Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category.

Squishy Words That Create Problems For Using Results of Scientific Studies

The IPCC AR4 summary report had this critical conclusion:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.[7] It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)

I want to come back to this in a second, but here is a story the Bryan Caplan posted on his blog.  He is quoting from Tetlock and Gardner's Superforecasting

In March 1951 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 29-51 was published.  "Although it is impossible to determine which course of action the Kremlin is likely to adopt," the report concluded, "we believe that the extent of [Eastern European] military and propaganda preparations indicate that an attack on Yugoslavia in 1951 should be considered a serious possibility." ...But a few days later, [Sherman] Kent was chatting with a senior State Department official who casually asked, "By the way, what did you people mean by the expression 'serious possibility'?  What kind of odds did you have in mind?"  Kent said he was pessimistic.  He felt the odds were about 65 to 35 in favor of an attack.  The official was started.  He and his colleagues had taken "serious possibility" to mean much lower odds.

Disturbed, Kent went back to his team.  They had all agreed to use "serious possibility" in the NIE so Kent asked each person, in turn, what he thought it meant.  One analyst said it meant odds of about 80 to 20, or four times more likely than not that there would be an invasion.  Another thought it meant odds of 20 to 80 - exactly the opposite.  Other answers were scattered between these extremes.  Kent was floored.

Let's go back to the IPCC summary conclusion, which is quoted and used all over the place  (no one in the media ever actually digs into the charts and analysis, they just stop at this quote).  A few thoughts:

  1. This kind of conclusion is typical of team process and perhaps is a reason that large teams shouldn't do scientific studies.  We wouldn't have aspirin if 500 people all had to agree on a recommendation to allow it.
  2. Climate alarmists often claim "consensus".  Part of the way they get consensus is by excluding anyone who disagrees with them from the IPCC process and publication.  But even within the remaining core, scientists have vast differences in how they evaluate the data.  Consensus only exists because the conclusions use weasel words with uncertain meaning like "most"  and "significant"  (rather than a percentage) and "very likely" (rather than a probability).
  3. Is "most" 51% or 95%?  The difference between these two is almost a doubling of the implied temperature sensitivity to CO2  -- close to the magnitude of difference between lukewarmer and IPCC estimates.  Many skeptics (including myself) think past warming due to man might be 0.3-0.4C which is very nearly encompassed by "most".
  4. It may be that this uncertainty is treated as a feature, not a bug, by activists, who can take a word scientists meant to mean 51% and portray it as meaning nearly 100%.

For an example of this sort of thing taken to an extreme, arguably corrupt level, consider the original 97% global warming consensus survey which asked 77 scientists hand-selected from a pool of over 10,000 working on climate-related topics two questions.  Answering yes to the two questions put you in the 97%.  In the context of what was written above, note the wording:

That anything-but-scientific survey asked two questions. The first: “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”  Few would be expected to dispute this…the planet began thawing out of the “Little Ice Age” in the middle 19th century, predating the Industrial Revolution. (That was the coldest period since the last real Ice Age ended roughly 10,000 years ago.)

The second question asked: “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” So what constitutes “significant”? Does “changing” include both cooling and warming… and for both “better” and “worse”? And which contributions…does this include land use changes, such as agriculture and deforestation?

Good Lord, I am a hated skeptic frequently derided as a denier and I would answer both "yes" and be in the 97% consensus.  So would most all of the prominent science-based skeptics you have ever heard of.

 

Most College-Age Kids Probably Can't Remember A Major Hurricane Landfall

Most folks, even those who say they are data-driven, are not data-driven.  They react to their perception.  If some sort of activity suddenly makes the news more, we assume that activity is increasing, even if all that is happening is that the activity is simply making the news more.

A lot of the folks who want to blame this year's landfalling hurricanes on global warming are making this mistake.  If you are 20, the last major hurricane landfalls were in 2005 when you were 8.  The last decade has seen a nearly unprecedented drought in US major hurricane landfalls, so against the backdrop of this drought, several major Atlantic storms seems highly unusual.  But I grew up in the 1960's to the 1980's on the Gulf Coast and hurricanes were a regular part of our life then.  When I lived in Clear Lake City, Texas, we had so many in a few years in the 1980's that I had a special spot picked out to park my car to keep it above flood waters.  In the 1990's, we had a memorable vacation where we rented a house on the North Carolina coast for a month and got hit by three hurricanes -- we spent the whole trip hiding in the laundry room from tornado warnings and evacuating back and forth to the interior of the state.

For those who like simple charts, the WSJ had a good one the other day:

Making this a chart of hurricane landfalls deals with the public perception issue, as landfalls tend to be the only ones we really remember.  But this is actually a terrible metric (even though it makes my point about Irma and Harvey not representing any sort of upward trend) because landfalls are random and may not really represent actual hurricane activity.  A better metric is accumulated cyclonic energy of tropical storms, which looks at a sort of integral of storm strength over time.  This does not show a trend either, but since I cannot find a chart of ACE updated with recent activity I am not going to put it up here.   Here it was as of June of this year, and this chart only goes back to 1970 -- if we had good data early in the 20th century it would have been much higher.

 

 

A Note on the "1000-year" Flood And Our Intuition About Outlier Events

Many media outlets were calling the post-Harvey flooding in East Texas a "1000-year" flood.  Forget for a moment on the craziness of saying this is a 1000-year flood when we have at most about 150 years of weather records for the Houston area.  Consider something else -- that our intuition about outlier events tends to suck.

Let's say the flood affected a quarter of Texas.  This is probably an exaggeration, but it will help the following analysis be conservative.   Based on numbers from Wikipedia, Texas has 268,597 square miles of land area and the whole globe has 57.5 million square miles of land area.  This means that a quarter of Texas is about 1/1000 of the land area of the globe.  Even if this were truly a 1000-year storm, we should see such a storm over a similar area of land every single year on average somewhere in the world.  And if you add in other weather events that I have seen described as "thousand year", including snowfalls, heat waves, cold waves, droughts, etc. then we should be seeing a thousand-year weather event of some sort over a similar area as that affected by Harvey every few months.

Natural Climate Variability and Mann's Hockey Stick

Most folks even slightly acquainted with the climate debate have seen Dr. Mann's hockey stick.  It is a historical temperature reconstruction using proxies such as the width of tree rings.

There were a zillion problems with this analysis, which I and many covered years ago and, frankly, I am past my tolerance in reiterating once again.  Just to name three:

  • The inflection of the hockey stick occurs right where two completely different data sets - proxies and actual thermometer readings -- have been grafted together, leading one to wonder if the inflection is a real natural phenomenon or instead related to differences in how the data was gathered
  • The blue line, of the proxy data, ends in 1950.  The reason for that is that the proxy data actually shows temperatures falling since 1950.  This does not mean that temperatures actually fell - we are sure they have risen -- it means that the proxies are not very good proxies.  If they are not following temperatures well in the last 50 years, why do we think they mirrored temperatures well in the 1000 years before that?
  • As Steve McIntyre showed, while Mann used many proxies, his statistical method basically over-weighted a single data set from bristlecone pines in California and used techniques that were shown later to generate hockey sticks even from random noise.

Anyway, you can search Google and spend most of the day reading critiques and defenses of Mann.

But I think a lot of laymen missed the point of the analysis.  Folks want to say that the hockey stick proves we have a big current spike in temperatures -- ie they focus on the blade of the hockey stick.  But we already knew from surface temperature records that world temperatures have risen perhaps 0.8C over the last century.  And besides, as mentioned above, Mann's proxy data does not even confirm or support the current working.

No, the "insight" of the hockey stick analysis was the handle -- the fact that until 1900, Mann was essentially claiming that temperatures had been 1) dead flat with limited variation and 2) consistently well below current temperatures.  Prior to Mann's analysis, most scientists had a picture of past climate that had a warm period from 1000-1300 that was perhaps as warm as it is today followed by a cold period  (called the medieval warm period and the little ice age).  Most of this was based on historical analysis.  Go to your local university and find a medieval historian.  Going forward, universities will probably not teach any European history any more, but you probably can find a few old folks still hanging on via tenure.  I took an audio course from Philip Daileader of William and Mary and he started his course on the high middle ages (1000-1300) by saying the most important fact of that period was the demographic expansion allowed in part by a warm and favorable climate.  The warm climate allowed more food production as new areas, particularly in the north, could be brought into production.  In turn, after 1300, Europe was met with a cooler and wetter climate that created a horrible famine in the 1320's, which in turn likely weakened the population and made the black death a few decades later all the worse.  Later on, we have records of canals and rivers freezing across Europe that almost never freeze today.  This colder period lasted until the early 19th century (I use 1812 as a break as I think of the freezing Russian winter of that year that sent Napoleon home without most of his army).  Temperatures and sea levels began rising after that, long before man was burning fossil fuels in earnest.

