You gotta argue with me if you wanna argue with me, not the dumbest nearby trope.

- Preston Austin

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is suppressing Frank Denial Authoritarian?

Is Systematically Suppressing Frank Climate Science Denial Authoritarian?

Australian Attorney General George Brandis argues that it is:
The great irony to this new “habit of mind”, [Brandis] says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as “throwbacks”, when actually “they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion”. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing “new secular public morality”, he says.
Judith Brett argues cogently that it this is not a workable answer.

I'll just leave you with the flavor of it; go follow the link.
I doubt that Brandis believes that all alternative points of view are deserving of respectful consideration. I doubt that he believes that the Earth is flat or that carrot juice can cure cancer. I’m sure that when he boards a plane he believes that the science of aerodynamics is sufficiently settled to get him to his destination. In many areas of life, he accepts, as we all do, that the science is, broadly speaking, settled. So to support his position on the virtues of scepticism about climate-change science, and his accusations of religious zealotry against those who believe that the science is settled, he needs to claim that there is something particular about this area of science. He has not done this. 
Of course, what is particular about the claims of the climate scientists is the huge implications for the way humans generate and consume energy.
[Fiona] Stanley, a grandmother, referred to the poem ‘hieroglyphic stairway’ by the American social activist Drew Dellinger. It sums up how many of us feel, that now is the time for urgent action.

it’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling? 
Brandis could answer, I defended the right to deny it was happening.
I also really liked the very next sentence: "The narrow focus on freedom of speech distorts a complex debate, pulling it into the political class’s familiar boxing ring of left versus right."

Yes, how true, and how bloody tedious. I am sitting out the Austin climate march tomorrow. I went to the last one, and I thought I'd been baited and switched. I went to support a 350 ppmv CO2 target. I got counted as a supporter of a huge grab-bag of leftish posturing, most of it unrealistic and some of it quite silly.

We have a very hard problem and we cannot solve it by breaking into teams and throwing poop at each other.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Have We Missed the 2C Target Already?

Even a successful outcome in Paris will be a failure. Oliver Geden says so in a way that is exasperatingly remeniscent of R Pielke Jr., who surely agrees. But their smug insouciance doesn't change the picture - if we've missed the boat, no amount of waiting at the dock will get us on board.

Kevin Anderson avoids saying those words, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion from his recent arguments here (and similarly at Nature here).

I sometimes find Anderson a bit too alarmist on the physics. But I think the thrust of this article is totally and sadly true.

The takeaway points:


integrated assessment models are hard-wired to deliver politically palatable outcomes 
the carbon budgets needed for a reasonable probability of avoiding the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change demand profound and immediate changes to the consumption and production of energy for a “likely” chance of 2°C, requires global reductions in emissions from energy of at least 10% p.a. by 2025, with complete cessation of all carbon dioxide emissions from the energy system by 2050 
Whilst the endeavours of the IPCC, since its inception in 1988, are to be welcomed, I have grave reservations as to how the implications of their analysis are being reported. 
ubiquitous use of speculative negative emissions to expand the available 2°C carbon budgets, implies a deeply entrenched and systemic bias in favour of delivering politically palatable rather than scientifically balanced emission scenarios 
In plain language, the complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of 2°C assume either an ability to travel back in time or the successful and large-scale uptake of speculative negative emission technologies.

the failure of the scientific community to vociferously counter the portrayal of the findings as challenging but incremental suggests vested interests and the economic hegemony may be preventing scientific openness and freedom of expression. 
With a growing economy of 3% p.a. the reduction in carbon intensity of global GDP would need to be nearer 13% p.a.; higher still for wealthier industrialised nations, and higher yet again for those individuals with well above average carbon footprints

there remains an almost global-scale cognitive dissonance with regards to acknowledging the quantitative implications of the analysis, including by many of those contributing to its development. We simply are not prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings 
the job of scientists remains pivotal. It is incumbent on our community to be vigilant in guiding the policy process 
Whether our conclusions are liked or not is irrelevant. As we massage the assumptions of our analysis to fit within today’s political and economic hegemony, so we do society a grave disservice – one for which the repercussions will be irreversible.


