Archive for May 2016

Disney Wait Times Are Among The Most Transparent Service Numbers Anywhere

How often does Amazon fail to deliver Prime shipments in two days?  I have no idea -- I know it has happened to me sometimes, but they don't publish the metric.  What is the average wait time on the phone with the IRS?  We don't know.  What is the average wait time at a TSA checkpoint?  We don't know.

One thing we most certainly do know, and can know any time on any day, is the current wait time for any Disney ride.  I bring this up because some goofball in the Obama Administration made this absurd statement trying to justify the lack of transparency for VA wait times:

When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

Bruce McQuain rightly points out the downside of a longer wait for Space Mountain is just a tiny bit lower than the downside of waiting for heart surgery.

But I want to add that this statement is not even close to being factually correct on its face.  Here is an example of a site that has Disney ride wait times in real time, but there are dozens of apps and sites with this info because Disney makes the data public in an API most anyone can access.  (My favorite is Touring Plans, which has built a whole Disney trip planning business on top of Disney published wait time data -- as an aside, if you are a Disney fan or future visitor, you should join).

But I would go further.  I know for a fact that Disney spends a ton of time internally planning and improving ride throughput and capacity entirely with an eye to reducing wait times (and also, by the way, to making design changes that make ride waits more enjoyable with in-line activities).  They have a sophisticated operational research staff working on this all the time, and they are constantly tweaking their Fastpass system which would not even begin to work correctly if they did not understand ride wait times down to the second decimal place.  And by the way, if their management found out that some folks in their organization were fudging line wait time data, I am pretty sure the offenders would not be working there any more (as they are at the VA).

Postscript:  I am still amazed by the fail here.  Anyone who has been to Disney even once will know that all wait times are displayed all over the park on boards, and that at each ride, every few minutes a customer will get an electronic card at the beginning of the ride that precisely times their wait.   Seriously, where do they get folks like this who can blithely utter nonsense as if they know what they are talking about.  The whole premise is screwed up.  Yes, good service companies measure overall satisfaction. This is marginally useful data, but what does one do with it?  To really fix and improve the experience, one also has to measure many important bits of the experience.  Saying that one should pay attention to only one output metric and nothing else would get you laughed out of any quality course I have ever been to.

Update:  Also, I would add that there is a lot of market pressure on the wait time issue pushing Disney to improvement on lines, market pressure that does not exist on the VA (which is one reason they totally lack any accountability).  Disney has its FastPass system for helping guests manage ride waits, but both Universal and Six Flags have their own different systems (Universal has a higher level ticket you can buy that gets you preferred access to all rides, Six Flags Magic Mountain has a pager system where you tell it which ride you want to do next and they page you when your place is ready).

Is Trump Smart Because He is Rich? Or Rich Because He Is Smart? Is He Even Rich?

I told my wife a number of times that my guess is that Trump won't release his taxes because they don't show nearly enough income to justify his ego.  Time and again I see he and his cohorts and even the media throwing around eye-popping revenue numbers for him.  Well, I can tell you from long, sad experience that merely having large revenue numbers won't get you anywhere - they have to actually be higher than expenses to be meaningful.  I was a part of several early Internet startups that rode tens of millions of revenue right into liquidation.

Here is my hypothesis of what makes Trump rich:

  1. He started with family money.  No shame in that, lot's of people have done productive things with the capital accumulated by prior generations of their family.  But in Texas we used to have  a saying -- the best way to make a million dollars is to start with $10 million.  Is Trump's fortune larger today than it would have been if, say, he had just shoved all of dad's money into stocks?
  2. He has the political clout to swing real estate deals average people cannot.  Real estate in New York and Atlantic City is entirely driven by crony capitalism, and Trump is a master.  Let's say I have a piece of land that is worth X.  It would be worth X+Y if I could build the building I want on it, but I can't get the permissions I need.  Trump can, buys it for X, and then makes Y profit from his political pull.  The example of his getting his cronies in the Atlantic City government to condemn a woman's home so he could pave it over for limo parking is just the ugliest of many, many such examples.
  3. He extracts rents from investors, even when investors lose money.  I don't know if there is an economic name for this, but there should be.  Trump's investors, particularly his bondholders, have frequently lost millions on his real estate and casino investments -- both in his many bankruptcies and his frequent debt restructurings, which he brags about on the campaign trail.  These investments are losing money and going bankrupt, so they can't be generating free cash flow.  Somehow Trump is saddling investors with the losses AND extracting income for himself personally.  Steven Job's lifestyle was paid for by people who voluntarily bought iphones and valued them enough to pay more for them than it cost to make them.  I hypothesize that Trump's lifestyle is paid for out of invested capital, and not out of profits.  Which of course leaves open the question of why investors continue to sign up for this treatment.  I understand why donors give to the Clinton Foundation despite the fact that the Foundation does relatively little actual charity work -- donors are looking for influence with the Clintons.   But why do Trump investors keep dumping in more money?  Could it be charisma?  Certainly Trump has an excess.
  4. Trump's best investments seem to be ones where his charisma comes into play -- his TV shows come to mind.  Beyond the TV shows, there is a long string of business failures, from steaks and schools to casinos.

Postscript:  To be fair, I will add that I have in the past been a fan of his hotel on the strip in Las Vegas.  The hotel provides a screaming good value (you can almost always get a huge discount off rack rate) for an exceptionally nice room in a good location -- and in a non-casino hotel to boot.  I used it for years as a low-cost location for manager meetings.  The staff there is great -- the only problem is one has to look past the tacky gold gilding on everything and the goofy Trump-branded swag in the gift shop.  I will add, though, apropos to this post, there is no way on God's green Earth that this hotel makes money, at least if it is paying all of its capital costs (it is possible there was a bankruptcy at one point where Trump said "you're fired" to the bondholders).  If you ever stay there, by the way, it has the best view of the strip in Vegas because it is right at a bend and can look straight down the street.  Ask for a high room on the south side.

Update:  LOL, looking at #3, I think we do already have a name for this phenomenon of extracting rents from investors even when the investments are losing money -- it is called a hedge fund.  Given that hedge funds generally do not consistently outperform the market and result in outsize compensation for their managers even when the fund loses money (pretty sure Chelsea Clinton's and her husband did not give back any of the management fees they pulled down despite their hedge fund tanking most of their investor's money).

Update #2:  Being a billionaire is no guarantee that one knows anything about even basic economics:  Nick Hanauer argues the way to prosperity is to impose a $28 minimum wage.

Denying the Climate Catastrophe: 9. A Low-Cost Insurance Policy

This is Chapter 9 (the final chapter) of an ongoing series.  Other parts of the series are here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Greenhouse Gas Theory
  3. Feedbacks
  4.  A)  Actual Temperature Data;  B) Problems with the Surface Temperature Record
  5. Attribution of Past Warming:  A) Arguments for it being Man-Made; B) Natural Attribution
  6. Climate Models vs. Actual Temperatures
  7. Are We Already Seeing Climate Change
  8. The Lukewarmer Middle Ground
  9. A Low-Cost Insurance Policy  (this article)

While I have shown over the previous chapters that there is good reason to be skeptical of a future man-made climate catastrophe (at least from CO2), I am appalled at all the absolutely stupid, counter-productive things the government has implemented in the name of climate change, all of which have costly distorting effects on the economy while doing extremely little to affect man-made greenhouse gas production.  For example:

Even when government programs do likely have an impact of CO2, they are seldom managed intelligently.  For example, the government subsidizes solar panel installations, presumably to reduce their cost to consumers, but then imposes duties on imported panels to raise their price (indicating that the program has become more of a crony subsidy for US solar panel makers, which is typical of the life-cycle of these types of government interventions).  Obama's coal power plan, also known as his war on coal, will certainly reduce some CO2 from electricity generation but at a very high cost to consumers and industries.  Steps like this are taken without any idea of whether this is the lowest cost approach to reducing CO2 production -- likely it is not given the arbitrary aspects of the program.

For years I have opposed steps like a Federal carbon tax or cap and trade system because I believe (and still believe) them to be unnecessary given the modest amount of man-made warming I expect over the next century.  I would expect to see about one degree C of man-made warming between now and 2100, and believe most of the cries that "we are already seeing catastrophic climate changes" are in fact panics driven by normal natural variation (most supposed trends, say in hurricanes or tornadoes or heat waves, can't actually be found when one looks at the official data).

But I am exhausted with all the stupid, costly, crony legislation that passes in the name of climate change action.   I am convinced there is a better approach that will have more impact on man-made CO2 and simultaneously will benefit the economy vs. our current starting point.  So here goes:

The Plan

Point 1:  Impose a Federal carbon tax on fuel.

