Posts tagged ‘feedback’

I Don't Think This is Settled

For those who have read my climate work or seen the video, the key question in climate science revolves around the feedback effects in the climate system to Co2 warming.

Skeptics, like alarmists, generally agree that a doubling of Co2 concentrations might warm the Earth about a degree Celsius, absent any other effects.  But we can imagine all sorts of feedback effects, the most important of which are in water vapor and cloud formation.  Warming that forms more clouds might have negative feedback, as clouds offset some of the warming.  Warming that increases humidity could lead to more warming, as water vapor is a strong greenhouse gas.

The difference, then, between minor warming and catastrophe is in the feedbacks, and most importantly in clouds and water vapor.  All the research the government is funding on whether warming will cause sterility in tree frogs is tangential to this key question.

And this question is far from decided.  I won't get into all the arguments here, but to the extent there is any consensus, it is that man' CO2 is probably causing some warming.  Whether this is a catastrophe or a nuisance depends on feedbacks which are not well understood.

This week there has been a lot of interesting back and forth over a paper by Roy Spencer several months ago arguing that cloud feedback was negative and would serve to limit the total amount of man-made warming.  Just how central this issue is can be seen in the fuss this paper has caused, including editors forced to resign for even daring to publish such heresy, and the speed with which a counter-paper flew through peer review.

I won't get into the depths of this, except to show two charts.  The first is from Dessler in the alarmist camp, the second is the same chart but using a different data series.  I won't explain the axes,  just trust the relationship between these two variables is key to diagnosing the size and direction of feedback.

So we get opposite results (the slope of the regression) simply by using temperature and radiative flux data from to different agencies.  And note how thin the fit is in both -- basically drawing a line through a cloud.  Neither of these likely has an R-squared higher than about .05.

So there you have it, the most important question in climate - really, the only important question associated with anthropogenic global warming.  Settled science, indeed.

Pretty Brazen, Even for a Politician

I have often described this statist feedback loop:

  • Create government program
  • Government programs messes up certain aspects of the market
  • Blame such messes on "failure of markets" or capitalism or even the rich, rather than the government program
  • Create new government program to fix problem created by last program
  • Repeat

Obama's new political strategy seems to be even more brazen

  • Democrats pass new program over Republican objections
  • New program has unseemly subsidies for rich people
  • Blame subsidies on Republicans, to the point of using subsidies as example of bankruptcy of Republican party

Specifically, tax breaks for corporate jets:

The chief economic culprit of President Obama’s Wednesday press conference was undoubtedly “corporate jets.” He mentioned them on at least six occasions, each time offering their owners as an example of a group that should be paying more in taxes.

“I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well,” the president stated at one point, “to give up that tax break that no other business enjoys.”

But the corporate jet tax break to which Obama was referring – called “accelerated depreciation,” and a popular Democratic foil of late – was created by his own stimulus package.

Which is not to say that the losers in the Republican party would not likely have supported the same plan had it been their idea.

By the way, this is nearly exactly what Obama has been doing with those so-called special subsidies for oil companies.  This subsidies are in fact the identical tax breaks that all manufacturers receive that allow them to accelerate expensing of capital investment.  This is a tax policy that has enjoyed bipartisan support and no one is suggesting should be eliminated in general -- just eliminated for industries that have bad PR.

Climate Feedback

Take all the psuedo-quasi-scientific stuff you read in the media about global warming.  Of all that mess, it turns out there is really only one scientific question that really matters on the topic of man-made global warming: Feedback.

While the climate models are complex, and the actual climate even, err, complexer, we can shortcut the reaction of global temperatures to CO2 to a single figure called climate sensitivity.  How many degrees of warming should the world expect for each doubling of CO2 concentrations  (the relationship is logarithmic, so that is why sensitivity is based on doublings, rather than absolute increases -- an increase of CO2 from 280 to 290 ppm should have a higher impact on temperatures than the increase from, say, 380 to 390 ppm).

The IPCC reached a climate sensitivity to CO2 of about 3C per doubling.  More popular (at least in the media) catastrophic forecasts range from 5C on up to about any number you can imagine, way past any range one might consider reasonable.