This historical picture, shared by pretty much everyone until 20 years ago, was overturned by Mann.  Look at his chart - no warm period in the middle ages, and no substantially colder period just afterwards.  How did he refute the historical evidence, which is robust?  He waved this evidence off as limited to Western Europe.  Which was sort of funny, because most of his proxy data came from an even smaller area, the mountains east of Bishop, CA**.

So all this is a leadup to a new study out of China looking at temperature proxies for China.  And it turns out China, which is on the other side of the world from the west (I know that because when Bugs Bunny digs straight down he always comes out in China), has pretty much the same temperature history everyone before Michael Mann thought we had in Europe.

 

**postscript:  If you have a sports car, and want to drive a curving mountain road that does not have a lot of big cliffs and has pretty much zero other cars to get in the way, you might try Highway 168 from near Bishop up towards the ancient bristlecone pine forest.

 

 

So Where Is The Climate Science Money Actually Going If Not To Temperature Measurement?

You are likely aware that the US, and many other countries, are spending billions and billions of dollars on climate research.  After drug development, it probably has become the single most lucrative academic sector.

Let me ask a question.  If you were concerned (as you should be) about lead in soil and drinking water and how it might or might not be getting into the bloodstream of children, what would you spend money on?  Sure, better treatments and new technologies for filtering and cleaning up lead.  But wouldn't the number one investment be in more and better measurement of environmental and human lead concentrations, and how they might be changing over time?

So I suppose if one were worried about the global rise in temperatures, one would look at better and more complete measurement of these temperatures.  Hah!  You would be wrong.

There are three main global temperature histories: the combined CRU-Hadley record (HADCRU), the NASA-GISS (GISTEMP) record, and the NOAA record. All three global averages depend on the same underlying land data archive, the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN). Because of this reliance on GHCN, its quality deficiencies will constrain the quality of all derived products.

The number of weather stations providing data to GHCN plunged in 1990 and again in 2005. The sample size has fallen by over 75% from its peak in the early 1970s, and is now smaller than at any time since 1919.

Well, perhaps they have focused on culling a large poor quality network into fewer, higher quality locations?  If they have been doing this, there is little or no record of that being the case.  To outsiders, it looks like stations just keep turning off.   And in fact, by certain metrics, the quality of the network is falling:

The collapse in sample size has increased the relative fraction of data coming from airports to about 50 percent (up from about 30 percent in the 1970s). It has also reduced the average latitude of source data and removed relatively more high-altitude monitoring sites.

Airports, located in the middle of urban centers by and large, are terrible temperature measurement points, subject to a variety of biases such as the urban heat island effect.  My son and I measured over 10 degrees Fahrenheit different between the Phoenix airport and the outlying countryside in an old school project.  Folks who compile the measurements claim that they have corrected for these biases, but many of us have reasons to doubt that (consider this example, where an obviously biased station was still showing in the corrected data as the #1 warming site in the country).  I understand why we have spent 30 years correcting screwed up biased stations because we need some stations with long histories and these are what we have (though many long lived stations have been allowed to expire), but why haven't we been building a new, better-sited network?

Ironically, there has been one major investment effort to improve temperature measurement, and that is through satellite measurements.  We now use satellites for official measures of cloud cover, sea ice extent, and sea level, but the global warming establishment has largely ignored satellite measurement of temperatures.  For example, James Hansen (Al Gore's mentor and often called the father of global warming) strongly defended 100+ year old surface temperature measurement technology over satellites.  Ironically, Hansen was head, for years, of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), so one wonders why he resisted space technology in this one particular area.  Cynics among us would argue that it is because satellites give the "wrong" answer, showing a slower warming rate than the heavily manually adjusted surface records.

The Furor Over Bret Stephens First Article At the New York Times

Bret Stephens has initiated a huge storm on the Left as journalists and other Leftwing luminaries have fallen over themselves to make sure everyone understands how evil and absolutely unacceptable Stephens' article is.  A good example is probably "This New York Times Article on Climate Change Is So F***ing Bad".  I don't know where and how these things are announced, but apparently virtue-signaling on the Left offcially requires that everyone denounce the article as the most evil thing ever written (actually reading it is apparently optional).

But you will almost never see much of Stephens article quoted.  Here is the entirety of the article that discusses climate.  This is all there is (there are other discussions that are meant to be a parable somewhat relevant to the climate debate, but below is the entirety of what Stephens writes directly about climate:

Let’s turn to climate change.

Last October, the Pew Research Center published a survey on the politics of climate change. Among its findings: Just 36 percent of Americans care “a great deal” about the subject. Despite 30 years of efforts by scientists, politicians and activists to raise the alarm, nearly two-thirds of Americans are either indifferent to or only somewhat bothered by the prospect of planetary calamity.

Why? The science is settled. The threat is clear. Isn’t this one instance, at least, where 100 percent of the truth resides on one side of the argument?

Well, not entirely. As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.” The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren’t.

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly.

By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. They shouldn’t, because there’s another lesson here — this one for anyone who wants to advance the cause of good climate policy. As Revkin wisely noted, hyperbole about climate “not only didn’t fit the science at the time but could even be counterproductive if the hope was to engage a distracted public.”

Let me put it another way. Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

Ten years ago I would have thought this so milquetoast as to be uncontroversial to anyone -- almost unpublishable as an editorial due its shear lack of controversy.  He acknowledges warming, acknowledges some is man-made, states that some activists have gone beyond the science in their claims, and that climate action folks tend to be hostile to anything but ardent agreement (an attitude not really consistent with "science").  In response, ironically, virtually the entire Left has responded to this mildest of mild criticisms by treating Stephens as the next incarnation of Joseph Goebbels.  Apparently he was spot-on about the lack of tolerance for any debate or disagreement.

This reminds me when my speech on global warming was banned from a conference by representatives of the City of Los Angeles.  I remember writing to them:

Apparently, several folks on this board were calling me a climate denier and a flat Earther.  Now, it seems kind of amazing that a presentation that calls for a carbon tax and acknowledges 1-1.5 degrees C of man-made warming per century could be called an extremist denier presentation.  But here is the key to understand -- my bet is that not one of you in opposition has ever bothered to see it.  This despite the fact that I sent your organization both a copy of the CMC video linked above as well as this very short 4-page summary from Forbes.  But everyone involved seems more willing to spend hours and hours arguing that I am a child of Satan than they were willing to spend 5-minutes acquainting themselves with what I actually say.  (By the way, at this point you probably should not look at this material, as all it will do is embarrass you because I am positive that it is nothing like what you expected)

In fact, I would be willing to bet that the folks who were most vociferous in their opposition to this talk have never actually read anything from a lukewarmer or a skeptic.  It is a hallmark of modern public discourse that people frequently don't know the other side's argument from the other side itself, but rather from its own side.   This is roughly equivalent to knowing about Hillary Clinton's policy positions solely from listening to Rush Limbaugh.  It is a terrible way to be an informed adult participating in public discourse, but unfortunately it seems to be a practice that is increasingly common, and in fact encouraged by most universities, which have become echo chambers of conventional thought rather than real institutions of learning.

And here is the video of the speech in question:

 

Updated Climate Video -- Understanding the Climate Debate: The Lost Middle Ground

I have updated the slides and audio of my core climate presentation called "Understanding the Climate Debate:  The Lost Middle Ground"

This is basically the same presentation as here at Claremont-McKenna but you can read the slide a bit better and the audio is clearer in parts.

The Continuing Climate Disconnect and the Climate Bait and Switch

I am at an impasse.  Here is my dilemma:  I don't know if the media is purposely obfuscating the climate debate or whether they are just ignorant and scientifically illiterate.  For now, because I am a happy soul that does not like making dark assumptions about other people's motivations, so I am going to give the media the benefit of the doubt and just assume they are ignorant.  But it is getting harder to reach this conclusion, because for it to be ignorance, it has to be serial ignorance lasting many years and crossing thousands of people.

