Monday, December 14, 2015

GISTEMP November: +1.05C

h/t Gavin Schmidt, via Twitter

Another month, another record. 2015 is now all but certain to go into the books as the hottest ever, claiming the title from 2014(!)

We are in the grip of a strong El Nino, so the coming years will likely see some regression towards the mean. I fully expect to see a "no warming since 2015" denier talking point by mid-2017 at the latest.

Beneath the noise, the world will continue to warm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Intolerant protest and the lantern

Obstreperous protests are roiling campus at elite universities throughout the nation. At Dartmouth, a Rosa Parks for a new generation screamed “Fuck you, you filthy white fucks!” at students studying quietly in the library. At Yale, protesters fought for sensitivity and racial understanding by spitting on people. At the University of Missouri, protesters made nation news by variously harassing, threatening, and assaulting journalists trying to cover protests taking place in public on an open quad.

The debate over this behavior has unfolded predictably, with those on the hard left trying to draw our attention to the racial problems on these campuses and in society at large which inspired these protests (although the specific offenses cited can seem rather underwhelming) and the right professing simple outrage, unalloyed by any hesitation related to the age of these protesters, the nature of the problems being protested, or the difficulty of growing up and fighting for what you believe in in the era of cellphone cameras and outrage politics. Charges of fascism are leveled, indicating we are in a day whose name ends in a "y."

But both sides, it seems to me, are glossing over the key question which screams out from any reasonable mind reviewing these actions: What on earth were/are these people thinking? Why are people acting in reasonable and inoffensive ways -- people like Tim Tai, Nicholas Christakis and Ericka Christakis, and Tim Wolfe -- the targets of such fury and contempt?

Not for any acts of racism they have committed, for they have not, in the main, been accused of any. Not for any anger or contempt they showed themselves, as may naturally spark anger in return, as those we have on video confronted by protesters (all except Ericka Christakis, and we have her e-mail for comparison) exhibit almost preternatural patience while accepting horrible abuse.

The anger we are seeing, which at a few removes seems utterly disproportionate to any offense offered, is it seems to me best understood by looking at the dynamics of group hysteria -- specifically the way hysteria is deployed by groups to enforce conformity. EM Forster alludes to this in at a key moment in A Passage to India:
But the Collector looked at him sternly, because he was keeping his head. He had not gone mad at the phrase "an English girl fresh from England," he had not rallied to the banner of race. He was still after facts, though the herd had decided on emotion. Nothing enrages Anglo-India more than the lantern of reason if it is exhibited for one moment after its extinction is decreed.
It is sadly apparent that the behavior Forster attributes to Anglo-Indians can be seen in any community, but particularly a tightly-knit community with a strong sense of its own values (a strong sense which perhaps tends to be the stronger when people are conscious that those values may not be shared by all.

It is clear that the protesters believe that this is a moment of great crisis, of emergency, and they believe that they are subject to awful persecution as part of the larger problems of racism, sexism, ableism, etc., which are (as always) worse than ever before. Both the belief in the moment of crisis and that things are catastrophically bad have become markers of group identification for the protesters.

In this context, it does not take anger, or racism, or even indifference to the cause to spark rage. All it takes is a refusal to accept the tacit assumptions they we are in the midst of a crisis of the marginalized, legitimizing the most extreme passions and before which other concerns or other contrasting values or aspirations are but leaves blown about in the howling storm of righteous rage.

To politely remonstrate with the representatives such a community may enrage them more than anything; worse than a defiance of substance, those trying to address the protesters calmly and maintain a sense of proportion are guilty of a defiance of a collective mood. Once again the lantern of reason irritates and provokes those who have decreed its extinction.

This behavior is never laudable, though perhaps one could make an argument for it as one of many characteristics of groups which are morally and ethnically not defensible but which strengthen groups against hostile outsiders and, thus, are persistent. But its use here is particularly pointless and self-destructive, or, to quote another fine English novelist, "as frivolous as the application was ill-judged."

How are these tactics wrong? Let me count the ways. First, this sort of bullying emotional hysteria is by its very nature a tactic of majorities. And while the advocates of political correctness may form a majority of sorts on some campuses, in the wider society they are anything but. And the wider society is ultimately the place where decisions about funding, about regulation, about things such as whether affirmative action will continue to exist are taken.

Second, these protesters have chosen their enemies exceptionally poorly. Choosing the right enemies, and encouraging them to express themselves in the right way, is a critical part of what makes protest successful. Police dragging a tired old woman off a bus at the end of a long day's work; Bull Connor with his fire hoses and his police dogs; the comically evil hatred of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Compare, say, Ericka Christakis, whose firing the Yale protesters have written into their demands:
I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.
There is more to Christakis' letter, but it is all of a piece with the above; measured, judicious, a little bit boring; a liberal arts academic doing exactly what anyone who has spent five minutes with a liberal academic knows that they do: they take a concept or accepted line and "problematize" it. That's virtually their raison d'etre.

This was the e-mail that promoted the student in the first video to scream "You are disgusting! You should not sleep at night!" (They also decided to yell at the husband for something his wife wrote, which is an…interesting…choice for radical social justice advocates.)

This is worse than an error: it's a mistake. Protest, as Gandhi so succinctly expressed it, is about defeating physical force with spiritual force. It is about creating a moral story which is compelling to people on the outside of the dynamic. In this, these protests have failed spectacularly.

Protesters by their very nature don't have more physical (or legal or financial…take your pick, depending on the circumstances) power than their opponents. If they did, they would simply impose their will. So protest is inherently a matter of fighting a stronger opponent. To fight someone stronger, you have to be smarter. You have to be more disciplined. You have to pick your battles carefully and with an eye to the wider public who are not directly engaged. Because whether a rebellion is violent or nonviolent, they mostly share this feature: those that do not acquire external allies will fail.