But here is the key fact -- Most folks, including the IPCC, believe the warming sensitivity from CO2 alone (before feedbacks) is around 1C or a bit higher (arch-alarmist Michael Mann did the research the IPCC relied on for this figure).  All the rest of the sensitivity between this 1C and 3C or 5C or whatever the forecast is comes from feedbacks (e.g. hotter weather melts ice, which causes less sunlight to be reflected, which warms the world more).  Feedbacks, by the way can be negative as well, acting to reduce the warming effect.  In fact, most feedbacks in our physical world are negative, but alarmist climate scientists tend to assume very high positive feedbacks.

What this means is that 70-80% or more of the warming in catastrophic warming forecasts comes from feedback, not CO2 acting alone.   If it turns out that feedbacks are not wildly positive, or even are negative, then the climate sensitivity is 1C or less, and we likely will see little warming over the next century due to man.

This means that the only really important question in the manmade global warming debate is the sign and magnitude of feedbacks.  And how much of this have you seen in the media?  About zero?  Nearly 100% of what you see in the media is not only so much bullshit (like whether global warming is causing the cold weather this year) but it is also irrelevant.  Entirely tangential to the core question.  Its all so much magician handwaving trying to hide what is going on, or in this case not going on, with the other hand.

To this end, Dr. Roy Spencer has a nice update.  Parts are a bit dense, but the first half explains this feedback question in layman's terms.  The second half shows some attempts to quantify feedback.  His message is basically that no one knows even the sign and much less the magnitude of feedback, but the empirical data we are starting to see (which has admitted flaws) points to negative rather than positive feedback, at least in the short term.  His analysis looks at the change in radiative heat transfer in and out of the earth as measured by satellites around transient peaks in ocean temperatures (oceans are the world's temperature flywheel -- most of the Earth's surface heat content is in the oceans).

Read it all, but this is an interesting note:

In fact, NO ONE HAS YET FOUND A WAY WITH OBSERVATIONAL DATA TO TEST CLIMATE MODEL SENSITIVITY. This means we have no idea which of the climate models projections are more likely to come true.

This dirty little secret of the climate modeling community is seldom mentioned outside the community. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

This is why climate researchers talk about probable ranges of climate sensitivity. Whatever that means!…there is no statistical probability involved with one-of-a-kind events like global warming!

There is HUGE uncertainty on this issue. And I will continue to contend that this uncertainty is a DIRECT RESULT of researchers not distinguishing between cause and effect when analyzing data.

If you find this topic interesting, I recommend my video and/or powerpoint presentation to you.

New Year's Resolution

In my column this week at Forbes, I discuss my New Year's Resolution, which has not changed over several decades, and how it helped me this year to solve some difficult philosophical issues regarding my business.

Almost exactly thirty years ago, I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, probably the single most influential book I have read in my lifetime.  Before I read it, I was on a path to becoming a traditional Conservative in the mold of my parents, and in retrospect my thinking on a lot of issues was quite muddled.

I am no longer the exclusive Rand fanboy I was back in college, if for no other reason than I have since found many authors who come at the topic of capitalism and freedom from many different angles, but Rand was certainly my gateway drug to liberty.

Like many people, around the new year I set various goals for myself over the coming year.  Some I have achieved (e.g. getting myself out of corporate America and into my own business) and on some I have fallen short (e.g. learning to play the guitar).  But every year I have renewed just one resolution, which I took from Atlas Shrugged.  It is

I swear"“by my life and my love of it"“that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

I then discuss this resolution in the context of approaches my business has had this year from lobbyists.  I discuss how lobbyists have approached me about an effort to make some tweaks to the health care law (it is particularly punitive to our labor model where we hire seniors part time and seasonally) as well as efforts to promote privatization of recreation (my business) and to help me obtain new contracts.    The article has much more discussion about details, but my resolution for a lobbying policy turned out as follows, in a rough parallel to the resolution above:

"We will use lobbyists to defend ourselves when the government is trying to gut us like a fish, but we will attempt to do so with generic amendments rather than through special exemptions for our company alone.  We will not use lobbyists to create new business opportunities, even when the legislation to do so is consistent with our principals."

By the way, I actually sent notes to several readers out there (you know who you are) asking them their opinions on some of the ethical issues I saw in these issues, and I appreciate the feedback from all of you.

