Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Judith Curry and the fallacy of the excluded middle

Judith Curry has a bad habit of preening over her worst examples of careless and sloppy thinking. In just the past few weeks, for example, she has repeatedly referred back to this awful train wreck of an argument:
There does seem to be an IPCC/UNFCCC ideology, let me try to lay it out here. I am using quotes from Michael Mann’s recent interview in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which I find to be a lucid statement of some elements of this.
1.  Anthropogenic climate change is real: “there is a very consistent story told by surface, sub-surface, ocean, atmospheric, and ice observations that Earth’s surface is warming, and in a way that is only consistent with human-caused increases in greenhouse gas concentrations.” (Mann)
2.  Anthropogenic climate change is dangerous and we need to something about it: “I believe it’s not too late to take the steps that are necessary to mitigate truly dangerous future climate change. There is still time to take action to stabilize greenhouse gases to a point where they don’t become a dangerous threat to humanity.” (Mann)
3.  The fossil fuel industry is trying to convince people that climate change is a hoax: “[P]owerful special interests in the fossil fuel industry . . . have invested millions of dollars in well-honed disinformation campaigns to convince the public and policy makers that human-caused climate change is either a hoax, or not nearly the threat that the scientific community has established it to be.”
4. Deniers are attacking climate science and scientists: “I’ve been the subject of attacks by climate-change deniers for more than a decade now, because of the prominent role that the “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction has played in the public discourse on climate change.”
5.  Action is needed to prevent dangerous climate change: “There are various episodes in our not-so-distant past when we were threatened by global environmental catastrophe and took action.”  (Mann)
6.  Deniers and fossil fuel industry are delaying UNFCCC mitigatory policies. “[Powerful special interests] have delayed any policy actions by at least a decade, perhaps more. The potential opportunity cost of that delay to humanity is impossible to estimate, but it is certainly staggering.” (Mann)
This is a political ideology.  #1 is about science.  #4 is in principle about science and scientists, except there is the automatic assumption that a bonafide scientific criticism is a political attack.  The rest of it is politics.
Leaving aside the small army of straw men (Michael Mann is synonymous with a "IPCC/UNFCCC ideology," really?) Curry here plunges into a straightforward embrace of the fallacy of the excluded middle, aka a false dilemma. The two tentpoles of her fallacy are "science" and "politics"; anything not science is "politics."

Of course many propositions are neither science nor politics. If you see a Mac truck barreling down on a jogger crossing the street, and you scream "Look out!" is that "science" or "politics"?
Dear idiot, get out of the way. Sincerely, "politics."

"Look out!" as a statement cannot be considered scientific. As some say of the case that climate change is dangerous, it relies on "values" (most statements do). In this particular example, those would be the "values" or not wanting to die of infected bedsores in a nursing home after a speeding truck smashes your spine. That is a matter of placing a "value" on life and health, but it is hardly "political" or "ideological" because both of those adjectives describe positions emerging from values that are not widely shared.

Ferinstance, take Rick Santorum (please). Rick Santorum says contraception is harmful to women. This is a belief that comes from the teachings of the Catholic church, and does not reflect a widely shared notion of "harm." It doesn't reflect harm to one's health (pregnancy being a greater danger to women's health than the expected consequences of contraception-assisted sex) or one's economic or professional position (unplanned children are bad for both) or any widely accepted measure of women's mental or emotional well-being. It is a moral position, which is to say, he believes that contraception and non-procreative sex are morally abhorrent and damaging to the spiritual health of women. That is a position shared by a group of American who share a number of other beliefs. It is ideological.

Is it ideological in the same sense to say "Anthropogenic climate change is dangerous" (point 2a)? Or is it more akin to "Look out!"?

The scientific facts of a multi-meter sea rise mean the loss of land and other resources to the ocean, to erosion, to greater storm surges, to the salinization of the water table. You can argue against the science that says this is likely to happen (the truck's not really headed for the crosswalk; the truck is already braking; I am the favorite of the Sith Lords and will stop the truck at the last minute with the Force, etc.) But that is not a political or ideological argument; it's still a scientific argument.

