Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Skeptical Science on permafrost melting

SkS has a post up on the decay of permafrost. Catnip to me, of course. It's a good summary, and highlights a number of issues. Here's one I hadn't thought about much:
Commercial activities in the Arctic are large, important to national economies and for the viability of local population centres.  Monitoring of permafrost melting and associated greenhouse gas emissions is undertaken by ground instruments and satellites.  However, unless technology able to replace melting permafrost with an affordable, durable load bearing foundation can be applied, it should be accepted that virtually all existing buildings and structures located on permafrost with foundations less than 5 metres deep are likely to be damaged or destroyed before 2100.
That's the homes and businesses of millions of people; oil, gas, and mining infrastructure, utilities and transport infrastructure, etc. The rapid erosion of the Arctic's 100,000km coastline (which is made of little rocks glued together with the aforementioned permafrost) also gets a good treatment.

They don't precisely estimate the amount of feedback from carbon (methane and carbon dioxide) released by melting permafrost. I don't know the answer either, although I discuss some estimates here and here. If you said 25-100ppm of CO2 in additional carbon by 2200, I don't think anyone could tell you you were wrong. If I find a better estimate, I'll post on it.

Permafrost FAQ

1. Why do we never hear about Antarctic permafrost?

Because for complicated reasons it doesn't store very much carbon (touch wood!) Since there are few people there, no one really cares.

2. I'm sick of reading wildly different estimates of the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas compared to CO2. What's the real number?

A molecule of methane traps heat hundreds of times better than a molecule of CO2. But it decays much faster. The really high estimates you see are molecule-to-molecule comparisons; the lower ones are long-term comparisons. The long-term comparisons turn out to be tricky. Methane is worse than CO2; and when it decays it turn into CO2, so it's really a lose-lose proposition.

3. Does melting permafrost release CO2 or methane?

Either CO2 or both. The methane makes headlines but the research I highlighted here suggests the CO2 is actually the bigger problem. More on methane here.

4. Can we stop the melting of the permafrost?

Probably not, given the feedbacks that have already kicked in, and Arctic amplification which we see rapid warming of the North even with radical emissions reductions. Short of large-scale geoengineering, the permafrost is going to go. The additional warming will further accelerate global warming.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Preach it, Roger

Smart, and a pretty handsome guy too.
This is important:
Another lesson is that debates over forecasts and uncertainty often overshadow knowledge that is far more certain. Paul Somerville and Katharine Haynes of Macquarie University note wryly that "no action has yet been taken against the engineers who designed the buildings that collapsed and caused fatalities, or the government officials who were responsible for enforcing building code compliance."6 The real tragedy of L’Aquila may not be that scientists led the public astray with their bumbled discussion of predictive science but, rather, that our broader obsession with predictions blinds us to the truths right before our eyes.
As the entertaining yet depressing spectacle ("skeptacle"?) of deniers relentlessly revising history in the face of the disappointing results from BEST, this is a key point to keep in mind. It's easy to get distracted by the horse race, and think our focus should be there, especially as real science wins that race over and over again. It shouldn't. That argument has been won. It should be on the very basic first step of instituting a carbon price and greatly improving our infrastructure for the challenges ahead.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wait, what?

Anthony is having a hard week, and the strain is starting to show:
Brian H says: October 21, 2011 at 12:51 am Could you paraphrase the 2 questions in the Q&A? Couldn’t pick them up. I’d have loved to follow-up on the human sourcing of CO2, in the form: “Why does the Mona Loa record not show any fluctuations in trend corresponding to significant variations in human CO2 output that occurred since record-keeping there began?” If it doesn’t fluctuate, it’s not measuring anthro-GHG contributions. Period. REPLY: Turn up your volume, and sheesh I’ve spent my whole day servicing people and the cause of skepticism on my blog, I’ve taken abuse of all sorts, got no work done for myself, and now you want me to spend time to transcribe and paraphrase questions for you? And you still haven’t figured out from the several blog posts I’ve written and my about page that I’m hearing impaired and couldn’t hear the questions, much less Dr. Santer talking to me directly and I had to ask him to speak up? 24 hours timeout for you – Anthony
Yep. Threw a fellow denier right off the bus while he was in mid-antiscience-rant. H/t tip to cRR Kampen in the comments to Ben's awesome post on Watt's post-BEST meltdown.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Idiot comment of the day: the circle of denial

BEST has failed the skeptics. HenryP has a brilliant idea:

The illusion of validity

Surprise! There's a book coming out on this.

A fascinating article by a Nobel-prize-winning psychologist in the New York Times magazine:
I thought that what was happening to us was remarkable. The statistical evidence of our failure should have shaken our confidence in our judgments of particular candidates, but it did not. It should also have caused us to moderate our predictions, but it did not. We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random guesses, but we continued to feel and act as if each particular prediction was valid. I was reminded of visual illusions, which remain compelling even when you know that what you see is false. I was so struck by the analogy that I coined a term for our experience: the illusion of validity.
There is a lot here for everyone. Of course, it is going to be easier to spot those among our opponents who are subject to the illusion of validity, rather than ourselves. There are those who will find in this concept a general critique of climate science, but to do so you must ignore the fact that climate science has made predictions which are quite a bit better than chance:

Kellogg thought he had his Minecraft addiction under control
Yet it should concern all of us that through the act of telling a story, we become more confident that that story is true.