Happy new year to all of you.

The Power to Say "Yes"

Bruce McQuain tells some stories of bureaucratic frustration in the Gulf, as local governors trying to protect their state from the spill fights against a myriad of mindless bureaucracies.

The governor said the problem is there's still no single person giving a "yes" or "no." While the Gulf Coast governors have developed plans with the Coast Guard's command center in the Gulf, things begin to shift when other agencies start weighing in, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's like this huge committee down there," Riley said, "and every decision that we try to implement, any one person on that committee has absolute veto power."

I would state the problem differently.  In the Federal bureaucracy, seemingly everyone has the power to say "no," and absolutely no one is willing to risk their career or even a minor bureaucratic sanction to over-rule when someone else in the room says "no."  I have seen it a hundred times in my business -- we will be close to doing something for the public, building a new shower building in a campground for example, and some government employee in the room will say that their sister's gynecologist's barber's housekeeper once overheard a conversation in a bar that some guy who may have visited a university once said he had heard a rumor that there might have been a Native American settlement somewhere within 100 miles of that spot 10,000 years ago -- and suddenly the work on the shower has to stop for 6 months while we all run around calling in archeologists and taking this concern seriously.

The problem  in a government discussion, particularly a multi-agency discussion, is that EVERYONE can say "no," and worse, since their incentives are loaded towards risk avoidance (they get punished for violating procedure, but never punished for missing an opportunity), they have a tendency to say "no" a lot, in fact to say "no" by default.  In the Gulf you have a thousand federal employees from 20 agencies whose entire incentive system, whose entire career, whose every lesson from every bureaucratic battle in a sort of long-term aversion therapy, prompts them to say "no" by reflex.

What is missing is someone who can say "yes," and make it stick against all the no's.  That does not have to be Obama -- but it probably does have to be someone very senior who knows (and who everyone else knows) is backed to the hilt by the President and has an incentive system where the only measure of success is more or less oil damage, and thus for whom aggrieved bureaucrats (even senior ones) and petty procedure are irrelevant.  It does not appear such a person has been appointed.

Postscript: By the way, I don't want folks to fall into the trap of thinking that these government folks are necessarily bad people.  I think that is a mistake both conservatives and liberals make -- conservatives vilify government employees, while liberals want to believe that government would work right if we just had the right people in it.   I work with a lot of very bright, very good people in government.  The problem is that their incentives and information are awful.  How would you behave if for 20 years your main feedback was to be criticized for violating minor procedures or trying new things?  How would you have any understanding of business if you grew up in the bizarro world of government budgeting and accounting?   This is the problem with government - not that it is full of bad stupid people, but it takes good smart people and incentivizes them do counter-productive things.

Update: Here is a great example, from Kevin Drum, who is a smart guy but can't do anything but dither in a decision among multiple risks:

It's pretty hard to take the other side of this argument [ie defending the Coast Guard's decision to hold up the GUlf cleanup barges for minor rules violations]. But I wonder. We are, after all, talking about barges that are sucking up oil, and the last time I checked oil was pretty damn flammable. Everyone wants the cleanup operation to proceed with breakneck speed, but that's exactly when people get tired and sloppy. And I wonder what everyone would think of the Coast Guard's ridiculous rules if they waived them and then some boat went up in a huge fireball because a spark caught somewhere and no one had a fire extinguisher handy?

I will say again - I have been in many rooms of bureaucrats, both federal and private, and they all think this way.  These rooms are full of Kevin Drum's wondering out loud, "I don't know, what happens if..."  This is such a common phrase in these meetings I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard it.  Then everyone in the room defers to this hypothetical risk.   Bureaucrats are always more worried about sins of commission  (e.g. knowingly allowing a barge to go out without enough fire extinguishers in violation of guidelines) than the sin of omission (e.g. delay will allow the spill to get worse).  Even when the omission is 100% certainty and the danger from the act of commission is vaguely hypothetical.  It takes a leader to say "send the damn barges out now."