I am open to a range of actual tax amounts, as long as point 2 below is also part of the plan.  Something that prices CO2 between $25 and $45 a ton seems to match the mainstream estimates out there of the social costs of CO2.  I think methane is a rounding error, but one could make an adjustment to the natural gas tax numbers to take into account methane leakage in the production chain.   I am even open to make the tax=0 on biofuels given these fuels are recycling carbon from the atmosphere.

A Pigovian tax on carbon in fuels is going to be the most efficient possible way to reduce CO2 production.   What is the best way to reduce CO2 -- by substituting gas for coal?   by more conservation?  by solar, or wind?  with biofuels?  With a carbon tax, we don't have to figure it out.  Different approaches will be tested in the marketplace.  Cap and trade could theoretically do the same thing, but while this worked well in some niche markets (like SO2 emissions), it has not worked at all in European markets for CO2.   There has just been too many opportunities for cronyism, too much weird accounting for things like offsets that is hard to do well, and too much temptation to pick winners and losers.

Point 2:  Offset 100% of carbon tax proceeds against the payroll tax

Yes, there are likely many politicians, given their incentives, that would love a big new pool of money they could use to send largess, from more health care spending to more aircraft carriers, to their favored constituent groups.  But we simply are not going to get Conservatives (and libertarians) on board for a net tax increase, particularly one to address an issue they may not agree is an issue at all.   So our plan will use carbon tax revenues to reduce other Federal taxes.

I think the best choice would be to reduce the payroll tax.  Why?  First, the carbon tax will necessarily be regressive (as are most consumption taxes) and the most regressive other major Federal tax we have are payroll taxes.  Offsetting income taxes would likely be a non-starter on the Left, as no matter how one structures the tax reduction the rich would get most of it since they pay most of the income taxes.

There is another benefit of reducing the payroll tax -- it would mean that we are replacing a consumption tax on labor with a consumption tax on fuel.  It is always dangerous to make gut-feel assessments of complex systems like the economy, but my sense is that this swap might even have net benefits for the economy -- ie we might want to do it even if there was no such thing as greenhouse gas warming.   In theory, labor and fuel are economically equivalent in that they are both production raw materials.  But in practice, they are treated entirely differently by the public.   Few people care about the full productive employment of our underground fuel reserves, but nearly everybody cares about the full productive employment of our labor force.   After all, for most people, the primary single metric of economic health is the unemployment rate.  So replacing a disincentive to hire with a disincentive to use fuel could well be popular.

Point 3:  Eliminate all the stupid stuff

Oddly enough, this might be the hardest part politically because every subsidy, no matter how idiotic, has a hard core of beneficiaries who will defend it to the death -- this the the concentrated benefits, dispersed cost phenomena that makes it hard to change many government programs.  But never-the-less I propose that we eliminate all the current Federal subsidies, mandates, and prohibitions that have been justified by climate change.  Ethanol rules and mandates, solar subsidies, wind subsidies, EV subsidies, targeted technology investments, coal plant bans, pipeline bans, drilling bans -- it all should go.  The carbon tax does the work.

States can continue to do whatever they want -- we don't need the Feds to step on states any more than they do already, and I continue to like the 50 state laboratory concept.  If California wants to continue to subsidize wind generators, let them do it.  That is between the state and its taxpayers (and for those who think the California legislature is crazy, that is what U-Haul is for).

Point 4:  Revamp our nuclear regulatory regime

As much as alternative energy enthusiasts would like to deny it, the world needs reliable, 24-hour baseload power -- and wind and solar are not going to do it (without a change in storage technology of at least 2 orders of magnitude in cost).  The only carbon-free baseload power technology that is currently viable is nuclear.

I will observe that nuclear power suffers under some of the same problems as commercial space flight -- the government helped force the technology faster than it might have grown organically on its own, which paradoxically has slowed its long-term development.  Early nuclear power probably was not ready for prime time, and the hangover from problems and perceptions of this era have made it hard to proceed even when better technologies have existed.   But we are at least 2 generations of technology past what is in most US nuclear plants.  Small air-cooled thorium reactors and other technologies exist that could provide reliable safe power for over 100 years.  I am not an expert on nuclear regulation, but it strikes me that a regime similar to aircraft safety, where a few designs are approved and used over and over makes sense.  France, which has the strongest nuclear base in the world, followed this strategy.  Using thorium could also have the advantage of making the technology more exportable, since its utility in weapons production would be limited.

Point 5: Help clean up Chinese, and Asian, coal production

One of the hard parts about fighting CO2 emissions, vs. all the other emissions we have tackled in the past (NOx, SOx, soot/particulates, unburned hydrocarbons, etc), is that we simply don't know how to combust fossil fuels without creating CO2 -- CO2 is inherent to the base chemical reaction of the combustion.  But we do know how to burn coal without tons of particulates and smog and acid rain -- and we know how to do it economically enough to support a growing, prosperous modern economy.

In my mind it is utterly pointless to ask China to limit their CO2 growth.  China has seen the miracle over the last 30 years of having almost a billion people exit poverty.  This is an event unprecedented in human history, and they have achieved it in part by burning every molecule of fossil fuels they can get their hands on, and they are unlikely to accept limitations on fossil fuel consumption that will derail this economic progress.  But I think it is reasonable to help China stop making their air unbreathable, a goal that is entirely compatible with continued economic growth.  In 20 years, when we have figured out and started to build some modern nuclear designs, I am sure the Chinese will be happy to copy these and start working on their CO2 output, but for now their Maslov hierarchy of needs should point more towards breathable air.

As a bonus, this would pay one immediate climate change benefit that likely would dwarf the near-term effect of CO2 reduction.  Right now, much of this soot from Asian coal plants lands on the ice in the Arctic and Greenland.  This black carbon changes the albedo of the ice, causing it to reflect less sunlight and absorb more heat.  The net effect is more melting ice and higher Arctic temperatures.  A lot of folks, including myself, think that the recent melting of Arctic sea ice and rising Arctic temperatures is more attributable to Asian black carbon pollution than to CO2 and greenhouse gas warming (particularly since similar warming and sea ice melting is not seen in the Antarctic, where there is not a problem with soot pollution).

Final Thoughts

At its core, this is a very low cost, even negative cost, climate insurance policy.  The carbon tax combined with a market economy does the work of identifying the most efficient ways to reduce CO2 production.   The economy benefits from the removal of a myriad of distortions and crony give-aways, while also potentially benefiting from the replacement of a consumption tax on labor with a consumption tax on fuel.  The near-term effect on CO2 is small (since the US is only a small part of the global emissions picture), but actually larger than the near-term effect of all the haphazard current programs, and almost certainly cheaper to obtain.  As an added benefit, if you can help China with its soot problem, we could see immediate improvements in probably the most visible front of man-made climate change:  in the Arctic.

For those who have hung with me this entire series, many thanks for your interest.  If you have questions, concerns, or outraged refutations, you are welcome to email me at the link above.

Government vs. Government, Gender War Edition

A while back I joked that the SJW's should stop the recent proposed rules to greatly expand corporate race and gender reporting (the current EEO-1 report) because the Feds only provide two categories (male and female) for gender.

As it turns out, this might actually be a real problem in New York

The NYCHRL [New York City Human Rights Law] requires employers[, landlords, and all businesses and professionals] to use an [employee’s, tenant’s, customer’s, or client’s] preferred name, pronoun and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs.) regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the individual’s identification.

Most individuals and many transgender people use female or male pronouns and titles. Some transgender and gender non-conforming people prefer to use pronouns other than he/him/his or she/her/hers, such as they/them/theirs or ze/hir. [Footnote: Ze and hir are popular gender-free pronouns preferred by some transgender and/or gender non-conforming individuals.] …

Examples of Violations

a. Intentional or repeated refusal to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun or title. For example, repeatedly calling a transgender woman “him” or “Mr.” after she has made clear which pronouns and title she uses …

So the Feds require me to categorize an employee as a male or female but New York makes it illegal to do so if the employee does not want to be in one of those categories.   Hmmm.

 

Minimum Wage Pits Employees vs. Customers, Not Employees vs. Management

This post earlier on the customer service downsides of the new salaried overtime rules got me thinking more broadly about the impact of minimum wage type laws.  Progressives justify such laws by saying that there is a power imbalance between management and employees, and that the government needs to have minimum wage laws to make up for the fact that employees lack power.

But from my experience in the service world, it is wrong to look at the situation as a power struggle between managers and employees.  It is much more correct to look at this as a power struggle between employees and customers.  Let me explain.

Service and retail firms tend to live on razor-thin margins.  Retailers typically live on single-digit profit margins, and those of companies like Wal-Mart are as low as 2% of revenues.  Our company in the service business has a similar experience, averaging profit margins of 3-5% of revenues over the last 10 years.