As I learn more about the climate, I trust the experts more, and my own intuition less. I have come to realize that my ability to formulate a reasonable and plausible story about what is likely to happen far exceeds my ability to actually predict the future.
The confidence we experience as we make a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that it is right. Confidence is a feeling, one determined mostly by the coherence of the story and by the ease with which it comes to mind, even when the evidence for the story is sparse and unreliable. The bias toward coherence favors overconfidence. An individual who expresses high confidence probably has a good story, which may or may not be true.
Dr Kahneman is blowing through some pretty advanced material on cognitive biases here, especially the availability heuristic, which is the observation that we are heavily influenced by examples that are easy to call to mind. This make people more responsive to events that are dramatic and memorable -- terror attacks, for example -- out of proportion to their actual frequency. Physicians, for example, will often change their entire practice pattern on the basis of one disaster -- eschewing a useful therapy, for example, because one patient had a horrible complication.
In blog science this probably comes up most often because it is easier to remember being right as opposed to being wrong. We are constantly in the process of reshaping our memories, usually with the result that they become more flattering to us over time. Another reason to favor scientists over non-scientists in the discussion of science is that through publication, we have a record of that person's actual predictions at a given time. They are accountable for what they said.

There are other concepts in the article highly relevant to the blogosphere:
Decades later, I can see many of the central themes of my thinking about judgment in that old experience. One of these themes is that people who face a difficult question often answer an easier one instead, without realizing it. 
Over the time I've been following politics, I've seen this become expected behavior in press conferences and debates: answering the question you wish you had been asked rather than the one you were. It's endemic among deniers, who will frequently answer a question about the climate with a political lecture on the evils of leftism.

You can try and use this, and I suppose some will, as one more argument that the "uncertainty monster" should hold us paralyzed in fear. But that seems to be just about the opposite of what Kahneman is arguing -- he is talking about the limits of snap judgements, and the biases that distort the (oftentimes exceptionally successful) application of rapid cognition to problems. How does he know they are flawed? Well, he systematically gathered data and applied statistical tests to it, based on his hypothesis. In other words, Kahneman's "gold standard" for accuracy is science. The lesson here is to interrogate our intuitions using hard data, not to make a fetish of doubt.

Another successful prediction for Hansen

  From “Global warming study finds no grounds for climate sceptics' concerns,” The Guardian (UK), Oct 20, 2011 , H/t John Hartz:

Jim Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said he had not read the research papers but was glad Muller was looking at the issue, describing him as "a top-notch physicist". "It should help inform those who have honest scepticism about global warming.

"Of course, presuming that he basically confirms what we have been reporting, the deniers will then decide that he is a crook or has some ulterior motive.

"As I have discussed in the past, the deniers, or contrarians, if you will, do not act as scientists, but rather as lawyers."

“As soon as they see evidence against their client (the fossil fuel industry and those people making money off business-as-usual), they trash that evidence and bring forth whatever tidbits they can find to confuse the judge and jury."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Idiot comment of the day: Stewie Griffin on blog science

Why BEST matters.

Confirming earlier results that had already been repeatedly confirmed is nice, but that's not why BEST matters. BEST matters because, as great as it would be in a perfect world to confirm all facts through direct personal observation and replace all expert opinion with each individual's perfect mastery of every field of science and human endeavor, until that blessed day we will have to rely on the expertise of others in fields in which we are not experts ourselves. And while this does not ask us to surrender our own reasoning and common sense, the loudest demand of common sense when confronted with a complex and technical issue is to find people with good credentials and a good track record and let them explain things. So who has a good track record on climate change?

BEST is another reminder that it is the mainstream scientists of the "consensus" that have the track record. They said they had controlled for UHI and that station dropout was not notably altering the trend. They were right. "Skeptics" that pushed these issues as discrediting the temperature record were wrong. They said that siting issues might affect individual sites, but would not distort the global trend. They were right. "Skeptics" were wrong.

As with the temperature record, so with predictions of warming. The real scientists got it mostly right:

Kellogg, no cookie for you

The "skeptics," when they have made predictions, have been consistently wrong:

And so it goes with CO2 levels, ice loss, sea level rise and pretty much any other parameter you can name. Where you can compare the projections of real scientists to "skeptics," science wins, every time.

So who are you going to trust?

Friday, October 21, 2011

BEST reports: News roundup & LOL

Should it be spiking upwards like that?

The BEST group's draft papers: here. From the press release:
COOLING THE WARMING DEBATE Berkeley Earth Releases Global Land Warming Analysis 20 October, 2011 Global warming is real according to a major study released today. Despite issues raised by climate change skeptics, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study finds reliable evidence of a rise in average world land temperature of approximately 1˚C since the mid-1950s… On the basis of its analysis… the group concluded that earlier studies based on more limited data by teams in the United States and Britain had accurately estimated the extent of land surface warming.
News roundup:

WashPo -- A skeptical physicist ends up confirming climate data 

The Economist -- The heat is on

The New York Times -- Climate Skeptics Stay Unswayed

Peter Gleick at Forbes -- Breaking News: The Earth Still Goes Around the Sun, and It's Still Warming Up

Richard Mueller describes the BEST findings in the WSJ -- The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism

Science Daily -- Cooling the Warming Debate: Major New Analysis Confirms That Global Warming Is Real

The Independent is impressed by Dr. Mueller's about face -- Ex-climate sceptic now backs global warming

The Christian Science Monitor has my favorite headline so far -- Koch brothers accidentally fund study that proves global warming

Blogger reaction is going to be inescapable for the next few days, so for that, just galance at the blogroll.

The bottom line:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mathturbation -- Richard Saumarez joins the circle

Amazingly, Judith Curry's appetite for group mathturbation remains unslaked. First Frank Lemke, and now yet another electrical engineer comes forward with a mathematical trick to blow open this whole "global warming" scam (which he claims to have no opinion about -- but unfortunately is lying.) Observe the smoothness with which he slides past the whole "not a scientist" thing:
As Professor Curry asked me to give some biographical detail, I should explain that after medical school, I did a PhD in biomedical engineering, which before BME became an academic heavy industry, was in an electrical engineering department.
What was that last part, Richard? I think you mumbled a bit at the end. When pressed about the whole not-a-climate-scientist thing, Richard gets testy:
Should we have a point of view? You apparantly think not. Interesting. I wonder how satellites work, how measuring instruments work, how computers work, how the internet works? I wonder how the lights turn on when you throw a switch? I wonder how much of the mathematical techniques used in climate modelling stems from engineering analysis of physical problems. Clearly engineers have had no input in this and are unqualified in every respect.
Shades of Socrates, no?
At last I went to the artisans, for I was conscious that I knew nothing at all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and in this I was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frank Lemke mathturbates in public -- Judith Curry watches

Words fail me.