I agree with all of that. As for this claim:

"Only if the life cycle carbon emissions of CCS could be reduced by an order of magnitude from those postulated for an efficiently operating gas-CCS plant (typically around 80g CO2 per kWh24), could fossil fuels play any significant role post-2050."

I can't vouch for it but on the other hand I find it plausible. If true it only makes matters even worse.

Looking at the best case out of Paris, it's clear that the 2.0C boat has sailed and we missed it. So when do we fall back, and to what number? 2.5C? 3.0 C? At this point I have to say that zero net emissions prior to a 3 C commitment would look to me to be a good outcome. Welcome to the "good anthropocene", because the other ones are worse.

I do not buy into the "solving the problem would be ridiculously cheap / stimulate the economy / create jobs" framing at all. We have delayed far too long. This will be a huge hit no matter what.

Is sugarcoating it the best approach for moving the body politic? I guess that's the only argument I can see. "We are going to miss the 2 C target, but if we pretend it's possible that at least keeps our options open for staying under 4 C"? I don't think it is a legitimate role of science to make such a judgment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good News for a Change

The UK plans to eliminate coal-fired electricity within 10 years!

Monday, November 16, 2015

In It for the Gold

Where's my cut? "Global warming" is alleged to be a $400 Billion (that's Billion with a B) "industrial complex".

You'd think I could round up a few hundred a week for my efforts...

Of course, at best that's a maximizing view of the non-fossil energy sector, not the "global warming industry".

It's reasonable that this should be a big number. Is it accurate?

Regardless, it's not accurate for the throughput of the various expert communities that touch on climate. Though by now that amount is itself a Big Number, it's not That Big.

It may be creeping up to a couple billion, again if estimated inclusively (with WG II and WG III related research folded in. There's another billion or so for NASA earth observations.

The first Clinton administration decided to count earth observation satellites in the U S Global Change Research Program's budget, thereby painting a bit target symbol on NASA's back to go with our own one.

This all said, though I hate to see NASA cut, with the US in relative decline to other countries, and possibly in absolute decline, it seems unreasonable to expect America to foot the bill for everything of global value, and under present disconcerting circumstances foolish to rely on it doing so.

Just by coincidence this came across my feed just moments after I wrote the above:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Z Comendador's response

Normally I don't offer a guest posting to people who have contributed to Watt's site.

But I did take on Alberto Z Comendador at some length in Medium, and he has asked to continue the conversation. His response was too long for a Blogger comment, so I agreed to post it. Also he seems rather polite for a Wattsian, and indeed given my approach to him seems rather open-minded. Also his counterarguments here show that he has been thinking about the problem - agree or otherwise these comments are not shallow or ideological.

Perhaps one can hope against hope for some meaningful communication, or at least some exchange of opinions that doesn't descend into rudeness.

I encourage anyone participating to take special care to be polite in this case. I will moderate this thread rather fiercely, though as usual, not necessarily quickly, with my apologies to all for delay in removing ad hominem attacks and polarizing rhetorical flourishes.

Correspondents are reminded that Blogger doesn't allow editing of comments - it's either all or nothing. Please speak as if you were debating with a cousin at Thanksgiving dinner at your grandmother's house, and drop the sneering before you post, or your effort may be in vain.

- mt

Hi, first of all thanks for letting me post here.

So it's not like I disagree with the points. It's just that I don't think they really matter.

1) '2 degrees C is claimed to be “Thermageddon”'

It's true that mainstream climate scientists usually steer clear of doomsday rhetoric (well maybe Hansen is an exception but he's sort of retired). This doesn't really matter, in my view, because the people striking deals do engage in this sort of thing.

500 days to avoid climate chaos. You can find plenty of similar statements from Kerry, Figueres, etc. So it's not like this stuff comes only from Bill McKibben and his ilk.