The political argument would be that, within the accepted facts, the truck hitting us isn't dangerous. That a multi-meter sea level rise would be a good thing for humanity -- or that humanity deserves to suffer. In order for ideology to come into play, as Dr. Curry wishes, we would need an ideology to raise its hand and explain how a poorer, hungrier, storm-wracked, Amazon-to-ash world is something that we should want.

Pseudoskeptics know that there is no argument to be made there: that is why you see them spending their industry millions attacking the teaching of global warming science,  funding dubious research into global warming science, questioning the objectivity, reliability, and veracity of science.

If there was a "values" argument or an "ideological" argument to be made, you would expect them to be promoting ideas like "Rising oceans will purge the sinful coasts" or "Wealth -- the root of all evil and how global warming will save you from it."

If no one wants to live in that poorer, more dangerous, more extreme post-warming world, then there is no ideological question; there is no values question, at least until when get to how to prevent global warming and who should make the biggest adjustments. I think I can safely speak for Michael Mann and many other presumptive members of the so-called "IPCC/UNFCCC ideology" when I say we would love to move the debate forward to the how.

Until we do, as long as we are still debating the whether, there is only the scientific question of whether are current actions are likely to lead to that future. If they are, and that future is dangerous, then our actions are dangerous. No politics come into it.

Many propositions are neither scientific nor political. "Climate change is dangerous" is a statement assuming commonly held ideas about "danger" -- that we don't want to be killed, or lose our homes, or go hungry. "We should do something about it" involves the idea that people can through forethought and action avoid danger. Again, until and unless there arises a political lobby for the proposition "Our fate is inescapable" or "Humans are dirty sinful creatures and deserve to suffer," these aren't political statements, but statements of common sense.

Similarly, points #3 and #4 may not be "scientific," but they are factual. Not all that is factual is science. John Kennedy was assassinated November 22, 1963 -- that is not a scientific proposition, but it is true, and is neither "politics" nor "ideology." Parts of the fossil fuel industry (among others) are trying to convince the public climate change is a hoax. Deniers are attacking science and scientists. Those are objective realities, not "political" claims. Curry is flirting with outright tinfoil-hat membership when she attributes widespread belief in such things to "ideology" whilst failing to even nod at the overwhelming factual evidence that they are true.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Santorum 2012!

Climatecrocks points to this eloquent call for a carbon tax from a conservative icon, none other than Arthur B. Laffer:

We need to impose a tax on the thing we want less of (carbon dioxide) and reduce taxes on the things we want more of (income and jobs). A carbon tax would attach the national security and environmental costs to carbon-based fuels like oil, causing the market to recognize the price of these negative externalities.
Nuclear power plants would then compete with coal-fired plants. Wind and solar power would have a shot against natural gas. Trains would compete with trucks. We would clean the air, create wealth and jobs through a new technology boom and drastically improve our national security.
The United States can’t solve climate change alone. The Kyoto climate treaty was rightly rejected by the Senate because China and India weren’t subject to its provisions. If China and India join the United States in attaching a price to carbon, their goods should come into this country without a carbon adjustment. But if they do not, every item they place on our shelves should be subject to the same carbon tax that we would place on our domestically produced goods, again offset by a revenue-neutral tax cut.
If World Trade Organization rules entitle members to an unwarranted exemption from such a carbon tax, then we should change them. Outliers should not be allowed to frustrate the decision-making of the countries that are trying to prevent the security and environmental train wrecks of this century.
Former Representative Bob Inglis, interviewed above, co-authored the piece quoted.

Inglis and Laffer illustrate why we need more conservatives on the right side of this issue, and need them front and center. Their arguments effortlessly hit a number of the major hot-button concepts needed to connect with conservatives and low information voters of all stripes. Fairness. Competitiveness. Climate change migitation imposed by American power, not conceded to an international agreement:
If China and India join the United States in attaching a price to carbon, their goods should come into this country without a carbon adjustment. But if they do not, every item they place on our shelves should be subject to the same carbon tax that we would place on our domestically produced goods, again offset by a revenue-neutral tax cut.
I love this. Instead of a hypothetical multinational agreement, you have instead a hypothetical international trade war with hypothetical punitive tariffs. (Notice that the possibility of an agreement with other powers is there, but deemphasized -- essentially, and agreement is reduced to "They are going to do their share and pull their weight or they'll pay the price (assessed and exacted by us).