Briefly said, knowledge mining is data mining that goes steps further. It is a data-driven modeling approach, but in addition to data mining, self-organizing knowledge mining also builds the model itself, autonomously, including self-selection of relevant inputs by extracting the necessary “knowledge” to develop it from observational noisy data, only, most objectively in an inductive, self-organizing way. It generates optimal complex models according to the noise dispersion in the data, which systematically avoids overfitting the data. This is a very important condition for prediction. These models are available then explicitly in form of nonlinear difference equations, for example.

So this approach is different from the vast majority of climate models, which are based on theories.
Frank Lemke -- a face you can trust.
Translating Mr. Lemke into English, he is curve-fitting, ignoring any physical reality, and trying to make predictions for the future and assertions about what elements of the physical system matter according to the mathematical games he is playing with himself. As was foretold:
There seems to be a rash of trying to explain global warming by theories that either ignore, or flatly contradict, the science called “physics.”
Lemke brings this unphysical approach forward as an exciting a new take on scientific inquiry. It's not. Real scientists are quite familiar with how incredibly easy it is to tune and tweak a made-up mathematical construct to say anything you want it to say. As the poet said:

"With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

 Judith Curry, who has given this clown her increasingly promiscuously bestowed "fascinating"[!], slips in a backhanded acknowledgement that Lemke is selling snake oil:

Conclusions regarding AGW and the role of CO2 cannot be drawn from 23 years of data, but this methodology in principle could be extended to longer time periods.
 Of course Lemke has already drawn such conclusions. That's the point of the whole pointless exercise:
Looking at observational data by high-performance self-organizing predictive knowledge mining, it is not confirmed that atmospheric CO2 is the major force of global warming. In fact, no direct influence of CO2 on global temperature has been identified for the best models.
So Lemke's main argument gets no traction even with Dr. Curry -- so why push this huckster into the limelight?

A while back -- in fact, I'm the only one who even seems to remember this -- Dr. Curry came out with a post called "Meta-expertise" that provided an excellent list of questions with which to evaluate a self-described expert:

Finally, here are a few tests that can be used to evaluate the “experts” in your life:
  1. Credentials: Does the expert possess credentials that have involved testable criteria for demonstrating proficiency?
  2. Walking the walk: Is the expert an active practitioner in their domain (versus being a critic or a commentator)?
  3. Overconfidence: Ask your expert to make yes-no predictions in their domain of expertise, and before any of these predictions can be tested ask them to estimate the percentage of time they’re going to be correct. Compare that estimate with the resulting percentage correct. If their estimate was too high then your expert may suffer from over-confidence.
  4. Confirmation bias: We’re all prone to this, but some more so than others. Is your expert reasonably open to evidence or viewpoints contrary to their own views?
  5. Hedgehog-Fox test: Tetlock found that Foxes were better-calibrated and more able to entertain self-disconfirming counterfactuals than hedgehogs, but allowed that hedgehogs can occasionally be “stunningly right” in a way that foxes cannot. Is your expert a fox or a hedgehog?
  6. Willingness to own up to error: Bad luck is a far more popular explanation for being wrong than good luck is for being right. Is your expert balanced, i.e., equally critical, when assessing their own successes and failures?
 I think these are excellent questions. Put them to your favorite "skeptic" expert today, see how they get on. Based on the howls of outrage that followed when I brought, I think maybe they are only intended for use "outside the family," as it were. But no matter. Let's explore Frank Lemke's claims to climate modelling expertise.

Credentials: Does the expert possess credentials that have involved testable criteria for demonstrating proficiency?
From Lemke's Linkedin profile:

Education: Master, Electricial Engineering and Technical Informatics 

Exciting day, huh? An electrical engineer come to teach us about climate science. Never seen that before. Question two:
Is the expert an active practitioner in their domain (versus being a critic or a commentator)?
The Linkedin profile gives no publications. I did a Google Scholar search for publications authored by "Frank Lemke" in the past five years.

"A Unified DAQ Interconnection Network with Precise Time Synchronization"
"Modeling tool wear in end-milling using enhanced GMDH learning networks"
"A unified interconnection network with precise time synchronization for the CBM DAQ-system" "Knowledge Extraction From High Dimensional Data Using Multileveled Self-organization" (self published on his own website)
"High-density active optical cable: from a new concept to a prototype" "Parallel Self-organizing Modeling" (self published on his own website)
"Algorithms for (Q) SAR model building"

Lemke is not a climate scientist and has not published anything on climate science. He publishes in his field -- electrical engineering. He has tried to apply his mathurbation model to climate systems, but nobody published that stuff -- he posted it on his own website.

Overconfidence: Ask your expert to make yes-no predictions in
their domain of expertise, and before any of these predictions can be
tested ask them to estimate the percentage of time they’re going to be
correct. Compare that estimate with the resulting percentage correct. If
 their estimate was too high then your expert may suffer from
I doubt Lemke's going to help us with this one, but it's hardly necessary. Curry herself has already called Lemke out for sweeping conclusions not justified by his data. #3 and #6 are pretty similar to one another:

Confirmation bias: We’re all prone to this, but some more so
than others. Is your expert reasonably open to evidence or viewpoints
contrary to their own views?
Willingness to own up to error: Bad luck is a far more popular explanation for being wrong than good luck is for being right. Is your expert balanced, i.e., equally critical, when assessing their own successes and failures?
Fortunately Lemke is participating in the discussion at Climate Etc, so we can see his response to criticism:
“After reading a bit more on the subject, I get a hunch that this is not that mainstream – this is just a hunch mainly based on lowish citation counts. What I was able to find (quickly) were written almost solely by Frank Lemke himself. This doesn’t mean it is somehow false or anything, just wondering!”

