Saturday, July 26, 2008

Random thoughts about the quality of climate debates

1. Spend any time at all reading comment wars on climate blogs (example here is from an AGW-friendly blog but there is no monopoly on bad manners) and you will be appalled at the personal and spiteful tone. Clearly the disagreement is not just about science.

2. In a chaos-rich situation like the stock market or climate modelling, people can find data that fits their hypotheses, can build models that fit their preconceptions, and have some success and find plausible reasons for failures, regardless of whatever their position is.

3. Arguments are available at every level, from the validity of current temperature measurements, through whether the earth is warming and if so, at what rate, to whether the warming is unusual, to its possible causes, to whether anything can be done about those causes, to whether anything SHOULD be done, to the costs and benefits of preventive action vs adaptation.

4. On one extreme, it's the future of the planet that is claimed to be at stake. The opposite extreme claims that human freedom itself is at stake.

5. There are well-meaning, serious, sincere people on both sides of the debate. There is also contempt and deep mistrust about the opposite side.

6. My own biases favor doing nothing about CO2, but plenty about pollution; nothing about carbon trading, but plenty about economic opportunities and fair trade for emerging economies; nothing about UN or NGO empowerment but plenty about accountability to substantiate claims made about benefits and risks.

Above all I favor improving the quality of the debate and the transparency of the underlying information. This marks me for some AGW types as a member of the loony right, sold out to industrial interests and uncaring about 'the biggest threat mankind has ever faced'. But in any matter as important as this is claimed to be, where any useful response requires unprecedented economic sacrifice, why would anyone do otherwise?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Earth System Governance

I am not one for centralized, command-and-control structures. Bureaucracy worries me for two main reasons:
  1. because even the most well-meaning individuals are vulnerable to making their bureaucratic empires self-perpetuating, and
  2. decisions which are made without personal accountability for the outcomes tend over time to become the wrong decisions.
Part of my suspicion of the AGW religion is that it attracts opportunists who will use it to further their own ambition of telling the rest of us what we can and cannot do, much as Total Quality programs in industry tend (in my experience) to attract bossy people who can't earn authority on their own merits.

I favour complete personal freedom and complete personal accountability over an absence of both. (If you propose instead a system of freedom without accountability then please check back in after you become an adult.)

There is an entity called the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) whose website describes it as:
an international, interdisciplinary science programme, dedicated to promoting, catalysing and coordinating research, capacity-development and networking on the human dimensions of global environmental change. It takes a social science perspective on global change and works on the interface between science and practice. IHDP is a joint programme of the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and the United Nations University (UNU).
This UN-affiliated institute has published an interesting paper on "Earth System Governance", a label I had not seen before. To quote the paper:

“Earth System Governance entails decision-making about human and environmental interaction from the smallest to the biggest scales: in grass-roots, non-profit, and non-governmental organisations, and city, country, and world-wide governments.”

Hmmm. I note an absence of industry representation in the governance model. And what is the world-wide government? I don't recall seeing the election signs.

The article summarizes the task behind the Earth System Governance initiative:

It is the task of developing integrated systems of governance, from the local to the global level, that ensure the sustainable development of the coupled socio-ecological system that the Earth has become.

The development of theories to understand, and of
strategies to advance, earth system governance evolves today into one of the most important but possibly also most difficult tasks for the social sciences. It involves questions of the emergence, design, and effectiveness of governance systems as well as the overall integration of global, regional, national, and local governance—that is, the quest for effective architectures of earth system governance.”

Does the idea of "decision-making" being guided by well-meaning social scientists and NGOs ensuring that everything we do qualifies as "sustainable" ring loud alarm bells?

Imagine your provincial Human Rights Commission in charge of a bio-fuels program and you have some idea of what might worry me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cooling trend for next thirty years predicted

Addressing the Washington Policymakers in Seattle, WA, Dr. Don Easterbrook said that shifting of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) from its warm mode to its cool mode virtually assures global cooling for the next 25-30 years and means that the global warming of the past 30 years is over.

The announcement by NASA that the PDO had shifted from its warm mode to its cool mode is right on schedule as predicted by past climate and PDO changes (Easterbrook, 2001, 2006, 2007) and is
not an oddity superimposed upon and masking the predicted severe warming by the IPCC.

This has significant implications for the future and indicates that the IPCC climate models were wrong in their prediction of global temperatures soaring 1°F per decade for the rest of the century.

