Posts tagged ‘Al Gore’

The Profit Motive Rocks

This post from TJIC, which is really about something entirely different, mentions that the price of cocaine has been dropping sharply over the last 10 years.  This is something I have heard police officials lament as well.

Does the profit motive rock or what?  The largest and most powerful government in the world stations armed men and ships around the country.  It has a legal system in place with huge penalties that has of late been nearly entirely dedicated to drug enforcement.  The US has even subverted 200 year old Constitutional restrictions on searches and property seizures (the Patriot Act is mostly used for drug, not terrorism, actions).  All to stop the importation of certain valuable substances.  And even so, the human mind is powerful enough to subvert all of these restrictions and bring in so much supply that the price continues to drop.

Al Gore believes that alternative energy efforts in the US are being subverted by the oil companies:

Apparently, according to Gore, the oil companies drive up prices
reducing supply and then depress them in a telling pattern. As soon as
the political will swells to a light boil, the companies reduce
prices/increase supply.

Really?  Independent drug traders are able to subvert a million government officials with guns to keep cocaine prices low, but Exxon, with a 5% market share (at most) in oil, is able to hold the line on oil supply?

Sure.  In 1972 and 1978 there were a series of oil price shocks (to real levels about where they are today) that convinced everyone that oil prices would keep going up and up and that oil would run out within a few decades.  Of course, in about 1984 oil prices crashed, and stayed down for almost 20 years.  Depending on how you date it, it took oil supply development between 6 and 12 years after the price signal to flood the world with oil, and that was in an environment with price controls and windfall profit taxes that reduced development incentives. 

Right now, we are about 5 years in to the current oil price spike.  Go long at your own risk.

More on supply and demand vs. price manipulation in oil here.  More on Al Gore, including a fisking of his solar plan, here.

Update: Of course, the Democrats in Congress are doing everything possible to keep oil prices up.  If I wanted to ensure high oil prices, I would 1.  Kill incentives to increase supply, perhaps with a "windfall" profits tax and 2.  Put the most promising potential new exploration areas off-limits to new development.  Congressional scorecard:  #2 is in place, and both Obama and Hillary and Pelosi are proposing #1.

Update #2:   Another thought on Gore's statement:  The boom-bust
patterns in oil are characteristic of nearly every other commodity out
there, which therefore presupposes that if oil prices are the result of
manipulation, then every other commodity must be as well since their
prices demonstrate the same patterns.  We see these patterns in
commodities that politicians have never even heard of and in which they
have never thought to exercise their "political will."  (political will
in this context defined as use of government force against a segment of
the populace).

A reasonable person might
suppose that the surge in prices followed by a drop a number of years
later is better explained by the time delay in increasing oil
production after oil prices spike. In many ways, Al's theory is simply
delusional.  If your friend started trying to tell you, in all
seriousness, that every action Microsoft takes is actually aimed at
thwarting him personally, you would think him insane.  But this is
effectively Gore's argument, showing the immensity of the politician's
ego.  Oil prices move not because of supply and demand, but because of
us politicians.  Every tick up and down is carefully managed to thwart
us brave Congressmen!

When a politician describes price signals as mainly influencing political actions, rather than the actions of free producers and consumers, they are probably a socialist.

Cui Bono?

Here is something I didn't know:  Way back in the 1990's, Enron was lobbying hard for cap and trade legislation to create a lucrative new trading profit center for the company (HT Tom Nelson)

In the early 1990s Enron had helped establish the market for, and
became the major trader in, EPA's $20 billion-per-year sulphur dioxide
cap-and-trade program, the forerunner of today's proposed carbon credit
trade. This commodity exchange of emission allowances caused Enron's
stock to rapidly rise.

Then came the inevitable question, what
next? How about a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program? The problem was
that CO2 is not a pollutant, and therefore the EPA had no authority to
cap its emission. Al Gore took office in 1993 and almost immediately
became infatuated with the idea of an international environmental
regulatory regime. He led a U.S. initiative to review new projects
around the world and issue "˜credits' of so many tons of annual CO2
emission reduction. Under law a tradeable system was required, which
was exactly what Enron also wanted because they were already trading
pollutant credits.

Thence Enron vigorously lobbied Clinton and
Congress, seeking EPA regulatory authority over CO2. From 1994 to 1996,
the Enron Foundation contributed nearly $1 million dollars - $990,000 -
to the Nature Conservancy, whose Climate Change Project promotes global
warming theories. Enron philanthropists lavished almost $1.5 million on
environmental groups that support international energy controls to
"reduce" global warming. Executives at Enron worked closely with the
Clinton administration to help create a scaremongering climate science
environment because the company believed the treaty could provide it
with a monstrous financial windfall. The plan was that once the problem
was in place the solution would be trotted out.

With Enron out of the picture, the way is clear for new players to dominate this multi-billion dollar new business.  And look who is ready to take over from Enron:

The investment
vehicle headed by Al Gore has closed a new $683m fund to invest in
early-stage environmental companies and has mounted a robust defence of
green investing.

The Climate Solutions Fund will be one of the biggest in the growing market for investment funds with an environmental slant.

The fund
will be focused on equity investments in small companies in four
sectors: renewable energy; energy efficiency technologies; energy from
biofuels and biomass; and the carbon trading markets.

This is
the second fund from Generation Investment Management, chaired by the
former vice-president of the US and managed by David Blood, former head
of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

The first, the Global Equity
Strategy Fund, has $2.2bn invested in large companies the company
judges have "sustainable" businesses, from an environmental, social and
economic viewpoint. Mr Blood said he expected that fund to be worth
$5bn within two years, based on commitments from interested investors.

Going green indeed.

What We Learn About Climate and Public Policy from Y2K

Remember Y2K?  If you took the media and politicians seriously, this sure did seem like it was going to big a big apocalyptic deal (see survey in the postscript about economic depression and civil insurrection).  Until it wasn't.

Odd Citizen points to an interesting study on this topic.  The author links this
Australian study
looking retrospectively at the Y2K scare, trying to understand
why an irrational collective hysteria developed that allowed for no skepticism
(seem familiar).  The whole thing is interesting, but here is the money

From the perspective of public administration, the two most
compelling observations relate to conformity and collective amnesia. The
response to Y2K shows how relatively subtle characteristics of a policy problem
may produce a conformist response in which no policy actors have any incentive
to oppose, or even to critically assess, the dominant view. Moreover, in a
situation where a policy has been adopted and implemented with unanimous
support, or at least without any opposition, there is likely to be little
interest in critical evaluation when it appears that the costs of the policy
have outweighed the benefits.

The article is written without any reference to current
climate issues, but wow, does this sound familiar?  It is a dead-on description of what is occurring with global warming. 

The author also goes on to discuss public choice theory and why it is not necessarily a good explanatory model for the Y2K scare.  He argues that a better explanation was the asymmetry of blame:

Individuals and groups who argued for a 'fix on failure' approach stood to benefit only modestly if this approach avoided unnecessary costs, but faced the risk of blame in the event of significant system failures attributable (accurately or otherwise) to Y2K related problems. Conversely, it was evident in advance that there was little risk of loss to individuals who advocated comprehensive remediation. The absence of any serious Y2K problems could always be attributed to the success of the remediation program.

The asymmetry of incentives was amplified by the possibility of litigation, particularly in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in other English-speaking countries. The reliance of the United States on tort litigation as a method of compensating those experiencing adverse outcomes of various kinds produces a strong bias in favour of 'defensive' expenditures. In particular, jurors have been highly unsympathetic to individuals and organisations that have chosen to disregard known low-probability risks.

The special characteristics of the Y2K problem were ideally suited to produce this kind of reaction. On the one hand, the problem was both widespread and comprehensible to non-experts, such as potential jurors. On the other hand, if 'embedded systems' are disregarded, the Y2K problem differed from most other computer 'bugs' in that a complete solution was feasible, though very expensive.

In these circumstances, litigation against organisations that had failed to undertake comprehensive Y2K remediation, and experienced any form of system breakdown in early 2000, was virtually guaranteed of success. By contrast, the risk of blame being allocated to organisations that overspent on Y2K remediation was perceived to be minimal. The absence of litigation or other processes for the allocation of blame in the aftermath of the Y2K non-event shows that this perception was accurate.

A rough parallel to this in the global warming world is the apparent ease of assigning blame for CO2 emissions to energy producers and car manufacturers (despite the fact that it is all of us who uses this energy and buys these cars) vs. the reluctance of media and others to quantify and assign blame for reductions in wealth and economic prosperity that might result from CO2 limitations.

Postscript:  One other thing that is interesting to me as a libertarian:  I often point out that the political parties are a joke, a mish-mash of shifting political positions that has little to do with deeply held theories of government and more to do with branding and populist electioneering.  The Y2K-Climate comparison caused me to find a good example.  In 1999, it was the Republicans using the Y2K issue as a club on the Democrats, arguing that the Clinton Administration, and Al Gore in particular, were ignoring this critical end-of-the-world crisis and that the government needed to be doing more.  Really.  Just check this out from Dec, 1999:

Last year, The National Journal devoted an entire issue to the subject, with headlines such as "The Big Glitch" and "Sorry, Al, This Bug's for You." In the special issue, Neil Munro cites a survey of industry and government executives and
programmers concerning potential fallout from the millennium bug, showing that 70 percent
anticipated a negative effect on the economy, with 10 percent of respondents not ruling
out the possibility of economic depression and civil insurrection.   