This is good. Yes! I'm not kidding. Hopefully the belligerence gets taken down a notch in the execution, but we need proposals that make Americans feel empowered, not impeded; like leaders, not followers, leveling the playing field, not meddling in the market. These are the only sorts of programs that have any chance of coming to fruition.

Obviously the conservative radicalism in this country is going to have to take a pretty epic faceplant in national elections -- maybe a couple -- before strong action on climate change has a chance to be recognized as the essentially conservative program that it is. Michigan Democrats for Santorum, godspeed.

La Nina fading faster

The sharp turn for the warmer in the Pacific is continuing. Last week we saw a dramatic difference between the resurrected La Nina at the beginning of the year:

Versus last week:

And finally today's update:

Zones 3 and 1 + 2 are in positive territory; 3.4 (where the official ENSO index is measured) is still negative, but only just. The anomaly, at -0.4C, puts us back in ENSO neutral territory. This calls to mind what I said when it looked like we were headed for a double-dip La Nina:

If you ask the question of how many times the same phase repeated after making it all the way back to baseline (reaching or crossing 0.0C from either direction), and didn't have a weak alternate-phase episode that missed counting as such because it was not quite long enough or not quite intense enough, and then went back into the same phase, the answer is: it's only happened twice in sixty years, out of thirty-five transitions. So what they're projecting will happen would be pretty atypical.

. . . [But] while another La Nina episode is forecast, it hasn't happened yet. If it turns out to be too weak to meet the five-seasons cutoff, then goes into an El Nino, then there will have been nothing odd about it at all.
Right now there have been three overlapping three-month rolling averages that show La Nina conditions (3.4 anomaly < -0.5C):

 We have 2 months to go to meet the definition of a double-dip: December-January-February, and January-February-March. I doubt the former will shoot above -0.5C; it's already the end of February, and we will have had maybe a week or two total (in three months) above that mark. January-February-March, then, is ground zero for whether we end up with back-to-back La Ninas, or the oscillation gets another chance to live up to its name.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Heartland apologizes to donors for sunlight

From an email to Heartland donors in the wake of Heartlandgate:

I Apologize
I am very sorry that the identities of some of our donors were revealed by this theft. I apologize to them, from the bottom of my heart.
We are calling everyone who was named in these documents to give them the bad news and offer whatever assistance we can to repair the damage.
We promise anonymity to many of our donors because nobody wants the risk of nutty environmentalists or Occupy Wall Street goons harassing them. We know that privacy is important to you.
Literally the first Google Image for "Occupy Wall Street goon." Terrifying.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What on earth is Criag Idso doing for Heartland's $11,600 a month?

Making Dad proud
From the annals of corruption:
Funding for selected individuals outside of Heartland. 

Our current budget includes funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist AGW message. At the moment, this funding goes primarily to Craig Idso ($11,600 per month), Fred Singer ($5,000 per month, plus expenses), Robert Carter ($1,667 per month), and a number of other individuals, but we will consider expanding it, if funding can be found.
This is all the more disturbing because I am not entirely sure who Craig Idso is. And yet he's pulling down six figures courtesy of the denialosphere? I am wasting my life.

As to who this guy is:
Craig D. Idso is Chairman, founder and former President of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a contrarian Arizona-based group funded in part by ExxonMobil. He is the son of its president, Sherwood B. Idso[1], and the brother of its vice president, Keith E. Idso.[2]
 Thus Sourcewatch, raising more questions than they answer. How many denialist think tanks are running on the mom-and-pop family business model, where the kids go off to college to secure their degrees in Agronomy and Geography before taking up the mantle of pretending to be a scientist? Is the Idso clan grooming the grandkids? When in 2030 the Arctic flips over into an ice-free state, are we going to be subjected to the analysis of William Howell Keith Idso the Third, on the strength of his degrees in Sports Marketing and Biblical Anthropology?