Why the Historical Warming Numbers Matter

First, let's settle something.  The world has warmed since 1850.  While there always is an error bar on nearly every statement about nature, I think there is little point in questioning this past warming.  There is ice core data that suggests that the little ice age, which ended some time in the very early 19th century, was perhaps the coldest period, or one of the two or three coldest periods, in the last 5000 years (ie in nearly the entire span of human civilization).  Temperatures are inevitably warming from this low point.(*1)

So, if the point is not to deny warming altogether, what is the point in discussions of Climategate of picking over and trying to audit historical temperature records like the Hadley CRUT3 or NASA's GISStemp?  Skeptics often argue that much of the warming is due to bogus manual adjustments in the temperature records and biases such as urban warming.  Alarmists argue that the metrics may understate warming because of masking by manmade anthropogenic cooling agents (e.g. sulfate aerosols).  Why bother?  Why does it matter if past warming is 0.6C or 0.8C or 0.3C?  There are at least two reasons.

1.  The slope of recent temperature increases is used as evidence for the anthropogenic theory.

We know greenhouse gasses like CO2 have a warming effect in the lab.  And we know that overall they warm planets because otherwise ours would be colder.  But how much does an incremental amount of CO2 (a relatively weak greenhouse gas) warm the Earth?  A lot or a little?  Is the sensitivity of the climate to CO2 high or low?

Every time I try to express this, it sounds so ridiculous that people think I must have it wrong.  But the main argument supporting a high climate sensitivity to CO2 is that scientists claim to have looked at past warming, particularly from 1950-2000, and they can't think of any natural cause that could behind it, which leaves CO2 by process of elimination.  Yeah, I know this seems crazy - one wants to ask if this is really a test for CO2 sensitivity or of scientists' understanding and imagination, but there you have it.

Now, they don't always say it this directly.  What they actually say is that they ran their climate models and their climate models could not produce the warming from 1950-2000 with natural forcings alone, but could reproduce this warming with forcings from CO2.  But since the climate models are not handed down from the gods, but programmed by the scientists themselves to represent their own understanding of the climate system, in effect this is just a different way of saying what I said in the previous paragraph.   The climate models perform the function of scientific money laundering, taking an imperfect knowledge on the front end and somehow converting that into settled science at the output.

Now, there are a lot of ways to criticize this approach.  The models tend to leave out multi-decadal ocean cycles and don't really understand cloud formation well.  Further, the period from 1957-2008, which supposedly can only be explained by non-natural forcings, has almost the exact same temperature profile and increase as the time from 1895-1946, which of necessity must be mostly "natural."  I go into this more here, among other places.

But you can see that the amount of warming matters to this argument.  The more the warming falls into a documented natural range of temperature variation, the harder it is to portray it as requiring man-made forcings to explain.  This is also the exact same reason alarmist scientists work so hard to eliminate the Medieval Warm Period and little ice age from the temperature record.  Again, the goal is to show that natural variation is in a very narrow range, and deviations from this narrow range must therefore be man-made. (*2)

This is the sort of unified field theory of everything we are seeing in the CRU emails.   We see scientists using every trick they can find to lower or smooth out temperatures numbers before 1950, and adjust numbers after 1950 upwards.  Every single trick and programming adjustment all tended to have this effect, whether it be in proxy studies or in the instrumental record.  And all the efforts to prevent scrutiny, ignore FOIA's, and throw out raw data have been to avoid third party replication of the statistical methods and adjustments they used to achieve these ends.

As an aside, I think it is incorrect to picture this as a SPECTRE-like cabal scheming to do evil.   These guys really, really believed they had the right answer, and these adjustments were made to tease out what they just knew the right answer to be.  This is why we are only going to see confused looks from any of these guys - they really, really believed they were doing God's work.  They are never going to understand what they did wrong.  Which doesn't make it any less bad science, but just emphasizes that we are never going to get data without spin until total sunlight is brought to this process

2.  It is already really hard to justify the huge sensitivities in alarmist forecasts based on past warming -- if past warming is lower, forecasts look even more absurd.