Read more at Anthony Watts' blog.

Bias at NSIDC and BBC? You decide

This link is to a report from the (US) National Snow and Ice Data Center entitled "A different pattern of ice retreat" which states:
Arctic sea ice extent on July 16 fell roughly between the extent for the same day in 2007 and the long-term average. The spatial pattern of summer ice loss has evolved differently from last year; this reflects the prevailing pattern of atmospheric circulation. Areas of low-concentration ice are also developing at unusually high latitudes.
The casual reader would grasp from the headline that ice had retreated, and would read the words "Arctic sea ice extent fell" and is below average, and might even grasp that concentrations of ice are lower at high latitudes. The reader would put these thoughts together and worry that the Arctic really was melting. The message is reinforced when the next paragraph includes "extent was below the 1979 to 2000 average of 9.91 million square kilometers (3.83 million square miles)". My goodness, things really ARE getting dangerously warmer up there.

Imagine, then, my puzzlement when the last sentence quoted above goes on to say , "[however] it was 1.05 million square kilometers (0.41 million square miles) above the value for July 16, 2007.

This IS a different kind of ice retreat, a retreat that GROWS ice coverage by 10%.

The BBC was on the story back in June when 2008 and 2007 areal extents were comparable, and their environment correspondent Richard Black posted this story: Arctic Sea Ice Melt 'Even Faster'. It has not been updated or corrected with the graph that appears at the top of today's blog entry, which shows that the sea ice melt has slowed and in the space of a month has fallen two weeks behind last year's pace.

I may just be imagining bias where in fact there are honest and busy people just trying to do their jobs. But why choose wording like "fell" and "retreat" when in fact coverage rose and increased? And BBC, why not give your worried viewers and readers some reassurance that things aren't as bad as you thought?

Update: BBC admits its own bias.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Four reasons to not waste another penny on CO2 reduction

1. No signature of CO2.
The signature of an increased greenhouse effect is a hot spot about 10km up in the atmosphere over the tropics. We have been measuring the atmosphere for decades using radiosondes: weather balloons with thermometers that radio back the temperature as the balloon ascends through the atmosphere. They show no hot spot.

2. No evidence of causality.
There is plenty of evidence that global warming has occurred, and theory suggests that carbon emissions should raise temperatures (though by how much is hotly disputed) but there are no observations by anyone that implicate carbon emissions as a significant cause of the recent global warming.

3. Temperatures are dropping again.
The warming trend ended in 2001, and that the temperature has dropped about 0.6C in the past year (to the temperature of 1980). Land-based temperature readings are corrupted by the "urban heat island" effect: urban areas encroaching on thermometer stations warm the micro-climate around the thermometer, due to vegetation changes, concrete, cars, houses. Satellite data is the only temperature data we can trust, but it only goes back to 1979.

4. Temperature drives CO2 concentrations, not vice versa.
The new ice cores show that in the past six global warmings over the past half a million years, the temperature rises occurred on average 800 years before the accompanying rise in atmospheric carbon. Which says something important about which was cause and which was effect.

Read David Evans full description of why he went from a CO2 climate modeler and policy maker to a skeptic. He warns that when it comes to light that the CO2 scare is bogus, governments will be regarded as either criminally negligent or ideologically stupid. He concludes by saying "The onus should be on those who want to change things to provide evidence for why the changes are necessary."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

600 million years of temperature and CO2 concentrations

Because it was cold until the end of the 1970s, a lot of the climate change rhetoric has emphasized the rise in temperatures since then, and the rise in CO2 concentrations that ostensibly causes temperatures to rise. Older generations might challenge the theory based simply on their recall the heat of the 1930s and the global cooling scare of the 1970s, but here is a graph with some real perspective. Note to present-day earthlings: you are living in a cold period, and one with record low levels of CO2.

Question: what is the temperature that we should consider natural, and therefore desirable, for our planet?

Chart from Lord Monckton's paper in American Physical Society's latest publication.

Failing once again to drink the Kool-Aid

A well-meaning individual at the office is organizing an information campaign to help us reduce our carbon footprints.

Isn't laser printer toner mostly carbon? And doesn't paper represent a form of segregating carbon to remove it from the carbon cycle, at least temporarily? The solution seems obvious...

I am dismayed at the reaction to my suggestion that I would do my bit by making sure that I printed more stuff. It was as if they doubted my commitment to their objectives.