With a technology problem of this magnitude on the national horizon, where was the leadership of the nation's No. 1 techno-nerd and self-proclaimed creator of the "information superhighway," Vice President Al Gore?   

Gore's familiarity with and personal interest in technology, specifically computer technology, makes suspect his long silence on the Y2K issue.   

In his biography, "Gore: A Political Life," Bob Zelnick writes that Gore "had nothing to say during the first five-and-a-half years of his vice presidency
about the biggest problem in the history of high-tech America."

Let the record show that I was a Y2K skeptic before I was a climate skeptic.

I may be making common cause with some Republicans on the climate issue at the moment, but I don't trust them.  In fact, already we see McCain jumping on the climate bandwagon (as he does with every populist issue -- he believes in nothing) and I have a strong sense GWB may dive into the climate fray quite soon.

The Keystone Issue of Global Warming

Cross-posted from Climate Skeptic.  I believe this to be an extremely important issue.  Catastrophic global warming forecasts are driven not by greenhouse gas theory, but by the theory that the Earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This post discusses these issues:

It is silly to argue whether CO2 in the atmosphere can cause global warming: It clearly does.  The issue is not "if" but "how much".  The warming from man's CO2 might be 8 degrees in a century, as Al Gore might argue, in which case man's CO2 would be incredibly disruptive.  Or it might cause just a few tenths of a degree of warming, which might be unnoticeable within the noise of natural climate variation.

Interestingly, the key to understanding this issue of the amount of warming does not actually lie in greenhouse gas theory.  Most scientists, skeptics and alarmists alike, peg the warming directly from CO2 at between 0.3 and 1.0 degrees Celsius for a doubling in CO2 levels  (this notion of how much temperatures would increase for a doubling of CO2 levels is called climate sensitivity).  If this greenhouse gas warming was the only phenomenon at work, we would expect man-made warming over the next century even using the most dire assumptions to be less than 1C, or about the same amount we have seen (non-catastrophically) over the last century.  Warming forecasts of this magnitude would not in any way, shape, or form justify the draconian economic impacts of many current government carbon reduction proposals.

The key, as I have written before (and here), lies not in greenhouse gas theory itself but in the theory that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This theory hypothesizes that small changes in temperature from greenhouse gas increases would be multiplied 3,4,5 times or more by positive feedback effects, from changes in atmospheric water vapor to changing surface albedo.

Let me emphasize again:  The catastrophe results not from greenhouse gas theory, but from the theory of extreme climactic positive feedback.  In a large sense, all the debate in the media is about the wrong thing!  When was the last time you saw the words "positive feedback" in a media article about climate?

Christopher Monckton has an absolutely dead-on post at Roger Pielke's blog about this feedback theory that I want to excerpt in depth.

This chart is a good place to start.  It shows the changes in the IPCC's estimate for climate sensitivity to CO2 and how it has changed over the course of the reports.  More importantly, he splits the forecast between the amount due directly to Co2, and the amount due to the multiplicative effect of positive feedback.  The green bar is the direct contribution of Co2, and the pink is the feedback.


We can observe a couple of things.  First, the IPCC's estimate of the amount of warming due to CO2 directly via the greenhouse gas effect has actually been going down over time.  (Note that there are those, like Richard Lindzen, who suggest these numbers are still three times too high given that we have not observed a difference in surface and lower troposphere warming that greenhouse gas theory seems to predict).

Second, you will see that the IPCC's overall forecasts of climate sensitivity have been going up only because their estimates of positive feedback effects have gone way up.  The IPCC assumes that feedback effects multiply warming from CO2 by three.  And note that the IPCC's forecasts of feedback effects trail those of folks like James Hansen and Al Gore. 

So how confident are we in these feedback effects?  Well, it turns out we are not even sure of the sign!  As Monckton writes:

The feedback factor f accounts for at least two-thirds of all radiative forcing in IPCC (2007); yet it is not expressly quantified, and no "Level Of Scientific Understanding" is assigned either to f or to the two variables b and κ upon which it is dependent....

Indeed, in IPCC (2007) the stated values for the feedbacks that account for more than two-thirds of humankind's imagined effect on global temperatures are taken from a single paper. The value of the coefficient z in the CO2 forcing equation likewise depends on only one paper. The implicit value of the crucial parameter κ depends upon only two papers, one of which had been written by a lead author of the chapter in question, and neither of which provides any theoretical or empirical justification for the IPCC's chosen value. The notion that the IPCC has drawn on thousands of published, peer-reviewed papers to support its central estimates for the variables from which climate sensitivity is calculated is not supported by the evidence.

Given the importance of feedback to their forecasts, the treatment in the latest IPCC report of feedback borders on the criminal.  I have read the relevant sections and it is nearly impossible to find any kind of discussion of these issues.  A cynical mind might describe the thousands of pages of the IPCC report as the magician grabbing your attention with his left hand to hide what is in his right hand.  And what is being hidden is that ... there is nothing there!  Feedback is the pivotal point on which the whole discussion of drastic carbon abatement should turn and there is nothing there. 

Monckton goes further, to point out that hidden in the IPCC numbers lies an absurdity:

if the upper estimates of each of the climate-relevant feedbacks listed in IPCC (2007) are summed, an instability arises. The maxima are -

Water vapor 1.98, lapse rate -0.58, surface albedo 0.34, cloud albedo 1.07, CO2 0.57, total 3.38 W m-2 K-1.

The equation f = (1 - bκ)-1 becomes unstable as b → κ-1 = 3.2 W m-2 K-1. Yet, if each of the individual feedbacks imagined by the IPCC is increased to less than the IPCC's maximum, an instability or "runaway greenhouse effect" is reached.

Yet it is reliably inferred from palaeoclimatological data that no "runaway greenhouse effect" has occurred in the half billion years since the Cambrian era, when atmospheric CO2 concentration peaked at almost 20 times today's value

Positive feedback can be weird and unstable.  If there is enough of it, processes tend to run away (e.g. nuclear fission), which is what Monckton is arguing that some of the IPCC assumptions lead to.  Even when feedback is less positive, it still can cause processes to fluctuate wildly.  In fact, it is fairly unusual for long-term stable processes like climate to be dominated by positive feedback.  Most scientists, when then meet a new process, would probably assume negative feedback until proven otherwise.  This is a particular issue in climate, where folks like Michael Mann have gone out of their way to argue that the world temperature history over the last 1000 years before man began burning fossil fuels is incredibly stable and unchanging.  If so, how can this be consistent with strong positive feedback?

Anyway, there is a lot more numerical detail in Monckton's post if you want to dig into the equations.

I would add one thing to his analysis:  If you look at the last 100 years of history, the change in temperature given the observed change in CO2 levels comes no where close to a climate sensitivity of 3 or more, even when you assign all historical warming to CO2 rather than other effects like the sun.  In fact, as I showed in this analysis, climate sensitivity appears to be 1.2 when one assigns all past warming to CO2, and something well less than that if one accepts the sun and other effects also play a role.  These historical analyses would point to feedback that is either zero or negative rather than positive, more in line with what one would expect from complex natural systems.

You can see a discussion of many of these topics in the video below:

Global Warming / Biofuel Tragedy

Time, not always my favorite publication, hit on a couple of points I have made recently in an article called the Clean Energy Scam.  This article has been around for a few weeks but I am only just now getting to it.

First, I made the point just the other day that inordinate focus on global warming is crowding out other more important environmental issues, sucking the oxygen out of causes like private land trusts that are attempting to preserve unique areas.  As Time says:

The Amazon was the chic eco-cause of the 1990s, revered as an
incomparable storehouse of biodiversity. It's been overshadowed lately
by global warming

Much has been made of Brazil's efforts to reduce imported oil.  Too much credit has been given to ethanol -- most of Brazil's independence came from a number of domestic oil developments.  However, Brazil has been a leading promoter of ethanol through government policy, and this focus on ethanol has had a lot to do with deforestation in the Amazon, as rising crop prices due to biofuel mandates have spurred a rush to clear new land.  Now, US and European ethanol policies are just accelerating this trend:

This land rush is being accelerated by an unlikely source: biofuels. An
explosion in demand for farm-grown fuels has raised global crop prices
to record highs, which is spurring a dramatic expansion of Brazilian
agriculture, which is invading the Amazon at an increasingly alarming

it never made any sense that a fuel that requires more energy to produce than it provides could ever be "green," but only now are the politically correct forces accepting what I and others have been saying for years:

But several new studies show the biofuel boom is doing exactly the
opposite of what its proponents intended: it's dramatically
accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of
saving it. Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to
be environmentally disastrous. Even cellulosic ethanol made from
switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists and eco-investors
as well as by President Bush as the fuel of the future, looks less
green than oil-derived gasoline.