The other day, in response to an article at Skeptical Science, I wrote about the typical media myths in the climate debate that make actual conversation about the theory so difficult.  The first one I listed was this:

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because they deny the obvious truth of warming from greenhouse gasses like CO2"

In fact, if you read the article, most of the prominent climate skeptics (plus me, as a non-prominent one) totally accept greenhouse gas theory and that CO2, acting alone, would warm the Earth by 1-1.2C.  What we are skeptical of is the very net high positive feedbacks (and believe me, for those of you not familiar with dynamic systems analysis, these numbers are very large for stable natural systems) assumed to multiply this initial warming many-fold.

This is just tremendously frustrating, in part because climate alarmists (at least in the media) don't seem to understand their own theory.  I constantly have to patiently explain that the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming (or climate change if you prefer) is a two part theory, and that warming forecasts are based on two independent chained theories:  First, CO2 acting as a green house gas incrementally warms the earth and second, large net positive feedbacks in the Earth's climate multiply this initial warming many times.  The majority of the warming actually comes from the second theory, not greenhouse gas theory, but every time I am in a debate or interview situation one of the early questions is "how can you deny greenhouse gas theory, it is settled science?"   This is what I call the climate bait and switch -- skeptics have issues with the second theory but the media and climate alarmists only want to argue about the first.

Robert Tracinski at the Federalist highlights a really good example of this:

In a CNBC interview, the host asked, “Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?” Pruitt answered: “No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

This is a pretty reasonable answer.  It is simply absurd to argue that CO2 (at a current atmospheric concentration of 0.04%) is the "primary control knob for climate".  CO2 is obviously part of a large and complex equation with many, many variables, but calling it the primary control knob is like saying that the sugar industry is the primary control knob for the US economy.

But back to the issue of the climate bait and switch.  Here is NPR responding to Pruitt's comments.  Can you guess what they say?

Those statements are at odds with an overwhelming body of scientific evidence showing that humans are causing the climate to warm by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. The view that CO2 is a major heat-trapping gas is supported by reams of data, included data collected by government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Greenhouse gas theory is settled science!  But Pruitt has never, in anything I have read, disagreed with greenhouse gas theory.  He just thinks the effects have been exaggerated.  But here is the media, yet again, ignoring the actual arguments of skeptics and trying to recast their position as denying greenhouse gas theory.  The media sets up this false dichotomy that either you accept that CO2 is "the primary control knob of climate" or you deny CO2 is a greenhouse gas at all.  They allow no intermediate position, despite the fact that both of these choices are scientifically absurd.

Mr. Tracinski goes on to make the same point I often make, so I will let him do it in his own words since I don't seem to have any success explaining it:

The question is not whether carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The question is whether it is the “primary control knob for the climate.” The question is whether it is the greenhouse gas, the one factor that dominates all other factors.

There is good reason for skepticism. For one thing, just on the “basic science,” Pruitt is absolutely correct. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but it is not the most powerful greenhouse gas, by a long shot. Water vapor is far more effective at trapping heat and releasing it back to the atmosphere, primarily because it absorbs a lot more radiation in the infrared spectrum, which is released as heat.

That’s why all of the climate theories that project runaway global warming use water vapor to juice up the relatively small impact of carbon dioxide itself. They posit a “feedback loop” in which carbon dioxide increases temperatures, which increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which increases temperatures even more. These models need a more powerful greenhouse gas to magnify the effect of carbon dioxide.

But does it really work that way? By how much does water vapor magnify the impact of carbon dioxide? And is that effect dampened by other factors? Consider cloud formation: more water in the atmosphere means more clouds, which reflect sunlight back into space and have a cooling effect that counteracts the warming effect. But by how much?

The answer is that nobody really knows. There are varying estimates for “climate sensitivity,” that is, how sensitive global temperatures are to increases in carbon dioxide. They range from a relatively trivial impact—less than one degree Celsius warming from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide—to more than five degrees.

 

 

So Skeptical Science Is "Correcting" Me

I really wasn't going to do much with this Skeptical Science post by Rob Honeycutt called "Correcting Warren Meyer on Forbes," but several readers have asked me about it and it's Friday and I am sort of bored in the office so here goes.  I may skip parts of his critique.  That does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but several sections of this article are just so trivial (let's defend Al Gore!) that it is hard to work up any energy about it.  As reference, my original article published back in 2012 is here.

Dammit Meyer, You Changed The Words to the Doxology!

The author begins his critique this way:

Mr. Meyer opens with a misleading attempt to frame the issue as a debate on "catastrophic man-man global warming theory." This approach conflates two very distinct elements of the science on anthropogenic climate change. Nowhere in the published scientific literature can you find the phrase he uses. When I did a search on this term in Google Scholar, what did I find? Mr. Meyer's Forbes article. Also searching "catastrophic man-made climate change" I get a smattering of non-research related materials coming from people who rejecting human influence on climate. Meyer has formed a completely irrelevant and fabricated framing of the issue for the basis of his discussion.

In Mr. Meyer's article he claims this is the "core theory" and states that he will use the IPCC as the primary source for this, even though there is no place where the IPCC frames climate change in this manner.

Hey, thanks for making my point!  I always start climate discussions by saying that supporters of climate action are frequently sloppy with the way they frame the debate.   They use phrases like "climate denier" for folks like me which make no sense, since I don't deny there is a climate.  Clearly "climate denier" is a shortcut term for my denying some other more complex proposition, but what proposition exactly?  Merely saying "global warming" as a proposition is sloppy because it could include both natural and manmade effects.  Climate change is even sloppier (I would argue purposely so) because it obscures the fact that deleterious effects from anthropogenic CO2 must be via the intermediate stage of warming (i.e. there is no theory that CO2 causes hurricanes directly).

With this in mind, I begin nearly every discussion of climate change by doing what many proponents of climate action fail to do  -- I am very precise about the proposition I am going to discuss.  It's not just global warming, it's man-made global warming.  And since the climate alarmists are urging immediate action, it is not just man-made global warming but it is catastrophic man-made global warming, ie man-made global warming with negative effects so severe it requires urgent and extensive actions to circumvent.  I think that is a very fair reading of what folks like James Hansen have in mind (if he does not think it will be catastrophic, why is he getting arrested in front of power plants?)  The fact that Google searches do not yield these precise terms but rather yield millions of hits for meaningless phrases like "climate denier" just go to support one of the themes of my original piece, that the climate debate is made much muddier by the sloppy framing of the issues in the media.

However, while Mr. Honeycutt criticizes my framing as non-canon, he offers no specific critiques of how the phrase "catastrophic man-made global warming" might be wrong and offers no alternative framing.  I really do try to pass Bryan Caplan's ideological Turing test on this stuff, so I am interested -- if advocates for climate action do not think "Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming" is a fair statement of their theory, what would they use instead?

So Is Feedback a Critical Assumption or Not?

I really don't want to repeat my article, but it is useful to understand my thesis:  Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory is actually a two-part theory, with two chained steps.  In the first, CO2 (and methane and other stuff) act as greenhouse gasses and incrementally warm the planet (about 1-1.2C per doubling of CO2 levels).  In the second step, via a second theory unrelated to greenhouse gas theory, the initial warming from greenhouse gasses is multiplied several times by positive feedbacks that dominate the Earth's climate system, up to the IPCC's estimate of 3-5 C per doubling.  Most of the projected warming in forecasts, such as those from the IPCC, are actually from this second step.  My position is that I largely agree with the first step, which is well understood, but believe there is little real understanding of the second, that feedbacks could be net positive or negative, and that scientists either over-estimate their certainty on feedbacks or, more commonly, bury the feedback assumptions and don't even talk about them in public.

As an aside, I have presented this in front of many climate scientists and no one has really disputed that my summary of the logic is correct (they have of course disputed my skepticism with the feedback number).  In fact Wikipedia, no climate denier, has this in their article about climate sensitivity:

CO2 climate sensitivity has a component directly due to radiative forcing by CO2, and a further contribution arising from climate feedbacks, both positive and negative. "Without any feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 (which amounts to a forcing of 3.7 W/m2) would result in 1 °C global warming, which is easy to calculate and is undisputed. The remaining uncertainty is due entirely to feedbacks in the system, namely, the water vapor feedback, the ice-albedo feedback, the cloud feedback, and the lapse rate feedback";[12] addition of these feedbacks leads to a value of the sensitivity to CO2 doubling of approximately 3 °C ± 1.5 °C, which corresponds to a value of λ of 0.8 K/(W/m2).