And not even this Fabius gentleman explicitly said 2ºC = disaster. The proposition sounds ridiculous when phrased that way. But many alarmists (because that's the only way to describe Fabius, Kerry and others) engage in a sleight  of hand to IMPLY that, in fact, 2ºC or a similar temperature rise is equivalent to some sort of mega-catastrophe.

Think about it: what happens if a deal isn't hammered out in COP21? Well it could be done in COP22, or 23, by which time CO2 concentrations will have risen, uhm, 8ppm? That is to say, 2%. How much additional warming does that 'lock in'?

Now, it's true that depending on the ECS one chooses to believe, CO2 concentrations could in a couple decades  reach concentrations that would make a rise of 2ºC (or a similar figure) inevitable, unless massive emission reductions are implemented soon. So it's true that this may indeed be the last chance to remain within one of these targets... but when people say something like 'we have 500 days to avoid climate chaos' and in fact they mean 'we have 500 days to avoid 2ºC', or 1.9ºC, or 2.3ºC or whatever similar number, the only conclusion one can draw is that the speaker is making an equivalence between 'climate chaos' and said temperature rise.

Like I said, they don't state it explicitly but the implication is there. Somehow, 'we have 500 days to avoid 2ºC'  doesn't quite cut it, because anyone who has any idea of the numbers involved knows there isn't anything special  about this ‘tipping point’ – the deal could simply be signed 0.2ºC later.

At the end of this post I will revisit this exercise, to find out just how much 'urgency' there has been in the issue since Exxon ‘discovered’ climate change in 1977.

2) 'Impacts of a Given Warming are implied Instantaneous'

True that many of the impacts may simply be taking longer and thus haven't been detected/analyzed yet, but what can one do when talking about this? Other than adding the caveat that 'bad stuff may just take longer to happen'.

3) 'Damage is Implied to be Linear with Temperature Change'

Not really. I actually 100% with what you wrote here - obviously temperature increases (or decreases) don't work linearly, just like beer, or eggs or exercise don't benefit/harm you linearly. Actually this might be one of the few points of certainty: a very large change in temps will be harmful, no matter the sign. 30ºC up would be devastating, and 30ºC down would kill us all. Or nearly all.

My point is that 1ºC is a small change. Perhaps an additional degree is 10 times more harmful, or perhaps the first degree is actually beneficial while the second is harmful (in which case the 'x times more harmful' comparison doesn't make sense). My point was simply that, given the lack of evidence that this first 1C rise (over 130 years) has actually caused a lot of damage, one should not be especially worried about one degree more.

4) 'IPCC (AR5) Report is implied Contemporaneous with 1 C global warming'

Since the news started with Met Office I checked HadCRUT. Not much happening - temps were high in the 2010 El Niño, then went down, then went to a record high in the 2015 El Niño. So I don't see how this affects the overall picture – perhaps by 2010 temp rise had been 0.9C instead of 1C, and it will go down to 0.9C again with La Niña, then 0.95C or whatever. Not much to write about.

5) 'Statistical Analyses are presumed Instantaneous'

They are not instantaneous, but in the US temp records go back to the XIX century. So do hurricane, tornado, and precipitation/flood records. So in fact the records on weather events are among the longest-running in the whole climate field. It's not like satellite temps or CO2 concentrations which have only been known for a few decades.

This issue reminds of a comment Willis Eschenbach made about solar-inspired theories of climate change in WUWT.

More or less it read: people have been looking for a correlation between the sun and stuff on Earth for 200 years... if it was there, wouldn’t we have found it already?

In the case of warming, there are several variables (temperature itself, moisture, pressure) and one can slice the data in pretty much infinite ways. Something similar happens with solar-related stuff, as anyone looking for a ‘connection’ can choose among TSI, hotspots, the 11-year cycle, cosmic rays, whatever – and then you can choose from different datasets and slice and dice the numbers. These things are then theorized to cause reduced cloud cover… or something about the sea level… or something about temperature itself… or anything else, really.