The best way to illustrate this is with a few charts from my most recent climate presentation and video.  We usually see warming forecasts by year.  But the real relationship is between warming and CO2 concentration (this relationship is called climate sensitivity).   One can graph forecasts at various levels:


The blue line corresponds to the IPCC no-feedback formula that I think originally goes back to Michael Mann, and yields about 1-1.2C of warming for greenhouse gas warming from CO2 before feedback effects.  The middle two lines correspond to the IPCC mid and high forecasts, and the top line corresponds to more alarmist forecasts from folks like Joe Romm who predict as much as 8-10C of warming by 2100 (when we will be at 650-800ppm CO2 per the IPCC).  By the way, the IPCC does not publish the lines above the blue line, so I have taken the formula they give for the blue line and scaled it to meet their end points.  I think this is reasonable.

A couple of things - all climate models assume net positive feedback, what skeptics consider the key flaw in catastrophic global warming theory.  In fact, most of the catastrophe comes not from global warming theory, but by this second theory that the Earth's temperature system is dominated by very high positive feedback.  I illustrate this here.  The blue line is from CO2 greenhouse gas warming.  Everything above it is from the multiplier effects of assumed feedbacks.


I won't go into the feedback issue much now - search my site for positive feedback or else watch my video for much more.  Suffice it to say that skeptics consider the feedback issue the key failure point in catastrophic forecasts.

Anyway, beyond arguing about feedbacks, there is another way to test these forecasts.   Relationships that hold for CO2 and warming in the future must hold in the past (same Earth).  So lets just project these lines backwards to the CO2 level in the late 19th century.


Can you see the issue?  When projected back to pre-industrial CO2 levels, these future forecasts imply that we should have seen 2,3,4 or more degrees of warming over the last century, and even the flawed surface temperature records we are discussing with a number of upwards biases and questionable adjustments only shows about 0.6C.

Sure, there are some time delay issues, probably 10-15 years, as well as some potential anthropogenic cooling from aerosols, but none of this closes these tremendous gaps.  Even with an exaggerated temperature history, only the no feedback 1C per century case is really validated by history.  And, if one assumes the actual warming is less than 0.6C, and only a part of that is from anthropogenic CO2, then the actual warming forecast justified is one of negative feedback, showing less than 1C per century warming from manmade CO2 -- which is EXACTLY the case that most skeptics make.

Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past.- George Orwell


(1) More than once I have contemplated how much the fact that the invention of the thermometer occurred at perhaps the coldest point in human memory (early 17th century)  has contributed to the perceptions of current warm weather being unusual.

(2) For those who are on the ball, perhaps you can spot an amazing disconnect here.  Scientists claim that the natural variation of temperatures is in a very narrow band, that they never move even 0.2C per decade by natural means.  But they also say that the Earth's temperature system is dominated by positive feedback, meaning that very very small changes in forcings are magnified many fold in to large temperature changes.  I won't go in to it in depth from a systems perspective, but trust me that "high stability in a narrow range" and "dominated by high positive feedback" are not very compatible descriptions of a system.

Climate Updates

Believe it or not, I am not going to update on the CRU emails.  The insights into the science process are illuminating, and confirm much that we have suspected, but faults in transparency do not automatically win the game -- they lead to [hopefully] future transparency which then allows for better criticism and/or replication of the work.

My frustration today is a recent article in Scientific American [with the lofty academic title "Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense"] which purports to shoot down the seven key skeptics arguments.  Many others have shown how the author does not do a very good job of shooting down these seven, but that is not my main frustration.  The problem is that, like many of the global warming myth buster articles like this, the author completely fails to address the best, core arguments of skeptics, preferring to snipe around at easier prey at the margins.

In this post, I discuss his article and suggest 7 better propositions alarmists should, but never do, address.

You can see discussion of all of these in my recent lecture, on video here.

Don't have 90 minutes?  Richard Lindzen of MIT has a great summary in the WSJ that mirrors a lot of what I delve into in my video.

Here are my seven alternative skeptics' claims I would like to see addressed:

Claim A: Nearly every scientist, skeptic and alarmist alike, agree that the first order warming from CO2 is small.  Catastrophic forecasts that demand immediate government action are based on a second theory that the climate temperature system is dominated by positive feedback.  There is little understanding of these feedbacks, at least in their net effect, and no basis for assuming feedbacks in a long-term stable system are strongly net positive.   As a note, the claim is that the net feedbacks are not positive, so demonstration of single one-off positive feedbacks, like ice albedo, are not sufficient to disprove this claim.  In particular, the role of the water cycle and cloud formation are very much in dispute.