Well, this is really an ill-posed task. Try solving it with the info you have and observe yourself how assuming different aspects impacts your answers. :)
Kind of brittle, sarcastic and not to the point, huh? Let's try another:
“There is also some danger in the application of theoretically derived paradigms by individuals without reasonably detailed knowledge of climate physics, because this can easily lead to small misinterpretations that generate inaccurate conclusions.”
Fred, to make it clear: There is no application of theoretically derived paradigms in this modeling approach at all! EVERYTHING, including the model and the composition of inputs is derived from observations, only. Observations, measurements of system variables, hide essential information about the behavior of the system. This knowledge can be extracted by self-organizing modeling and transformed into predictive models.
Not a lot of humility there either -- the questioner is totally wrong, everything (EVERYTHING) Lemke did is right and correct, so there you go. Further down MattStat has a nice critique:
The objective function of the algorithm is not well described. To continue a thought posted by Vaughan Pratt, within a range of 90% of the optimal objective function achieved, and the optimal itself, you can usually find a large set of models that have different entities included, different parameter estimates, and different interpretations. The difference in the objective function between the best and all these second and third raters can’t be known to be other than chance variation. With many variables and few observations, it is next to impossible to avoid overfitting and over-interpreting. So tell us more about how you are not excessively fitting noise.
FWIW, this post reads like an advertisement.
Which leave Lemke sputtering with indignation, but not admitting any shortcomings:

knowledgeminer | October 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply 1. There is a proven history of this approach of more than 40 years. References are also given in this discussion. 2. Follow the “advertisement”. Sometimes people also call it transparency.
Is Lemke a hedgehog or a fox (#5)? Hard to care particularly when his performance on #1-#4, & #6 is a series of epic fails.

Lemke's not an expert, not a scientist, not even a phD. What does he actually do? Well, funnily enough, he sells software. What kind of software? Modelling software -- the same kind he's using to argue that CO2 doesn't warm the planet. Public mathturbation may be "fascinating" to Dr. Curry, but I doubt very much it will either transform climate science or even sell his software.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Curt Stager's Eemian -- cold comfort for a +4C future

Curt Stager has some reassurance for us regarding Greenland's ice sheet:
Another way to estimate the durability of Greenland's ice is to look to the distant past. Ice cores and marine sediments show that dozens of cyclic natural warmings have punctuated the last 2 to 3 million years without totally deglaciating the poles. The one before the last ice age, the Eemian Interglacial, kept Arctic summers several degrees warmer than now between 130,000 and 117,000 years ago, but at least half of Greenland remained glaciated even after 13,000 years of Eemian heating.
Oh, good. As long as it doesn't get any warmer than it was in the Eemian, we shouldn't lose more than half of the Greenland ice sheet. But of course, if you lose ice from Greenland you will probably lose ice from elsewhere, too, so we should probably look at what sea levels did in the Eemian, rather than just one source of what. They were about 13 to 20 feet higher than today.

Now one might object that Stager says this took place over 13,000 years. But that's not exactly what he said. He said that after 13,000 years, about half the ice was gone. That's not quite the same thing. Glaciers persist because of a balance of accumulation of new ice and melt. A given amount of warming pushes the equilibrium of the glacier towards a reduced size, but unless the reduced size starts to compromise the accumulation zone, the new equilibrium can be stable. Meaning that Greenland could have lost all that ice in a couple of centuries following the warming, and then remained in a stable half-melted state for the next 12,800 years. We don't know. Our proxies are not detailed enough to tell us. We know half the ice was there after twelve thousand years, but we don't know if that represents a rapid melt and a new equilibrium, or a gradual 13,000-years melting.

But, still. Twenty feet. We can do twenty feet, surely? I see the Bangladeshi delegation have their hands up. Please hold your questions until the end. Thank you.

The trouble with the reassuring anecdote of the Eemian is that it was not really all that much warmer than the present. Some parts of Europe were 1-2C cooler than today. The Arctic may have been "several degrees" warmer -- due to Arctic amplification, which we already observe with regards to the present warming.

SRES A1B, warming per century, from Real Climate
As the map illustrates, we can expect warming in the Arctic to run about double the overall trend. That puts us in line for +8C, +10C or even more over the next century or two. Eight degrees -- eight degrees is beginning to leave the realm of "several" and put a toe over the line into "many." In other words, the end of the next century will be warmer than the Eemian was. 

So what were the sea levels like the last time the world was +4C warmer (+8C at the poles) (the warming expected over the next century or so)?

If you look at the +2C line (which is probably the best case scenario for 2100, with aggressive mitigation; we are +0.8C now) you'll see the world has not seen temperatures that warm in the last ten million years, including the Eemian. The last time we were at +4C was in the Eocene, some 40 million years ago. What were the sea levels then? That turns out to be a tricky question to answer precisely, because over tens of millions of years, the land as well as the seas are moving up and down. But there was little ice in Antarctica, or in Greenland. Which, if it happened today, would equate to a 80 meter sea level rise -- 260 feet.

This is what the United States looks like after an 80 meter rise:

The Eastern seaboard is gone.

The Gulf is gone.

The principle cities of the West Coast are gone.

Essentially the United States as we know it would be destroyed and the nation, if it survived as such, would have to resettle more than a hundred million people and abandon its most valuable, most heavily developed, and most historic lands -- Washington DC and New York, Philadelphia, Miami (and indeed all of Florida), Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle.