In a critique, I would expect someone to say, "your description of the theories is wrong because of X" or "I agree with your basic description of the theories but think there are good reasons why we expect feedbacks to be strongly positive".  But this is what we get instead from Mr. Honeycutt

New errors pop up when trying to describe this "theory" where he attempts to describe water vapor feedbacks. He states that the IPCC "assumed" a strong positive feedbackfrom water vapor. The IPCC doesn't assume anything. The IPCC is a collection of leading experts in their fields who ware painstakingly cataloguing the scientific research. Meyer also makes an error suggesting the IPCC "just add" 2-4°C onto the 1°C for CO2 warming. Such figures, again, are completely manufactured by Meyer. They don't jibe with climate sensitivity figures and he provides no reference to what he means with figures like these.

The IPCC actually produces graphs such as the following to quantify forcings on the climate system, which also very clearly indicate levels of scientific understanding and uncertainty ranges.

He follows with a IPCC chart that showing forcing number estimates for different atmospheric components and the range of IPCC climate sensitivity forecasts, then says

By comparison, the IPCC and research scientists take the uncertainties involved with climateforcings and feedbacks very seriously. They clearly quantify and document them. The net result of the research suggests that our climate's sensitivity to forcing centers around 3°C for doubling CO2 concentrations. The low end probability is ~1.5°C, and the IPCC clearly state that anything lower than this is highly improbable.

My first thought is a snarky one, that it is interesting to see someone from a site with the word "skeptical" in the title go in for such a full-bore appeal to authority.  But to the substance, I am certainly familiar with all the IPCC forcing charts, and what is more, that these charts include a self-assessment by the IPCC about how confident they are in their estimates.  Since that self-assessment never is supported by any methodology or analysis in the reports, or any neutral third-party review, I take it with a grain of salt.

But to the rest, if one wants to discuss climate change with a lay audience, it is not wildly useful to start spewing out forcing numbers that have little meaning to the reader, and which the reader has no ability to connect to what they really care about, ie how much temperatures may rise.

More tellingly, though, after I spend most of my article discussing how the media frequently merges the effects of greenhouse gasses acting alone with the effects of feedbacks in the system that multiply or reduce these direct effects, Mr. Honeycutt does just that, offering forcing numbers that, if I read them correctly, include both direct effects and feedback multipliers.

The reason why it is useful to separate the direct warming effect from CO2 from the follow-on effects of feedback multipliers is the level of certainty we have in assessing their values.  We can figure out pretty precisely the absorption and reradiation characteristics of CO2 in a laboratory.  We can't do anything similar with feedbacks -- they must be inferred using various (all to-date imperfect) approaches to isolating feedback effects from everything else in the climate.  An example from another field might be useful.  Let's say we want to know the economic effect of hosting the Superbowl in Phoenix.  It is pretty easy to measure the direct effects, like the money spent on tickets for the event.  But when we look at the total system, things get really hard.  Sure we had people come in spending money on the Superbowl, but maybe we had fewer tourists doing other things, or maybe increased spending at the Superbowl was offset by less spending at movies or amusement parks.  We might compare that day's revenues to other years, but other years might have had different weather, different population, and a million other small differences that affect the outcome.  Sorting through all these literally millions of changing variables to get the net effect of hosting the Superbowl is hard (and in fact for the last Superbowl hosted in Arizona, academic groups have come up with a huge array of numbers that range all the way from highly positive to negative for the net economic effect).  The one difference between this example and what scientists have to do to isolate effects of individual inputs to the climate system is that the climate problem is much harder.

In responding to Mr. Honeycutt, I cannot honestly tell if Mr. Honeycutt is refuting this formulation of the problem (ie incremental warming from greenhouse gas effects of CO2 is increased to much higher, catastrophic levels by a second theory that the earth is dominated by strong positive feedbacks) or merely disputing my assertion that the second half of this proposition is not well-proven.

Missing the Point on Past Temperatures

Mr. Honeycutt has a number of problems with my discussion of past temperatures.  First, he doesn't like my saying that warming from pre-industrial times was 0.7C.  Mea culpa, it was probably 0.8C when I wrote the article.  He also does not like the satellite temperature measurement, because it measures temperatures in the lower troposphere (a couple miles up in the atmosphere) rather than at the surface.  He is absolutely correct, but you know what?  I am skeptical of both land and space data sets.  They both have their flaws.  Land surface temperatures, especially near the poles and in places like Africa, are widely spaced requiring a lot of interpolation.  They are also subject to a number of biases, such as from changing land use and urbanization.  Satellite data tends to cover larger swaths of the Earth, but have to be corrected for orbital decay and other satellite aging factors.  And as the author mentioned, they measure temperatures in the lower troposphere rather than the surface.  However, since the IPCC says that the most warming from greenhouse gasses should be in the lower troposphere, even greater than the warming on the surface, satellites strike me as a useful tool to look for a global warming signal.   That is why I always use both.  (As an aside, Mr. Honeycutt departs from his appeals to IPCC authority by advocating two land surface data sets NOT chosen by the IPCC as their lead data set -- I use the Hadley CRUT4 because this is what the IPCC uses as their gold standard).

But all this misses the point of why I introduced past temperatures in the first place.  My thesis was that past warming was not consistent with high CO2 temperature sensitivity numbers.  I used charts in the article but I can repeat the logic simply here.  Sensitivity numbers in the IPCC are the warming expected per doubling of CO2 levels.  Since pre-industrial times we have increased global CO2 concentrations from about 270ppm  (or 0.0270%) to about 405 ppm.  This increase of 135pp from 270ppm is conveniently (for the math) about 50% of a doubling.  Because the ratio between concentration and temperature is logarithmic, at 50% of a doubling we should see 57% of the doubling effect.  So for an IPCC sensitivity of 3C per doubling, since pre-industrial times we should have seen a warming of .57 x 3 =  1.7C.  We are nowhere close to this, even if every tenth of degree of warming over the last 100 years was man-made (a proposition with which I would disagree).  At the high end of the IPCC range, around 5C, we would have had to see 2.85C of warming to date.  At the low end of 1.5C, which the author calls unlikely, we would have seen about 0.86C of historical warming.  If one argues that manmade warming is only about half the past warming, then the sensitivity would have to be less than 1C  (by the way, this disconnect only gets larger if one considers greenhouse gasses other than CO2).

There are plenty of potential arguments one could counter with.  One could argue that time delays are really long or that man-made aerosols are masking past warming -- and we could have a nice back and forth on the topic.  Instead we just get printouts from models.  Seriously, is that how skeptical folks approach science, accepting black box model output that embodies hundreds or even thousands of potential GIGO assumptions and inputs?  I would love someone to show me in a sort of waterfall chart how one gets from 1.7C of expected warming from 270-405ppm to Hadley CRUT4 actual warming around 0.8C.  Doesn't anyone feel the need to reconcile their forecasts to actual observations?

There are really good reasons to distrust models.  If Donald Trump wanted to invest $100 million in building new military bases, and said that he had a computer model from experts with graphs that show the plan will grow GNP by a trillion dollars, would you automatically accept the model?  If GNP only grew by $200 million instead of by a trillion, would you want a reconciliation and explanation?

There are also good reasons to distrust climate models and forecasts.  James Hansen's models he used in his famous testimony in front of Congress in 1988 over-predicted warming rates by quite a bit (full explanation here).  Since people argue endlessly over this chart about how to center and zero the graphs, it is much easier just to look at implied warming rates:

Even the IPCC finds itself questioning its past warming forecasts:

These forecast failures are not meant as proof the theory is wrong, merely that there is good reason to be skeptical of computer model output as somehow the last word in a debate.

Actually, Missing the Whole Point of the Article

I had naively thought that the title of the article "Understanding the Global Warming Debate" (rather than, say, "Climate Alarmists Are Big Fat Liars") might be a clue I was trying outline the terms of the debate and the skeptic position in it rather than put a detailed dagger through the heart of, say, climate models.