I see few of these qualities in the current protests. They seem unable to acknowledge that while they may be discriminated against in important ways, that they are also, as students of elite American colleges, very privileged in their own right. They seem to believe they can bludgeon their teachers and their peers with hysterical anger at the slightest deviationism, and yet not spark a backlash.

Instead of focusing their outrage on the horrific racism and other disgusting offenses against modernity with which our society is amply supplied (see any GOP candidate for president), they stay snug and secure on campus, selecting targets of opportunity who on a political correctness scale of one to ten, would on their worst day score no lower than a seven. Rather than focus on police violence or income inequality or lack of representation in government or corporate America, these protesters demand "free expression" posters be prohibited -- and that they be excused from classes missed while protesting.

I am over forty, so take what I say about the young and their methods with appropriate skepticism. That being said, the Christakises are still in their jobs, Tai is still taking photographs, and reeducation classes for dissenters are still just a (disturbing) twinkle in PC eyes. I suspect we have seen the high-water mark of this particular wave of campus protest, and the academy's final verdict will be: "You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Radiation risks of the Fukushima nuclear accident, expressed as slices of bacon

If we must die . . .

Because I apparently enjoy banging my head against brick walls and similarly productive activities, I commonly place myself in the path of rampaging internet mobs, calling for humility, moderation, and tolerance (hypocrisy being one of my other defects of character.)

Nuclear energy in the United States is, by far, the largest single source of low-carbon energy. Nuclear energy production has been flat in the United States for the last ten years, even as the need for more low-carbon electricity has become screamingly apparent, partly because these plants tend to be expensive and can take a very long time to build, but in large part because these plants are very unpopular, due to fear of nuclear radiation.

Nuclear kWh -- flat as a day-old soda

Nuclear advocates don't always respond to these concerns in the best way. Besides pointing out that these risks are often overstated, a fair number of them foolishly try to deny that ionizing radiation from nuclear accidents or improperly stored waste could cause any harm at all, justifying that counterintuitive conclusion with misreadings of the epidemiological literature or with reference to pseudoscience like radiation hormesis.

The truth is that the cancer risk of low-level exposure is real, but very, very small. Since the cancer risk of red and processed meats are in the news -- sometimes being similarly exaggerated -- I wondered if one could express the risks of the Fukushima nuclear accident in terms of an equivalent number of slices of bacon.

Ten thousand people living close to the Fukushima plant, tested in this study, were exposed to as much as 1.07 mSv of internal radiation (one person) [1]. The average was less than that. They don't directly give the average or the means to calculate it in the paper, but judging by these graphs, and by the fact that two-thirds of adults had no detectable internal radiation exposure at all, we can estimate the average at less than 0.25 mSv. One mSv carries with it an additional risk of death from cancer of 0.005%.

Doctors and researchers are still trying to sort out the cancer risks, if any, from non-charred red meat. Processed meats, like bacon, are definitely associated with distal colon and rectal cancer. There may be other cancer risks, such as gastric cancer, but these are so small that scientists are still arguing about them. The only significant risk (other than that associated with excess calorie consumption, i.e., obesity and its diseases, and hypertension from excess sodium in susceptible individuals) is from colorectal cancer. Two slices of bacon per week carry with them a 47% increase in the risk of death from colorectal cancer, which in Americans is 15.5/100,000 = 0.0155% risk of death.

0.0155% * 0.47 = 0.007285%

But this is meat consumption over the long term, so we will give our hypothetical colon cancer victim 30 good years of bacon consumption before succumbing -- 0.007285/(30 * 52) = 0.00000466987% excess risk of death from colon cancer per serving. 1 mSv is approximately 0.005%, so 0.00005/
0.0000000466987 = 1070 slices of bacon.

One civilian in the "hot zone" at Fukushima was subjected to an excess cancer risk comparable to three slices of bacon with breakfast daily for a year. The average exposure in the hot zone was on the order of two slices daily for four months.

I suggest slices of bacon as a new standard method of describing radiation risks from nuclear energy. Real, but small. 

1. External exposure is more variable and harder to measure, but this study found 2/3 of external exposures were less than 1 mSv, and 98% were less than 10 mSv. 10 mSv is a good bit of bacon -- 3 slices a day for ten years -- but still less than a single abdominal CT. 98%, again, were below that, and 2/3 were less than a tenth of that.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Matt Ridley is an idiot

We do not often dwell on our mistakes, here at IT. This is because I already have a full-time job. But one glaring error of a few years ago needs to be corrected:

Dr. Ridley, a former editor of the Economist (the only newsweekly in the English language worth the paper it's printed on) is no idiot, nor is the idea that things are going to get better an idiotic one. Hence, consideration of his thesis is a little OT for this blog, but we aren't going to let that stop us, especially as Mr. Ridley's thesis is a favorite canard of the most dangerous and savvy deniers, those that have given up attack the science of global warming and instead dedicate themselves to attacking the case for action. The endless adaptivity of humans figures prominently in this set of crackpot ideas.
My friends, I was wrong. Matt Ridley is a screaming idiot. The evidence of this has been piling up for a while now, but the New York Times has helpfully assembled an overwhelming case for mandatory headgear for the 5th viscount Ridley.

It's mind boggling the diversity and scale of the stupidity Ridley displays in this interview. Ignorance of science, art, and economics are all on display. (He proclaims Vernon Dursley one of his personal business heroes. It would be easier to take this as "a bit facetious" were it not that Ridley oversaw the first run on an English bank since 1878(!), culminating in a taxpayer bailout that left the bank owned by the state.)

Where does one even begin with this density of nonsense? He takes the attitude of a sullen 12-year-old to literary fiction, describing it as "like playing tennis without the net" because it is not composed of things that "actually happened." Yes, this millionaire and hereditary peer, educated at Eton and Oxford, thinks fiction is unworthy of attention because it isn't "really true."

It gets worse. He lavishes praise on "The Hockey Stick Illusion," a discredited heap of paranoia and lies that looks all the more embarrassing in 2015 as dozens of papers have replicated the "hockey stick" and record-shattering warmth over the ensuing five years as extended the sharp edge of the hockey stick even further.

