matches line-by-line codes to about 10% – but the numbers are very similar to Ramanathan and Coakley (1978), and so probably aren’t too far off what you would get with any decent radiation code. I’ll get to ‘c)’ below….
Eli, being a RTFM type as well as a jackleg molecular spectroscopist, or in this case a CTFT type has known for a long time that the overlaps between CO2 and water vapor are not important (clouds being a whole different thing)

So what is going on here.  Even though there is very little overlap, why does everybunny think there is a lot, and how does the answer affect how one thinks about the greenhouse effect and the relative importance of various atmospheric components.

The answer which will take several posts to reach is, well Eli is thinking hard about coming out of retirement and writing a paper about it. It provides a different and better way of calculating the greenhouse warming potential of gases.

Monday, April 20, 2020

If you have time on your paws, and who don't . . . .

Jules of the Klimaatblog is doing a long series on how astroturf spam is manufactured. Particularly important to recognize today with Trump and his enablers trying to kill off their partisans.  With the recent death of Fred Singer who, tho not an economist, played a pivotal role in secondhand smoke shenanigans and the emerging Ayn Rand suicide squads, recruiting bodies and gathering the disposal bags in the name of FREEDOM, this is an important series

The tobacco economists network - or how the Tobacco Institute recruited over 100 American economics professors. Part 1 of many. 

This is story of the 100+ American free-market economists recruited by the tobacco industry. It was written in 2014-2015 but due to circumstances never finished. The story is too important to ignore so I'm presenting the draft written back then. Feedback / new insights welcome. 
Welcome to the first post of many. 
The tobacco industry used a series of scientists in so-called ‘truth squads’ to deny the harmfulness of second-hand smoking.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Deaths per million of the elderly as the best, unused criterion

Good coronavirus stats are hard to find. As a measure of societal impact, deaths per million people is probably the best, at least somewhat closer to reality than diagnosed cases per million. It does have the problem of people dying undiagnosed and of different areas using different methodologies for counting a death. I expect retrospectives in the future will just use what's often done during epidemics, comparing the year-on-year death rate before and during the epidemic. For now, deaths per million with somewhat varying methodologies is the best for overall impact - but not for measuring how well the country has handled the disease.

The overall impact depends on demographics, which is beyond immediate control of society. If you want to consider how good a job they've done given their demographics, then you need to adjust. Elderly people age 65+ are 15% of the US population and 23% of Italy's population. I've been arguing that deaths per million of the elderly are the best way to compare countries' effectiveness of their interventions, but you can't find that stat anywhere.

So here's my tentative effort. In the US, about 80% of the deaths are from people age 65+. In Italy, about 85% of fatalities were 70+. I couldn't find the figures that included those age 65-69. Current total deaths in the US and Italy are 37,000 and 22,700 respectively, and populations are 320 million and 60 million.

Math time: 48 million elderly in the US, 14 million in Italy. So that's 30 thousand elderly deaths in the US, 19 thousand in Italy. The American death rate for elderly currently is 625 per million, and Italy is 1,350 per million.

Very rough and ready stats that I'm sure could be improved. Making it worse but easier to figure out is to simply assume 80% of deaths anywhere are among the elderly. Spain has 20 thousand deaths, 46 million people, 17% elderly. That's 2000 deaths per million. France is 1500 per million. Germany is 200 deaths per million.

The US has done better than I expected. We'll see how this plays out over time.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Twas the best of times for proxy reconstructions . .

An interesting thing about proxy reconstructions is that it was only with the end of the last century that they could be done, some trivial, some not much talked about.

Why well take a look at the latest, Pages 2K

and the first multi-proxy reconstruction, MBH 98

The first trivial reason is that it was only after 1850 or so that there were enough weather stations with reliable instrumentation and procedures to create globally reliable instrumental temperature records.  BEST tried to push the global instrumental temperature records back in time

They attribute the large negative deviations to volcanoes, which from left to right before 1900 would be Grimsvötn(1785), Tambora (1815), Cosiqüina(1835), Krakatoa (1883) with the 1808 mystery eruption. 

The second trivial reason is obviously the availability of proxy records which overlap the instrumental ones.  Even tho they can be chained there were not so many early on.

The third reason which is the one that interests Eli (and maybe some bunnies) is that it has only been in the 20th century that there was a large enough change in global temperatures to allow a useful calibration.  The changes before 1800 were just too damn small to allow a useful calibration of the changes in the proxys.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Fred Singer the Good (there is lots of bad and ugly)

Van Allen Radiation Belts: Facts & Findings | Space

Eli over the years has been singularly unhappy about Fred Singer, there is more, but feel free to search Rabett Run for the details.  With the announcement of his death April 6, Eli went poking about the net and hooked an interesting whale.