I wrote this article based on my extreme frustration in the climate debate.  I have no problem with folks disagreeing with me  - in enjoy it.  But I was frustrated that the skeptic argument was being mis-portrayed and folks were arguing about the wrong things.  Specifically, I was frustrated with both of these two arguments that were frequently thrown in my face:

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because they deny the obvious truth of warming from greenhouse gasses like CO2"

In fact, if you read the article, most of the prominent climate skeptics (plus me, as a non-prominent one) totally accept greenhouse gas theory and that CO2, acting alone, would warm the Earth by 1-1.2C.  What we are skeptical of is the very net high positive feedbacks (and believe me, for those of you not familiar with dynamic systems analysis, these numbers are very large for stable natural systems) assumed to multiply this initial warming many-fold.  Of all the folks I have talked to in the past, perhaps less than 1% were familiar with the fact that warming forecasts were a chain of not one but two theories, both greenhouse gas theory and the theory that the Earth's atmosphere is dominated by strong net positive feedbacks.  Even if the audience does not choose to agree with my skepticism over feedback levels, isn't this education of the public about the basic theory useful?  The author accuses me of purposeful obfuscation, but for those of us who are skeptical, it is odd that alarmists seem to resist discussing the second part of the theory.  Could it be that the evidence for strong positive feedbacks dominating the Earth's long-term-stable greenhouse gas theory is not as strong as that for greenhouse gas theory?  Evidence for high atmospheric positive feedbacks simply HAS to be weaker than that for greenhouse gas theory, not only because they have been studied less time but more importantly because it is orders of magnitude harder to parse out values of feedbacks in a complex system than it is to measure the absorption and emission spectrum of a gas in a laboratory.

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because there is a 97% consensus behind global warming theory.

Well, studies have shown a 97% agreement on .. something.  This comes back to the first part of this post.  If one is sloppy about the proposition being tested, then it is easier to get widespread agreement.  The original study that arrived at the 97% number asked two questions -- "do you think the world has warmed in the last century" and "do you think a significant part of this warming has been due to man".  97% of scientists said yes.  But I, called a climate denier, would have said yes to both as well.  Alarmists attempt to shut off debate with skeptics by siting 97% agreement with propositions that have little or nothing to do with skeptics' arguments.  Try asking a large group of scientists if they think that the world will warm 3C per doubling of CO2 levels, the proposition with which I disagree, and I guarantee you are not going to get anywhere near 97%.  This is simply a bait and switch.

I will conclude with his conclusion:

Meyer ends with an unjustifiable conclusion, stating:

So this is the real problem at the heart of the climate debate — the two sides are debating different propositions!  In our chart, proponents of global warming action are vigorously defending the propositions on the left side, propositions with which serious skeptics generally already agree.   When skeptics raise issues about climate models, natural sources of warming, and climate feedbacks, advocates of global warming action run back to the left side of the chart and respond that the world is warming and greenhouse gastheory is correct.    At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another;  at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues.

The positions he's put forth in this article are the epitome of lazy analysis and scientific illiteracy. He's bizarrely framed his entire discussion attempting to attack the positions of the IPCC, a body composed of the world's leading researchers, as being scientifically illiterate. One has to ask, from where does his own "literacy" if not from leading climateresearchers? It's certainly not based in the available published research which the IPCC reports are based on.

In this, perhaps he's inadvertently answering his own questions in a manner that he would prefer to reject. What are "skeptics" denying? Answer: The scientific research.

Well, first, I would advise him to work on his reading comprehension scores.  I called the media scientifically illiterate, not the IPCC and researchers.  The basic framework of greenhouse gas incremental warming multiplied many times by assumed positive net feedbacks is in the scientific literature and the IPCC -- my frustration is that the feedback theory seldom enters the public debate and media articles, despite the fact that the feedback theory is the source of the majority of projected warming and is the heart of many climate skeptic's criticisms of the theory.

And with that, the "skeptical science" article ends with an appeal to authority.

Postscript:  Thinking about it more, at some level I find this article weirdly totalitarian, particularly the last paragraph where I am described as doing nothing but polluting the climate discussion.  Here he writes:

Forbes is a very high profile publication and thus someone there, at Forbes, decided that it was fine and well to give this person an internet soapbox to promote a position rejecting the climate science which he has absolutely no expertise. He is not genuinely adding to the discussion on climate change but is being placed into a position as someone to listen to. Meyer is polluting the discussion with misinformation and poor analysis which has no bearing on the actual issue of climate change. And thanks to Google, these types of discussions, lacking in any substance, are given equal weight to actual science due to the traffic they generate.

This seems an oddly extreme response to someone who:

  • agrees in the linked article that the world has warmed over the last century
  • agrees in the linked article that a good chunk of that warming is due to manmade CO2
  • agrees in the linked article that CO2 acting as a greenhouse gas will increase temperatures, acting alone, by about 1-1.2C per doubling
  • argues for a form of carbon tax (in a different article)
  • but disagrees on the magnitude of added warming from net feedback effects.

It seems that we have moved beyond "you are either with us or against us" and entered the realm of "you are either entirely with us on every single detail or you are against us".

Postscript #2:  Something else has been bothering me about this critique and I think I can finally put it into words  -- the critique is sort of science without thought, a regurgitation of the canon whenever I diverge from orthodoxy without actually considering the arguments presented.

Look, there are tens of thousands of people talking past each other on climate issues.  One of the things I try to do, if nothing else to bring something new to the discussion, is try to reframe the discussion in more useful and accesible terms, often with different sorts of graphs.  Sometimes these are useful reframings, and sometimes not, but I do know that in general I am a heck of a lot better at creating charts to communicate with a lay audience than is the IPCC or most of the prominent folks on either side of the climate debate.  This is why getting feedback (as in this critique) that I use different words to summarize the issue or that I do not use the standard charts everyone else xeroxes out of the IPCC reports (as did Mr. Honeycutt) is not very helpful.

Global Temperature Update

I just updated my climate presentation with data through December of 2016, so given "hottest year evah" claims, I thought I would give a brief update with the data that the media seldom ever provides.  This is only a small part of my presentation, which I will reproduce for Youtube soon (though you can see it here at Claremont-McKenna).  In this post I will address four questions:

  • Is the world still warming?
  • Is global warming accelerating?
  • Is global warming "worse than expected"?
  • Coyote, How Is Your Temperature Prediction Model Doing?

Is the world still warming:  Yes

We will use two data sets.  The first is the land surface data set from the Hadley Center in England, the primary data set used by the IPCC.  Rather than average world absolute temperature, all these charts show the variation or "anomaly" of that absolute temperature from some historical average (the zero point of which is arbitrary).  The theory is that it is easier and more accurate to aggregate anomalies across the globe than it is to average the absolute temperature.  In all my temperature charts, unless otherwise noted, the dark blue is the monthly data and the orange is a centered 5-year moving average.

You can see the El Nino / PDO-driven spike last year.  Ocean cycles like El Nino are complicated, but in short, oceans hold an order of magnitude or two more heat than the atmosphere.  There are decadal cycles where oceans will liberate heat from their depths into the atmosphere, creating surface warming, and cycles where oceans bury more heat, cooling the surface.

The other major method for aggregating global temperatures is using satellites.  I use the data from University of Alabama, Huntsville.

On this scale, the el nino peaks in 1999 and 2017 are quite obvious.  Which method, surface or satellites, gets a better result is a matter of debate.  Satellites are able to measure a larger area, but are not actually measuring the surface, they are measuring temperatures in the lower tropospehere (the troposphere's depth varies but ranges from the surface to 5-12 miles above the surface).  However, since most climate models and the IPCC show man-made warming being greatest in the lower troposphere, it seems a good place to measure.  Surface temperature records, on the other hand, are measuring exactly where we live, but can be widely spaced and are subject to a variety of biases, such as the urban heat island effect.  The station below in Tucson, located in a parking lot and surrounded by buildings, was an official part of the global warming record until my picture became widely circulated and embarrassed them in to closing it.

This argument about dueling data sets goes on constantly, and I have not even mentioned the issues of manual adjustments in the surface data set that are nearly the size of the entire global warming signal.  But we will leave these all aside with the observation that all data sources show a global warming trend.

Is Global Warming Accelerating?  No

Go into google and search "global warming accelerating".  Or just click that link.  There are a half-million results about global warming accelerating.  Heck, Google even has one of those "fact" boxes at the top that say it is:

It is interesting by the way that Google is using political advocacy groups for its "facts" nowadays.