When you have a big number of ‘factors’ that can correlate to an infinite number of things happening (‘increased tornado activity in Norway during autumn months’), of course you are going to find something. It would be astonishing if nothing correlated with anything else. And now, I won’t pretend I understand the stats involved, but anybody reading a discussion can guess who talks straight and who talks dodgy… and I can tell that after every Willis article dissecting a paper solar-induced weather, the authors of said papers either don’t show up at all or offer only hand-waving responses.

So this non-scientist thinks warming-induced bad weather is in a similar situation to the solar-induced kind. Of course one cannot totally close the door on a hypothesis. Perhaps people have been crunching the temperature-vs-weather-disaster numbers the wrong way all this time and there is in fact a connection... but the evidence in that direction isn't strong.

6) 'CO2 is presumed to be on Trial'

So this is probably the only point where we disagree. You say: 'the questions we should be asking ourselves are at about what level our monkeying with [the effect of CO2] is risky. And so far, the vast predominance of evidence is that we are near this point'. Then you cite the corresponding IPCC chapters.

Let me be honest, I have read chunks of climate papers here and there, but I don't follow the issue in nearly enough detail to talk about that (and I haven't read the IPCC stuff beyond the SPM). So I would prefer to shut up on this point, though I would be grateful if you could summarize what these chapters have found that is so concerning... and

I know it's a complex issue, but if the IPCC's conclusions on extreme weather can be summarized, I suppose this can as well.

7) 'Absence of Proof is conflated with Proof of Absence'

True, but again, other than adding the caveat that 'X may well have happened – it's just that we cannot prove it', what can one say?

Absence of proof is not proof of absence... nor is it a reason to do anything in particular.

8) About 'Thermageddon', well, some in the climate debate are in fact alarmists who spin every single storm as a 'fingerprint' of the damage we're doing to Mother Nature. I don't think there is a conspiracy, but I do find it ridiculous – hence the term.

Does this mean I'm mocking anyone who is concerned by global warming, wants to reduce GHG emissions, etc? No.

Going back to the 'Exxon knew' issue, one of the 'smoking guns' is a presentation somebody made at the company in 1977. Now, you'll be asking what the hell does this have to do with your article, as you didn't even mention this.

Let's do a thought experiment. Suppose that upon seeing this massively speculative, handwaving presentation with temperature projections that turned out to be massively wrong, Exxon execs have a change of heart and decide to give up on oil and gas. After doing so they convince the rest of the world to give up on fossil fuels altogether or nearly so, and emissions are reduced to a nadir - just enough to offset CO2 concentration declines, thus leaving us with 330ppm nowadays, just like in 1977 or so. Forget for a second that if we cannot get rid of fossil fuels now, and it would have been a tad more difficult in 1977 due to the price of batteries and solar panels and all.

Today we're at 400ppm, so the increase has been 21%, or 28% logarithmically. With ECS of 2ºC (most recent studies are around that figure), these 38 years have 'locked in' an additional... 0.56C.

So it looks like giving up on fossil fuels 38 years ago wouldn’t have changed things that much, and waiting a decade to sign that climate deal isn’t going to hurt much either. I’ll tell John Kerry if I see him.

And sorry if some of my tweets seemed offensive. Things can sound very brusque in twitter.


What If...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My 20 year predictions from 5 years ago

In 2010, apparently at Keith Kloor's instigation, I made some predictions about 2030.

See how you think they are panning out a quarter of the way through. Some interesting comments, too.

Related, just two years after entering the climate business, in 1992, I made these rather wild prognostications that mostly ran through 2019, and a few words about the further future.

A hat tip to Robert Nagle for reminding me of these.

This week I am thinking we will drop the ball just on sheer nationalist belligerence, replaying the calamities of the early 20th century, long before the climate thing kicks in.

Remember, the thing about existential threats is you have to get ALL of them right.