And it gets even worse than that:
Which writers — novelists, essayists, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
Ian McEwan, Willis Eschenbach, Stewart Brand, Deirdre McCloskey, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Niall Ferguson, Richard Dawkins, David Quammen, Sam Harris, Bill Bryson. People like this are more than mere writers; they are the generators of new ideas through fine prose, the heirs to Voltaire.
Leave aside the fact that Sam Harris is a bigot, Richard Dawkins has parleyed an interesting idea he had thirty years ago into a career as a professional anti-religious whiner, and the fact that I instantly knew, before Googling the name, that Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be an angry former Muslim employed by right-wing think tanks to vilify Islam and Muslims. What touches this list into immortality is that Ridley has placed Willis Eschenbach -- Willis Eschenbach -- on his list of writers he most admires. Jesus wept.

For those lucky people who have never turned over one of Eschenbach's rocks, he is a failed massage therapist/failed cabinet maker/Watts dittohead whose writing is horrible. Not just wrong on the science (as we expect); not just irrational and paranoid: horrible in style, in usage, even in grammar and spelling. Willis Eschenbach writes like English is his second language, learned exclusively from a brain-damaged crackhead.

Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look:
James Hansen and others say that we owe it to our Grandchildren to get this climate question right. Hansen says “Grandchildren” with a capital G when he speaks of them so I will continue the practice. I mean, for PR purposes, Grandchildren with a capital letter outrank even Puppies with a capital letter, and I can roll with that.
In any case Hansen got me to thinking about the world of 2050. Many, likely even most people reading this in 2010 will have Grandchildren in 2050. Heck, I might have some myself. So I started to consider the world we will leave our Grandchildren in 2050.
But Hansen doesn't capitalize "grandchildren," unless the word is used in a title, as with "Storms of My Grandchildren." This is the dedication of that book:
To Sophie, Connor, Jake,
and all the world's grandchildren
Tastes differ, but I very much doubt anybody with any knowledge of the English language at all would describe the above as indicative of an "heir[] to Voltaire." It rambles. It is vague and lazy ("many, perhaps most of the people reading this . . . .") It attempts a breezy conversational tone which combined with the mistakes with which the post is riddled grammar and usage (the titular eight-tenths needs a hyphen, "grandchildren" is not a proper noun, "unajusted" is still missing its "d" five years on, you don't capitalize "Final Conclusion" and you can't even pretend to blame Hansen for that one . . . .) gives the impression not of relaxed ease, but arrogance coupled with embarrassing vacuity.

Speaking of vacuity, here's Willis trying to defend himself from Roy Spencer's complaint that he stole from 20-year-old climate papers and presented their ideas as his own:
Easy for you to say. You’re some anonymous humanoid, might be a 16-year-old Valley girl for all we know, who is totally safe from such untrue accusations because you never have to take responsibility for your words—you hide your identity behind an alias like some kid in a chat room.
Who is acting like an adult here? Me, or you, you who won’t stand behind what you say, you who are too ashamed to sign your own work? Unlike you, I have a reputation to uphold and defend, and defend it I will.
This writing sample really has it all. It rambles, the second sentence is a garbled, overlong mess, and he's larded up the whole thing with useless flourishes that make it sound even dumber than the underlying stupidity of the content requires.

A decent ninth-grade composition teacher should have cured Willis of referring to "untrue accusations" or unnecessarily explaining that the purpose of an alias is to "hide your identity." He makes the classic neophyte writer's mistake of deploying useless adjectives ("totally safe," "untrue accusations") and seems to be unwilling or unable to hold a coherent thought from one end of a sentence to the other: "Unlike you, I have a reputation to uphold and defend, and defend it I will." What happened to upholding it?

Matt Ridley compared this hot mess to Voltaire. He, like Willis Eschenbach, is an idiot. I deeply regret my error.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Judith Curry hides the decline . . . in her own self-respect

In hindsight, the way the Climategate emails was rolled out, after very careful scrutiny by the targeted bloggers, was handled pretty responsibly.  Lets face it – “Mike’s Nature trick to hide the decline” means . . . “Mike’s Nature trick to hide the decline.[1]”

Wow. Judith Curry, ladies and gentlemen and deniers. Former serious person. What a joke.

In hindsight, we can say the Climategate witch hunt failed utterly. Michael Mann is better-known and better-regarded than he would have been without the denier crusade. Deniers humiliated themselves trying to discredit a "hockey stick" that has now been reproduced dozens of times.

The criminals who stole the emails passed them to their denier allies who used them deceptively, using every variety of quote sniping and ridiculous double standards -- hateful vicious right-wing crusaders picking through thousands of pages of emails, looking for a few lines where responsible scientists, in the course of private communications with each other, said mean things about idiots.

This was used by right-wingers already in denial of the facts to craft a mythology for their gullible dittoheads. Said dittoheads went on to threaten working scientists with imprisonment, murder, the rape of their children, lynchings in the street -- such was the fruit of the handling of stolen emails, to morons by way of liars.

"Pretty responsibly" . . . keep telling yourselves that.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

GISTEMP: +0.75C, Hottest July in the record

GIStemp has updated and the +0.75C anomaly makes July 2015 the hottest July in the instrumental record, setting another 12-month running average record and increasing the likelihood 2015 will break the record set in 2014(!).

Somebody tell me, I'm just a poor amateur -- are the records in a 135-year-old dataset supposed to come one right after another like that? Seems . . . concerning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wherein I settle the renewables/nuclear "are expensive" squabble for all time

Lizard (2014) (h/t wikipedia)

The US consumes approximately 4 billion MWh per year. Our GDP is currently about $18 trillion. So if you pay $50/MWh (good wind, unfiltered coal, unfiltered gas) your cost for that is $200 billion annually, or 1.1% of the GDP.