Anyway, if global warming is so obviously accelerating that Google can list it as a fact at the top of its search page, it should be obvious from the data, right?  Well let's look.  First, here is the satellite data since I honestly believe it to be of higher quality than the surface records:

This is what I call the cherry-picking chart.  Everyone can find a peak for one end of their time scale and a valley for the other and create whatever story they want.  In economic analysis, to deal with the noise and cyclicality, one will sometimes see economic growth measured peak-to-peak, meaning from cyclical peak to the next cyclical peak, as a simple way to filter out some of the cyclicality.  I have done the same here, taking my time period as about 18 years from the peak of the 1999 El Nino to 2017 and the peak of the recent El Nino.  The exact data used for the trend is show in darker blue.  You can decide if I have been fair.

The result for this time period is a Nino to Nino warming trend of 0.11C.  Now let's look at the years before this

So the trend for 36 years is 1.2C per century but the trend for the last half of this is just 0.11C.  That does not look like acceleration to me.  One might argue that it may again accelerate in the future, but I cannot see how so many people blithely treat it as a fact that global warming has been accelerating when it clearly has not.  But maybe its just because I picked those darn satellites.  Maybe the surface temperatures show acceleration?

Nope.  Though the slow down is less dramatic, the surface temperature data never-the-less shows the same total lack of acceleration.

Is Global Warming "Worse Than Expected"?  No

The other meme one hears a lot is that global warming is "worse than expected".  Again, try the google search I linked.  Even more results, over a million this time.

To tackle this one, we have to figure out what was "expected".  Al Gore had his crazy forecasts in his movie.  One sees all kinds of apocalyptic forecasts in the media.  The IPCC has forecasts, but it tends to change them every five years and seldom goes back and revisits them, so those are hard to use.  But we have one from James Hansen, often called the father of global warming and Al Gore's mentor, from way back in 1988.  His seminal testimony in that year in front of Congress really put man-made global warming on the political map.  Here is the forecast he presented:

Unfortunately, in his scenarios, he was moving two different variables (CO2 levels and volcanoes) so it is hard to tell which one applies best to the actual history since then, but we are almost certainly between his A and B forecasts.  A lot of folks have spent time trying to compare actual temperatures to these lines, but it is very hard.  The historical temperature record Hansen was using has been manually adjusted several times since, so the historical data does not match, and it is hard to get the right zero point.  But we can eliminate the centering issues altogether if we just look at slopes -- that is all we really care about anyway.  So I have reproduced Hanson's data in the chart on the left and calculated the warming slopes in his forecast:

As it turns out, it really does not matter whether we choose the A or B scenario from Hansen, because both have about the same slope -- between 2.8C and 3.1C per century of warming from 1986 (which appears to be the actual zero date of Hansen's forecast) and today.  Compare this to 1.8C of actual warming in the surface temperature record for this same period, and 1.2C in the satellite record.  While we have seen warming, it is well under the rates predicted by Hansen.

This is a consistent result to what the IPCC found in their last assessment when they evaluated past forecasts.  The colored areas are the IPCC forecast ranges from past forecasts, the grey area was the error bar (the IPCC is a bit inconsistent when it shows error bars, including error bands seemingly only when it helps their case).  The IPCC came to the same result as I did above:   that warming had continued but was well under the pace that was "expected" form past forecasts.

By the way, the reason that many people may think that global warming is accelerating is because media mentions of global warming and severe weather events has been accelerating, leaving the impression that things are changing faster than they truly are.  I wrote an article about this effect here at Forbes.  In that I began:

The media has two bad habits that make it virtually impossible for consumers of, say, television news to get a good understanding of trends

  1. They highlight events in the tail ends of the normal distribution and authoritatively declare that these data points represent some sort of trend or shift in the mean
  2. They mistake increases in their own coverage of certain phenomenon for an increase in the frequency of the phenomenon itself.

Coyote, How Is Your Temperature Prediction Model Doing?  Great, thanks for asking

Ten years ago, purely for fun, I attempted to model past temperatures using only three inputs:  A decadal cyclical sin wave, a long-term natural warming trend out of the little ice age (of 0.36 C per century), and a man-made warming trend really kicking in around 1950 (of 0.5C per century).  I used this regression as an attribution model, to see how much of past warming might be due to man (I concluded about half of 20th century warming may be due to manmade effects).  But I keep running it to test its accuracy, again just for fun, as a predictive tool.  Here is where we are as of December of 2016 (in this case the orange line is my forecast line):

Still hanging in there:  Despite the "hottest year evah" news, temperatures in December were exactly on my prediction line.  Here is the same forecast with the 5-year centered moving average added in light blue:

Well, I Was Uninvited to Speak on Climate -- A Post-Modern Story of Ignorance and Narrow-Mindedness

Well, I got dis-invited yet again from giving my climate presentation.  I guess I should be used to it by now, but in this case I had agreed to actually do the presentation at my own personal expense (e.g. no honorarium and I paid my own travel expenses).  Since I was uninvited 2 days prior to the event, I ended up eating, personally, all my travel expenses.  There are perhaps folks out there in the climate debate living high off the hog from Exxon or Koch money, but if so that is definitely not me, so it came out of my own pocket.   I have waited a few days after this happened to cool off to make a point about the state of public discourse without being too emotional about it.

I don't want to get into the details of my presentation (you can see it here at Claremont-McKenna College) but it is called "Understanding the Climate Debate:  The Lost Middle Ground" (given the story that follows, this is deeply ironic).  The point of the presentation is that there is a pretty mainstream skeptic/lukewarmer position that manmade warming via greenhouse gasses is real but greatly exaggerated.  It even suggests a compromise legislative approach implementing a carbon tax offset by reductions in some other regressive tax (like payroll taxes) and accompanied by a reduction in government micro-meddling in green investments (e.g. ethanol subsidies, solyndra, EV subsidies, etc).

I am not going to name the specific group, because the gentleman running the groups' conference was probably just as pissed off as I at the forces that arrayed themselves to have me banned from speaking.  Suffice it to say that this is a sort of trade group that consists of people from both private companies and public agencies in Southern California.

Attentive readers will probably immediately look at the last sentence and guess whence the problem started.  Several public agencies, including the City of Los Angeles, voiced EXTREME displeasure with my being asked to speak.  The opposition, particularly from the LA city representative, called my presentation "the climate denier workshop" [ed note:  I don't deny there is a climate] and the organizer who invited me was sent flat Earth cartoons.

Now, it seems kind of amazing that a presentation that calls for a carbon tax and acknowledges 1-1.5 degrees C of man-made warming per century could be called an extremist denier presentation.  But here is the key to understand -- no one who opposed my presentation had ever bothered to see it.  This despite the fact that I sent them both a copy of the CMC video linked above as well as this very short 4-page summary from Forbes.  But everyone involved was more willing to spend hours and hours arguing that I was a child of Satan than they were willing to spend 5-minutes acquainting themselves with what I actually say.

In fact, I would be willing to bet that the folks who were most vociferous in their opposition to this talk have never actually read anything from a skeptic.  It is a hallmark of modern public discourse that people frequently don't know the other side's argument from the other side itself, but rather from its own side (Bryan Caplan, call your office).   This is roughly equivalent to knowing about Hillary Clinton's policy positions solely from listening to Rush Limbaugh.  It is a terrible way to be an informed adult participating in public discourse, but unfortunately it is a practice being encouraged by most universities.  Nearly every professor is Progressive or at least left of center.  Every speaker who is not left of center is banned or heckled into oblivion.  When a speaker who disagrees with the Progressive consensus on campus is let through the door, the university sponsors rubber rooms with coloring books and stuffed unicorns for delicate students.  There are actually prominent academics who argue against free speech and free exchange of diverse ideas on the theory that some ideas (ie all the ones they disagree with) are too dangerous be allowed a voice in public.   Universities have become cocoons for protecting young people from challenging and uncomfortable ideas.

I will take this all as a spur to do a next generation video or video series for YouTube  -- though YouTube has started banning videos not liked by the Left, there is still room there to have a public voice.  I just bought a nice new microphone so I guess it is time to get to work.  I am presenting in Regina next week (high 22F, yay!) but after that I will start working on a video.