This is not an accident.  Most service and retail businesses depend on simple service-delivery models using relatively low-skilled workers.  There are many low-skilled workers in the world.  If a company were to start making huge profits with a service model using such workers, it would be easy for others to copy it and hire the same types of workers and undercut them on price.  Margins tend to get competed down to the bare minimum.

No matter how much progressives would like it to be so, when California raises its minimum wage, it probably is not going to come out of company margins, at least in the near term.  Over the 10 years from about 2013 to 2022, California will have raised its minimum wage over 87% from $8 an hour to $15.  Wages and costs like workers comp premiums that are tied to wages are about half my costs.  This means an 87% labor cost increase will increase my total costs 44%.  How is that going to come out of a 4% margin?  It is not.

There are really only two things we can do, individually or in combination.  First, we can raise prices 44%, just to try to stay even.  Of course, some customers will balk and stop buying, and then we will lose business and perhaps have to close (we have already closed over half our businesses in California for just this reason).  Or second, we could cut staff in half to keep wages under control.  Of course, this means customers get served much more poorly, which also may drive customers away.  Other companies like fast food restaurants have a third option of automation, replacing people with machines -- I wish we could do this but right now we have run out of ideas for automating bathroom cleaning and landscape work.

Hopefully, you can see what is going on here.  The real tension here is between employees and customers.  When the state mandates a minimum wage in low margin service businesses (such laws are largely irrelevant to high-margin technology companies and such), compliance is paid for by the customer, either in the form of higher prices or worse service or both.

The Customer Service Downside to the New Federal Overtime Rules

I and others have written a number of times about the many downsides to new Federal rules that will force most junior salaried managers to start punching a timeclock.

I run a service business and these rules affect us substantially.  Like many retail operations, we have hourly employees who work for a local manager who is salaried and generally earns less than the new $47,476 annual cutoff.   We are not entirely sure how we are going to comply, but in the near-term compliance will likely involve a combination of hard hour limits for managers, some devolution of manager tasks to minimum wage workers, and price increases to customers.  In the long-term, we may have to consolidate manager positions.

But there is one additional change that is almost certainly going to occur -- a reduction in customer service.  To understand why that is, you need to understand the retail and services world.

In the service world, sh*t happens.  The ice machine suddenly breaks.  An important worker just does not show up.  A customer complains that no one is cleaning the bathroom.  Because of razor thin margins, service work loads are carefully scheduled.  There simply is not a lot of slack.  So when something unusual happens, it is usually the local manager who takes up the slack.  They fix the problem, somehow, even if it means they have to clean the bathroom themselves.  Not one of my managers has bathroom cleaning as part of their duties, but every single one of them likely cleans bathrooms every month, because they are covering the performance gaps left by other employees.

When managers are subject to overtime, this changes.  We only get 40 hours a week of that person's time (at least at a reasonable rate) and so every hour must count.  Every hour must suddenly be carefully husbanded and spent only on value-added tasks, like balancing the register and merchandising the shelves.  We can't waste them on the manager covering for employee shortcomings.

So who will clean the bathroom when the employee assigned to do so fails?  Who will cover the second register when an employee just does not show up for work?  Who will expedite the ice machine replacement so customers don't have to go long without ice?  I don't know.  Maybe nobody.  Or at least nobody as long as prices charged to customers aren't raised substantially.

Postscript:  If you are not in retail or a service business, you may read this and say, "well, if you hired better workers, they would be more reliable and you wouldn't have to cover for them."  I have two responses.  First, only someone who never worked retail could say that.  People are individuals and have their own needs and lives, and those sometimes conflict with getting the job done, no matter how well we screen.

Second, let me tell a story from this last weekend when I was at the graduation ceremony for Amherst College.  Amherst could reasonably be considered among the 10 most selective schools in the nation.   It is consistently ranked as the #1 or #2 small liberal arts college in the nation.  This weekend they selected an outstanding student from this outstanding bunch to make a presentation at graduation.  In it, she told a story of never, ever being able to get to a certain class, that is held at 12:30 in the afternoon, on time.  She said she was late every single time.   This is supposedly one of the elite young people in the country who would never even consider accepting a "menial" service job with my company, but never-the-less can't get to a class on time.

Denying the Climate Catastrophe: 8. The Lukewarmer Middle Ground

This is Chapter 8 of an ongoing series.  Other parts of the series are here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Greenhouse Gas Theory
  3. Feedbacks
  4.  A)  Actual Temperature Data;  B) Problems with the Surface Temperature Record
  5. Attribution of Past Warming:  A) Arguments for it being Man-Made; B) Natural Attribution
  6. Climate Models vs. Actual Temperatures
  7. Are We Already Seeing Climate Change
  8. The Lukewarmer Middle Ground (this article)
  9. A Low-Cost Insurance Policy

In this chapter we are going to try to sum up where we are and return to our very first chapter, when I said that we would find something odd once we returned to the supposed global warming "consensus".

First, let's return to our framework one last time and try to summarize what has been said:

Slide75

I believe that this is a pretty fair representation of the median luke-warmer position.  Summarized, it would be:

  • Manmade CO2 warms the Earth, though by much less than most climate models claim because these models are assuming unrealistic levels of positive feedback that over-state future warming.  One degree C of warming, rather than four or five, is a more realistic projection of man-made warming over the next century
  • The world has certainly warmed over the last century, though by perhaps a bit less than the 0.8C in the surface temperature record due to uncorrected flaws in that record
  • Perhaps half of this past warming is due to man, the rest due to natural variability
  • There is little evidence that weather patterns are "already changing" in any measurable way from man-made warming

The statements I just wrote above, no matter how reasonable, are enough to get me and many others vilified as "deniers".  You might think that I am exaggerating -- that the denier tag is saved for folks who absolutely deny any warming effect of CO2.  But that is not the case, I can assure you from long personal experience.

The Climate Bait and Switch

Of course, the very act of attempting to shut people up who disagree with one's position on a scientific issue is, I would have thought, obviously anti-science.   The history of science is strewn with examples of the majority being totally wrong.   Even into the 1960's, for example, the 97% consensus in geology was that the continents don't move and that the few scientists who advocated for plate tectonics theory were crackpots.

But that is not how things work today.  Climate action advocates routinely look for ways to silence climate skeptics, up to and including seeking to prosecute these climate heretics and try to throw them in jail.

The reason that alarmists say they feel confident in vilifying and attempting to silence folks like myself is because they claim that the science is settled, that 97% of climate scientists believe in the consensus, and so everyone who is not on board with the consensus needs to shut up.  But what exactly is this consensus?

The 97% number first appeared in a "study" by several academics who sent out a survey to scientists with some climate change questions.  They recieved over 3146 responses, but they decided that only 77 of these respondents "counted" as climate scientists, and of these 75 of the 77 (97%) answered two questions about climate change in the affirmative.

We will get to the two questions in a second, but note already the odd study methodology.  If the other 10,000 plus people sent the survey were not the targets of the survey, why were they sent a survey in the first place?  It makes one suspicious that the study methodology was changed mid-stream to get the answer they wanted.

Anyway, what is even more fascinating is the two questions asked in the survey.  Here they are:

  1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
  2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

The 97% in this survey answered the questions "risen" and "yes".

Do you see the irony here?  If you have been following along with this series, you should be able to say how I would have answered the two questions.  I would certainly have said "risen" to 1.  The answer to question 2 is a bit hard because "significant" is not defined, but in a complex system with literally thousands of variables, I would have said one of those variables was a significant contributor at anything over about 10%.  Since I estimated man's effect on past warming around 40-50%, I would have answered "yes" to #2!  In fact, most every prominent science-based skeptic I can think of would likely have answered the same.

So you heard it right -- I and many prominent skeptics are part of the 97% consensus.  Effectively, I am being told to shut up and not continue to say what I think, in the name of a 97% consensus that represents exactly what I am saying.  This is so weird as to be almost Kafka-esque.

This is what I call the climate bait and switch.  Shaky assumptions about things like high positive feedback assumptions are defended with the near-certainty that surrounds unrelated proposition such as the operation of the greenhouse gas effect.

In fact, merely arguing about whether man-made warming exists or is "significant" falls well short of what we really need in the public policy arena.  What we really should be discussing is a proposition like this:

Is manmade CO2 causing catastrophic increases in warming and warming-driven weather effects whose costs exceed those of reducing CO2 production enough to avoid these effects?

It is about at this point when I usually have people bring up the precautionary principle.  So that I am not unfair to proponents of that principle, I will use the Wikipedia definition:

if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action that may or may not be a risk.

The principle is used by policy makers to justify discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from making a certain decision (e.g. taking a particular course of action) when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.

I believe that, as stated, this is utter madness.  I will give you an example.   Consider a vaccine that saves thousands of lives a year.  Let's say, as is typical of almost every vaccine, that it also hurts a few people, such that it may kill 1 person for every thousand it saves.  By the precautionary principle as stated, we would never have approved any vaccine, because the precautionary principle does not put any weight on avoided costs of the action.