I don't know how long we would have to remain at +4C for this to happen. A very long time, I fervently hope. But if you are looking for analogies to the coming warming, mine seems closer to the coming centuries than his. Yet he's a note paleoclimatologist with a book out on this very subject:

So why what seems to be a falsely reassuring analogy? Perhaps I'm missing something basic. He's the climate scientist, not me. To my layman's understanding, he seems to be avoiding the uneasy truth of just how far out of the realm of anything we know we are pushing the world's climate. He's striving to sound reasonable, but the threat is objectively so much bigger than the discourse is prepared to accept, that to sound reasonable you have to downplay the logical implications of the paleoclimate record.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Real green jobs: 4 more key projects

 I've written here about why conventional "green jobs" are a problematic concept. When the government tries to cultivate a given industry to create jobs, there are many potential stumbling blocks. The industries may not be labor-intensive. The government may back the wrong industries or the wrong technologies. The parts that are labor intensive may move overseas. They may require extensive training, and when the work is completed, that training may be useless.

Over here, I suggested a few nontraditional paths to green jobs:

1. We could upgrade the nation's rail infrastructure with electrified rail replacing diesel engines and with the addition of double-track lines to minimize traffic congestion that can slow trains to an average of 2mph on some routes.
2. We could weatherize every home in America.
3. We could fully fund fuels management on all federal lands:
4. We could construct a backbone of HVDC lines.
These measures address the problems with traditional "green jobs" plans by striving for the following:

1. They focus on national infrastructure, a traditional "public good," rather than seeking to identify and promote particular companies or industries.
2. In themselves (without assuming a cascading effect of private-sector adoption) they significantly mitigate our national contribution to global warming.
3. They involve significant amounts of unskilled or semi-skilled labor (cutting brush, laying rail, weatherizing homes).
4. Much of the work generated necessarily comes from workers in the United States.
5. They are large, nationwide projects (large enough to stimulate employment, large enough to make a real difference to the climate.)

With those principles in mind, here are four other key projects with the potential to create real green jobs:

1. Rapid transit for the hundred largest cities in America. Subways and elevated rails work. Annual ridership of the New York subway is 1.6 billion. Most of the ten largest cities in America have them. Radically expanding electrified mass transit not only gets people out of their cars, it gets people too poor to afford cars mobility to get out to work (or their doctor's appointments, or to care care, or to do their shopping).

2. Paint all roofs white. Part of the problem with traditional approaches to creating "green jobs" is that jobs like working in a solar factory or erecting offshore windmills are highly skilled. Not very many people are qualified to perform them, and those that are are likely already employed. Meanwhile, while every sector of our economy has an unemployment problem, the worst problem is among those with a high school education or less:

So a green jobs plan with teeth should provide jobs to people at the bottom of the educational ladder -- which will also provide a greater dollar-for-dollar stimulus. So how about painting roofs white?

AGWObserver highlighted exciting recent research on "negative radiative forcing":

The radiative forcing benefits of “cool roof” construction in California: quantifying the climate impacts of building albedo modification – VanCuren (2011) “Exploiting surface albedo change has been proposed as a form of geoengineering to reduce the heating effect of anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gases (GHGs). Recent modeling experiments have projected significant negative radiative forcing from large-scale implementation of albedo reduction technologies (“cool” roofs and pavements). This paper complements such model studies with measurement-based calculations of the direct radiation balance impacts of replacement of conventional roofing with “cool” roof materials in California. This analysis uses, as a case study, the required changes to commercial buildings embodied in California’s building energy efficiency regulations, representing a total of 4300 ha of roof area distributed over 16 climate zones. The estimated statewide mean radiative forcing per 0.01 increase in albedo (here labeled RF01) is −1.38 W/m2. The resulting unit-roof-area mean annual radiative forcing impact of this regulation is −44.2 W/m2. This forcing is computed to counteract the positive radiative forcing of ambient atmospheric CO2 at a rate of about 41 kg for each square meter of roof. Aggregated over the 4300 ha of cool roof estimated built in the first decade after adoption of the State regulation, this is comparable to removing about 1.76 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 from the atmosphere. The point radiation data used in this study also provide perspective on the spatial variability of cool roof radiative forcing in California, with individual climate zone effectiveness ranging from −37 to −59 W/m2 of roof. These “bottom-up” calculations validate the estimates reported for published “top down” modeling, highlight the large spatial diversity of the effects of albedo change within even a limited geographical area, and offer a potential methodology for regulatory agencies to account for the climate effects of “cool” roofing in addition to its well-known energy efficiency benefits.” Richard VanCuren, Climatic Change, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0250-2.
 If a single square meter of roof counteracts 41kg of CO2, then painting 50 square meters of roof is the equivalent (in warming terms) of removing one ton of CO2 from the atmosphere. Depending on what kind of a carbon price you favor, this could be worth $50-$300. And you don't need a lot of education to slap on white paint.

3. Upgrade interstate highways with an automated highway system. There are roughly 50,000 miles of interstate highway (accounting for a third of all road travel) -- upgrading them would be a massive project that would be undertaken in stages. It would be expensive, but the payoff would be huge (not unlikely building the roads in the first place). Intelligent highways would move people faster, with greater fuel efficiency and fewer accidents.

The systems that have been road-tested (so to speak) rely on sensors planted meter-by-meter in the highway. This would be labor-intensive, but doubly rewarding; trips on intelligent highways would burn far less gas, and would be far less likely to get bogged down in traffic, where 4.8 billion hours a year are wasted. For knowledge workers, self-driving cars would also make driving time more productive -- makeup will be applied more evenly; kids can be yelled at more effectively! -- without the risk that the distractions will lead to lethal accidents.