Postscript:  You know what this reminds me of?  Back when I was a kid, forty years ago growing up in Texas, from time to time there would be a book-banning fight in the state.  Perhaps there still are such fights.  Generally some religious group will oppose a certain classic work of literature because it taught some bad moral lesson, or had bad words in it, or something.  But you know what often became totally clear in such events?  That the vast vast majority of the offended people had not actually read the book, or if they had, they could not remember any of it.  They were participating because someone else on their side told them they should be against the book, probably also someone else who had never even read the thing.  But I don't think that was the point.  The objective was one of virtue-signalling, to reinforce ties in their own tribe and make it clear that they did not like some other tribe.  At some point the content of the book became irrelevant to how the book was perceived by both tribes -- which is why I call this "post-modern" in my title.

Solar Roads -- Remember These When Environmentalists Accuse You of Being "Anti-Science"

I have written about the horribly stupid but oddly appealing idea of solar roads many times before, most recently here.  As a quick review, here are a few of the reasons the idea is so awful:

 Even if they can be made to sort of work, the cost per KwH has to be higher than for solar panels in a more traditional installations -- the panels are more expensive because they have to be hardened for traffic, and their production will be lower due to dirt and shade and the fact that they can't be angled to the optimal pitch to catch the most sun.  Plus, because the whole road has to be blocked (creating traffic snafus) just to fix one panel, it is far more likely that dead panels will just be left in place rather than replaced.

But the environmentalists are at it again, seem hell-bent on building solar roads with your tax money;  (hat tip to a reader, who knew these solar road stories are like crack for me)

France has opened what it claims to be the world’s first solar panel road, in a Normandy village.

A 1km (0.6-mile) route in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche covered with 2,800 sq m of electricity-generating panels, was inaugurated on Thursday by the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal.

It cost €5m (£4.2m) to construct and will be used by about 2,000 motorists a day during a two-year test period to establish if it can generate enough energy to power street lighting in the village of 3,400 residents.

The choice of Normandy for the first solar road is an odd one, given that:

Normandy is not known for its surfeit of sunshine: Caen, the region’s political capital, enjoys just 44 days of strong sunshine a year

Wow, nothing like a 12% utilization to really bump up those returns on investment.

The article follows the first rule of environmental writing, which is to give the investment required or the value of the benefits, but never both (so the return on investment can't be calculated).  This article follows this rule, by giving the investment but stating the benefits in a way that is impossible for the average person to put a value on, e.g. "enough energy to power street lighting in the village of 3,400 residents".  Since we have no idea how well-lighted their streets are or how efficient the lighting is, this is meaningless.  And by the way, they forgot to discuss any discussion of batteries and their cost if they really are going to run night-time lighting with solar.

But, the article does actually give something close to the numbers one would like to have to evaluate another similar investment, and oh boy are the numbers awful:

In 2014, a solar-powered cycle path opened in Krommenie in the Netherlands and, despite teething problems, has generated 3,000kWh of energy – enough to power an average family home for a year. The cost of building the cycle path, however, could have paid for 520,000kWh.

As a minimum, based on these facts, the path has been opened 2 years and thus generates 1500 kWh a year (though probably less since it likely has been open longer than 2 years).  This means that this investment repays about 0.29 percent of its investment every year.  If we ignore the cost of capital, and assume unlimited life of the panels (vs a more likely 5-10 years in this hard service) we get an investment payback period of only 347 years.  Yay!

Christmas Advice for Those Worried About Global Warming

If you are worried about greenhouse gasses and global warming, then I have some Christmas advice for you.   When you are done with your Christmas tree, do NOT take it to one of those "recycling" locations most towns have.  The recycling process is typically chipping and mulching the trees, which just accelerates their decomposition into greenhouse gasses.   If you are really concerned about catastrophic warming, you want to use your tree as a carbon sink.  Have it shrink-wrapped in some sort of plastic what won't biodegrade and then landfill it -- the deeper it is buried, the better.  Those folks trying to get you to "recycle" your tree are secretly in the pay of the Koch brothers and trying to trick you into ruining the environment.

I Owe An Apology to My Fellow Skeptics -- Apparently I Underestimated How Stupid the California Legislature Can Be

There was a period of time -- now a decade ago at least -- when folks were actually willing to have debates on climate and I was invited to participate in a number of them.  In several of these, fellow skeptics would try to mock alarmists by saying that cow farts are a big source of methane (a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2) and thus alarmists were going to be regulating cow farts soon.  On several time, I criticized my fellow skeptics, calling this both a conspiracy theory and a distraction from the real debate -- once someone says "cow farts" in a discussion, it is almost a lock that you will have a hard time getting back to serious science.

Well, I was wrong.  I am sorry to all those skeptics I derided for pushing the cow fart meme.  Because the California legislature did passed a law to regulate cow farts.

Well, sort of.  In fact, even the California legislature is not really stupid enough to require that long vent hoses be hooked up to the rear ends of all the cows in the state.  While you will hear this law derided as the cow fart legislation, it actually about cow poop -- specifically the collection of all the cow poop so it can be put into devices that contain and harvest the methane emissions from the poop.

What this is far more likely to be is not the cow fart or cow poop legislation, but the "send California's dairy business to other states" legislation.

In Case You Were Tempted To Have Any Respect for Arizona's State-run Universities: Professor Says Human Extinction in 10 Years is "A Lock"

From New Zealand:

There's no point trying to fight climate change - we'll all be dead in the next decade and there's nothing we can do to stop it, a visiting scientist claims.

Guy McPherson, a biology professor at the University of Arizona, says the human destruction of our own habitat is leading towards the world's sixth mass extinction.

Instead of fighting, he says we should just embrace it and live life while we can.

"It's locked down, it's been locked in for a long time - we're in the midst of our sixth mass extinction," he told Paul Henry on Thursday.

....

"I can't imagine there will be a human on the planet in 10 years," he says.

"We don't have 10 years. The problem is when I give a number like that, people think it's going to be business as usual until nine years [and] 364 days."

He says part of the reason he's given up while other scientists fight on is because they're looking at individual parts, such as methane emissions and the melting ice in the Arctic, instead of the entire picture.

"We're heading for a temperature within that span that is at or near the highest temperature experienced on Earth in the last 2 billion years."

Instead of trying to fix the climate, Prof McPherson says we should focus on living while we can.

"I think hope is a horrible idea. Hope is wishful thinking. Hope is a bad idea - let's abandon that and get on with reality instead. Let's get on with living instead of wishing for the future that never comes.

News Selection Bias

When some sort of "bad" phenomenon is experiencing a random peak, stories about this peak flood the media.  When the same "bad" phenomenon has an extraordinarily quiet year, there are no stories in the media.  This (mostly) innocuous media habit (based on their incentives) creates the impression among average folks that the "bad" phenomenon is on the rise, even when there is no such trend.

Case in point: tornadoes.  How many stories have you seen this year about what may well be a record low year for US tornadoes?

Postscript: By the way, some may see the "inflation-adjusted" term in the heading of the chart and think that is a joke, but there is a real adjustment required. Today we have doppler radar and storm chasers and all sorts of other tornado detection tools that did not exist in, say, 1950. So tornado counts in 1950 are known to understate actual counts we would get today and thus can't be compared directly. Since we did not miss many of the larger tornadoes in 1950, we can adjust the smaller numbers based on the larger numbers. This is a well-known effect and an absolutely necessary adjustment, though Al Gore managed to completely fail to do so when he discussed tornadoes in An Inconvenient Truth. Which is why the movie got the Peace prize, not a science prize, from the crazy folks in Oslo.

Is The Carbon Tax A Pricing Signal To Reduce CO2, Or A Funding Mechanism for a Patronage System to Feed Various Constituencies?

This is an absolutely fascinating article at Vox on efforts by green forces and the Left to defeat a carbon tax ballot initiative in Washington State.  The ballot initiative was written very similarly to my proposed plan, where a carbon tax would be made revenue neutral by offsetting other taxes, particularly regressive ones.

Apparently, the Left is opposing the initiative in part because

  1. It turns out the carbon tax, for many on the Left, is more about increasing the size of government rather than really (or at least solely) for climate policy, and thus they do not like the revenue neutrality aspects.  They see carbon taxes as one of the last new frontiers in new government revenue generation, and feel like it would be wasted to make it revenue neutral
  2. The Greens have made common cause with the social justice warrior types, so they dislike the Washington initiative because it fails to allow various social justice and ethnic groups cash in.
  3. Apparently, folks on both the Left and the Right actually like government picking winners and tinkering in individual subsidies and programs, such as funding various green energy and conservation initiatives.  To me, that stuff is all a total waste and made irrelevant by a carbon tax, whose whole point is to allow markets to make the most efficient CO2 reduction choices, but looking at this election it would not be the first time the electorate was ignorant on basic economics.