The rest of the article is quite good.  I don't like to criticize where other people choose to spend their charitable dollars, but it is just amazing to me that environmentally-concerned people could give $300 million to Al Gore just to squander on advertising.  (By the way, Al Gore claims to have not only invented the Internet, but to have "saved" corn ethanol from government defunding).  I think about how much $300 million could have achieve in private land trusts trying to buy up and preserve the Amazon, and I could cry.  But all I can do is plug along and give what I can.  I donate to both the Nature Conservancy and World Land Trust.

Can't Anyone Solve Problems Without the Government?

Here is today's lament in the Arizona Republic:

Government plans to more than double the size of Petrified Forest
National Park appear to be in jeopardy because Congress has failed to
come up with the cash to buy surrounding properties.

The upshot: An irreplaceable treasure of dinosaur bones and Indian
ruins may be lost as ranchers sell off their properties for subdivision
and development.

And Petrified Forest is not alone. A study to be released April 8 by
the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, says 56 federal
historic and recreation sites "could lose
land inside their borders to developers this year." Others on the list
range from Gettysburg National Military Park near Philadelphia to
Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

Here is an idea:  All you folks who are worried about these "treasures" can pool your money and buy the properties yourselves.  That way you can either take charge of the preservations or donate the land to the government to do so.  This is how many public parks came into being in the first place, from private donations.

Of course, this was back in the days when environmental groups actually spent their money on the environment.  Today, they spend their money instead on lobbying.  The more modern approach is not to spend your own money on the environment, but to lobby the government to force other people to spend their money on the environment.  That is why people have apparently donated $300 million dollars (!) to Al Gore to create an advertising campaign dedicated to trying to spur government action on CO2.  Rather than donating money to help solve the problem, people now donate money to push for government coercion.

Besides representing the modern approach to environmentalism  (ie don't work the problem, just lobby the government to force other people to work the problem), Gore's campaign also represents a new frontier in rent-seeking.  He has managed to get people to donate $300 million dollars to advocate government action that will likely have very little actual impact on the climate, but may have a huge impact on Al Gore's managed $5 billion investment fund.  Congrats, Al.  Even the kings of rent-seeking at ADM would not have had the cojones to ask folks to donate to a charitable advertising fund to support their subsidy requests.


Solar Has A Ways to Go

I have not ever been able to make solar installation on my house get a reasonable payback, even with rising electricity rates, the best location in the country for solar, and huge government subsidies.  Large solar installations remain a publicity stunt, a sort of really expensive indulgence bought to garner the "green" title:

Scott Gustafson runs the numbers on the solar installation at the revamped Phoenix convention center:

capital cost:  $850,000
operating costs:  not provided
annual electricity savings:  $15,000
return on investment (ignoring operating costs and interest):  1.7%

Solar is still a fine toy for the rich and public figures like Al Gore looking to disguise their true carbon footprint.  But the economics aren't there yet for big boy investors -- its still off by an order of magnitude, at least.

Hopefully, this will change as high energy prices encourage innovation.

Climate Thought for the Day

Via Climate Skeptic:

The catastrophe that Al Gore and others prophesy as a result of greenhouse
gases is actually not, even by their admission, a direct result of greenhouse
gas emissions.  Even the IPCC believes that warming directly resulting from
manmade CO2 emissions is on the order of 1 degree C for a doubling of CO2 levels
in the atmosphere (and many think it to be less). 

The catastrophe comes, not from a mere 1 degree of warming, but from the
multiplication for this warming 3,4,5 times or more by hypothesized positive
feedback effects in the climate.   Greenhouse gas theory gives us warming
numbers we might not even be able to find amidst the natural variations of our
climate;  it is the theory of strong positive climate feedback that gives us the

So, In a large sense, the proposition that we face environmental armageddon
due to CO2 rests not on greenhouse gas theory, which is pretty well understood,
but on the theory that our climate system is dominated by strong positive
feedbacks.  This theory of positive feedback is almost never discussed publicly,
in part because it is far shakier and less understood than greenhouse gas
theory.  In fact, it is very probable that we have the sign, much less the magnitude,
of major feedback effects wrong.  But if we are considering legislation to gut
our economies in order to avoid a hypothesized climate catastrophe, we should be
spending a lot more time putting scrutiny on this theory of positive feedback,
rather than just greenhouse gas theory.

Al Gore vs. the Environment

Yesterday, I noted Al Gore bragging that he played a critical role in passing current biofuel mandates, making him the father of ethanol, not just the Internet.  The great goddess of irony is having a field day:

Environmentalists are warning against expanding the production of
biofuels, noting the proposed solution to global warming is actually
causing more harm than it is designed to alleviate. Experts report
biodiesel production, in particular, is causing the destruction of
virgin rainforests and their rich biodiversity, as well as a sharp rise
in greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents of biofuels read like a Who's Who of environmental
activist groups. The Worldwatch Institute, World Conservation Union,
and the global charity Oxfam warn that by directing food staples to the
production of transport fuels, biofuels policy is leading to the
starvation and further impoverishment of the world's poor.

On November 15, Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior unfurled a large banner
reading "Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate" and blockaded a tanker
attempting to leave Indonesia with a cargo full of palm oil.
Greenpeace, which warns of an imminent "climate bomb" due to the
destruction of rich forests and peat bogs that currently serve as a
massive carbon sink, reports groups such as the World Wildlife Fund,
Conservation International, and Flora and Fauna International have
joined them in calling for an end to the conversion of forests to
croplands for the production of biofuels

"The rush to address speculative global warming concerns is once
again proving the law of unintended consequences," said James M.
Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland
Institute. "Biofuels mandates and subsidies are causing the destruction
of forests and the development of previously pristine lands in a
counterproductive attempt to improve the environment.

"Some of the world's most effective carbon sinks are being destroyed
and long-stored carbon is now being released into the atmosphere in
massive quantities, merely to make wealthy Westerners feel like they
are 'doing something' to address global warming. The reality is, they
are making things worse," Taylor noted.

Let Us Not Forget This

It is good to know that Al Gore is proud of supporting, even "saving," corn-based ethanol (from a pro-ethanol site):

Vice-President Al Gore
Third Annual Farm Journal Conference, December 1, 1998

was also proud to stand up for the ethanol tax exemption when it was
under attack in the Congress -- at one point, supplying a tie-breaking
vote in the Senate to save it. The more we can make this home-grown
fuel a successful, widely-used product, the better-off our farmers and
our environment will be."

It is good to know that when the economic and environmental toll from our disastrous subsidization of corn ethanol is finally tallied, we will know where to send the bill.

HT: Tom Nelson

Update: More Here on Ethanol Craziness

Al Gore and the Peace Prize

Several readers have asked for my comment.  This is what I posted over at Climate Skeptic:

morning I was all fired up to write something petty, like "Al Gore now
has made the same contributions to peace as have previous winners
Yassir Arafat and Henry Kissinger."  Later, I considered a long and
drawn out post on the inaccuracies of "An Inconvinient Truth", but I
really have already done that in long form here and in short form here.
In truth, the Peace prize process has for years been about a group of
leftish statists making a statement, and often it has been about
tweaking the US, rather than a dispassionate analysis of true
contributions to peace made with the benefit of some historic distance
(as is done with the scientific prizes).  Further, most folks I argue
with don't really care about the specific inacuracies in Gore's movie,
their response typically being something in the "fake but accurate"
line of reasoning.

So instead I will say what I told a reader by email a few hours
ago.  I tend to be optimistic about the world, and believe that we are
approaching a high water mark (so to speak) for the climate
catastrophists, where we will look back and see their influence peak
and start unwinding under the presure of science and the reality of the
enormous cost to abate CO2.  Gore's Peace prize, in the same year as
his Oscar and that global warming music festival no one can even
remember the name of 3 months later, feels to me like it may be that
high water mark.   The Peace Prize certainly was the high water mark
for Jimmy Carter's credibility, not to mention that of Henry Kissinger
and a myriad of others.  Think of it this way -- if the guys who made
the peace prize decisions were investors, and you knew what they were
investing in, you would sell short.  Seriously, just look at the
group.  Well, they just invested in Al Gore.

Update:  One thing many commenters have not pointed
out is that Al Gore is really manuevering the US and China and India
(and the rest of the developping world) into a position that, if he has
his way, conflict is going to occur over who gets to grow and develop,
and who does not.  CO2 catastrophism has the ablility to be the single
most destabalizing issue of the 21st century. This is peace?

Al Gore's $100 Million Screensaver

This is an interesting study of the intersection of politics and science at NASA:

The new dramatic invention of the inventor of the Internet was to place
a satellite so far that the whole Earth can be observed 24 hours a day.
Isn't it fascinating? Why didn't you think about that? 🙂 Some
scientists refined the details for him - for example that the satellite
should be located in the L1 Lagrange point. The price? Well, the first
modest estimate was USD 135 million.

If you think about it for a
while, the scientific content of this project is next to nil. It is a
typical idea of a crackpot who has no tools to determine whether a
project is scientifically interesting or not. Already in 1999, during the Clinton-Gore administration, the project - nicknamed GoreSat or Gore's Screensaver - was more or less doomed. NASA Inspector General has also determined that the project is driven by politics, not science. It was found that the budget estimate was underestimated, too.

did they ever justify to study that project at all? Did they just tell
NASA that it has appeared in a dream of a prophet? Well, Al Gore wanted
the fresh picture of the whole Earth (well, just one-half, but it's OK)
to be constantly available as a source of inspiration: people could
finally see through the Internet, his other invention, that the Earth
is a little vulnerable child who has a fever. 😉 NASA added some
survey tasks, including measurements of the albedo every fifteen
minutes, that were not really needed and that are effectively performed
by existing devices, for example by CERES.