So take fossil fuel burning.   Proponents of taking drastic action to curb fossil fuel use in the name of global warming prevention will argue that until there is an absolute consensus that burning fossil fuels is not harmful to the climate, such burning should be banned.  But it ignores the substantial, staggering, unbelievably-positive effects we have gained from fossil fuels and the technology and economy they support.

Just remember back to that corn yield chart.

Bill McKibbon wants us to stop using fossil fuels because they may cause warmer temperatures that might reduce corn yields.  But there is a near absolute certainty that dismantling the fossil fuel economy will take us back to the horrendous yields in the yellow years on this chart.  Proponents of climate action point to the possibility of warming-based problems, but miss the near certainty of problems from elimination of fossil fuels.

Over the last 30 years, something unprecedented in the history of human civilization has occurred -- an astounding number of people have exited absolute poverty.

Folks like McKibbon act like there is no downside to drastically cutting back on fossil fuel use and switching to substantially more expensive and less convenient fuels, as if protecting Exxon's profits are the only reason anyone would possibly oppose such a measure.  But the billion or so people who have exited poverty of late have done so by burning every bit of fossil fuels than can obtain, and never would have been able to do so in such numbers had such an inexpensive fuel option not been available.  We in the West could likely afford having to pay $50 a month more for fuel, but what of the poor of the world?

Perhaps this will give one an idea of how central inexpensive fossil fuels are to well-being.  This is a chart from World Bank data plotting each country based on their per capital CO2 production and their lifespan.

Slide79

As you can see, there is a real, meaningful relationship between CO2 production and life expectancy.  In fact, each 10x increase in CO2 production is correlated with 10 years of additional life expectancy.  Of course, this relationship is not direct -- CO2 itself does not have health benefits (if one is not a plant).  But burning more CO2 is a byproduct of a growing technological economy, which leads to greater wealth and life expectancy.

The problem, then, is not that we shouldn't consider the future potential costs and risks of climate change, but that we shouldn't consider them in a vaccuum without also considering the costs of placing severe artificial limits on inexpensive fossil fuels.

Slide78

People often say to me that climate action is an insurance policy -- and they ask me, "you buy insurance, don't you?"   My answer invariably is, "yes, I buy insurance, but not when the cost of the policy is greater than the risk being insured against."

As it turns out, there is an approach we can take in this country to creating a low-cost insurance policy against the risks that temperature sensitivity to CO2 is higher than I have estimated in this series.  I will outline that plan in my final chapter.

Here is Chapter 9:  A Low-Cost Insurance Policy

If Bernie Sanders and His Supporters Get Their Way, This Would Be the Food Line

Update:  Food lines in socialist Venezuela

Progressives are going to try to memory-hole their support for Chavez and Venezuela, but don't you forget that most prominent progressives were enthusiastic supporters of the imposition of socialism by Chavez in Venezuela.  It is only now, when its predictable failures are becoming too obvious even for the American media to ignore, that progressives have gone silent on Venezuela.  Give them a few years and they will likely develop a meme that this was some sort of failure of free markets.

Beautiful Video, But It Gives Me the Shakes Just Looking At It

Appliances: Apparently the Last Bastion for Bricks and Mortar Retail

Sears is opening an all-appliance store:

Sears, which has been struggling financially due to falling sales, is opening a store that will be dedicated solely to the sale of appliances.

The retailer says that the 10,000 square foot store opening in Ft. Collins, Colorado on May 19th will be its first solely featuring appliances, the product category that has been one of its core businesses.  .

“Appliances is one of our best categories,’’ said Leena Munjal. senior vice president, customer experience and integrated retail, for Sears Holdings.  “We’re trying to figure out how you take the physical store and complement it with the online capability to make it a really powerful experience for our customers.’’

I essentially predicted this here several years ago:

 I see the same thing now at Best Buy, with workout equipment and other oddball products.  I told my son on a visit a year ago to Best Buy to expect to see the a larger appliance selection next time we visit.  He asked why, and I said "because Wal-Mart does not generally sell them, and not a lot of people buy their large appliances at Amazon."  Sure enough, you see more appliances nowadays.

And here:

But it probably was no accident that the article was illustrated with this picture:

What don't you see there?  CD's, DVD's, speakers, DVD players, computer games and most of the other stuff that used to make up a lot of Best Buy's floor space.  Because they have already been demolished by online retailers in those categories.   The picture above is of appliances, one of the few high dollar categories that has not migrated to the web.   Go to Best Buy and you will see appliances, health equipment, and TV's, all categories where bricks and mortar stores have some advantages over online.

This makes perfect sense, but don't tell me Best Buy is ready to take on the online retailers.  They are bobbing and weaving, ducking this competition wherever they can.

I wrote specifically about the Sears appliance business here

The First Good Argument I Have Heard for Electing Trump

Walter Olson paraphrasing Paul Horwitz

...mainstream law professors would develop a sudden, strange new respect for constitutional law concepts such as separation of powers and federalism, which tend to serve as checks on the power and ambition of the President and his backers.

Why Don't Progressives Use Their Power as Hedge Fund Customers to Challenge Hedge Fund Compensation?

Kevin Drum observes that the top 25 hedge fund managers earned $13 billion in total, including one hapless dude who made $250 million despite losing money and shutting down the fund.

I will say that I have always scratched my head over asset manager compensation.  The tradition is that they get paid as a percentage of assets managed, sometimes with a percentage of the profits as well but never taking a percentage of the losses.   Perhaps this made some sense with smaller pools of money, but today with huge pools of money, the same old percentages yield ludicrous compensation results.  I certainly understand why the managers would defend this compensation scheme, but why do customers accept it?

This reminds me of real estate broker compensation.  The tradition when I grew up is that the seller paid 6%, about half of which went to the seller's broker and half to the buyer's broker.  For years that 6% was etched in stone and no one broke ranks -- the agents were pretty good at maintaining the cartel, and the government helped by putting the force of law behind broker licensing that helped keep the agent supply down.  But as home prices kept increasing, people started noticing that while 6% of $100,000 may have made some sense as reasonable compensation, 6% of $2 million was absurd, especially since a $2 million home was not even close to 20x harder to sell.   So people, initially savvy high net worth folks, and later everyone, began negotiating the 6%.  I have negotiated this number on every home I have sold since the mid-1990s.

I am not really knowledgeable about the asset management business -- in some sense I have negotiated my commission by choosing to put all my money in low-fee Vanguard funds.  How does the asset management business hold the line on fees, particularly when they are in a business where it is so easy to measure their relative performance, and presumably pay them based on this performance?

Which got me to thinking about the customers of hedge funds.  Aren't many of these customers progressive or controlled by progressives?  Hedge funds have been very successful marketing to university endowments, non-profit foundations, and public pension funds -- aren't these institutions often controlled by progressives, or at least left-liberals?  Aren't a disproportionate share of the very high net worth Hollywood and billionaire types who invest in hedge funds also progressive or liberal?  Heck, Hillary Clinton's son-in-law ran a hedge fund until recently.  So why don't these folks get together and instead of worrying about whether their portfolios are invested in Israel or Exxon or some other progressive bette noir, why don't they agree to a set of principles as to how they are going to pay for their asset management services in the future, and stick to these?  I say that progressives should get together, because they are politically passionate about this, but I can't think of any good reason why good libertarians or conservatives wouldn't happily join in to reduce their fees.

I understand that to the extent that there are black swan hedge funds that beat the market year in and year out, these folks will be hard to challenge as they can probably write their own terms.  But for the other 99% of hedge funds, why not use the power progressives already have as customers before we start talking about various government hammers.

PS-  I will put my two cents in.  I think the new Mother Jones site design is awful.

Dumbest Thing I Have Seen Written in A Long While, Courtesy of Douglas Ruchkoff

Thanks to Don Boudreax for the quote, this is from Douglas Rushkoff’s new (apparently execrable) book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.

The same goes for agriculture, textiles, and many other sectors where returning to local, human-scaled enterprise will lead to less worker exploitation and environmental damage while producing better, healthier products.  Nonindustrial practices may be more labor-intensive, but they’re also better for us all.  For those of us used to white-collar jobs, the idea of growing vegetables or making clothes may seem like a big step backward toward more menial labor.  But consider for a moment the sorts of activities the wealthiest Americans or most satisfied retirees engage in enthusiastically: brewing craft beers, knitting, and gardening.  If there’s really not enough work to go around and there are so many extra people to employ, we can always farm in shifts.

My response to anyone who told me this:  You first.  Ugh, this would be a one-way ticket to poverty and starvation.  Ghandi had this same idea for India, and if he had had his way the poverty would have been even more mind-blowing than what actually obtained.