4. Implement no-till agriculture in American fields. No-till agriculture in appropriate soils and with appropriate crops has been found to sequester carbon, reduce NO2 emissions, reduce soil erosion, and conserve water, all at a reasonable cost. To encourage this, we can provide carbon sequestration credits, free training in no-till methods.

This promotes employment in custom weeding, herbicide application, as well as sequestering carbon. Less fuel is burned when tilling is omitted.

Substituting employment costs (jobs) for diesel fuel costs -- and sequester carbon in the process. Sounds like a green job to me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Judith Curry understood risk in 2007

Judith Curry doesn't understand risk. But it wasn't always so. Check out this 2007 WashPo op-ed:
Think of risk as the product of consequences and likelihood: what can happen and the odds of it happening. A 10-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100 is not likely; the panel gives it a 3 percent probability. Such low-probability, high-impact risks are routinely factored into any analysis and management strategy, whether on Wall Street or at the Pentagon. The rationale for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide is to reduce the risk of the possibility of catastrophic outcomes. Making the transition to cleaner fuels has the added benefit of reducing the impact on public health and ecosystems and improving energy security — providing benefits even if the risk is eventually reduced.
Hard to believe someone so smart has made themselves, in four short years, so dumb.

Carbon price passes in Australia

Baby steps:

The carbon plan, if passed by the Senate, would see Australia join the European Union and New Zealand with national emissions trading schemes, while the United States and Japan have smaller regional schemes.
The government and the Greens hope the carbon tax will reignite momentum for a global emissions reduction agreement at climate talks in Durban, South Africa, in December.
The above is a very partial list. India last year passed a coal tax which is estimated to have raised $555 million in its first year. That's India -- one of those poor, fast-growing, regardless-of-what-we-do-they will-never-do-anything places. And they've moved further down a path to a comprehensive carbon price than we have in North America.

China, though, with its new coal plant every week -- surely China would never pass a carbon tax.

BEIJING, May 11 - China could impose a carbon tax as soon as 2012, and officials have proposed it start from 10 yuan ($1.46) to 20 yuan per tonne of carbon dioxide, a Chinese newspaper said on Tuesday.
The Chinese-language Economic Information Daily said officials and experts from the Ministry of Finance and other state agencies have been studying how to introduce a tax aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.
Huh. Maybe we need to rethink this notion that developing countries will not act on global warming, even if the rich world steps up.

South Korea also seems to be moving towards an emissions trading scheme:

The National Assembly is expected to pass by December a bill for the proposed emission trading scheme, or ETS, Park Chun Kyoo, director general of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth overseeing climate change policy, said in an interview.
“Prospects for the bill appear quite healthy as it has backing from the ruling and opposition parties,” said Victoria Cuming, senior analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A pseudointellectual "beard" for climate folly

Andrew Sullivan, whose taste in climate pundits remains howlingly bad, highlights an online "philosopher's" pretentious right-wing drivel:
The moralisation approach undermines itself since it frames climate change narrowly in terms of righteousness. Inevitably deliberation about action gets bogged down in an interminable blame-game about what justice requires - who had their industrial revolution first, etc. Furthermore, the moral duties of different actors do not all point the same way: poor country governments have a clear and over-riding moral duty to help their citizens achieve the high quality of life which the West takes for granted, and which is inevitably energy (carbon) intensive. And then there is the practical economics: the world still has lots of coal, especially in the poor world, that can produce electricity at 3c per kwh (which renewables cannot possibly compete with without radical technological breakthroughs, even with the strongest moral rhetoric). No comprehensive global political solution to greenhouse gases is possible. We need to go back and think again.
Sullivan hat tips to "The Philosopher's Beard" under the heading "The Hazardous Moralization Of Climate Change." The link leads you to "The Philosopher's Beard: Mini-essays in philosophy, politics, and economics" and "Ethics and Global Climate Change." Via the latter, the author gives us a memorable demonstration of how to make a pseudointellectual argument:
1. Use academic-sounding terms which appear specific and objective, which are in fact vague, subjective, and implicitly derogatory.
The global climate change debate has a lopsided empirical basis - in the economy of nature but not political economy - and this has contributed to a peculiar moralising trajectory.
You would think, from the fact that the central point of the whole essay is to make the case against "moralizing" climate change, that what "moralizing" the debate means would be clearly defined. It never is. If you search the essay for clues, what you get back is a right-winger's cardboard stereotype of a loony green:
" the debate has induced a kind of millennarian meltdown in which otherwise sensible people have lost all sense of proportion and hope"
" Morality concerns strict but simple universal rules that everyone should follow without regard to personal situations or consequences - on the model of laws [When your behavior harms me or vice versa, we typically make laws about that behavior. As a general rule, laws are made "on the model of laws."] On this model, one's carbon footprint is a crime (against the planet presumably) [says who?] which one should feel guilty about and strive to mitigate. As of course are other people's carbon emissions: they deserve to be shamed or otherwise forced into submission by the righteous ones."
" The moralisation approach undermines itself since it frames climate change narrowly in terms of righteousness. Inevitably deliberation about action gets bogged down in an interminable blame-game about what justice requires - who had their industrial revolution first, etc."
" The moralisation approach contrasts with a fuller ethical thinking in which values are considered and debated explicitly and openly. Righteousness simplifies but it doesn't try to understand."
What the author is attempting to pass off as an objective characteristic of the "climate debate" proves to be just standard climate denier ad hominem – greens are humorless scolds, socialist-secular anticolonialist navel-gazers, self-righteous Chicken Littles undergoing a "millennarian meltdown" in which they "have lost all sense of proportion and hope."
He gives no evidence for this slander, merely repeating it in various forms for most of the post. That, too, is characteristic of the pseudointellectual argument. When a straightforward torch-waving rabble-rouser like me makes an assertion about something or someone I don't care for, I have to support it with examples, usually providing a quote or two to illustrate what I mean. By couching his conventional right-wing op-ed in terms of "philosophy" the author evades any question of evidence or proof.