A couple of weeks ago, Newsweek published a front-page article demonizing ExxonMobil for given $10,000 honorariums to researchers likely to publish work skeptical of catastrophic man-made global warming.  If $10,000 is corrupting and justifies such an ad hominem attack, what are we to make of $100 million (pronounced in Dr. Evil voice with pinkie to lips) a year in pro-catastrophe spending:

That's right, $100 million per year. Al Gore,
who seems to think it is sinister for other people to spend money in
order to communicate their ideas about sound public policy is going to
outspend the entire mass of climate policy critics tenfold in order to
spread his message of environmental catastrophism to the public.

Speech:  OK for me, but not for thee.

Postscript:  By the way, I fully support Mr. Gore and his donor's efforts to let their viewpoint be heard.  I just wonder why they don't extend me the same courtesy.

Breaking News: Recent US Temperature Numbers Revised Downwards Today

This is really big news, and a fabulous example of why two-way scientific discourse is still valuable, in the same week that both Newsweek and Al Gore tried to make the case that climate skeptics were counter-productive and evil. 

Climate scientist Michael Mann (famous for the hockey stick chart) once made the statement that  the 1990's were the
warmest decade in a millennia and that "there is a 95 to 99% certainty
that 1998 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years." (By
the way, Mann now denies he ever made this claim, though you can watch him say
these exact words in the CBC documentary Global
Warming:  Doomsday Called Off

Well, it turns out, according to the NASA GISS database, that 1998 was not even the hottest year of the last century.  This is because many temperatures from recent decades that appeared to show substantial warming have been revised downwards.  Here is how that happened (if you want to skip the story, make sure to look at the numbers at the bottom).

One of the most cited and used historical surface temperature databases is that of NASA/Goddard's GISS.  This is not some weird skeptics site.  It is considered one of the premier world temperature data bases, and it is maintained by anthropogenic global warming true believers.  It has consistently shown more warming than any other data base, and is thus a favorite source for folks like Al Gore.  These GISS readings in the US rely mainly on the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN) which is a network of about 1000 weather stations taking temperatures, a number of which have been in place for over 100 years.

Frequent readers will know that I have been a participant in an effort led by Anthony Watts at to photo-document these temperature stations as an aid to scientists in evaluating the measurement quality of each station.  The effort has been eye-opening, as it has uncovered many very poor instrument sitings that would bias temperature measurements upwards, as I found in Tucson and Watts has documented numerous times on his blog.

One photo on Watt's blog got people talking - a station in MN with a huge jump in temperature about the same time some air conditioning units were installed nearby.   Others disagreed, and argued that such a jump could not be from the air conditioners, since a lot of the jump happened with winter temperatures when the AC was dormant.  Steve McIntyre, the Canadian statistician who helped to expose massive holes in Michael Mann's hockey stick methodology, looked into it.  After some poking around, he began to suspect that the GISS data base had a year 2000 bug in one of their data adjustments.

One of the interesting aspects of these temperature data bases is that they do not just use the raw temperature measurements from each station.  Both the NOAA (which maintains the USHCN stations) and the GISS apply many layers of adjustments, which I discussed here.  One of the purposes of Watt's project is to help educate climate scientists that many of the adjustments they make to the data back in the office does not necessarily represent the true condition of the temperature stations.  In particular, GISS adjustments imply instrument sitings are in more natural settings than they were in say 1905, an outrageous assumption on its face that is totally in conflict to the condition of the stations in Watt's data base.  Basically, surface temperature measurements have a low signal to noise ratio, and climate scientists have been overly casual about how they try to tease out the signal.

Anyway, McIntyre suspected that one of these adjustments had a bug, and had had this bug for years.  Unfortunately, it was hard to prove.  Why?  Well, that highlights one of the great travesties of climate science.  Government scientists using taxpayer money to develop the GISS temperature data base at taxpayer expense refuse to publicly release their temperature adjustment algorithms or software (In much the same way Michael Mann refused to release the details for scrutiny of his methodology behind the hockey stick).  Using the data, though, McIntyre made a compelling case that the GISS data base had systematic discontinuities that bore all the hallmarks of a software bug.

Today, the GISS admitted that McIntyre was correct, and has started to republish its data with the bug fixed.  And the numbers are changing a lot.  Before today, GISS would have said 1998 was the hottest year on record (Mann, remember, said with up to 99% certainty it was the hottest year in 1000 years) and that 2006 was the second hottest.  Well, no more.  Here are the new rankings for the 10 hottest years in the US, starting with #1:

1934, 1998, 1921, 2006, 1931, 1999, 1953, 1990, 1938, 1939

Three of the top 10 are in the last decade.  Four of the top ten are in the 1930's, before either the IPCC or the GISS really think man had any discernible impact on temperatures.  Here is the chart for all the years in the data base:

There are a number of things we need to remember:

  • This is not the end but the beginning of the total reexamination that needs to occur of the USHCN and GISS data bases.  The poor correction for site location and urbanization are still huge issues that bias recent numbers upwards.  The GISS also has issues with how it aggregates multiple stations, apparently averaging known good stations with bad stations a process that by no means eliminates biases.  As a first step, we must demand that NOAA and GISS release their methodology and computer algorithms to the general public for detailed scrutiny by other scientists.
  • The GISS today makes it clear that these adjustments only affect US data and do not change any of their conclusions about worldwide data.  But consider this:  For all of its faults, the US has the most robust historical climate network in the world.  If we have these problems, what would we find in the data from, say, China?  And the US and parts of Europe are the only major parts of the world that actually have 100 years of data at rural locations.  No one was measuring temperature reliably in rural China or Paraguay or the Congo in 1900.  That means much of the world is relying on urban temperature measurement points that have substantial biases from urban heat.
  • All of these necessary revisions to surface temperatures will likely not make warming trends go away completely.  What it may do is bring the warming down to match the much lower satellite measured warming numbers we have, and will make current warming look more like past natural warming trends (e.g. early in this century) rather than a catastrophe created by man.  In my global warming book, I argue that future man-made warming probably will exist, but will be more like a half to one degree over the coming decades than the media-hyped numbers that are ten times higher.

So how is this possible?  How can the global warming numbers used in critical policy decisions and scientific models be so wrong with so basic of an error?  And how can this error have gone undetected for the better part of a decade?  The answer to the latter question is because the global warming  and climate community resist scrutiny.  This weeks Newsweek article and statements by Al Gore are basically aimed at suppressing any scientific criticism or challenge to global warming research.  That is why NASA can keep its temperature algorithms secret, with no outside complaint, something that would cause howls of protest in any other area of scientific inquiry.

As to the first question, I will leave the explanation to Mr. McIntyre:

While acolytes may call these guys "professionals", the process of
data adjustment is really a matter of statistics and even accounting.
In these fields, Hansen and Mann are not "professionals" - Mann
admitted this to the NAS panel explaining that he was "not a
statistician". As someone who has read their works closely, I do not
regard any of these people as "professional". Much of their reluctance
to provide source code for their methodology arises, in my opinion,
because the methods are essentially trivial and they derive a certain
satisfaction out of making things appear more complicated than they
are, a little like the Wizard of Oz. And like the Wizard of Oz, they
are not necessarily bad men, just not very good wizards.

For more, please see my Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming or, if you have less time, my 60-second argument for why one should be skeptical of catastrophic man-made global warming theory.

Nothing new, just thinking about this more, I cannot get over the irony that in the same week Newsweek makes the case that climate science is settled and there is no room for skepticism, skeptics discover a gaping hole and error in the global warming numbers.

Update #2:  I know people get upset when we criticize scientists.  I get a lot of "they are not biased, they just made a mistake."  Fine.  But I have zero sympathy for a group of scientists who refuse to let other scientists review their methodology, and then find that they have been making a dumb methodology mistake for years that has corrupted the data of nearly every climate study in the last decade.

Update #3:  I labeled this "breaking news," but don't expect to see it in the NY Times anytime soon.  We all know this is one of those asymmetric story lines, where if the opposite had occurred (ie things found to be even worse/warmer than thought) it would be on the front page immediately, but a lowered threat will never make the news.

Oh, and by he way.  This is GOOD news.  Though many won't treat it that way.  I understand this point fairly well because, in a somewhat parallel situation, I seem to be the last anti-war guy who treats progress in Iraq as good news.

Update #4: I should have mentioned that the hero of the Newsweek story is catastrophic man-made global warming cheerleader James Hansen, who runs the GISS and is most responsible for the database in question as well as the GISS policy not to release its temperature aggregation and adjustment methodologies.  From IBD, via CNN Money:

Newsweek portrays James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, as untainted by corporate bribery.

was once profiled on CBS' "60 Minutes" as the "world's leading
researcher on global warming." Not mentioned by Newsweek was that
Hansen had acted as a consultant to Al Gore's slide-show presentations
on global warming, that he had endorsed John Kerry for president, and
had received a $250,000 grant from the foundation headed by Teresa
Heinz Kerry.