Gruber & Rhodes: Lying Politicians Are Old News, But Bragging About it Seems To Be An Obama Innovation

Does Ben Rhodes victory lap bragging about how he pulled the wool over the eyes of a stupid and gullible America on Iran remind anyone else of Jonathon Gruber?  Remember these famous words from Gruber?

"You can't do it political, you just literally cannot do it. Transparent financing and also transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that," Gruber said. "In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical to get for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not."

Even the justification is the same -- its OK to break the law and lie about it in order to break up gridlock.  (By the way, my mother-in-law -- who tends to be a reliable gauge of mainstream Democratic thinking -- argued the same thing with me, that extra-Constitutional Presidential actions were justified if Congress did not accomplish enough.   Asked about whether she was comfortable with the same power in a Trump administration, she was less sanguine about the idea).

While political lying is old as time, it strikes me that this bragging about it is a new phenomena.  It reminds me of the end of the movie "Wag the Dog", when the Dustin Hoffman character refused to accept that no one would ever know how he manipulated the public into believing there had been a war, and wanted to publicly take the credit.  In the movie, the Administration had Hoffman's character knocked off, because it was counter-productive to reveal the secret, but I wonder if in reality Obama is secretly pleased.

Our Permission-Based Economy

The decline in new business formation in this country shouldn't be a surprise -- in industry after industry, numerous bits of government permission are needed to proceed with a new idea into a new market.  If, like Uber, you plow ahead ignoring these roadblocks, you will likely spend the rest of your life in court (as does Uber).

I thought about all this when reading this article on awesome portable automated systems that can maintain a person's insulin level.  What an amazing advance in safety and life quality for people!  The part that struck me was this line from a woman when she first saw one:

Sarah Howard became interested after she met Ms. Lewis last year. “My first question was: Was it legal?” said the 49-year-old, who has Type 1 diabetes, as does one of her two sons. “I didn’t want to do anything illegal.”

It is pathetic that this is the first reaction of Americans when they see an awesome new innovation.  And it turns out that she is right to worry.  Because if one avails oneself of the normal division of labor, in other words if one lets someone more expert to build the device or program it, then it is illegal.  Only if one downloads all the specs from the Internet and builds and programs it oneself is this fabulous device legal.

The only restriction of the project is users have to put the system together on their own. Ms. Lewis and other users offer advice, but it is each one’s responsibility to know how to troubleshoot. A Bay Area cardiologist is teaching himself software programming to build one for his 1-year-old daughter who was diagnosed in March.

This is roughly the equivalent of having to go fell a tree and mine graphite in order to makes one's own pencils.  It is simply stupid.   All because the government will not let us make our own decisions about the risks we want to take with medical products.  So if you don't have the skills or the time to put one together, you can wait 5 or 10 years for the FDA to get around to approving a professionally-made version.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, who by the title of his post obviously also saw the I, Pencil analogy.

Update:  I give it 12 months before someone at the FDA demands that these home-made devices be regulated, and at least registered with the government.  I wonder if in 10 years the government will be demanding registration of 3D printers?  After all, they potentially incredibly empowering to individuals and can let folks work around various product bans like this.   Exactly the kind of empowerment that government hates.

2016 Presidential Election: Battle of the Crony Capitalists

I am not sure that many politicians are good on this score, but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are likely as bad as it gets on crony capitalism.  Forget their policy positions, which are steeped in government interventionism in the economy, but just look at their personal careers.  Each have a long history of taking advantage of political power to enrich themselves and their business associates.  I am not sure what Cruz meant when he said "New York values", but both Trump and Clinton are steeped in the New York political economy, where one builds a fortune through political connections rather than entrepreneurial vigor.   Want to build a new parking lot next to your casino or start up a new energy firm -- you don't bother with private investors or arms length transactions, you go to the government.

With that in mind, I particularly liked Don Buudreaux's quote of the day:

First, we labor under a ubiquitous threat of being shackled by crony capitalists.  [Adam] Smith wondered how internally stable a free market could be in the face of a tendency for its political infrastructure to decay into crony capitalism.  (The phrase “crony capitalism” is not Smith’s.  I use it to refer to various of Smith’s targets: mercantilists who lobby for tariffs and other trade barriers, monopolists who pay kings for a license to be free from competition altogether, and so on.)  Partnerships between big business and big government lead to big subsidies, monopolistic licensing practices, and tariffs.  These ways of compromising freedom have been and always will be touted as protecting the middle class, but their true purpose is (and almost always will be) to transfer wealth and power from ordinary citizens to well-connected elites

Dear Republicans, Could We Get A Little Consistency?

Republicans were rightly horrified that various government agencies, including a number of state attorneys general, were harassing private entities like Exxon-Mobil and CEI over their speech about climate change.  They pointed out that even if formal charges were never brought, the intrusive and public investigatory process by powerful government actors had an inherently chilling effect on free speech.

Kudos to Republicans!  They are defending the free speech of private actors from government harassment.

Oh, wait, no they are not.

The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee demanded on Tuesday that Facebook explain how it handles news articles in its “trending” list, responding to a report that staff members hadintentionally suppressed articles from conservative sources.

In a letter, the chairman, Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, asked Facebook to describe the steps it was taking to investigate the claims and to provide any records about articles that its news curators had excluded or added. Mr. Thune also asked directly whether the curators had “in fact manipulated the content,” something Facebook denied in a statement on Monday.

“If there’s any level of subjectivity associated with it, or if, as reports have suggested that there might have been, an attempt to suppress conservative stories or keep them from trending and get other stories out there, I think it’s important for people to know that,” Mr. Thune told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s just a matter of transparency and honesty, and there shouldn’t be any attempt to mislead the American public.”

Ugh.  What does Thune want, a revival of odious equal time rules, but now applied to the Internet?  This is just stupid.

Denying the Climate Catastrophe: 7. Are We Already Seeing Climate Change?

This is Chapter 7 of an ongoing series.  Other parts of the series are here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Greenhouse Gas Theory
  3. Feedbacks
  4.  A)  Actual Temperature Data;  B) Problems with the Surface Temperature Record
  5. Attribution of Past Warming:  A) Arguments for it being Man-Made; B) Natural Attribution
  6. Climate Models vs. Actual Temperatures
  7. Are We Already Seeing Climate Change (this article)
  8. The Lukewarmer Middle Ground
  9. A Low-Cost Insurance Policy

Note:  This is by far the longest chapter, and could have been 10x longer without a lot of aggressive editing.  I have chosen not to break it into two pieces.  Sorry for the length.  TL;DR:  The vast majority of claims of current climate impacts from CO2 are grossly exaggerated or even wholly unsupported by the actual data.  The average quality of published studies in this area is very low compared to other parts of climate science.

Having discussed the theory and reality of man-made warming, we move in this chapter to what is often called "climate change" -- is manmade warming already causing adverse changes in the climate?

click to enlarge

This is a peculiarly frustrating topic for a number of reasons.

First, everyone who discusses climate change automatically assumes the changes will be for the worse.  But are they?  The Medieval Warm Period, likely warmer than today, was a period of agricultural plenty and demographic expansion (at least in Europe) -- it was only the end of the warm period that brought catastrophe, in the form of famine and disease.  As the world warms, are longer growing seasons in the colder parts of the northern hemisphere really so bad, and why is it no one ever mentions such positive offsets?

The second frustrating issues is that folks increasingly talk about climate change as if it were a direct result of CO2, e.g. CO2 is somehow directly worsening hurricanes.  This is in part just media sloppiness, but it has also been an explicit strategy, re-branding global warming as climate change during the last 20 years when global temperatures were mostly flat.  So it is important to make this point:  There is absolutely no mechanism that has been suggested by anyone wherein CO2 can cause climate change except through the intermediate step of warming.  CO2 causes warming, which then potentially leads to changes in weather.  If CO2 is only causing incremental warming, then it likely is only causing incremental changes to other aspects of the climate.   (I will note as an aside that man certainly has changed the climate through mechanisms other than CO2, but we will not discuss these.  A great example is land use.  Al Gore claimed the snows of Kilimanjaro are melting because of global warming, but in fact it is far more likely they are receding due to precipitation changes as a result of deforestation of Kilimanjaro's slopes.)

Finally, and perhaps the most frustrating issue, is that handling claims of various purported man-made changes to the climate has become an endless game of "wack-a-mole".  It is almost impossible to keep up with the myriad claims of things that are changing (always for the worse) due to CO2.  One reason that has been suggested for this endless proliferation of dire predictions is that if one wants to study the mating habits of the ocelot, one may have trouble getting funding, but funding is available in large quantities if you re-brand your study as the effect of climate change on the mating habits of the ocelot.  It is the unusual weather event or natural phenomenon (Zika virus!) that is not blamed by someone somewhere on man-made climate change.