2. Lard up the verbiage.
The global climate change debate has a lopsided empirical basis - in the economy of nature but not political economy - and this has contributed to a peculiar moralising trajectory.
In other words, the science of climate change is solid and conclusive. Do you really need to torture that thought into this "global climate change debate has a lopsided empirical basis"? The case for action is not (he asserts) as strong – which becomes " in the economy of nature but not political economy."
3. Offer analysis, but deliver politics. 

The Beard gives us one fact – the population of the earth – and then sets out on what is ostensiby a description of the situation, but which is in fact an almost unrecognizable right-wing fantasy world:
In trying to tackle climate change by directly dealing with the causal mechanism of CO2 levels we face an enormous collective action problem - how to persuade 6.7 billion people to adopt the new morality of carbon rationing (and prevent free-riding). Everyone but the most delusional accepts that this is impossible without enormous government coercion (which explains many climate change warriors' antipathy to democratic principles on this point - easier to persuade 200 governments than all those people). However even the government coercion approach fails - see the failures of every inter-governmental treaty, from Kyoto to Copenhagen - and the reasons are obvious.
Notice how easily we slip into the conventional internet libertarian's assumptions about the world. Government action has become "enormous government coercion" (is a carbon tax more coercive than a property tax or a sales tax, or does he believe all taxation and regulation to be "enormous government coercion"? He doesn't say, but one suspects.) The people or the right side of that "lopsided empirical basis" have become "climate change warriors" – because while denying climate change "is just silly" proposing that we act on what we know is the moral equivalent of making war on our fellow citizens. And then we have this gem of tortured logic: "which explains many climate change warriors' antipathy to democratic principles on this point - easier to persuade 200 governments than all those people."
Lobbying the government to act is now undemocratic. International treaties are undemocratic, too. (We are allowed to persuade people individually, provided we don't make them feel bad by "moralising" the issue.) One wonders how democracy ever recovered from treaties that banned ozone-depleting chemicals, or the use of chemical and biological weapons, or child labor, or those that created trade agreements.
This is all stuff that would have readers at nodding along, but everybody else should be confused and startled by a definition of democratic principles that precludes trying to convince your fellow citizens to agree to collective actions for the benefit of all.

4. Include lots of straw men.

I lost count at ten or so. Here's a particularly egregious example:
No-one emits carbon deliberately 'for fun', but rather we engage in activities which are more or less valuable to us - such as flying across the Atlantic to visit grandparents - which happen to emit carbon as a byproduct. To ignore the value of these human activities and see them instead as moral crimes is to do a violence to the very humanness of the lives (including those of future generations) that we are supposed to be so concerned about preserving.
Who "ignore[s] the value of these human activities"? In what way does saying an action has a consequence, and its utility must be evaluated in light of that, imply that the activity has no value? It does not. He is conjuring up an absurd parody of an eco-warrior scold, while ignoring the very simple and pragmatic point that we have to weigh the unintended consequences of our actions in deciding what we will do.

We should be grateful "Beard" wasn't around when doctors discovered that the cholera epidemics of London were spreading via polluted water. Imagine the screed:
No-one uses water pumps "for fun," but rather we engage in activities which are more or less valuable to us - such as cooking dinner or washing clothes - which happen to spread disease as a byproduct. To ignore the value of these human activities and see them instead as moral crimes is to do a violence to the very humanness of the lives (including those of future generations) that we are supposed to be so concerned about preserving.
The whole exercise is so transparent, and the underlying political spin so obvious, that one wonder if the title of the blog "The Philosopher's Beard" carries a hidden meaning: if the author, aware that his proclivities for hard, grinding, right-winger-on-libertarian action are less than comfortable to a mainstream audience, and has chosen to equip his online persona accordingly with a fictitious air of academic enquiry – "The Philosopher's Beard" being just that – a "beard" of airy intellectualism for a closeted right-wing partisan.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hello Sunshine, ctd

Highest solar activity in seven years. Which is to be expected. If you look at the smoothed monthly values, we are tracking the predicted values very well.

We have about three more years of rising solar activity this cycle. It's a modest influence, maybe 0.1C, but if we flip back into El Nino during that time, you'll see some impressive warmth. The fact that GISTEMP recorded the fourth warmest August in the record despite the sun being mid-cycle and the Pacific dipping back into La Nina, is a good indication of the underlying trend.

"My Eye is upon you -- do no wrong!"

Friday, October 7, 2011

How to get serious about green jobs: 4 keys

1. We could upgrade the nation's rail infrastructure with electrified rail replacing diesel engines and with the addition of double-track lines to minimize traffic congestion that can slow trains to an average of 2mph on some routes.

2. We could weatherize every home in America. (Heating, ventilation, and cooling puts paid to about a third of all the electricity used by US homes.)

3. We could fully fund fuels management on all federal lands:

Another issue is funding for fuel reduction. Funding and acres treated rose (roughly doubling) between FY2000 and FY2003, and have stabilized since. Currently about 3 million acres are treated annually. However, 75 million acres of federal land are at high risk, and another 156 million acres are at moderate risk, of ecological damage from catastrophic wildfire. Since many ecosystems need to be treated on a 10-35 year cycle (depending on the ecosystem), current treatment rates are insufficient to address the problem.
UPDATE: A recent study found fuels management increases greenhouse emissions. So while it might or might not be worth it, it's off my list of green jobs.

4. We could construct a backbone of HVDC lines connecting the regional power authorities across the United States, an "interstate highway" system for the power grid. This would cut transmission losses, today approximately 6.5% of all electricity generated. (Cutting those losses in half would be the equivalent of bringing 45,000MW of clean energy onto the grid -- and reliably linking the US power grid from coast to coast would greatly reduce the indeterminacy problem of high levels of wind and solar -- while the wind does not blow nor the sun shine all the time, if a thousand wind and solar plants are contributing to the grid, the law of averages will inevitably push their contribution towards a steady state.)