Update #5: My letter to the editor at Newsweek.  For those worried that this is some weird skeptic's fevered dream, Hansen and company kind of sort of recognize the error in the first paragraph under background here.  Their US temperature chart with what appears is the revised data is here.

Update #6: Several posts are calling this a "scandal."  It is not a scandal.  It is a mistake from which we should draw two lessons:

  1. We always need to have people of opposing opinions looking at a problem.  Man-made global warming hawks expected to see a lot of warming after the year 2000, so they never questioned the numbers.  It took folks with different hypotheses about climate to see the jump in the numbers for what it was - a programming error.
  2. Climate scientists are going to have to get over their need to hold their adjustments, formulas, algorithms and software secret.  It's just not how science is done.  James Hansen saying "trust me, the numbers are right, I don't need to tell you how I got them" reminds me of the mathematician Fermat saying he had a proof of his last theorem, but it wouldn't fit in the margin.  How many man-hours of genius mathematicians was wasted because Fermat refused to show his proof (which was most likely wrong, given how the theorem was eventually proved).

Final Update:  Some parting thoughts, and recommendations, here.

Storm Frequency

I already discussed Newsweek's happy little ad hominem attack on climate skeptics here.  However, as promised, I wanted to talk about the actual, you know, science for a bit, starting from the Newsweek author's throwaway statement that she felt required no
proof, "The frequency of Atlantic hurricanes has already doubled in the
last century."

This is really a very interesting topic, much more interesting than following $10,000 of skeptics' money around in a global warming industry spending billions on research.  One would think the answer to this hurricane question is simple.  Can we just look up the numbers?  Well, let's start there.  Total number of Atlantic hurricanes form the HURDAT data base, first and last half of the last century:

1905-1955 = 366
1956-2006 = 458

First, you can see nothing like a doubling.  This is an increase of 25%.  So already, we see that in an effort to discredit skeptics for fooling America about the facts, Newsweek threw out a whopper that absolutely no one in climate science, warming skeptic or true believer, would agree with.

But let's go further, because there is much more to the story.  Because 25% is a lot, and could be damning in and of itself.  But there are problems with this data.  If you think about storm tracking technology in 1905 vs. 2005, you might see the problem.  To make it really clear, I want to talk about tornadoes for a moment.

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore and company said that global warming was increasing the number of tornadoes in the US.  He claimed 2004 was the highest year ever for tornadoes in the US.  In his PowerPoint slide deck (on which the movie was based) he sometimes uses this chart (form the NOAA):

Whoa, that's scary.  Any moron can see there is a trend there.  Its like a silver bullet against skeptics or something.  But wait.  Hasn't tornado detection technology changed over the last 50 years?  Today, we have doppler radar, so we can detect even smaller size 1 tornadoes, even if no one on the ground actually spots them (which happens fairly often).  But how did they measure smaller tornadoes in 1955 if no one spotted them?  Answer:  They didn't.  In effect, this graph is measuring apples and oranges.  It is measuring all the tornadoes we spotted by human eye in 1955 with all the tornadoes we spotted with doppler radar in 2000.   The NOAA tries to make this problem clear on their web site.

With increased national doppler
radar coverage, increasing population, and greater attention to tornado
reporting, there has been an increase in the number of tornado reports over the
past several decades. This can create a misleading appearance of an increasing
trend in tornado frequency. To better understand the true variability and trend
in tornado frequency in the US, the total number of strong to violent tornadoes
(F3 to F5 category on the Fujita scale) can be analyzed. These are the
tornadoes that would have likely been reported even during the decades before
Dopplar radar use became widespread and practices resulted in increasing
tornado reports. The bar chart below indicates there has been little trend in
the strongest tornadoes over the past 55 years.

So itt turns out there is a decent way to correct for this.  We don't think that folks in 1955 were missing many of the larger class 3-5 tornadoes, so comparing 1955 and 2000 data for these larger tornadoes should be more apples to apples (via NOAA).

Well, that certainly is different (note 2004 in particular, given the movie claim).  No upward trend at all when you get the data right.  I wonder if Al Gore knows this?  I am sure he is anxious to set the record straight.

OK, back to hurricanes.  Generally, whether in 1905 or 2005, we know if a hurricane hits land in the US.  However, what about all the hurricanes that don't hit land or hit land in some undeveloped area?  Might it be that we can detect these better in 2006 with satellites than we could in 1905?  Just like the tornadoes?

Well, one metric we have is US landfall.  Here is that graph  (data form the National Weather Service -- I have just extrapolated the current decade based on the first several years).

Not much of a trend there, though the current decade is high, in part due to the fact that it does not incorporate the light 2006 season nor the light-so-far 2007 season.  The second half of the 20th century is actually lower than the first half, and certainly not "twice as large".  But again, this is only a proxy.  There may be reasons more storms are formed but don't make landfall (though I would argue most Americans only care about the latter).

But what about hurricane damages?  Everyone knows that the dollar damages from hurricanes is way up.  Well, yes.  But the amount of valuable real estate on the United State's coast is also way up.  Roger Pielke and Chris Landsea (you gotta love a guy studying hurricane strikes named Landsea) took a shot at correcting hurricane damages for inflation and the increased real estate value on the coasts.  This is what they got:

Anyway, back to our very first data, several scientists are trying to correct the data for missing storms, particularly in earlier periods.  There is an active debate here about corrections I won't get into, but suffice it to say the difference between the first half of the 20th century to the latter half in terms of Atlantic hurricane formations is probably either none or perhaps a percentage increase in the single digits (but nowhere near 100% increase as reported by Newsweek).

Debate continues, because there was a spike in hurricanes from 1995-2005 over the previous 20 years.  Is this anomalous, or is it similar to the spike that occurred in the thirties and forties?  No one is sure, but isn't this a lot more interesting than figuring out how the least funded side of a debate gets their money?  And by the way, congratulations again to MSM fact-checkers.

My layman's guide to skepticism of catastrophic man-made global warming is here.  A shorter, 60-second version of the best climate skeptic's arguments is here.

Update:  If the author bothered to have a source for her statement, it would probably be Holland and Webster, a recent study that pretty much everyone disagrees with and many think was sloppy.  And even they didn't say activity had doubled.  Note the only way to get a doubling is to cherry-pick a low decade in the first half of the century and a high decade in the last half of the century and compare just those two decades -- you can see this in third paragraph of the Scientific American article.  This study bears all the hallmarks -- cherry picking data, ignoring scientific consensus, massaging results to fit an agenda -- that the Newsweek authors were accusing skeptics of.

Update #2:  The best metric for hurricane activity is not strikes or numbers but accumulated cyclonic energy.  Here is the ACE trend, as measured by Florida State.  As you can see, no upward trend.


Offset Sellers Only Double-Dipping?

From Steven Malloy:

began investigating the carbon offset industry this week. The inquiry
could produce some "inconvenient truths" for Al Gore and the nascent
offset industry.

Carbon offsets ostensibly allow buyers to
expunge their consciences of the new eco-sin of using energy derived
from fossil fuels. Worried about the 8 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)
emitted each year by your SUV? Similar to the indulgences offered by
Pope Leo X in the 16th century, you can absolve yourself of sin by
purchasing $96 worth of CO2 offsets "“ typically offered at $12 per ton
of CO2 emitted "“ from offset brokers who, in turn, supposedly use your
cash to pay someone else to produce electricity with low or no CO2

Capitol Hill staffer told me that the congressional inquiry would look
into the possibility of "double-dipping" in the offset industry.

Only double-dipping?  Earlier, I argued that the purveyors of offsets may be triple dipping:

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to
    consumers.  Since the
    electricity is often expensive, they sell it as "CO2-free"
    electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas,
    where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the
    carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to
    electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets
    government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being
    "CO2-free".  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless
    investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass
    finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you
    saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people
    to whom they don't have to pay dividends or interest "”just the feel-good
    sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

Holy Security State, Batman!

Hollywood may like to criticize GWB for his over-eager and intrusive anti-terrorism precautions, but they sure seem ready to take a page out of the homeland security book when it comes to protecting their CD sales:

In Florida, the new legislation requires all stores buying second-hand
merchandise for resale to apply for a permit and file security in the
form of a $10,000 bond with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services. In addition, stores would be required to thumb-print
customers selling used CDs, and acquire a copy of state-issued identity
documents such as a driver's license. Furthermore, stores could issue
only store credit -- not cash -- in exchange for traded CDs, and would
be required to hold discs for 30 days before reselling them.  (HT Overlawyered)

Requiring thumbprints from customers just to sell used CD's?  Are they nuts?  Can you imagine if they tried to apply this to anything else?  You'd have to have a retina scanner to use eBay.  Freaking totally insane.  I can buy a gun, an aircraft, and a shopping cart full of rat poison without a thumbprint but I need to go through the jailhouse booking routine to sell a CD?

By the way, note how insane the requirements on resellers are.  For example, having to hold a disc 30 days before selling.  Why?  I am sure for a lot of hot music products the value goes down about 50% a month.