Maybe we'll get lucky and young William will be the black sheep of the family. "I'm leaving all this behind, Dad, and when you see me again, I'm going to have a degree in atmospheric physics!" "No son of mine!" "You can't stop me!" "Two weeks on a grad student stipend grading papers and you'll come crawling back!" "You can change the biometric security settings for the Compound, because I'm never coming back!"

Alternately, the rebellious young William could chose a career as a male escort, which would be more of a lateral move.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

La Nina whiplash fading fast

The mini-me La Nina has taken a dramatic swing for the warmer. This was the picture at the end of January:

You can see the brief flirtation with ENSO neutrality before the Pacific's evident determination to resume La Nina bigger and badder and colder than before. What a difference three weeks makes:
The weather-masters now think we could enter the ENSO neutral zone as soon as March. With solar activity still headed upwards, we could be in for a hot summer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Romm v Revkin

Andy "the horror, the horror" Revkin on Gleick:
Now, Gleick has admitted to an act that leaves his reputation in ruins and threatens to undercut the cause he spent so much time pursuing.

Joe Romm and Andy Revkin often clash over this or that, with the more measured Revkin coming out on top in most cases, in my view. This one, though, goes to Romm by a knockout:

First off, if one act of this nature could ruin a reputation or destroy his credibility, then what precisely is Revkin doing routinely quoting and citing people who have been repeatedly debunked, the disinformers and confusionists.
 I think those of us on the pro-science side accept a little bit of a double standard, but not when it's taken to a ridiculous, hyperventilating extreme. A little trickery to expose Heartland's illegal war on science? That "leaves his reputation in ruins"? Why, if it didn't involve his scientific work? Are we under the impression that all scientists are impeccably honest and forthright in all their personal and public affairs? And if they've ever breathed a word that wasn't true, told a girl she looked pretty when she didn't, promised a parent to call and didn't, parked in a loading zone -- that's it. No more reputation for you!

C'mon. Am I the only one who thinks Revkin calls it "an act" because to actually describe it would make it abundantly clear that it is an "ethical lapse" in the same way driving five miles over the speed limit is a "criminal act"?

UPDATE: Revkin has walked back his "reputation in ruins" remark:
 I will acknowledge that certain phrases, written in haste, were overstated. Gleick’s reputation and credibility are seriously damaged, not necessarily in ruins or destroyed.
As I noted the last time I blogged on Revkin, he has an impressive ability to respond to new information, and his second and third looks are the best in the business.

I'd move towards Revkin on this one a little bit, too. I don't think Peter Gleick's  scientific credibility ought to be affected by his deception of the Heartland Institute. His credibility as an authority on ethics, however, might reasonably be expected to take a hit. Especially given that he, himself considers what he did a serious ethical lapse. I don't necessarily agree, but he's the expert.

Peter Gleick tricks Heartland scum, feels bad about it.

Peter Gleick turns out to be the clever prankster that coaxed Heartland's professional liars into sending him the inside scoop on their charity-status-abusing, million-dollar-donor approach to manipulating the public.

He apparently regrets his trickery. Bloggers pronounce themselves outraged.

Maybe I'm missing the big story here. Gleick fibbed and took advantage of the gullibility of the Heartland extremists to uncover their criminal use of charitable funds for political ends. These are people funneling millions of dollars from right-wing whales into a well-oiled propaganda machine that pays for fake science and fake scientists, a la Bob Carter. He gave them a fake name? Meh.

Warming increases methane emissions from natural sources

AGW Observer and SkS have the link. Money quote:

The global relationship between annual mean temperature and terrestrial net CH4 exchange (Fig. 9 for the baseline simulation) showed a significant weak to moderately strong linear relationship (R2 = 0.38, P < 0.01). On the basis of the results of this regression, net terrestrial CH4 emission has increased at a rate of 41.6 Tg CH4 yr−1 per 1 ◦C of warming, suggesting the existence of a positive biogeochemical feedback in response to climatic warming (and partly in response to historical land-use change in parallel with temperature change). On the basis of the 100-yr Global Warming Potential for CH4 (=25; IPCC, 2007), this responsiveness of the CH4 budget corresponded to an increase of 283 Tg C yr−1 in the climate–carbon (CO2) cycle feedback. As implied by a study using an Earth System model (Gedney et al., 2004), the interaction between climate and the methane cycle can exert a positive feedback as a result of human-induced climate change. The feedback would be accelerated by additional emissions from permafrost melting and methane hydrates (O’Connor et al., 2010).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Heartlandgate, ctd: From the annals of hypocrisy