If you pay $100/MWh (nuclear, solar) your cost is 2.2% of GDP.

If you pay $150/MWh (offshore wind, gas with CCS, rooftop solar) your cost is 3.3% of the GDP.

The cost of intermittency is pretty minor:

Apologies for smallness, original here. Bottom line: at a 30% level of penetration, you can add about $30/MWh to the cost of wind or solar, or about 0.7% of the GDP.

In other words, the costs of ALL of the alternatives under discussion are minor. We can do what we want to do. Very high levels of penetration of intermittent sources like wind or solar poses special problems, but we are a long way from having those problems today (1.)

Arguing whether nuclear is cheap or expensive, or what the costs of waste disposal will be, or what the cost is to back up wind or solar, or whether the costs of PV systems will continue to fall, misses the point entirely. We have multiple affordable low-carbon options, and the question is not which is best -- we will learn more about that as we build and operate the plants, and different sources will be optimal for different communities in different circumstances.

The point is that we need to do something, and we have both the technology and the resources to solve this aspect of the global warming problem in the next ten to twenty years. In many ways, this is the easy part -- the electrical grid (easier to green than transportation, land use, or industrial CO2 release) in the richest country in the world. The fact that it is so easy and yet we haven't done it yet underscores that it is political will, not technology or money, that are lacking.


1. I am optimistic about synthetic fuels, as I explore here. To quote myself:
Conventional batteries continue to get better and cheaper, but right now their capacity is orders of magnitude below what would be needed to store, say two or three weeks of energy.

However we do have a large amount of energy storage in the form of fossil fuels: liquid, solid, and gas. This form of storage is stable on geological time scales and extremely energy dense. Unlike many of the alternatives, including chemical batteries, capicators, pumped hydro storage, or molten sodium, the infrastructure to store and release hydrocarbon energy is simple and cheap -- in the case of petroleum, it can be as simple as a barrel or a hole in the ground. . . .

Start with a conventional gas plant equipped with carbon capture technology (assuming we ever get serious about perfecting and deploying that technology.) Then, rather than put the CO2 in the ground, feed it into a synthetic natural gas plant and use a clean energy source to turn the CO2 back into gas. Burn, capture, and un-burn as needed in a closed cycle that doesn't release CO2 into the atmosphere.
Regardless of how cleverly we deploy storage and smart grids, we will meet our emissions goal much faster with nuclear than without it, which is why I remain a strong supporter of retaining and building out the nuclear power sector, despite the irritating epistemic closure on the value of renewables and general hippie-punching tendencies of nuclear power's more fervent advocates.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Judith Curry: Please save me from my belief in +10C of warming

Judith Curry has found a climate risk assessment report she likes, nay, loves. A red-letter day!
I haven’t found climate change risk assessments to be very satisfactory, for a range of reasons.  There is a new report out, entitled Climate Change: A Risk Assessment.  IMO  this is far and away the best risk assessment for AGW that I have seen. . .
Exciting! So what does the report say?
On a medium-high emissions pathway (RCP61), a rise of more than 4°C appears to be as likely as not by 2150. On the highest emissions pathway (RCP8.5), a rise of 7°C is a very low probability at the end of this century, but appears to become more likely than not during the course of the 22nd century. A rise of more than 10°C over the next few centuries cannot be ruled out.
So "far and away the best risk assessment for AGW" Curry has ever seen considers +7C "more likely than not" along a business-as-usual pathway and feels that +10C "cannot be ruled out." Since this would obviously be a catastrophic outcome, Dr Curry goes on to apologize to the scientists she has vilified and pledges to turn her blog over to serious scientific study of AGW and educating the public about these risks.

Kidding! Instead she closes her post with a frankly pathetic plea for someone to please find her a way out of the logical consequences of the report she's just endorsed:
The plausible worst case scenario is arguably where we should focus our efforts (both science and policy).  Working to falsify high values of RCP and sensitivity based on the background knowledge that we do have, should be a high priority.
So the takeaway is that the best risk assessment Dr Curry has ever seen considers +10C as a plausible worst case scenario. Said risk assessment recommends constructing policy around the plausible worst case scenario, and Curry agrees with that too. Her conclusion: I do not like where this science leads, so somebody find me some new science that leads us where I want to go (which is nowhere.)

If someone could find a way out of the logical consequences of her own beliefs and the basic science, she would be eternally grateful to you. In the meantime she will wait patiently and not draw any conclusions until the facts change (1).

1. This reminds me of how the early Zionists pledged their support for democracy -- but opposed democratic elections explicitly and violently during the days of the British Mandate on the grounds that they were heavily outnumbered by Palestinians and would lose them.

Since you can't ethnically cleanse the facts of radiative physics, the same strategy will probably not work for Judith.

Friday, July 17, 2015

GISTEMP: June 2015 tied for hottest ever

GISTEMP has finally updated, and it's a doozy: June clocked in at +0.76 C, tied with June 1998 as the hottest June in the surface record.

This also makes this the hottest Jan-June on record. With 2015 clocking in at +0.805 C, only 2010 comes close at +0.795 C.

UPDATE: Just when I thought I was done correcting this post, GISTEMP has updated its numbers again, rendering all the numbers in the post just a little bit wrong. Here's the new map:

 June 2015 now comes in at +0.80 C, and June 1998 is a little warmer as well, +0.77 C. That makes June 2015 the warmest June in the GISTEMP records.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Anybody notice NOAA has disappeared El Nino?

A couple of months ago, NOAA had declared a long-awaited El Nino event, after an unprecedented 54-month Nino-less period with two declared La Ninas and multiple abortive flirtations with El Nino status.