Of course, we all know the reason why.  This is about politically powerful incumbents protecting their business from competition.  In this case, music companies don't want to have to compete with their own CDs showing up on the aftermarket.  Well you know what -- suck it up.  Car companies have had to deal with this problem for years.  I am sure they would love laws that make it difficult for anyone to buy a used car (or maybe they wouldn't - a healthy secondary market gives consumers the ability to trade up to new models frequently, something music sellers should consider).

Think about the recycling angle, by the way.  The best recycling plan is to reuse an item for its original use.  We all remember Hollywood giving Al Gore a big wet kiss at the Oscars, and congratulating themselves for being more green than the rest of us schmucks  Except, of course, when it hits the bottom line.  "Hey you little guys out there, don't resell those CD's, we want to make sure you throw them out and buy new.  After all, we can't keep our private jets flying without selling lots more CDs."

The 800-Year Lag

Until I watched the Global Warming Swindle, I had confined my criticisms of anthropogenic global warming theory to two general areas:  1)  The models for future warming are overstated and 2) The costs of warming may not justify the costs of preventing it.

The movie offered an alternate hypothesis about global warming and climate change that, rather than refute the magnitude of anthropogenic global warming, provided a counter hypothesis.  You should watch the movie, but the counter hypothesis is that historic temperature changes have been the result of variations in solar activity.  Rather than causing these changes, increased atmospheric CO2 levels resulted from these temperature increases, as rising ocean temperatures caused CO2 to be driven out of solution from the world's oceans.

I thought one of the more compelling charts from Al Gore's pPwerpoint deck, which made the movie An Invconvienent Truth, was the hundred thousand year close relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and global temperature, as discovered in ice core analysis.  The Swindle movie, however, claims that Gore is hiding something from that analysis in the scale of his chart -- that the same ice core analyses show that global temperature changes have led CO2 concentration changes by as much as 800 years.  (short 2-minute snippet of this part of the movie here, highly recommended).

Well, this would certainly be something important to sort out.  I have not done much real science since my physics days at Princeton, but my sense is that, except maybe at the quantum level, when B follows A it is hard to argue that B caused A.

So I have poked around a bit to see -- is this really what the ice core data shows, or is Swindle just making up facts or taking facts out of context ala the truther hypotheses about 9/11?  Well, it turns out that everyone, even the die-hard global warming supporters, accept this 800-year lag as correct (Watch the Al Gore clip above -- it is clear he knows. You can tell by the very careful way he describes the relationship).  LuboÅ¡ Motl summarizes in his blog:

However, the most popular - and the most straightforward - explanation
of the direction of the causal relationship is the fact that in all
cases, the CO2 concentration only changed its trend roughly 800 years
after temperature had done the same thing. There have been many papers
that showed this fact and incidentally, no one seems to disagree with

The whole "group" at RealClimate.ORG
[ed: one of the leading sites promoting the anthropogenic theory] has agreed that there was a lag. But they say that in the first 800
years when the influence of temperature on CO2 is manifest, it was
indeed temperature that drove the gases. But in the remaining 4200
years of the trend, it was surely the other way around: CO2 escalated
the warming, they say.

Frequent readers will know that I have criticized forward looking climate models on many occasions for being too reliant on positive feedback processes.  For example, in the most recent IPCC models, over 2/3 of future warming come not from CO2 but from various positive feedback effects (section 8.6 of the 2007 report). 

The folks at are similarly positing a positive feedback mechanism in the past -- "something" causes initial warming, which drives CO2 to outgas from the oceans, which causes more warming, etc. 

I am not sure I have ever done so, so let me take a minute to discuss positive feedbacks.  This is something I know a fair amount about, since my specialization at school in mechanical engineering was in control theory and feedback processes.  Negative feedback means that when you disturb an object or system in some way, forces tend to counteract this disturbance.  Positive feedback means that the forces at work tend to reinforce or magnify a disturbance.

You can think of negative feedback as a ball sitting in the bottom of a bowl.  Flick the ball in any direction, and the sides of the bowl, gravity, and friction will tend to bring the ball back to rest in the center of the bowl.  Positive feedback is a ball balanced on the pointy tip of a mountain.  Flick the ball, and it will start rolling faster and faster down the mountain, and end up a long way away from where it started with only a small initial flick.

Almost every process you can think of in nature operates by negative feedback.  Roll a ball, and eventually friction and wind resistance bring it to a stop (except, apparently, on the greens at Augusta).  There is a good reason for this.  Positive feedback breeds instability, and processes that operate by positive feedback are dangerous, and usually end up in extreme states.  These processes tend to "run away."   I can illustrate this with an example:  Nuclear fission is a positive feedback process.  A high energy neutron causes the fission reaction, which produces multiple high energy neutrons that can cause more fission.  It is a runaway process, it is dangerous and unstable.  We should be happy there are not more positive feedback processes on our planet.

Since negative feedback processes are much more common, and since positive feedback processes almost never yield a stable system, scientists assume that processes they meet are negative feedback until proven otherwise.  Except in climate, it seems, where everyone assumes positive feedback is common.

Back to the climate question.  The anthropogenic guys are saying that when the earth heated, it caused CO2 to outgas from the oceans, which in turn caused more warming, which causes more outgassing, etc.  But where does it stop?  If this is really how things work, why isn't the Earth more like Venus?  If you are going to posit such a runaway process, you have to also posit what stops it.  So far, the only thing I can think of is that the process would stop when the all bands of light that are absorbable by CO2 are fully saturated.

But the feedback is worse than this.  I won't go into it now, but as you can see from this post, or from section 8.6 of the 2007 IPCC report, the current climate models assume that warming from CO2 itself yields further positive feedback effects (e.g. more humidity) that further accelerate warming, acting as a multiplier as great as 3-times on CO2 effects alone.

So here is the RealClimate view of the world:  Any small warming from some outside source (think Mr. Sun) is accelerated by outgassing CO2 which is in turn accelerated by these other effects in their climate models.  In other words, global temperature is a ball sitting perched on the top of a mountain, and the smallest nudge causes it to accelerate away.  This is the point at which, despite having only limited knowledge about the climate, I have to call bullshit!  There is just no way our planet's climate could be as stable as it has been long-term and be built on such positive feedback loops.  No way.  Either these folks are over-estimating the positive feedback or ignoring negative feedbacks or both.  (and yes, I know we have had ice ages and such but against the backdrop of the range of temperatures the Earth theoretically could have in different situations, our climate variation has been small).

Postscript:  The other day I mentioned that it was funny a group studying solar output felt the need to put in a statement validating anthropogenic global warming despite the fact that nothing in their research said any such thing.  Motl points to a similar thing in the ice core studies:

Well, the website tells us that the paper that reported the lag contained the following sentence:

  • ...
    is still in full agreement with the idea that CO2 plays, through its
    greenhouse effect, a key role in amplifying the initial orbital forcing

Again, this statement was included despite the fact that their study pretty clearly refutes some key premises in anthropogenic global warming theory.  It's become a phrase like "no animal was hurt in the filming of this movie" that you have to append to every climate study.  Or, probably a better analogy, it is like Copernicus spending a few chapters assuring everyone he still believes in God and the Bible before he lays out his heliocentric view of the solar system. 

Update: All this is not to say that there are not positive feedback loops in climate.  Ice albedo is probably one -- as temperatures rise, ice melts and less sunlight is reflected back into space by the ice so the world warms more.  My point is that it does not make any sense to say that positive feedback processes dominate.

Correction: Like a moron, I have been using anthropomorphic rather than anthropogenic to refer to man-made climate effects.  Oops.  Thanks to my reader who corrected me.  I have fixed this article but am too lazy to go back and edit the past.

Further Update:  The irony of my correction above juxtaposed against the title of the previous post is not lost on me.

Update to the Postscript: Oh my god, here it is again.  An NOAA-funded study comes to the conclusion that global warming might actually reduce hurricane strength and frequency.  Nowhere in the study did the researchers touch any topic related to anthropogenic warming -- they just studied what might happen to hurricanes if the world warms for any reason.  But here is that disclaimer again:

"This study does not, in any way, undermine the widespread consensus in the scientific community about the reality of global warming," said co-author Brian Soden, Rosenstiel School associate professor of meteorology and physical oceanography whose research is partly funded by NOAA.

Does the NOAA and other funding bodies actually require that this boilerplate be added to every study?

Quick, Check the Thermostat

Al Gore says that current global temperatures are the highest they have been in 1000 years.  A new study by the Institute of Astronomy in Zurich says that the "sun is more active now than it has been at anytime in the previous 1,000 years."  Related? 

Sunspots have been monitored on the Sun since 1610,
shortly after the invention of the telescope. They provide the
longest-running direct measurement of our star's activity.

The variation in sunspot numbers has revealed the Sun's 11-year cycle of activity as well as other, longer-term changes.

In particular, it has been noted that between about 1645 and 1715, few sunspots were seen on the Sun's surface.

This period is called the Maunder Minimum after the English astronomer who studied it.

It coincided with a spell of prolonged cold weather
often referred to as the "Little Ice Age". Solar scientists strongly
suspect there is a link between the two events - but the exact
mechanism remains elusive....