Really, guys?
Heartland said the documents were not from an insider but were obtained by a caller pretending to be a board member of the group who was switching to a new e-mail address. “We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes,” the organization said.
 Heartlandgate is not bringing out the best in climate deniers. Besides being revealed as tax cheats abusing nonprofit status by funneling charitable donations to political causes, Heartland's selective outrage at the publication of private correspondence does not place them in a flattering light. Watts & Co are on damage control, of course, but really, it's going to be hard to contain the fallout on this one.

Propagandists, of course, tax cheats, and hypocrites too. Spin harder, guys, if you want to twirl off the mud from this mess.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

BNC's solar slam was misleading

How long before it's free?

Back in May, Brave New Climate published a thought experiment related to the potential of solar power in Florida. It was a guest post by Peter Morcombe, a climate "skeptic" who comments as "gallopingcamel." It came to my attention recently when Judith Curry highlighted it.
Imagine a future in which so-called “environmentalist” politicians are given the mandate to prohibit the construction of nuclear and fossil fuel power plants in Florida. As wind and hydro are not suited to Florida, the only remaining option would be solar power.
Mr. Morcombe is proposing a thought experiment to evaluate the potential of renewable energy in Florida, and, by extension, the world. So the critical element of the scenario is: no new fossil fuels or nuclear. He then asks us to look at what that would mean in 2100. But there is a problem with Mr. Morcombe's first assertion; that wind and hydro are unsuited to Florida. In fact:
A recent report by Oceana, an ocean conservation organization, estimates wind energy potential on Florida's offshore Atlantic coast as 10.3 gigawatts, enough to supply 16% of electrical generation. Consistent with this report is a study by Navigant Consulting, sponsored by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC). The study suggests that although onshore winds tend to be weaker in Florida due to lack of terrain and open prairie spaces, Florida is surrounded by a robust offshore wind resource. Offshore wind is desirable since wind farms may be positioned in relatively shallow water offshore adjacent to coastal electrical load demand centers of major metropolitan areas, but far enough to be unseen from the coast.
Offshore wind is expensive right now, but then, so is solar. Mr. Morcombe is wrong to ignore this potential energy source in his ninety-years-from-now thought experiment. Indeed, accurately predicting power generation and consumption ninety years into the future can be expected to be difficult. Ninety years ago nuclear power was undreamed (1) of, wind and solar had never been used to generate electricity. There was exactly one geothermal plant in existence, which opened in 1911 in Italy, who remained the sole producer of commercial geothermal energy for the next forty-seven years.

What other sources of renewable energy might be important in ninety years' time?  There's tidal power, stratospheric wind, and, just off the coast of Florida you have this:

Note how the Gulf Stream hugs practically every inch of the Florida coast, begging someone to pop a turbine in the middle of it.

You know you want to.
Why does Mr. Morcombe venture so far into the future with his hypothetical solar scenario, especially as he does not seem too interested in technology or infrastructure that might become available between now and then?

Probably to get to the "sticker shock" number here:
Florida is planning to increase its peak electrical generating capacity from 52 GW in 2009 to 62 GW in 2018.  This works out at an increase of 1.9% (1,100 MW) per year.  The growth projections may be conservative given the following factors:
  1. Electrical consumption grew at an average rate of 3.6% p.a. from 1980-2005.
  2. Florida’s population is expected to grow from 18.8 million in 2010 to 23.8 million in 2030, a growth rate of 1.2%/year.
  3. With environmentalists in positions of influence (as we now see in Germany), there would be pressure to phase out fossil fueled automobiles in favor of electric automobiles.
  4. Comfort in Florida depends on an ample supply of cheap electricity to keep our air conditioners going from May through October.
Even at the conservative growth rate of 1.9%, Florida would need a peak generating capacity of 289 GW by the year 2100.  Thus over the next 90 years we might expect 289 – 52 = 237 GW of new generating capacity to be created.  What would this mean if the generators were all solar powered? The Martin solar plant shows that 18 MW of solar power requires ~500 acres of mirrors so the needed capacity would correspond to 6.6 million acres for mirrors alone, without allowing anything for energy storage.   Would that have a significant effect on land usage?