 Incentives to develop wind, or solar, or geothermal energy are all very well and good, but it is difficult to pick an industry and make it successful, especially if an important part of your motivation is to create jobs. Even successful industries may not create very many jobs, and there is nothing to stop the successful, once established, from taking those jobs elsewhere.

What we can and should do is radically upgrade our national infrastructure and our management of public lands. Those tasks cannot be left to the private sector. The private sector cannot set a new standard for rail lines, cannot protect federal lands from wildfires, cannot improve disaster response capabilities. True, a hefty carbon tax would advance many of these goals, including weatherization. But not only are the politics of such a tax difficult right now, but it would fail to provide the short-term stimulus and job creation which our economy needs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

We have the tech to cut emissions by 85%. Your move, Roger.

Even as Roger Pielke Jr was decrying the folly (as implied by an updated version of the climate wedge analysis) of thinking we have the technology to reduce emissions today, eleven engineering organizations begged to differ:

The technology needed to cut the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 already exists, according to a joint statement by eleven of the world’s largest engineering organisations.
The statement was presented on Friday 23 September to the South African Deputy High Commissioner ahead of December’s COP17 climate change talks in Durban.
The statement says that generating electricity from wind, waves and the sun, growing biofuels sustainably, zero emissions transport, low carbon buildings and energy efficiency technologies have all been demonstrated.  . . .
“We are now overdue for government commitment, with ambitious, concrete emissions targets that give the right signals to industry, so they can be rolled out on a global scale.”
The politics of emissions cuts are lagging behind the both the science and the technology. Professor Brian Schmidt, a 2011 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, is pessimistic:

“I think the evidence is quite strong that change is happening,” he said. “The science behind climate change predicts there should be a little change right now but in future, the prediction is it will be much more. I think we are going to do that experiment, so in 20 years from now we will see how good those models are.
It would be hard to bet against that prediction, politics-wise, but it is not inevitable. As the engineers are telling us, we have a choice. We have the technology to do the right thing. And when the right thing is politically unpopular, the thing we have to do is work ceaselessly to change the political calculation. Waiting for the public doesn't work: we are the public, and we can talk to the public, and persuade the public. How popular was abolition in the early days? Or women's suffrage? Or Prohibition? So let's not fall into the fallacy of taking the temperature of public opinion while we are trying to change it for the better.

The Future Climate 2 conference took place at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London on the 22-23 September 2011. The eleven engineering institutions that signed up to the joint statement were:
o   The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) (UK)
o   The Institution of Engineers (India)
o   The Association of German Engineers (VDI) (Germany)
o   The Japanese Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME) (Japan)
o   The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers (APESMA) (Australia)
o   The Danish Society of Engineers (IDA) (Denmark)
o   The Civil Engineer Organisation of Honduras (CICH) (Honduras)
o   The Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Sweden)
o   The Norwegian Society of Engineers (NITO) (Norway)
o   The Finnish Association of Graduate Engineers (TEK) (Finland)
o   The Union of Professional Engineers (UIL) (Finland)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs dies

The Associated Press is reporting that Steve Jobs has died. A tragic passing, much too young, of a great innovator and a great American.

Jobs passed after suffering with pancreatic cancer  for many years. He seems (we don't know for sure) to have achieved a remission, but ultimately succumbed. That is, sadly, very typical of many cancers once they reach a certain stage.

I think there are a few lessons in the life and passing of Mr. Jobs. First, while we do not need to proceed in a spirit of elitism -- an outlook that idealizes and sometimes makes a fetish of the successful -- we do need elites. Steve Jobs was part of an elite. He designed products not through focus groups, but by envisioning the future and seducing the public with that vision.

Second, looking back on Jobs' career at Apple, we see that the presence of vicious criticism and hatred for something tells you next to nothing about its true worth. Every sector-changing product Apple made was endless ridiculed in articles and on blogs and in comment threads that sometimes sounded strangely like the climate wars -- yet we all know how they turned out. The presence of critics does not necessarily indicate a failure on the part of the one criticized, pace Judith Curry. As the poet said, haters gonna hate.

Finally, and I mean no disrespect in pointing this out, we ought to attend to the fact that this brilliant man, at the heart of a technological empire, with all the money and access to top scientists and doctors he could ever need, was taken from us in the prime of his life -- by cancer. Which is to say, by biology. And with years of trying the best doctors in the world could not stop it. So as we remember the great Steve Jobs and the promise of technology which he did so much to advance, we should also remember that science and technology have not liberated us from dependance on nature. We are still biological creatures, with biological needs, and our understanding of the marvelous machines of life is still primitive; our ability to control it, even less so. A cautious respect for our natural environment is in order.
The snow dissolved no more is seen,
The fields, and woods, behold, are green.
The changing year renews the plain,
The rivers know their banks again,
The spritely nymph and naked Grace
The mazy dance together trace.
The changing year’s successive plan
Proclaims mortality to man.
Rough winter’s blasts to spring give way,
Spring yields to summer’s sovereign ray,
Then summer sinks in autumn’s reign,
And winter chills the world again.
Her losses soon the moon supplies,
But wretched man, when once he lies
Where Priam and his sons are laid,
Is naught but ashes and a shade.
Who knows if Jove, who counts our score,
Will toss us in a morning more?
What with your friend you nobly share
At least you rescue from your heir.
Not you, Torquatasf, boast of Rome,
When Minos once has fixed your doom,
Or eloquence, or splendid birth,
Or virtue shall replace on earth.
Hippolytus unjustly slain
Diana calls to life in vain,
Nor can the might of Theseus rend
The chains of hell that hold his friend.