But the most striking feature, he says, is that
looking at the past 1,150 years the Sun has never been as active as it
has been during the past 60 years.

Over the past few hundred years, there has been a steady
increase in the numbers of sunspots, a trend that has accelerated in
the past century, just at the time when the Earth has been getting

The data suggests that changing solar activity is influencing in some way the global climate causing the world to get warmer.

Of course, these poor scientists know that they could lose their jobs and be called Holocaust deniers if they don't acknowledge anthropomorphic global warming, so they do say:

Over the past 20 years, however, the number of
sunspots has remained roughly constant, yet the average temperature of
the Earth has continued to increase.

This is put down to a human-produced greenhouse effect caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.             (HT:  TJIC)

Which may actually be the case, but it is interesting that astronomers feel the need to say this without any evidence of such in their own study just to protect themselves from ostracism by the climate religionists.

However, even if the two are working in concert, the fact that solar activity explains some of the 20th century warming means that current climate models are WAY overestimating the impact of anthropomorphic warming. 

For example, the climate models in the current 2007 IPCC report assume that the world would have experienced no warming in the 20th century without man.  This is from Section 8, actual is the black line, the models without man are in blue, the models with man are in red:


In other words, the IPCC models completely ignore the increasing solar activity and assume 100% of 20th century warming was due to man-made effects, even the substantial warming before 1940 (and before the onset of truly heavy world-wide fossil fuel use).

Already, the models used by the IPCC tend to overestimate past warming even if all past warming is attributable to anthropomorphic causes.  If anthropomorphic effects explain only a fraction of past warming, then the current models are vastly overstated, good for stampeding the populous into otherwise unpopular political control over the economy, but of diminished scientific value.

Postscript: I cannot prove this, but I am willing to make a bet based on my long, long history of modeling (computers, not fashion).  My guess is that the blue band, representing climate without man-made effects, was not based on any real science but was instead a plug.  In other words, they took their models and actual temperatures and then said "what would the climate without man have to look like for our models to be correct."  There are at least four reasons I strongly suspect this to be true:

  1. Every computer modeler in history has tried this trick to make their models of the future seem more credible.  I don't think the climate guys are immune.
  2. There is no way their models, with our current state of knowledge about the climate, match reality that well. 
  3. The first time they ran their models vs. history, they did not match at all.  This current close match is the result of a bunch of tweaking that has little impact on the model's predictive ability but forces it to match history better.  For example, early runs had the forecast run right up from the 1940 peak to temperatures way above what we see today.
  4. The blue line totally ignores any of our other understandings about the changing climate, including the changing intensity of the sun.  It is conveniently exactly what is necessary to make the pink line match history.  In fact, against all evidence, note the blue band falls over the century.  This is because the models were pushing the temperature up faster than we have seen it rise historically, so the modelers needed a negative plug to make the numbers look nice.

Global Warming Movie

I finally watched the BBC special Global Warming Swindle and have to say that it presents a pretty good counter-hypothesis to the prevailing theory of anthropomorphic CO2 production to explain recent global temperature changes.  It also hits some good points on what might be motivating the hard core of the environmental movement beyond just concern about global warming, and why the costs of CO2 control are so high.

I have historically accepted the basic hypothesis of anthropomorphic global warming but have been skeptical of the exaggerated outcomes (Al Gore's 26 foot sea-level rise, for example, which is 17 times more than even the IPCC predicts over the next century) and have posited that a warmer but richer world may well be better than a cooler but poorer one.  I have also pointed out the uncertainties in the IPCC analysis that never get mentioned in the press, like the huge uncertainty in the feedback loops that drive much of the temperature change in current models.  For example, the IPCC admits they don't even know the sign of the largest feedback loop (clouds), which is a big uncertainty since about 2/3 or more of the warming in the models come not directly from CO2 but from these feedback loops.

Anyway, most of my past skepticism has been within the framework of these IPCC studies.  However, this documentary casts off the whole framework, offering a counter-hypothesis of solar activity to explain temperature variations.  I thought the most interesting part of the documentary was when they showed Al Gore from An Inconvenient Truth with a multi-thousand year plot of temperature and CO2.  The chart certainly looks compelling, but this movie makes the point that while the two lines move together, the CO2 line is lagging the temperature line by five hundred years.  Meaning that CO2 levels may be linked to temperature, but the causality may be opposite of that implied by Gore. 

The documentary goes on to offer solar activity as an alternative explanation, with graphs of moving curves of solar activity and temperature that seem to show at least as much correlation as Gore's CO2 graphs.  They hypothesize that rising temperatures driven by changes in solar
activity heat up oceans over time and cause them to release CO2 into
the atmosphere.  I don't think the evidence is definitive, but it certainly casts doubt as to whether we really know what is going on.  I always thought it a bit odd that people would search for the causes of changing temperatures without first checking out the sun, sortof like walking in a room that is too hot and trying to fix it without first checking the thermostat.  This is particularly true given new evidence that other planets are warming, presumably due to solar activity (unless, of course, it's an Exxon plot).

By the way:  Advocates of the anthropomorphic theory are criticizing this movie in part because it does not use Mann's hockey stick temperature chart.  Sorry, but if they want to claim the scientific high ground, I think they need to stop tying their argument to this weak study.  Statisticians have dumped on it repeatedly (apparently random white noise fed into their model produces a hockey stick) and the evidence for eliminating the Medieval warm period is based on the rings in one or two trees.

Smugness Coupon with Enron Accounting

Apparently one of the reasons all those stars at the Oscars were so pleased with themselves is that they all got a smugness coupon in their gift bags (emphasis added):

Hollywood's wealthy liberals can now avoid any guilt they might feel
for consuming so much non-renewable fossil fuel in their private jets,
their SUVs, and their multiple air-conditioned mansions. This year's
Oscar goodie bag contained gift certificates representing 100,000
pounds of greenhouse gas reductions from TerraPass, which describes
itself as a "carbon offset retailer." The 100,000 pounds "are enough to
balance out an average year in the life of an Academy Award presenter,"
a press release from TerraPass asserts. "For example, 100,000 pounds is
the total amount of carbon dioxide created by 20,000 miles of driving,
40,000 miles on commercial airlines, 20 hours in a private jet and a
large house in Los Angeles
. The greenhouse gas reductions will be
accomplished through TerraPass' [program] of verified wind energy, cow
power [collecting methane from manure] and efficiency projects." Voila,
guilt-free consumption! It reminds us of the era when rich Catholics
paid the church for "dispensations" that would shorten their terms in

Something smells here, and it is not the cow-poop methane.  This 100,000 pound coupon retails for $399.75 (5x79.95) on the TerraPass web site.  First, this rate implies that all 300 million Americans could offset their CO2 emissions for about $100 billion a year, a ridiculously low figure that would be great news if true. 

Lets look at solar, something I know because I live in Arizona and have looked at it a few times.  Here is the smallest, cheapest installation I can find.  It produces 295 CO2-free Kw-hours in a month if you live in Phoenix, less everywhere else.  That is enough to run one PC 24 hours a day -- and nothing else.  Or, it is enough to run about 10 75-watt light bulbs 12 hours a day -- and nothing else.  In other words, it is way, way, way short of powering up a star's Beverly Hills mansion, not to mention their car and private jet.  It would not run one of the air conditioning units on my house.  And it costs $12,000!  Even with a 20 year life and a 0% discount rate, that still is more than $399.75 a year.  For TerraPass's offset claim to be correct, they have to have a technology that is one and probably two orders of magnitude more efficient than solar in Arizona.

[update:  Al Gore's house 221,000 kwH last year.  Call it 18,400KwH per month, that would require about 62 of these solar installations for $744,000.  I don't think $399.75 is really offsetting it]

So if Al Gore and the Hollywood-ites start whipping out these coupons and claiming to be green, be very, very skeptical.  My guess is that TerraPass is less like a real carbon offset and more like, say, the International Star Registry, where you get a nice certificate for the wall and the internal glow of having a star named after you (which, officially, it really is not).  Both the star registry and TerraPass are selling the exact same thing -- fluff.  Actually, TerraPass's certificate is a bit cheaper than the star registry.  Smugness on sale!  Think of it as the "International Earth Good-Guy Registry."

Update:  This type of thing is incredibly amenable to fraud.  If you sell more than 100% of an investment, eventually the day of reckoning will come when you can't pay everyone their shares (a la the Producers).  But if people are investing in CO2 abatement -- you can sell the same ton over and over and no one will ever know.

Also, this is a brilliant way to finance a power station.  Say you want to build a wind power station.  Actual regular investors will, you know, want a return paid to them on their investment.  But TerraPass has apparently found a way to get capital from people without paying any return.  They just give these people a feel-good share of the lack of CO2 emissions and a little certificate for the wall, and TerraPass gets capital they never have to repay to build a power station they likely would have built anyway that they can then in turn sell the power from and not have to give any of the revenues to investors.  Smart.

More thoughts:  My guess is that TerraPass, when it sells the electricity from these projects to customers, is selling it on the basis that it is earth-friendly and causes no CO2 emissions.  This lack of emissions is likely part of the "bundle" sold to electricity customers.  But note that this would be selling the same lack of emissions twice -- once to TerraPass certificate holders, and once to the electricity customers.  I am sure they are both told they are avoiding X tons of emissions, but it is the same X tons, sold twice (at least).  Even Enron didn't try this. 