Even assuming an affordable solution to the problem of storing energy to cover the times when there is insufficient solar power to match demand, it is not credible to suggest that 19% of Florida be covered in mirrors; clearly solar fails the “scalability” test.
This is the core of Mr. Morcombe's argument: a fifth of Florida covered in mirrors! Those daffy greens! But to get there, he cheats in several ways:

1. Starting with a real predication for the next nine years, he projects that rate of growth will continue unchanged for the next ninety years.

It's never wise to naively assume a linear trend will continue indefinitely. Mr. Morcombe, arguing from an inflated estimate, then calculate that Florida's electricity usage will more than quintuple in the next ninety years, based on what is expected to happen over the next six.

It's nice to hope, but don't count on it.

To illustrate how quickly such predictions become ridiculous, consider the chart of PV solar, above, which shows prices (since 2007) falling at 20% per year. By my calculations, if solar power prices continue to fall as they have been, a Watt of installed solar PV, presently costing about one and a half dollars, in 2100 will cost a mere 3.5 * 10^(-9)! A gigawatt of solar PV in 2100 will set you back . . . $3.50. The entire power needs of the state could be covered for the price of a single used car!

Probably not, though. Linear projections of growth or reductions over long periods of time are not reliable.

2. He use the peak demand for electricity, ignoring power storage and power sharing.

The sun doesn't shine all the time. So if you plan to get most of your power from solar cells, you need to either store some of that power, or share it with other people who can share power with you when you need it. Both of those things are perfectly possible with current technology; both will be vastly easier in ninety years' time.

Mr. Morcombe's way of accounting for this makes no sense. He takes the average expected output of a given amount of solar, and compares it to peak demand. But that solves nothing, because a considerable portion of the time production will be below average. You still need some form of storage or sharing. On the other hand, once you have some means of storage or sharing, Morcombe's estimates are wildly pessimistic; he is comparing peak demand to average production, instead of average demand to average production, or even peak to peak.

The actual average electrical power consumed in Florida is 16GW, not 52GW. And when the sun doesn't shine? HVDC cables to sell power to the rest of the country during high-output periods (when power tends to be more expensive) and buy it back during low-output periods (when power is cheaper because demand is generally less.)

3. Morcombe ignores energy efficiency.

The closest Morcombe comes to addressing efficiency is his tone-deaf assertion that "Comfort in Florida depends on an ample supply of cheap electricity to keep our air conditioners going from May through October." As opposed to, say, building smarter housing or using more efficient air conditioning.

Remember the key element of Morcombe's thought experiment:
Imagine a future in which so-called “environmentalist” politicians are given the mandate to prohibit the construction of nuclear and fossil fuel power plants in Florida. As wind and hydro are not suited to Florida, the only remaining option would be solar power.
Morcombe ignores the idea that we might use less electricity. America is one of the least energy-efficient countries in the developed world:

Japan gets roughly two-and-a-half times as much economic production from a given amount of energy. So if you were determined not to build any more coal, gas, oil or nuclear plants, using energy more efficiently would be an obvious alternative to blanketing the hinderlands with solar panels. Based on the efficiencies achieved in Europe and Japan, cutting per capita use in half is certainly realistic with current technology, let alone nine decades of progress later.

4. Morcombe ignores progress in solar technology.

Besides ignoring other forms of renewable energy, Morcombe assumes that the solar cells of 2100 will be no more efficient or productive than today's, despite the dramatic improvements of the last thirty years. Just in the time since Morcombe's anti-solar screed was published, development of cells that are 16% more space-efficient has been proposed. A technique using "bumpy nanoparticles" has boosted thin-film efficiencies by 8%. And so on.