Singer's best work was in the late 50s and 60s on Earths radiation belt, you know, the Van Allen stuff among related things. It turns out that while van Allen (James Hansen's doctor father, this is all very incestuous stuff as the bunnies will see) was the first to announce the discovery of, what else, the van Allen belts, the honor should have gone to a Soviet scientist, Sergei Vernov

What Eli found was a letter from Fred Singer to Alexander Dessler, yep, Andy's dad
Your point is absolutely correct. Vernov lost his priority to the discovery of the radiation belt because of Russian secrecy. Vernov’s instrument on Sputnik-2 recorded radiation belt particles six months before Van Allen’s in Explorer-l. But the Sputniks elliptic orbit penetrated the belt significantly only in the Southern hemisphere, and the Russians did not release the telemetry code to anyone.  

For nearly two years now I have been meaning to write you and comment you on the editorial “The Vernov Radiation Belt (Almost),” which appeared in the Nov 23, 1984 issue of Science.  
Now comes the ad for open science
Prof. Harry Messel, a noted cosmic-ray researcher and head of the School of Physics at the University of Sidney, told me the whole story in a Moscow hotel room (the Hotel Moskva, I believe) during the Cosmic Ray Congress in 1959. He recorded the Sputnik signal every time it passed over Australia, but they wouldn’t send him the code. When they finally asked for a copy of the recorded data, he told them to go to hell (as only Harry Messel could). Harry, you must remember, is a Ukrainian from Canada; he told the story with great glee.  
But the full story is a little more complicated. Vernov did record the radiation belt but never interpreted his results properly. I have analyzed the matter in a review article on “Geomagnetically Trapped Radiation,” published in Progress in Elementary Particle and Cosmic Ray Physics Vol. VI. (North Holland Publ., Amsterdam, 1962). I enclose pp. 249— 258, “Historical Introduction,” and draw your attention to p. 254. Vernov et al reported in 1958 a 40% increase in count rate between 500 and 700 km. But only 12% can be due to cosmic rays; the rest must be radiation belt particles. Of course, had they gotten data up to Sputniks’s apogee altitude of 1680 km, then there would have been no doubt.   
But Vernov is not the only one who missed discovering the trapped radiation. I don’t know about others, but I am certainly one of them ----four times to be exact!   
1) In a 1950 Aerobee firing off Peru, I measured the east-west asymmetry of cosmic ray primaries, mostly relativistic protons. But I also measured the ionizing efficiency of the particles and found a component of high ion densities (presumably low-energy protons) with a reversed E-W asymmetry. (These were trapped protons; I later developed a theory for their E—W asymmetry (see p. 274), eventually confirmed by Heckman’s observations.)   
My 1950 notebook indicates that I considered albedo protons emanating from and curving back into the atmosphere as an explanation. But statistics of the data were not good enough to draw firm conclusions. Some details are given in another review article on “The Primary Cosmic Radiation and its Time Variation” in Progress... Vol IV (1958), pp. 263-276. (See esp. p. 264).  
2) In the summer of 1950 I flew thin-walled Geiger counters in balloons launched from an icebreaker between Boston and Thule. In the auroral zone, off Labrador, the count rate went crazy. I concluded that I was seeing noise from high—voltage discharge in the instrument, as the air pressure reached a certain low value. I never published the results; but evidently I was seeing trapped electrons of the outer belt. I should have either had a student like Carl McIlwain, or flown thick—walled counters along with the thin—walled variety.  
3) By 1956 I was quite sure about the existence of trapped radiation (although I had not yet thought of the neutron albedo mechanism). I designed a 4-stage balloon-launched rocket for the Air Force OSR, to go to 4000 miles altitude. I then got the contract to supply a scientific payload, a simple Geiger counter. 
The Air Force called the project Far Side and diddled a lot. But right after Sputnik they tried to launch it in a great hurry from Eniwetok. I never learned officially why the project failed; all I know is that I never received any data from my instrument. Too bad; because I had published an article in Missiles and Rockets magazine, around 1957, that we would measure trapped radiation in the Far Side project.  
That has the smell of a embarrassingly failed launch
I was one of the contenders for a spot on Explorer-l, with an experiment to measure meteoric erosion, using a Geiger counter. It would have seen trapped radiation, but the experiment got bumped. End of story.  
I think this is the first time I have written all this down, or even thought about it in a coherent way. Your editorial stimulated all this; I know how Vernov must have felt. 
I suppose I owe most of my radiation belt insights to Hannes Alfven, from whom I learned a great deal about charged particle motion. Even earlier, John Wheeler at Princeton taught me some useful things about ergodic motion of particles in a trapping region.  
Someday I’ll document the evolution of the ideas and theory a little better. For the time being, the enclosed will have to do.  
My best wishes to you,