I really wish I had fewer scruples, because this would be a fabulous business model -- free capital, the ability to sell the same goods multiple times to different people, all the while getting lauded for saving the world in the press and getting invited to the Academy Awards.

Update #2:  LOL. IowaHawk is offering the same thing, but for the discounted rate of $9.95!  And with much better bumper stickers.  He also suggests a multi-level marketing approach.  Here are just two of many choices:



I Wish I Could Like Activists

I sure wish I could like activists like Al Gore.  Last night, at the Oscars, he was charming and passionate.  He has something he cares deeply about and flies around the world speaking about.    It's terribly compelling, which you could see in the reaction Al got last night from an adoring audience and various fawning actors.

And if Mr. Gore were there last night to convince the audience to get out of their stretch limos and G-V's and drive Prius's and use compact fluorescent bulbs, I'd be fine.  Sure I might laugh that it was all pointless and the movie Inconvenient Truth was terribly overblown, but its a free society and Mr. Gore would be welcome to make his call to other individuals that they change their lifestyle. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Gore's only goal last night was not just to rally the TV audience to change its lifestyle.  The more important goal was to increase the likelihood that government will compel Americans to do what Mr. Gore wants.  And this is what makes me cringe nowadays when I hear the term "activist."  I don't want to cringe, because passionately advocating for you cause, even if I disagree with it, should be part of the rich fabric of a free society.  Unfortunately, though, at the heart of nearly every modern activist's agenda is compulsion -- the desire to use the coercive power of the government to force you to do something you would not otherwise choose to do.  It is the very unusual activist today who is not trying, whether they admit it or not, to chisel away at individual freedom for some "higher cause."

By the way, speaking of higher cause, did anyone else note the religious parallels in the green-speak last night at the Oscars?  You had Al Gore in the role of Bill Graham, with several people talking about how Al had helped them "see the light."  Even more amazing to me was the parallel with a confessional at Catholic Church.  I have been lucky enough in the past to attend the Academy Awards, and I can tell you from experience what was sitting right outside:  The largest collection of stretch limousines you can ever imagine -- I am talking about enough limos to create a traffic tie-up four lanes wide and extending back for miles, all running their engines for six hours waiting to whisk stars to late-night parties and private jets.  I am fairly certain that no other small group in America generated more CO2 yesterday through their private use than the audience at the Oscars.  Yet by declaring the Oscars to be "green", voting for an Inconvenient Truth, and cheering Al Gore, the audience was in effect saying 10 hail mary's in the confessional, washing away all sin. 

Update:  How I can be sure Al Gore's activism is about government control and not individual action:

Drudge reports  that Al Gore's Nashville mansion consumes more than 20 times the average amount of power for an American household.

Gore's whole deal is that civilization-saving absolutely and vitally
requires an action on everyone's part that he seems to refuse to do
himself, it leads one to wonder about how this whole global warming
thing is going to play out with the public and with the government.
(Unless Gore's house is powered completely or partially off a
conventional coal-burning grid, which doesn't seem to be true based on
Drudge's piece.)

Does Gore's seeming inability to curb his
power consumption--which has apparently grown since the release of his
Oscar-winning flick--mean it isn't true that we really do all
have to scrupulously use less carbon-burning energy or doom the planet?
No. But it does make it a little hard to believe that he really
believes it--or that if even the biggest believer in global warming of
all can't control himself in this regard, that a serious planetwide
reduction in the short or medium term short of draconian outside
controls has much hope.

Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun

Q&O has a nice roundup on the science around the Sun and the Sun's well documented increase in intensity and its potential affect on global warming.  As I have mentioned before, there is a growing body of evidence that some warming has to be laid at the Sun's doorstep.

The best measurements of global air temperatures come from American
weather satellites, and they show wobbles but no overall change since

That levelling off is just what is expected by the chief
rival hypothesis, which says that the sun drives climate changes more
emphatically than greenhouse gases do. After becoming much more active
during the 20th century, the sun now stands at a high but roughly level
state of activity. Solar physicists warn of possible global cooling,
should the sun revert to the lazier mood it was in during the Little
Ice Age 300 years ago.

Climate history and related archeology
give solid support to the solar hypothesis. The 20th-century episode,
or Modern Warming, was just the latest in a long string of similar
events produced by a hyperactive sun, of which the last was the
Medieval Warming.

There is a lot more.  I am not ready to say, though, that the substantial increases we have seen in atmospheric CO2 levels are not also having an impact.  That impact is just a lot less than warming-panic-spreaders like Al Gore would like to acknowledge  After all, it is much easier to demagogue your way through an election beating up Exxon and GM than by beating up the Sun.  And, after failing to take over the economy under the banner of socialism, statists want to use global warming to take a second shot at world domination. 

Why the CO2 contribution to warming exists but is greatly overstated is explained here.

Global Warming Detente?

Though Cathy Young's article has the opposite title, I actually think that the global warming debate is cooling off a bit, with a bit more reason creeping into a debate so far dominated by ideologies as much as science.  More and more voices like this one are starting to be heard:

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy studies at UCLA and a
self-identified liberal, noted this recently on his blog. Writes
Kleiman, "To those who dislike a social system based on high and
growing consumption and the economic activity that supports high and
growing consumption and maintains high and growing demand (a dislike
with which I have considerable sympathy), to those who think that the
market needs more regulation by the state, to those who think that
international institutions ought to be strengthened . . . global
warming is a Gaia-send" -- since it justifies drastic worldwide public
action to curb production and consumption. (Gaia, the ancient Greek
goddess of the earth, is a term used by many ecologists to refer to the
earth as a living entity.) While Kleiman sympathizes with
environmentalists, he notes that "their eagerness to believe the worst"
-- for instance, in Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" --
"is just as evident as the right wing's denialism."

As an
analogy, Kleiman cites many social conservatives' attitude toward the
AIDS epidemic, which has been used to portray sex outside monogamous
heterosexual marriage as fraught with deadly peril and to preach the
message of premarital abstinence. (Kleiman doesn't explicitly say this,
but his comments hint at another abuse of science: Many conservatives
and gay rights activists, for different motives, have exaggerated the
fairly tiny risk of HIV infection from heterosexual sex.)

analogy between AIDS and global warming also extends to attitudes
toward ways to remedy the problem. The religious right, Kleiman points
out, pooh-poohs condoms as a way to reduce the spread of sexually
transmitted diseases because the effectiveness of such a remedy would
undermine the abstinence message. Similarly, those on the left who
embrace environmentalism as their substitute religion don't want to
hear about scientific and technological solutions to climate change --
from nuclear power to geoengineering, the artificial manipulation of
the global environment -- that do not include stepping up regulation
and curbing consumption.

There is a growing number of voices in
the scientific community that reject both denialism and alarmism on
global warming. Roger Pielke, an environmental science professor at the
University of Colorado, calls such people "nonskeptical heretics" --
those who believe that human-caused global warming is a real problem,
but one that can be met in part with technological management and
adaptation. Mooney has come to embrace such a viewpoint as well.

The NY Times actually chimed in on this same topic.  And I for a while have been promoting a skeptical middle ground in the global warming debate.

Update: Increasingly, folks seem to want to equate "skeptic"
with "denier."  If so, I will have to change my terminology.  However,
that would be sad, as "skeptic" is a pretty good word**.  I accept there
is some CO2 caused warming, but I am skeptical that the warming and its
effects are as bad as folks like Al Gore make it out to be (explanation here), and I am
skeptical that the costs of an immediate lock-down on CO2 production
will outweigh the benefits.  That is why I call myself a skeptic.  If
that is now a bad term, someone needs to suggest a new one.

**Though I can't help but be reminded of the great Tonya Harding interview on the Dan Patrick Show, where the famous hubcap-wielder and kneecap-breaker said  "I'm not going to make a skeptical of my boxing career."

Climate "Consensus"

Please stop tell me that I have no right to question Al Gore when he wants to take over the world economy to his own ends.  And please stop telling me that catastrophic man-made global warming is now beyond question:

One of the many disturbing aspects of global warming hysteria is the
way moonbats who use it to promote their ominous political agenda
insist on a consensus that simply does not exist. A recent survey
of more than 12,000 environmental scientists and practitioners by the
National Registry of Environmental Professionals shows that despite the
hysteria and considerable pressure to conform to the "correct" view,
many scientists are choosing skepticism over the safety of the herd.

The survey found that:

  • 34% disagree that global warming is a serious problem;
  • 41% disagree that warming trends "can be, in large part, attributed to human activity";
  • 71% disagree that human activity has significantly contributed to hurricanes;
  • 33% disagree that the US government is not doing enough about global warming;
  • 47% disagree that international agreements such as the preposterous
    Kyoto Protocol provide a useful framework for addressing global climate

There are good reasons to believe in some man-made global warming, but there are very good reasons to doubt it will be as catastrophic as portrayed in the media, and very, very good reasons not to hand over the throttle of the world economy to environmental groups in anticipation of such uncertain events.  My position on the skeptical middle ground on climate change is here.