Their longstanding requirements for El Nino require at least five consecutive three-month averages at or above +0.5C. The new El Nino, as we've seen, inspired some commentators to literally incoherent levels of excitement:

Eric Holthas' unstoppable global juggernaught looked like this in the NOAA data:

And if you're thinking that looks pretty tame compared to the other El Ninos since 2003, you're right. In fact, those months were so marginal that they have now slipped out of El Nino status altogether. A few weeks ago NOAA made a quiet adjustment to its January-Febuary-March numbers, downward by 0.1C. This had the somewhat starting result of disappearing El Nino from NOAA's data:
Instead of a El Nino entering its eighth month, we now have two 3-month averages on either side of a Nino-spoiling 0.4C January-Febuary-March.

This means that when NOAA re-welcomes El Nino in a couple months, we will have had gap of 58 months, just a hair under 5 years, between El Nino events. Whereas the prior record was just 52 months (1959-1963, if you're curious.)

There is no serious point to this, other than the fact that scientists reassess and adjust data sets all the time, as better information becomes available. It's not the mark of a grand conspiracy to control a narrative, just researchers going about their business -- so routinely that a change like this can go almost unnoticed.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Is nuclear energy expensive?

Spot the leader.

Robert Wilson doesn't think so:
But like it or not, offshore wind is now the only scalable form of renewable energy in Britain. Solar and onshore wind are not. This leaves us with three choices as far as low carbon electricity is concerned: nuclear, offshore wind and CCS. Nuclear is currently much cheaper than offshore wind, and this is not likely to change tomorrow. So, forget about calling nuclear expensive, and be more honest and say that de-carbonisation is expensive. If nuclear energy is expensive then it is time we lowered our expectations when it comes to climate change, because cheaper options are not staring us in the face.
 While Wilson's tone is more dismissive of renewable energy than I would be, I substantially agree with his point -- calling nuclear energy expensive whilst supporting heavy investments in wind, solar, and other non-hydro renewable energy often amounts to the pot calling the kettle black.

Getting our emissions down to 20% or 10% of present-day emissions is going to cost quite a bit of money. In the long run, that investment will pay off. Even in the short run, there are substantial benefits to be had in the form of improved air quality, better transportation networks, more efficient and reliable energy grids, and so on. But there is no getting around the fact that the cost will be several trillion dollars (which, it should be pointed out, is still a tiny share of the world's wealth.)

While renewable energy is getting cheaper, it is the worst kind of motivated reasoning to think that it will continue getting cheaper indefinitely along a linear trend. While intermittancy at high levels of renewable penetration is a problem that can certainly be overcome, fixes all involve additional investment and increased costs.

Smart government policies can make renewables cheaper -- by supporting research into new technologies, encouraging adoption on a wide scale, and by making changes to the utility model and the grid such as dynamic pricing which favor the development of more renewables.

Similarly, though, a smart set of policies could make nuclear energy much cheaper. Settling on a single standard design, providing a steady stream of orders for that design, and streamlining regulatory approval after the initial instances of that design, could bring costs down dramatically. Whether or not you think the US government was right to commit itself to the long-term storage of nuclear waste, it did make that commitment and ought to settle on a site and answer that question once and for all.

Whatever low-carbon energy sources are the most successful, we ought to resign ourselves to spending some serious cash up front. Hydrocarbons are a very efficient way to store energy, and I very much doubt if any alternative energy source in our lifetimes is going to be easier than just pumping the stuff out of the ground. Renewable energy advocates who decry the expense of nuclear energy are sharpening the sword that will be at their throats for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

In which Judith Curry reads an article

. . . which turns out to be wrong.

Apparently, while visiting the UK, Curry read an article about how greedy biomass-burning greens are destroying everything, leaving the virgin forests of Britain an apocolyptic hellscape. Skeptic that she is, she swallows this premise whole and reguritates for her readers, despite the fact that literally ten seconds of Googling shows it to be pure fiction.

But first, the heart-wrenching tale of a rabid biomass industry run amok [Trigger warning: graphic scene of 50 trees being cut down]:
But what ex-teacher Pountney and Wilson saw looked to them like utter desolation. They came across a stand where about 50 mature oaks, some 300 years old, had been felled the previous winter. Their trunks lay in ragged piles, some sawn into roundels.
The oaks’ fate, the Trust has confirmed, was to be burnt: as ‘sustainable’ heating fuel in log-burning stoves – a market which is expanding rapidly. According to trade group HETUS, almost 200,000 such stoves are installed every year – a five-fold increase since 2007.
 Those fifty trees become the core evidence for the claim that biomass fanatics have sent England into a downward spiral of desertification set to cumulate in a "Mad Max" style countryside.

[And then we spend the aforementioned ten seconds fact-checking.]

Surprisingly, not so:

England's forests and woods had dwindled to just 5.2% by 1905.

The first world war was the low point, and in 1916 Herbert Asquith's government established the Acland committee to study the problem. They said England desperately needed to replenish and maintain "strategic reserves of timber", and within a few years the Forestry Act would lead to the establishment of the Forestry Commission to carry this out.

In the years since, a steady programme of afforestation has increased England's forest cover back to 13% – not far off the levels of 1,000 years ago. To put that in context, many other European countries average about 37% coverage, so England still has one of the continent's lowest levels. But the commitment to afforestation is clear, with modern English foresters using a wide variety of native broadleaf, conifers and species that could thrive in our changing climate.
How is that Britain's forest cover continues to expand, having more than doubled in the course of the 20th century? Private owners making use of generous tax breaks:

The new Forestry Commission report, conducted for the UN’s food and agriculture department, disclosed that the amount of woodland owned by individuals now accounts for almost half of all our tree cover, having grown by 22 per cent in 15 years, the Sunday Times reported.

Those buying woodland as an investment have found that it has outperformed shares and commercial property in recent years, with an annual return of 5 per cent. Once owned for two years, it is except from inheritance tax.

Proceeds from the sale of timber are also exempt from income tax and corporation tax and there is no capital gains tax on the growth of value in tree crops.
So the United Kingdom uses tax policy to make forests an attractive investment, with the result that private landowners turn over more of said land to forest, with the result that there is more forest. But, wait! Somewhere in this country of 64 million people, someone cut down 50 trees. Teh horror.