There is a real disconnect here that it is important to understand.  I don't think I really understood how many of us could use the term "carbon tax" but understand its operation in fundamentally different ways, but I think that is the case.

The authors of the law, like me, see the carbon tax as a pricing signal to efficiently change behaviors in the market around use of carbon-based fuels.  The whole point of a carbon tax is to let individual actions and market forces shape how solutions are created.  But the Left seems to see the carbon tax totally differently.  They don't understand, or don't accept, the power of the pricing signal in the market, or else they would not say things like they want a "put a fee on emissions and reinvest that revenue in clean energy" -- the latter is a redundant and pointless government action if one accepts the power of the tax, since individuals will already be responding by making such investments.  The Left instead sees the carbon tax as the source of a new kitty of money that then must be fought over in some sort of political process.

Check out this passage, and consider whether these folks are thinking of the carbon tax as a pricing signal or a source of new money to be spread around:

Either way, state social justice groups did not feel consulted. "Rather than engaging with these communities," wrote Rich Stolz and De'Sean Quinn of environmental justice group OneAmerica, "I-732 organizers patronized and ignored concerns raised by these stakeholders."

White people who work with other white people — and the white people who write about them — tend to slough off this critique. What matters, they insist, is the effect of the policy, not the historical accident of who wrote it down.

Bauman points to a set of policy demands posted by Black Lives Matter. Among them: "shift from sales taxes to taxing externalities such as environmental damage." Also: "Expand the earned income tax credit."

"Well," Bauman says, "we did both those things, right?"

But communities of color want more than for mostly white environmental groups to take their welfare into account. Most of all, affected groups want some say in what constitutes their welfare. "All of us want to be included from the beginning of any decision," says Schaefer. "We don't want to be told after the fact, ‘Hey, by the way, we decided all this stuff for you.’"

This tension within the climate movement has played out most recently in California, where low-income and minority groups have won substantial changes to the state’s climate law, ensuring that a larger portion of cap-and-trade revenue is directed to their communities. Given demographic changes sweeping the country — and climate funders’ newfound attention to building up the capacity of those groups — those tensions are unlikely to remain confined to the West Coast.

These folks see the carbon tax as a pool of money to fund a patronage system, and are thus scared that any groups not involved in crafting the legislation will be left out of the benefits of the patronage -- after all, that is how most programs from the Left are put together.  The Obama stimulus program back in 2009 was such a patronage project, and those who were in on crafting it got windfalls, and those who were left out of the process had to pay for it all.  Either the Left assume that everything works this way, even when it does not, or they want everything to work this way -- I don't know which.

One thing I do know is that I fear I am going to lose this argument in the future.  Here is one way to look at it -- are more people graduating from college looking at the world through the lens of markets and economics and incentives or are more graduating structuring issues in terms of social justice and government authority?

 

19h Century Climate Pseudoscience: Rain Follows the Plow

After the Civil War, as settlers began to settle the drier lands of the western plains, they noticed that the low rainfall had started to increase.    In what must be some impulse programmed into human behavior, folks at the time attributed this cyclical natural variation in climate to man's actions.  The theory went that actually settling the land and overturning the sod brought more rain, encapsulated by the phrase "rain follows the plow".

The theory arose in the late 1860s and 1870s during the westward expansion of European-American settlement west of the Missouri River and across the 100th meridian west. The definition can be found in the Kansas Journey Textbook as well. This was the traditional boundary line between the humid and semi-arid portions of central North America. Specifically, in the early part of the decade, white settlement had spread into central and western Nebraska along the Platte River. Emigrants on the Oregon Trail began reporting that the land in western Nebraska, previously known for its yellowed, dry vegetation during the summer, had seemingly become green.

Out of this evidence, some scientists concluded that the apparent increase in rain was due to the settlement and the effects of cultivation. One of the most prominent exponents of the theory in the United States was Cyrus Thomas, a noted climatologist. After studying the recent history of Colorado, he concluded that the increase in moisture was permanent, and that it coincided exactly with the first settlers' cultivating of the land. Other prominent advocates of the theory were Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, the notedgeographer who had explored and surveyed parts of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado; Samuel Aughey, a professor at the University of Nebraska; and Charles Dana Wilber, an amateur scientist and author.

Thomas and other climatologists offered a variety of explanations for the theory. A common idea was that the plowing of the soil for cultivation exposed the soil's moisture to the sky. In addition, newly planted trees and shrubs increased rainfall as well, as did smokefrom trains, or even the metal in the rails or the telegraph wires. Another hypothesis stated that the increased vibrations in the atmosphere due to human activity created additional clouds, from which rain fell. This idea led to the widespread dynamiting of the air across the Great Plains in the 1870s.[3]

The theory was widely embraced in its day, not only by scientists, but land speculators and emigrants. Some historians have argued that the theory was embraced readily as an outgrowth of Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States had a mission to expand, spreading its form of democracy and freedom. The theory is regarded as partially responsible for the rapid settlement of the Great Plains in the later 19th century. In 'The Great Valleys and Prairies of Nebraska and the Northwest', published in 1881, Charles Dana Wilber wrote:

In this miracle of progress, the plow was the unerring prophet, the procuring cause, not by any magic or enchantment, not by incantations or offerings, but instead by the sweat of his face toiling with his hands, man can persuade the heavens to yield their treasures of dew and rain upon the land he has chosen for his dwelling... ...The raindrop never fails to fall and answer to the imploring power or prayer of labor.[4]

William Gilpin, the first territorial governor of Colorado and an aide to President Abraham Lincoln, was a proponent of this theory. Gilpin was a strong believer in the idea of Manifest Destiny. One of his books was called The Mission of the North American People. He strongly promoted western settlement and invoked this theory as one of his reasons for people to migrate west.[5]

Climatologists now understand that increased vegetation and urbanization can result in increased precipitation. The effect, however, is local in scope, with increased rainfall typically coming at the expense of rainfall in nearby areas. It cannot result in a climatological change for an entire region. They also understand that the Great Plains had had a wetter than usual few seasons while this theory was developed and increasing settlement were both taking place. When normal arid conditions returned, homesteaders suffered

 

 

EEK! Those Power Plants Are Spewing Water Into the Atmosphere!

Yet another media article on CO2 illustrated with steam plumes

Postscript:  This is even funnier, potentially, since given the size and design of those cooling towers, this is very likely a nuclear plant, which of course has no CO2 emissions at all.

Postscript #2:  I tried a reverse image search to try to confirm my guess this is a nuclear plant.  This is what Google returned:

co2_fail

That will give you some idea how often the media has used this stock image of water vapor to illustrate CO2 articles.

Sounds Exactly Like Climate Alarm

Good excuse as any to relink this funny video on homeopathy

Not Written About Climate Science, But It Could Have Been

Michelle Minton on flawed government nutrition guidance and the science behind it:

Congress, of course, is an inherently political entity. And so when it — or any other government-appointed body — privileges one theory over another, it creates bias that trickles down to the research community. The problem is not simply that the government makes decisions on the basis of imperfect information, but that government intervention, itself, can distort the development of research.

For example, the theory that dietary fat plays a large role in cardiovascular disease was controversial in the scientific community, even as the government began relying on it to develop the first federal nutritional guidelines. In fact, a lot of the existing research contradicted it. Nevertheless, the theory flourished. Why? In part, no doubt, because researchers — many of whom rely on government grants — faced risks associated with bucking the new zeitgeist created by the government.

Nice Link From Megan McArdle

In Bloomberg, Megan McArdle gives me a nice link to my climate series that begins here.  Some of you may wonder if I know about such things in advance.  The answer is no.  The only way I really knew was that I woke up in my little hotel in Bruges and fired up my email on my 300 baud hotel internet connection and found about 20 loooong emails wishing to discuss some aspects of climate in detail.   Which I actually really enjoy, except that I was sort of unprepared for the deluge.

I will get back to everyone in time.  I do enjoy the feedback, and consider myself pretty persuadable on climate topics.

PS-  If you have not seen the movie "In Bruges", it is not particularly well-known but is a good film, imho.

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.

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.

Slide82

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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?

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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.

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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".

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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.

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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:

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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?

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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:

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

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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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:

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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

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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:

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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.

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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?

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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).

 

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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.