So what happens if we run Mr. Morcombe's thought experiment with slightly more realistic assumptions? Do we still end up with a massive slice of Florida covered in solar cells?

Let's leave his sky-high 1.9% growth rate alone. We will compare average supply to average demand, however (16GW, not 52GW at the start: 16/52 = 0.307). We'll give solar panels that 16% increase in space efficiency (1/1.16 = 0.862) and a conservative 20% boost in sun-catching efficiency (1/1.2 = 0.833). We're accepting the unrealistic growth rate of 1.9%, but we're going to presume that in ninety years we will use power as efficiently as most of Europe does today (1/2 = 0.5). We're left with 19% * 0.307 * 0.862 * 0.833 * 0.5 = 2.1%. Minus a little more for energy efficiency's impact on current consumption, plus some transmission losses shipping power around, minus any other renewables. Call that a wash: 2.1%.

Put half of it on building roofs and half in the hinderlands. Easy. And beware climate "skeptics" bearing assumptions.
1.) Readers from the future, be warned. This sentence has an expiration date which is fast approaching. In 1913 C.W. Leadbeater published Man: How, Whence, and Whither? It posited "atomic energy." In 1914, HG Wells got in on the act with The World Set Free, imagining atom bombs as well as atomic power plants. So nuclear power was undreamed of ninety years ago, but only just.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The "oil from people that don't like us" fallacy

This one has been bouncing around the discourse for decades, and I'm kinda tired of it:
Environmental concerns notwithstanding, America will be using oil — and lots of it — for the foreseeable future. It is the fundamental means by which we transport ourselves, whether by air, car or truck. Where do we get that oil? Mostly from countries that don’t like us, like Venezuela, which has the world’s second-largest oil reserves.
 Other favorite whipping boys in the we-get-our-oil-from-baddies meme are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria. The idea being that by burning oil, we are facilitating terrorism, extremism, and all manner of bad things.

Sometimes this argument is used to push conservation and low-carbon sources of energy (good ideas) and sometimes it is used to push expansion of domestic oil production or oil production in friendly (read "white") nations (as above, where Joe Nocera embarked on his incredibly ill-thought-out defense of the Keystone XL project). But whether employed for good ends or dubious ones, the argument is unsound.

Let's say we cut our oil consumption and send dramatically less money to, say, Saudi Arabia. Sounds great. Osama Bin Laden was born there! Let's put the squeeze on them! Only problem is, Saudi Arabia and Osama Bin Laden fought each other for years. Bin Laden absolutely rejected the legitimacy of the government of Saudi Arabia -- something about allying themselves with the United States and having US troops stationed there.

Did I mention that Saudi Arabia is an ally? Not a very good ally, perhaps, but better than the alternatives, which is why we're friends with them. Weakening them (even assuming we could) doesn't really help us.

You might say: but Osama had money from his family, which got its money from the Saudi economy, which got its money from oil. All true. And if you were able to utterly strangle the Saudi Arabian economy to the point that there were no more spoiled rich kids, you would have removed one of the elements that went into the making of the deadliest terror attack in American history. In the process, though, you have sowed how much hatred, created how many new enemies, how radically undermined the state you are using to keep them in check? It seems like a lot of harm for very little benefit. Money, after all, was not the critical element that made 9/11 possible. What do a dozen box cutters run for these days?

Cutting oil imports would also hurt (very slightly, as India and China pick up our slack) countries like Iran and Venezuela, whose leaders are certainly not friendly to us. But the danger emanating from the quarter, such as it is, is not really driven by money either; both countries are relatively poor, with primitive armed forces and corruption-burdened economies. If we impoverish them further, how does that help us? Afghanistan and North Korea are as poor as one could wish, yet they still manage to make their fair share of trouble -- aided more than hindered by the fact that they have virtually nothing to lose. (Maybe crushing their economy will teach them not to mess with us; that worked so well with the Weimar Republic.) Are their leaders the sort of people who will respond to that by redirecting funds away from foreign policy towards the needs of the poor? To give up guns for butter? People really haven't thought this through.