Weak sauce, former scientist/professional fake skeptic Judith Curry.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Eric Holthas' Dark Night of the Soul

Me: Cruising the interwebs when suddenly . . .

Hmm, sounds interesting. Last time I checked, the current El Nino was anemic threatening to become average. Let's read more!

Last year at this time, I was harping about the "monster" El Niño that seemed to be brewing in the tropical Pacific Ocean. It didn’t pan out. But from the looks of the latest data, I was just one year too early.
OK, for any budding journalists out there, "Despite the appearance of failure, it turns out that I was right all along" is not a great theme for an article.


Eric Holthaus reflects (dramatic reenactment)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Depressing graph of the day

We will at some point need to talk about the old mayonnaise in new bottle that is "ecomodernism." For today, a pie chart from the IEA that illustrates what is happening in the world while we are distracted by nonsense:


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

GISTEMP March: +0.84C

GISTEMP updated pretty early this month, it seems. March was very hot; 3rd hottest on record (+0.84C). That should mean another "hottest 12 months" is in the offing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Desalinization and the fragile society

California is looking towards desalinization to address its water shortage:

Now, for the first time, a major California metropolis is on the verge of turning the Pacific Ocean into an everyday source of drinking water. A $1 billion desalination plant to supply booming San Diego County is under construction here and due to open as early as November, providing a major test of whether California cities will be able to resort to the ocean to solve their water woes.
This is part of a larger trend:
Across the Sun Belt, a technology once dismissed as too expensive and harmful to the environment is getting a second look. Texas, facing persistent dry conditions and a population influx, may build several ocean desalination plants. Florida has one operating already and may be forced to build others as a rising sea invades the state’s freshwater supplies.
In California, small ocean desalination plants are up and running in a handful of towns. Plans are far along for a large plant in Huntington Beach that would supply water to populous Orange County. A mothballed plant in Santa Barbara may soon be reactivated. And more than a dozen communities along the California coast are studying the issue.
This trend shouldn't be viewed in isolation, but rather as part of a broad suite of high-tech, high-capital, energy intensive solutions -- or "solutions" -- to environmental problems created or (more often) intensified by population growth and climate change.

Other examples include the vertical farming movement (a more recent write-up is here) and the increasing reliance of sky resorts on snow machines. Global consumption of air conditioning is rising rapidly and the latent demand for it is already vast.

The result of these trends is apt to be a global society that is more comfortable, and more insulated from temporary shifts in weather. These are, of course, good things in and of themselves. They illustrate that there are (as few doubted there were) technological fixes that allow us to adapt (to some extent) to a warmer world.

But while a society that is increasingly dependent on such devices is in the short term more robust, it is in the longer term more fragile. The more you rely on energy-intensive, technologically sophisticated "solutions" to maintain reliable supplies of things as basic to human survival as food and water, the more vulnerable said society is to disruptions that may compromise those work-arounds.

While a society with desalinized drinking water is more resistant to drought, it is only so as long as the power in on, and the engineers come to work, and the spare parts are in supply. Lose that, whether to extreme weather, or war, or terrorism, or some other disruptive force -- and in addition to your other problems you will be very thirsty, very quickly.

We already live in a technological society, of course. I'm under no illusions that we would be able to feed seven billion people without the factories that produce fertilizer or the trucks and ships which move those fertilizers to the farm or the food to the market. Technological dependence exists along a spectrum. Things like desalinization move us further along that spectrum [1]. So while we store up more climate stresses for the society of nine billion people who will be confronting them at mid-century, we are also bequeathing to them an infrastructure which will be more vulnerable to catastrophic collapse -- a tall tower built taller even as the winds begin to howl.

1. This is especially concerning when we push ourselves down that spectrum for no good reason, and desalinization in California is a perfect example of this. In California, as in most other places, the lion's share of the water -- more than three-quarters of it -- is used by agriculture. But when Gov Jerry Brown announced his emergency plan to save water across the state, he asked virtually nothing from the agriculture sector:
Brown's seven-page executive order, issued Wednesday, outlined the first statewide mandatory water use restrictions in California's history.

Among them: He ordered a 25% reduction in urban use statewide compared to 2013 levels. The directive also bans the use of drinking water to irrigate median strips in public roads, initiates the removal of 1,150 football fields worth of grass to be replaced with drought-tolerant plants; and orders golf courses, campuses and cemeteries to significantly cut their water consumption.
Agricultural mandates were fewer and milder. Irrigation districts were directed to develop drought management plans that include supply and demand data. Agencies in basins where groundwater has been overpumped must immediately monitor groundwater levels.

Ignoring three-quarters of the consumption during a period of unprecedented drought is obviously a political decision, not a practical one. In this context, the valuable technological asset of desalinization is not being put to use to adapt to climate change so much as to adapt to political cowardice and a feckless electorate.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Denier comment of the day: undermedicated at WUWT

So, let's talk about what went wrong here. First question: what is it about the mentally ill that makes them adverse to paragraph breaks? Really, I sincerely wonder this. Lots of great writers and artists in general have been pretty nutty, yet skilled at their craft. But if you wander into the dark corners of the internet where aliens built the pyramids, vaccines cause autism, or "the Greenies" cooked up the global warming scare, you get headache-inducing rambling like this, the written equivalent of pressured speech. At a certain point horror gives way to pity, and I just wish I could help.

The CO2 numbers are wrong in predictable and boring way, debunked by better men than I here and here. But I do find this interesting: "CO2 naturally is . . . ."