As a result, this section could be near-infinitely long.  To avoid that, and to avoid a quickly tedious series of charts labelled "hurricanes not up", "tornadoes not up", etc., I want to focus more on the systematic errors that lead to the false impression that we are seeing man-made climate changes all around us.

click to enlarge

We will start with publication bias, which I would define as having a trend in the reporting of a type of an event mistaken for a trend in the underlying events itself.  Let's start with a classic example from outside climate, the "summer of the shark".

The media hysteria began in early July, 2001, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks’ news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening — that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various “experts” as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem — there was no sharp increase in attacks. In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks. However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks. The data showed that 2001 actually was a down year for shark attacks.  The increased media coverage of shark attacks was mistaken for an increase in shark attacks themselves.

Hopefully the parallel with climate reporting is obvious.  Whereas a heat wave in Moscow was likely local news only 30 years ago, now it is an international story that is tied, in every broadcast, to climate change.  Every single tail-of-the-distribution weather event from around the world is breathlessly reported, leaving the impression among viewers that more such events are occurring, even when there is in fact no such trend.   Further, since weather events can drive media ratings, there is  an incentive to make them seem scarier:

When I grew up, winter storms were never named.  It was just more snow in Buffalo, or wherever.  Now, though, we get "Winter Storm Saturn: East Coast Beast."  Is the weather really getting scarier, or just the reporting?

click to enlarge

The second systematic error is not limited to climate, and is so common I actually have a category on my blog called "trend that is not a trend".   There is a certain chutzpah involved in claiming a trend when it actually does not exist in the data, but such claims occur all the time.  In climate, a frequent variation on this failure is the claiming of a trend from a single data point -- specifically, a tail-of-the-distribution weather event will be put forward as "proof" that climate is changing, ie that there is a trend to the worse somehow in the Earth's climate.

The classic example was probably just after Hurricane Katrina.  In a speech in September of 2005 in San Francisco, Al Gore told his Sierra Club audience that not only was Katrina undoubtedly caused by man-made global warming, but that it was the harbinger of a catastrophic onslaught of future such hurricanes.     In fact, though, there is no upward trend in Hurricane activity.   2005 was a high but not unprecedented year for hurricanes.  An Katrina was soon followed by a long and historic lull in North American hurricane activity.

Counting hurricane landfalls is a poor way to look at hurricanes.  A better way is to look at the total energy of hurricanes and cyclones globally.  And as you can see, the numbers are cyclical (as every long-time hurricane observer could have told Mr. Gore) but without any trend:

In fact, the death rates from severe weather have been dropping throughout the last century at the same time CO2 levels have been rising

Of course, it is likely that increasing wealth and better technology are responsible for much of this mitigation, rather than changes in underlying weather patterns, but this is still relevant to the debate -- many proposed CO2 abatement plans would have the effect of slowing growth in the developing world, leaving them more vulnerable to weather events.   I have argued for years that the best way to fight weather deaths is to make the world rich, not to worry about 1 hurricane more or less.

Droughts are another event where the media quickly finds someone to blame the event on man-made climate change and declare that this one event is proof of a trend.  Bill McKibben tweeted about drought and corn yields many times in 2012, for example:

It turns out that based on US government data, the 2012 drought was certainly severe but no worse than several other droughts of the last 50 years (negative numbers represent drought).

There is no upward trend at all (in fact a slightly downward trend that likely is not statistically significant) in dry weather in the US

McKibben blamed bad corn yields in 2012 on man-made global warming, and again implied that one year's data point was indicative of a trend

US corn yields indeed were down in 2012, but still higher than at any time they had been since 1995.

It is worth noting the strong upward trend in corn yields from 1940 to today, at the same time the world has supposedly experienced unprecedented man-made warming.   I might also point out the years in yellow, which were grown prior to the strong automation of farming via the fossil fuel economy.  Bill McKibben hates fossil fuels, and believes they should be entirely eliminated.  If so, he also must "own" the corn yields in yellow.  CO2-driven warming has not inhibited corn yields, but having McKibben return us to a pre-modern economy certainly would.

Anyway, as you might expect, corn yields after 2012 return right back to trend and continue to hit new records.  2012 did not represent a new trend, it was simply one bad year.

I think most folks would absolutely swear, from media coverage, that the US is seeing more new high temperatures set and an upward trend in heat waves.  But it turns out neither is the case.

Obviously, one has to be careful with this analysis.  Many temperature stations in the US Historical Climate Network have only been there for  20 or 30 years, so their all time high at that station for any given day is, by definition, going to be in the last 20 or 30 years.  But if one looks at temperature stations with many years of data, as done above, we can see there has been no particular uptick in high temperature records and in fact a disproportionate number of our all-time local records were set in the 1930's.

While there has been a small uptick in heat waves over the last 10-20 years, it is trivial compared to the heat of the 1930's

Looking at it a different way, there is no upward trend in 100 degree (Fahrenheit) days...

Or even 110 degree days.  Again, the 1930's were hot, long before man-made CO2 could possibly have made them so

Why, one might ask, don't higher average global temperatures translate into more day-time high temperature records?  Well, we actually gave the answer back in Chapter 4A, but as a reminder, much of the warming we have seen has occurred at night, raising the nighttime lows without as much affect on daytime highs, so we are seeing more record nighttime high Tmin's than we have in much of the last century without seeing more record daytime Tmax temperatures:

We could go on all day with examples of claiming a trend from a single data point.  Watch for it yourself.  But for now let's turn to a third category

We can measure things much more carefully and accurately than we could in the past.  This is a good thing, except when we are trying to compare the past to the present.  In a previous chapter, we showed a count of sunspots, and databases of sunspot counts go all the way back into the early 18th century.  Were telescopes in 1716 able to see all the sunspots we can see in 2016?  Or might an upward trend in sunspot counts be biased by our better ability today to detect small ones?

A great example of this comes, again, from Al Gore's movie in which Gore claimed that tornadoes were increasing and man-made global warming was the cause.  He was working with this data:

This certainly looks scary.  Tornadoes have increased by a factor of 5 or 6!  But if you look at the NOAA web site, right under this chart, there is a big warning that ways to beware of this data.  With doppler radar and storm chasers and all kinds of other new measurement technologies, we can detect smaller tornadoes that were not counted in the 1950's.  The NOAA is careful to explain that this chart is biased by changes in measurement technology.  If one looks only at larger tornadoes we were unlikely to miss in the 1950's, there is no upward trend, and in fact there may be a slightly declining trend.

That, of course, does not stop nearly every person in the media from blaming global warming whenever there is an above-average tornado year

Behind nearly every media story about "abnormal" weather or that the climate is somehow "broken" is an explicit assumption that we know what "normal" is.  Do we?

We have been keeping systematic weather records for perhaps 150 years, and have really been observing the climate in detail for perhaps 30 years.  Many of our best tools are space-based and obviously only have 20-30 years of data at most.  Almost no one thinks we have been able to observe climate in depth through many of its natural cycles, so how do we know exactly what is normal?  Which year do we point to and say, "that was the normal year, that was the benchmark"?

One good example of this is glaciers.  Over the last 30 years, most (but not all) major glaciers around the world have retreated, leading to numerous stories blaming this retreat on man-made warming.  But one reason that glaciers have retreated over the last 50 years is that they were also retreating the 50 years before that and the 50 years before that:

In fact, glaciers have been retreating around the world since the end of the Little Ice Age (I like to date it to 1812, with visions of Napoleon's army freezing in Russia, but that is of course arbitrary).

A while ago President Obama stood in front of an Alaskan glacier and blamed its retreat on man.  But at least one Alaskan glacier in the area has been mapped for centuries, and has been retreating for centuries:

As you can see, from a distance perspective, most of the retreat actually occurred before 1900.  If one wants to blame the modern retreat of these glaciers on man, one is left with the uncomfortable argument that natural forces drove the retreat until about 1950, at which point the natural forces stopped just in time for man-made effects to take over.

Melting ice is often linked to sea level rise, though interestingly net ice melting contributes little to IPCC forecasts of sea level rises due to expected offsets with ice building in Antarctica -- most forecast sea level rise comes from the thermal expansion of water in the oceans.  And of course, the melting arctic sea ice that makes the news so often contributes nothing to sea level rise (which is why your water does not overflow your glass when the ice melts).

But the story for rising sea levels is the same as with glacier retreats -- the seas have been rising for much longer than man has been burning fossil fuels in earnest, going back to about the same 1812 start point:

Slide132

There is some debate about manual corrections added to more recent data (that should sound familiar to those reading this whole series) but recent sea level rise seems to be no more than 3 mm per year.  At most, recent warming has added perhaps 1 mm a year to the natural trend, or about 4 inches a century.

Our last failure mode is again one I see much more widely than just in climate.  Whether the realm is economics or climate or human behavior, the media loves to claim that incredibly complex, multi-variable systems are in fact driven by a single variable, and -- who'd have thunk it -- that single variable happens to fit with their personal pet theory.