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's not a conspiracy

Let's think about Anthropogenic Global Warming, and let's distinguish between conspiracy and delusion.

Scientists are thinkers, but they have no monopoly on thinking and they have no immunity from being human. When I studied climatology in the early 1970’s the dominant theme was global cooling, and the peer reviewed papers were quite aligned that it was real and it was all our fault. It was easy to find evidence to support that point of view, just as it has been easy to find evidence to support the AGW view in the last 20 years.

When dealing with complex and chaos-rich systems, frankly, it is easy to find evidence of pretty much any viewpoint one chooses. The fact that the research money for AGW encourages the popular view can not be ignored when one wonders why so much evidence has emerged in support of that view. It is not a conspiracy (there is no evil mastermind behind all this) it is just humans acting human. One can see its parallels in the stock market every day, where valuations of a given company span a range of 200-300% within a year or two.

So my reaction to AGW hysteria is instinctively to push back against ANY centrally-planned response. Why? Because there is too much chaos to get things right, and the central planners will not be accountable in any meaningful way when it turns out they got it wrong.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Prices aren't rising

Prices aren't rising, folks, despite what you see at the pump and the grocery store. Prices are in whatever your local currency is, dollars or pounds or shekels or whatever, and the value of your currency is dropping as your duly elected representatives, and the banking system over which they notionally preside, shamelessly inflate said currency by (a) not having it backed by anything real and (b) increasing the supply of your currency faster than your economy is growing.

This act of debasing one's currency actually feels good for a while, perhaps like the warm rush one feels when one wets the bed. Inevitably, however, that warm rush is replaced by cold and smelly sensations. So it is today across our economy.

Forty years ago I worked as a grocery clerk at the local supermarket. Kraft Dinner would go on sale at 6 for $1. Now I would be lucky to find it at $1 per box. Bread was 15 to 23 cents per loaf depending on the brand and (seemingly) how brown it was. The price of Kraft Dinner and the price of bread were pretty good reflections of the cost of their production and handling in the currency of the time; neither could be considered luxury items where pricing included a big premium for their fancy image.

When you complain about the cost of gasoline, or electricity, or bread or Kraft Dinner or beer, pause for a moment and think about how markets work and how prices are set. Producers will seek to cover their costs of production, make a profit to cover their risks and the financing of their new product development, and build their brand image in the minds and hearts of consumers. Governments will want their cut of taxes, both for general revenues and for social engineering purposes, such as to discourage people from driving or drinking too much beer. Retailers need to pay rent and taxes, and retain capable staff. The hidden assumption in examining the pricing of all of this is that the currency underlying these transactions is stable in its value. Manifestly, it is not stable, and has not been since the world began its drift from the gold standard a hundred years ago.

What bothers me most during this inflationary trend is that politicians, with increasing frequency, will climb onto a soapbox and promise price controls or competition reviews to address increasing prices, which are mainly the symptom of the inflation problem which they themselves have allowed to happen. Back our currency with something that has enduring value (gold or silver come to mind) and hold the growth in money supply to the rate at which our economy grows. We will return to price stability and our currency would become the envy of the world.

Ain't gonna happen. We are too busy trying to get warm by wetting the bed.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Maybe Greenland isn't melting after all!

The New York Times will report today that the journal Nature is publishing a summary of Dutch research debunking claims that Greenland's glaciers are experiencing unusual melting.
...[A] new Dutch study of 17 years of satellite measurements of ice movement in western Greenland concludes that the speedup of the ice is a transient summertime phenomenon, with the overall yearly movement of the grinding glaciers not changing, and actually dropping slightly in some places, when measured over longer time spans.
Does this settle any arguments? No, other than the one that debates "the science is settled."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It's not about stopping Global Warming

I have been accused in the past of taking things too literally. When I hear "Stop Global Warming" and "Save the Planet" I naturally tend to think I am being asked to Stop Global Warming and, quite soon after, to Save the Planet.

But I am beginning to suspect that this is not what I am being asked, because, frankly, nothing that I can do will either start or stop global warming nor will it either threaten or save any planet, even THIS planet, the one from which I am writing.

No, I am being asked to "Stop being part of a society which engages in things that many of us over here disapprove of although we actually benefit from them every day" and "sacrifice yourself for a higher calling that no one can actually define and whose benefits are elusive if they exist at all".

It's a leap of faith that I am not willing to take. I would rather keep today's economy and today's problems than trade for a third world economy and Lord knows what problems.