Essentialism is, of course, not a scientific concept. It's interesting to me that for all their hostility to "greenies," many deniers partake in this idea of a natural world with a fixed set of characteristics which is set apart from humans and our influence. This set of assumptions clashes with many other parts of their Weltanschauung, but it creeps in over and over.
A trace gas in our atmosphere being blamed for as we all know here, everything bad. Somehow my civilian intellect is screaming WTF? That on the surface does not make any sense to me.
The denier has a high regard for his own intuition, which he confuses with rational thought. They form a false idea of the subject which emerges from their lack of understanding of the physical world and is animated by paranoia. The reminder of their process of deduction will involve seeking out confirmatory evidence and ideas and shunning other facts and arguments as the pleas of the condemned.
I have complained before to the CAGW Alarmists, I want them to explain exactly
Like a particularly obnoxious child, the denier firmly believes that other people owe him "exact" answers to any question he might be able to formulate, and that a free education is his right. Meanwhile, with ignorance his holy shield, he will beat off any effort to actually help him bring his thoughts in line with reality.
When I read these reports and NOAA comes out saying warmest winter ever, I get crazy.
 Your words, man. Your words.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

El Nino leans in

I've written several times about the record-breaking "pause" in El Nino events, which occupied most of 2010 and all of 2011, 2012, and 2013 and continued until the last few months of 2014.

The "pause" lasted 54 months (or rather, 54 three-month averages) which was the longest since NOAA began keeping records, and by a good bit. The runner-up "pause" is 1959-63, 51 months.

This Nino started out anemic and is still, as yet, pretty weak sauce, with a Tmax of +0.7C. For a while it looked as though it might fade out before qualifying as an El Nino (which requires 5 months at or above +0.5C) or might just hit that mark before fading away. And indeed, +0.7C was last seen two months ago and we are presenting clinging to the lower bound of El Nino (+0.5C for the first 3 months of this year.)

But the thing is perking up. This week we're back to +0.7C for the weekly numbers, and the forecasters seem to be coming around to the notion that the event will continue to strengthen:

If the El Nino does strengthen in this way, obviously 2015 could very well break the record set by 2014. And if it is still strong going into 2016, the first part of that year may be very hot as well.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cutting emissions with rail upgrades, or, stuff white people like


A lot of the discussion about carbon emissions is pretty one dimensional -- more low carbon energy means less emissions. Efficiency, when it enters the discussion, is often conflated with conservation -- which, at least to Americans, carries connotations of making do, of cutting back, of low-flow toilets, brief lukewarm showers, and long bus rides to work listening to homeless people ranting about the CIA's implants in their teeth. Somehow, this has not caught on.

It is a mistake to confuse conservation and efficiency. Efficiency can be big, bold, and transformative. For example: doubling and electrifying America's railway system.

About 39.5% of US freight is transported by rail. The vast majority of the American rail system is powered by onboard diesel engines. This is an inefficient, wasteful technology with large associated carbon emissions. Electrified rail has been around for decades, and not only allows you to power your train with zero-carbon energy from whatever source, but also decreases the energy requirement as the train doesn't have to haul a diesel engine with it. Power can be recaptured via regenerative braking, just like a hybrid or electric car.

The second major problem with the American rail system is congestion. In many areas, traffic slows to a crawl, averaging 4mph or less. The Chicago area is a particular offender:
A recent trainload of sulfur took some 27 hours to pass through Chicago — an average speed of 1.13 miles per hour, or about a quarter the pace of many electric wheelchairs.
Obviously the comparably slow speed of rail transport, due to congestion, is one of the reasons the rail system, passenger and freight, have continued to lose market share to the roads. The solution is simple: double the tracks. Most railroads in America are single-track, meaning there's no passing lane. Every mechanical problem, every delay ripples back through the rest of the system. With doubled lines everywhere a slowed or stopped train can simply be bypassed.

So what would be the cost of that? Obviously there would have to be a costly study to determine the cost, but as a back-of the envelope calculation, a recent project in Spain doubled and electrified the tracks of an existing railway at a cost of €2.125million/km. Apply that to the US railway system (ignoring the economies of scale inherent in a far larger project, and cost differences due to terrain, etc.) the cost to double and electrify the entire US rail system would be about $500 billion.

That's a steep bill, but infrastructure spending returns a lot of money to the economy with new jobs and business growth. As a comparison, the Fed's Quantitative Easing program, in which the government essentially prints money and gives it to the banks, has printed up $3.8 trillion so far, a total that continues to rise by $85 billion per month. Yes, really.

We need to think bigger. A zero-emissions future is not going to look like today. Our economy needs to be fundamentally restructured, beyond adding bike lanes and wind farms (as good and helpful as those things are.) And in the political sphere, climate hawks have been caricatured as anti-consumer, anti-growth, neo-Puritan hippies (and some are; not that there's anything wrong with that).

The people buying into this messaging and off-put by it are the white, conservative, hierarchist males. And you can resent 'em if you want, but there are a lot of them and they have a lot of power. Maybe nothing will get them on the right side of history, but if anything can, it will have to start with showing them that our dreams for our country are big, bold, and ambitious, and that the world after fossil fuels is one of abundance and hard-driving industry.

Friday, January 16, 2015

GISTEMP is in: 2014 is the hottest year; there's still a tiger in your bedroom

Anomaly +0.68C. 2014 edged out 2010 at +0.66C.

Warming continues to be closely in line with the trend since 1970:

Many people have tried to explain this to climate deniers, who chose not to understand it (1). If anyone else is confused by it, this is the bottom line: you need to apply the same standard of proof to a hypothetical change in the warming trend as you would to determining the existence of a trend in the first place.

Having determined that there has been a warming trend of about 0.16C/decade for the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, the correct question is not has the warming stopped OMG (a question you will never be able to answer with a few years of data) but rather is there any reason to think the trend is different from what it was before?

If you determine there's a tiger in your bedroom, and then (wisely) don't go into your bedroom for a while, the test for whether there's still a tiger there in not whether you've heard it roar in the last 5 minutes. Unless you have convincing evidence, you probably should conclude that the tiger's still there, until and unless you get some strong evidence something has changed.