With all the vast complexity of the climate, are we really to believe that every unusual weather event is caused by a 0.013 percentage point change (270 ppm to 400 ppm) in the concentration of one atmospheric gas?

Let me illustrate this in another way.  The NOAA not only publishes a temperature anomaly (which we have mostly been using in all of our charts) but they take a shot at coming up with an average temperature for the US.   The following chart uses their data for the monthly average of Tmax (the daily high at all locations), Tmin (the daily low for all locations) and Tavg (generally the average of Tmin and Tmax).

 

Note that even the average temperatures vary across a range of 40F through the seasons and years.  If one includes the daily high and low, the temperatures vary over a range of nearly 70F.  And note that this is the average for all the US over a month.  If we were to look at the range of daily temperatures across the breath of locations, we would see numbers that varied from well into the negative numbers to over 110.

The point of all this is that temperatures vary naturally a lot.  Now look at the dotted black line.  That is the long-term trend in the average, trending slightly up (since we know that average temperatures have risen over the last century).  The slope of that line, around 1F per century for the US, is virtually indistinguishable.   It is tiny, tiny, tiny compared to the natural variation of the averages.

The point of this is not that small increases in the average don't matter, but that it is irrational to blame every tail-of-the-distribution temperature event on man-made warming, since no matter how large we decide that number has been, its trivial compared to the natural variation we see in temperatures.

OK, I know that was long, but this section was actually pretty aggressively edited even to get it this short.  For God sakes, we didn't even mention polar bears (the animals that have already survived through several ice-free inter-glacial periods but will supposedly die if we melt too much ice today).  But its time to start driving towards a conclusion, which we will do in our next chapter.

Chapter 8, summarizing the lukewarmer middle ground, is here.

The Emergence of Traffic Jams

This is something I have long suspected.  A short unexpected braking from one care propagates into a small traffic jam.   Reminds me of waves propagating in a flowing fluid.  Does traffic have a Reynolds number?

via Twisted Sifter

To All The Folks In the Past Who Told Me I Was Wasting My Vote When I Voted For Libertarian Presidential Candidates:

Do you still feel that way?

My New Speaker Project

Long-timer readers will know that one of my hobbies is building my own speakers.  I built three big ones to go behind my home theater projection screen, and various pairs for music around the house.  The first time I built speakers, I worked exactly from plans.  The second time I customized a design.   The third time I designed from scratch, but they were small simple bookshelf speakers.

This new project is something else.   I started almost completely from scratch, beginning only from this academic article on curved line arrays.  From space and wife-acceptance-factor reasons, I couldn't build a floor to ceiling traditional line array, so I thought I would try this approach.  The height of the speakers was capped by some geography issues in the room they are going in.

So here is what the boxes look like so far.  The rectangular openings are for PT2C-8 planar tweeters, and the round ones are for the ND90-8 mid/bass.  Despite the small size of the bass drivers, the ones chosen actually go pretty deep and the speaker box models (there are lots of free programs out there) with pretty good bass, though I will have it crossed over to a subwoofer as well.  The speaker actually curves upwards more than it looks like in the photo -- the angle of the photo distorts it some.  The curve is actually between 25 and 30 degrees.

It turns out that things I thought would be really hard were actually easy.  For example, getting the nice curve on the face was easy once I changed my plan to layering several 1/4 inch sheets rather than trying to bend a 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch sheet of mdf.  The rectangular holes are not that straight but the drivers have wide flanges that will cover that up.  The round holes were made WAY easier with this type of hole saw (which rather than teeth has three or four little carbide router bits that do the cutting).

What was hard was the paint.  It was all done with rattle cans, I don't have any professional spray equipment.   I have no idea when I decided to try to get a piano black gloss finish on this, but I will tell you now that life is too short to try to get this finish on mdf.  If you look really closely you can see a few spots where I should have sanded yet again and re-coated, but I finally called it done.  The worse problem was that I accidentally started with a Rustoleum lacquer.  It covers beautifully but dries really, really slowly.  Any other paint type will make a mess if sprayed over lacquer, so I was stuck with it unless I wanted to strip it off and start over (which in retrospect would have been a good decision).   Painting this has been going on for months, with frequent long breaks to let things fully dry.  I am still not sure the finish is really as hard as it should be and am paranoid about bumping it into anything.  It looks good, though, almost startling when people see it for the first time.

Anyway, the next step is installing the drivers.  Part of the academic paper discussed tapering the volume on the various drivers.  This requires some simple resistor networks (L-pads) to attenuate each driver by a certain amount.  Here are the drivers once all the resistors are soldered (on the back, so largely invisible here), shown while I am testing the network.  The laptop is setting the parameters in the digital crossover, which uses a kit I built from miniDSP.  The MiniDSP board also has parametric equalizers so when the speakers are finished, I can fine-tune the frequency response.

You can actually see the first driver installed on the lower right.

Here is where we get to the world-class screw-up on my part.  The #1 thing I learned in speaker design is to brace the hell out of them.  You don't want anything flexing.  Unfortunately, I was stupid enough to put the braces in early.  This is fine for the rectangular ribbon tweeters, they install from the front.  But the round mid-basses install from the back, and  this is what that looks like -- the unpainted panels with the holes in it are the braces, and then you can see the actual driver hole in the front of the speaker behind it:

 

I had this thing up on my bathroom counter so I could see the driver positioning in the mirror.  I then had to reach hands through these braces while using a screwdriver with a 12 inch extension.  A total contortion act, but I got the hardest one done so I am confident I can do the rest.

Coyote, Why All the Climate Stuff Suddenly?

Over the last several weeks, you have seen a series of posts on climate, and completing them has dominated much of my blogging time.  There are two or three chapters left to post.

This does not mean that I am shifting my attention on this blog to doing mostly climate.  In fact, if anything, it means perhaps the opposite.   I find the climate debate increasingly boring.  I don't think the arguments going on today are really much different than those that were going on five years ago.  So I have decided to try to get my current thinking on the topic online in an organized way, and then I likely will move on from the topic for a while.   I will still give presentations on it, and certainly will blog on the current efforts by AG's to use the force of government to suppress one side of the debate, but I have other things I would like to dig into more.

Matt Yglesias Summarizes the Public Parks Opportunity in One Paragraph

A two-fer!  This is from Yglesias's very good article on passenger rail also quoted in the previous post.  In discussing why Amtrak is generally uninterested in making incremental improvements on the Northeast Corridor, he writes:

The way Amtrak is currently set up, there's no real incentive to undertake incremental improvements. The Northeast Corridor already generates an operating profit, which simply defrays losses elsewhere in the system. Making it run better doesn't generate any wins for the people who would have to do the work, and would plausibly just lead Congress to reduce subsidies. If the NEC were spun off as an independent entity — perhaps even a private company — then it could internalize the gains from improved service and seek private financing to make cost-effective investments.

Long-time readers will know that my company privatizes the operation (but not the ownership) of public parks.  I will make two-hour presentations to parks agencies about how we can improve operations quality while cutting costs by 30-50% or more, and the near-universal response is, "well, if you reduce costs, then the legislature will just reduce our appropriations."  More efficient park operations, and at the margin better visitor service, don't create any wins for agency employees given their incentives.  In fact, if the parks are improved and more people show up, their job is just harder.  I had the manager of Arizona's premier state park tell me, absolutely in all seriousness, that he had the best job in the world if it wasn't for all the visitors.  Can you imagine a McDonald's franchise manager saying that?   As I have always said, government is not populated with bad people, it is populated with perfectly normal people who have terrible incentives.

When agencies choose how to spend incremental funds, they will almost always try to route these to the agency staff, in the form of more headcount and/or more pay.  When money is actually spent to make investments in the parks themselves, projects are chosen not by return on investment or customer priorities, but based on which ones will create the most prestige for the agency and its leaders.  This latter is one reason the Washington Metro is the mess it is, as the agency and the politicians who make appropriations will always prioritize system expansions over capital maintenance and sensible incremental improvements.

The US Has The Best Rail System in the World, and Matt Yglesias Actually Pointed Out the Reason

Yglesias has a very good article on why passenger rail is not a bigger deal in the US.   In it, he says this (emphasis added):

Instead the issue is that the dismal failure of US passenger rail is in large part the flip side of the success of US freight rail. America's railroads ship a dramatically larger share of total goods than their European peers. And this is no coincidence. Outside of the Northeast Corridor, the railroad infrastructure is generally owned by freight companies — Amtrak is just piggybacking on the spare capacity.

It is a short article, so it does not go into more depth than this, but I have actually gone further than this and argued that the US freight-dominated rail system is actually far greener and more sensible than the European passenger system.  As I wrote years ago at Forbes:

The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital.  It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies.    And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world.  It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s).  But here is the real key:  it is almost all freight.

As a percentage, far more freight moves in the US by rail (vs. truck) than almost any other country in the world.  Europe and Japan are not even close.  Specifically, about 40% of US freight moves by rail, vs. just 10% or so in Europe and less than 5% in Japan.   As a result, far more of European and Japanese freight jams up the highways in trucks than in the United States.  For example, the percentage of freight that hits the roads in Japan is nearly double that of the US.

You see, passenger rail is sexy and pretty and visible.  You can build grand stations and entertain visiting dignitaries on your high-speed trains.  This is why statist governments have invested so much in passenger rail — not to be more efficient, but to awe their citizens and foreign observers.

But there is little efficiency improvement in moving passengers by rail vs. other modes.   Most of the energy consumed goes into hauling not the passengers themselves, but the weight of increasingly plush rail cars.  Trains have to be really, really full all the time to make for a net energy savings for high-speed rail vs. cars or even planes, and they seldom are full.  I had a lovely trip on the high speed rail last summer between London and Paris and back through the Chunnel — especially nice because my son and I had the rail car entirely to ourselves both ways.

The real rail efficiency comes from moving freight.  As compared to passenger rail, more of the total energy budget is used moving the actual freight rather than the cars themselves.  Freight is far more efficient to move by rail than by road, but only the US moves a substantial amount of its freight by rail.    One reason for this is that freight and high-speed passenger traffic have a variety of problems sharing the same rails, so systems that are optimized for one tend to struggle serving the other.

Freight is boring and un-sexy.  Its not a government function in the US.  So intellectuals tend to ignore it, even though it is the far more important, from and energy and environmental standpoint, portion of transport to put on the rails. ....

I would argue that the US has the world’s largest commitment to rail where it really matters.  But that is what private actors do, make investments that actually make sense rather than just gain one prestige (anyone know the most recent company Warren Buffet has bought?)  The greens should be demanding that the world emulate us, rather than the other way around.  But the lure of shiny bullet trains and grand passenger concourses will always cause some intellectuals to swoon.

Which would you rather pounding down the highway, more people on vacation or more big trucks moving freight?  Without having made an explicit top-down choice at all, the US has taken the better approach.

Denying the Climate Catastrophe: 6. Climate Models vs. Actual Temperatures

This is Chapter 6 of an ongoing series.  Other parts of the series are here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Greenhouse Gas Theory
  3. Feedbacks
  4.  A)  Actual Temperature Data;  B) Problems with the Surface Temperature Record
  5. Attribution of Past Warming:  A) Arguments for it being Man-Made; B) Natural Attribution
  6. Climate Models vs. Actual Temperatures (this article)
  7. Are We Already Seeing Climate Change
  8. The Lukewarmer Middle Ground
  9. A Low-Cost Insurance Policy

In some sense, this is perhaps the most important chapter, the climax of all the discussion to this point.  It is where we return to climate forecasts and attempt to conclude whether forecasts of catastrophic levels of man-made warming are reasonable.  So let's take a step back and see where we are.

Here is the framework we have been working with -- we have walked through in earlier chapters both the "theory" and "observation" sections, ending most recently in chapter 5 with a discussion of how much past warming can be attributed to man.

It is important to remember why we embarked on the observation section.  We ended the theory section with a range of future temperature forecasts, from the modest to the catastrophic, based on differing sensitivities of temperature to CO2 which were in turn largely based on varying assumptions about positive feedback effects in the climate.

Slide17

We concluded at the time that there was not much more we could go with pure theory in differentiating between these forecasts, that we had to consult actual observations to validate or invalidate these forecasts.

We've already done one such analysis when we made two comparisons back in Chapter 4.  We showed that temperatures had risen over the last 30 years by only a third to a half the rate projected by James Hanson to Congress...

click to enlarge

And that even the IPCC admitted in its last report that temperatures were running below or at best at the very low end of past forecast bands

But in the grand scheme of things, even 30 years is a pretty short time frame to discuss climate changes.  Remember that in my own attribution attempt in Chapter 5, I posited an important 66 year decadal cycle, and past temperature reconstructions imply other cycles that are centuries and millennia long.

But there is a way we can seek confirmation of climate forecasts using over 100 years of past temperature data.  Let's take our forecast chart we showed above and give ourselves a bit more space on the graph by expanding the timescale:

click to enlarge

Here is the key insight that is going to help us evaluate the forecasts:  each forecast represents an actual, physical relationship between changes in CO2 concentrations and changes in temperature.  If such a relationship is to hold in the future, it also has to be valid in the past.  So we can take each of these different forecasts for the relation between temperature and CO2 and run them backwards to pre-industrial times in the 19th century, when atmospheric CO2 concentrations were thought to be around 270 ppm.

click to enlarge

The temperature value of each line at 270ppm point represents the amount of warming we should already have seen from man-made CO2

click to enlarge

What we see is that most of the mainstream IPCC and alarmist forecasts greatly over-predict past warming.  For example, this simple analysis shows that for the IPCC mean forecast to be correct, we should have seen 1.6C of manmade warming over the last century and a half.  But we know that we have not seen more than about 0.8C total in warming.  Even if all of that is attributed to man (which we showed in the last chapter is unlikely), warming has still been well-short of what this forecast would predict.  If we define a range for historic man-made warming from 0.33C (the number I came up with in the last chapter) to 0.8C (basically all of past warming due to man), we get numbers that are consistent with the non-catastrophic, zero-feedback cases

click to enlarge

Of course we are leaving out the time dimension -- many of the hypothesized feedbacks take time to operate, so the initial transient response of the world's temperatures is not the same as the longer-term equilibrium response.  But transient response likely is at least 2/3 of the full equilibrium value, meaning that my hypothesized value for man-made past warming of 0.33C would still be less than the no feedback case on an equilibrium basis.

It is from this analysis that I first convinced myself that man-made warming was unlikely to be catastrophic.

I want to add two notes here.

First, we mentioned back in the attribution section that some scientists argue that man has caused not all of but more than the total observed historical warming.  This chapter's analysis explains why.  The fact that climate models tend to overpredict history is not a secret among climate modelers (though it is something they seldom discuss publicly).  To justify their high feedback and sensitivity assumptions in their forecasts, they need more warming in the past.   One way to do this is to argue that the world would have cooled without man-made CO2, so that man-made CO2 contributed 0.8C of warming in addition to whatever the cooling would have been.  It allows attribution of more than 100% of past warming to man.

There are various ways this is attempted, but the most popular centers around man-made sulfate aerosols.  These aerosols are byproducts of burning sulfur-heavy fossil fuels, particularly coal, and they tend to have a cooling effect on the atmosphere (this is one reason why, in the 1970's, the consensus climate prediction was that man was causing the world to cool, not warm).  Some scientists argue that these aerosols have tended to cool the Earth over the past decades, but as we clean up our fuels their effect will go away and we will get catch-up warming.

There are a couple of problems with this line of thought.  The first is that we understand even less about the magnitude of aerosol cooling than we do of CO2 warming.  Any value we choose is almost a blind guess (though as we shall see in a moment, this can be a boon to modelers on a mission).  The second issue is that these aerosols tend to be very short-lived and local.  They don't remain in the atmosphere long enough to thoroughly mix and have a global effect.  Given their localization and observed concentrations, it is almost impossible to imagine them having more than a tenth or two effect on world temperatures.  And I will add that if we need to take into account cooling from sulfate aerosols, we also need to take into account the warming and ice melting effect of black carbon soot from dirty Asian coal combustion.  But we will return to that later in our section on Arctic ice.

My second, related note is that scientists will frequently claim that their computer models models do claim correctly match historic temperatures when run backwards.  As a long-time modeler of complex systems, my advice is this:  don't believe it until you have inspected the model in detail.  At least 9 times out of 10, one will find that this sort of tight fit with history is the result of manual tweaking, usually from the affect of a few "plug" variables.

Here is one example -- there was a study a while back that tried to understand how a number of different climate models could all arrive at very different temperature sensitivities to CO2, but all still claim to model the same history accurately.  What was found was that there was a second variable -- past cooling from man-made aerosols, discussed above -- that also varied greatly between models.  And it turned out that the value chosen in the models for this second variable was exactly the value necessary to make that model's output match history -- that is why I said that our very lack of knowledge of the actual cooling from such aerosols could be a boon to modelers on a mission.  In essence, there is a strong suspicion that this variable's value was not based on any observational evidence, but was simply chosen as a plug figure to make the model match history.

Having gone about as far as we can with the forecasts without diving into a whole new order of detail, let's move on to the final alarmist contention, that man-made CO2 is already changing the climate for the worse.  We will discuss this in Chapter 7.

Chapter 7 on whether we are already seeing man-made climate change is here.