So, what is wrong with Cruz’s statement?  Well, assuming that by ‘recorded warming’, he means the satellite-derived lower atmospheric surface temperatures his statement is absolutely correct.  If he is referring to globally averaged surface temperatures since 2000, there is only a very small amount of warming; this small amount of warming is indeed contrary to the theory of AGW.
Who? Who else?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

For Whom the Bell Tols: Hot Emotion, Denier Logic in Tol's Latest Screed

Hey, look, Richard Tol knows global warming is real!
It means more or less rain, snow, wind, and clouds in various places. It means different outcomes for plants, whether direct or, since plants compete for resources, indirect. It means changes for the animals that eat those plants. And this includes changes for everything that hitches a ride on those plants and animals, and hence changes for all sorts of pathogens. Nature, agriculture, forestry, and health will all be different in the future. The seas will rise as water expands and glacial ice melts, affecting coastlines and everyone and everything that resides there. Water supplies will be affected by changing rainfall patterns, but water demand will also be altered by changing temperatures. Energy demands will change, too; there may be less need to heat houses in winter and perhaps greater need to cool them in summer. Traffic, transport, building, recreation, and tourism, too, will all feel the impact of a changing climate.
 Unfortunately, his ability to think rationally about what that means is, well, disappointing:
For some, the mere fact of these impacts is reason enough for governments, businesses, and individuals to exert themselves to reduce greenhouse gases to minimize the change. That is strange logic, however. Change, after all, can be for the better or the worse, and at any rate it is inevitable; there has never been a lengthy period of climate stasis.
There are multiple levels of facepalm committed here. None are entirely new (the boring repetitive nature of climate denier is one of the reasons you do not see more debunkings here) but they are startling from the mouth of a once-respected economist.

You have the notion that climate change is no big deal because "climate is always changing." We might equally argue that being shot in the head is no big deal, because the composition of our bodies is always changing. In other words, it's breathtaking stupid know-nothingism trying to pass itself off as judiciousness.

Of course if changes in temperature of the magnitude we see unfolding today were common in human history, Tol might have a hint of a glimmering of a point here. But in fact, as he well knows, the entirety of recorded human history has taken place with the assistance of an 8,000-year period of highly stable climatic conditions -- what one might call a lengthy period of climate stasis.

Eight thousand years of flat
 So in fact, "Change happens" is meaningless as far as it is accurate, and inaccurate as far is it is meaningful.

But that trope is sagacity itself next to Tol's next fallacy:

Just as there is no logical or scientific basis for thinking that climate change is new, there is no self-evident reason to assume that the climate of the past is “better” than the climate of the future. With just as little logic, we might assume that women’s rights, health care, or education were necessarily better in the past.
 Are we here seeing Tol preparing to abandon an unfulfilling career as an economist, and embark on a mid-life career shift to Platonic philosopher? Because it is philosophers who sit in their studies and worry themselves about self-evident truths derived from pure logic alone. Scientists, even of the dismal sort, are expected to look outside into the world from time to time.

What I can't get over about this essay is how much ignorance it express of basic economic principles, principles that Tol, as a trained and extensively published economist, should know in the marrow of his bones.

Do I exaggerate? Well, economic concepts do not get a lot simpler than sunk capital. Sunk capital means that once you've put your money into certain things, you can't get it back. It follows from that, as even a bright eight-year-old could grasp, that rapid changes in the environment pose a risk to sunk capital.

Tol's claim that the future of the climate is just as likely to be good for humans as it is bad would be applicable to the first human beings setting foot on a new world, presuming they knew nothing at all about it to begin with (an analogy I've explored before.)

If you ask the (ludicrously unprepared) space colonists if they would like it a degree warmer or a degree cooler, they have no rational reason to care. It might be better a little warmer or a little cooler, then again, it might be completely uninhabitable either way.

But of course this is not remotely the situation we are in. Besides the fact that we know we can exist in this climate, and we don't know if we can exist, without a horrific die-off, in a world 3C or 4C or 6C degrees warmer, there is the additional problem, which I alluded to above, that we have trillions or dollars in sunk capital investments optimized for this climate, not a radically different one.

There is no rational question as to whether a sea level rise of 5m is "better" for humans, because we know that vast amounts of capital and high-value property would be destroyed. There is no rational question as to whether a +5C world would be better for farms; at best, some new areas may be opened up to agricultural productive, but the existing farms, and the existing communities they support, will suffer horrific (and expensive) harm.

So the "Hey! Rapid radical climate change could just as easily be to something better!" argument makes no sense at all. And the nonsensical nature of the argument is emphasized with odd and completely irrational comparisons to deliberate progressive reforms: "With just as little logic, we might assume that women’s rights, health care, or education were necessarily better in the past"

Now the deliberate change of social rules and government policies to achieve a benefit is compared directly with a massive, unintended set of changes to the earth. What?
The climate of the 21st century may well be unprecedented in the history of human civilization; the number of people living in countries with free and fair elections is unprecedented, too. So what? “Unprecedented” is not a synonym for “bad.”
Does Tol perhaps think that he will appeal to the left with a facile comparison of environmental disaster to the progress of human liberty? Because make no mistake, he is raving. Biological arrangements aren't comparable to social structures. In biological arrangements, unprecedented is bad. If the doctor comes out of your mother's surgery to tell you that they found something "unprecedented," do you think you're about to hear something good about her prognosis?

Rapidly acidifying the oceans versus Thomas Paine publishing Common Sense. Expanding ranges of deadly tropical diseases versus the Voting Rights Act. Are they different? Are they the same? Is Tol seriously arguing this?

He goes on, invoking the shibboleth of "cheap energy" ("Cheap energy fueled the industrial revolution, and lack of access to reliable energy is one factor holding back economic growth in most developing countries" but without offering any evidence for either assertion.) Fundamentally, though, this essay represents a step away from Tol's lukewarmism and towards simple climate denial. For years he's published studies of the costs of climate change, studies which consistently found much lower costs than those of his peers. But fallacies like the above go beyond that. Now he seems to be plunging into outright blog scientist logic and advance-stage Curryism.