Claim B: At no point have climate scientists ever reconciled the claims of the dendroclimatologists like Michael Mann that world temperatures were incredibly stable for thousands of years before man burned fossil fuels with the claim that the climate system is driven by very high net positive feedbacks.   There is nothing in the feedback assumptions that applies uniquely to CO2 forcing, so these feedbacks, if they exist today, should have existed in the past and almost certainly have made temperatures highly variable, if not unstable.

Claim C: On its face, the climate model assumptions (including high positive feedbacks) of substantial warming from small changes in CO2 are inconsistent with relatively modest past warming.  Scientists use what is essentially an arbitrary plug variable to handle this, assuming anthropogenic aerosols have historically masked what would be higher past warming levels.  The arbitrariness of the plug is obvious given that most models include a cooling effect of aerosols in direct proportion to their warming effect from CO2, two phenomenon that should not be linked in nature, but are linked if modelers are trying to force their climate models to balance.  Further, since aerosols are short lived and only cover about 10% of the globe's surface in any volume, nearly heroic levels of cooling effects must be assumed, since it takes 10C of cooling from the 10% area of effect to get 1C cooling in the global averages.

Claim D: The key issue is the effect of CO2 vs. other effects in the complex climate system.  We know CO2 causes some warming in a lab, but how much on the real earth?  The main evidence climate scientists have is that their climate models are unable to replicate the warming from 1975-1998 without the use of man-made CO2 -- in other words, they claim their models are unable to replicate the warming with natural factors alone.  But these models are not anywhere near good enough to be relied on for this conclusion, particularly since they admittedly leave out any number of natural factors, such as ocean cycles and longer term cycles like the one that drove the little ice age, and admit to not understanding many others, such as cloud formation.

Claim E: There are multiple alternate explanations for the 1975-1998 warming other than manmade CO2.  All likely contributed (along with CO2) but it there is no evidence to give most of the blame to Co2.  Other factors include ocean cycles (this corresponded to a PDO warm phase), the sun (this corresponded to the most intense period of the sun in the last 100 years), mankind's land use changes (driving both urban heating effects as well as rural changes with alterations in land use), and a continuing recovery from the Little Ice Age, perhaps the coldest period in the last 5000 years.

Claim F: Climate scientists claim that the .4-.5C warming from 1975-1998 cannot have been caused natural variations.  This has never been reconciled with the fact that the 0.6C warming from 1910 to 1940 was almost certainly due mostly to natural forces.  Also, the claim that natural forcings could not have caused a 0.2C per decade warming in the 80's and 90's cannot be reconciled with the the current claimed natural "masking" of anthropogenic warming  that must be on the order of 0.2C per decade.

Claim G: Climate scientists are embarrassing themselves in the use of the word "climate change."  First, the only mechanism ever expressed for CO2 to change climate is via warming.  If there is no warming, then CO2 can't be causing climate change by any mechanism anyone has ever suggested.   So saying that "climate change is accelerating" (just Google it) when warming has stopped is disingenuous, and a false marketing effort to try to keep the alarm ringing.  Second, the attempts by scientists who should know better to identify weather events at the tails of the normal distribution and claim that these are evidence of a shift in the mean of the distribution is ridiculous.  There are no long term US trends in droughts or wet weather, nor in global cyclonic activity, nor in US tornadoes.  But every drought, hurricane, flood, or tornado is cited as evidence of accelerating climate change (see my ppt slide deck for the data).  This is absurd.

Update on Joe Romm Oil Bet

I realize I did not comment on the Joe Romm oil price bet per se.  Here are two reasons I don't like the bet:

1.  Romm is making a catastrophic forecast (ie oil >$200) but wins his bet at $41, what one might consider a fairly normal current oil price.  This is very equivalent to Romm forecasting a 15F increase in world temperatures in the next century (which he has) but making a bet that he would win if temperatures go up by only 0.1F.  Clearly, a 0.1F increase over the next century would be considered by all a thorough repudiation of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming forecasts.  So why should he win the bet at this level?

2.  The bet, particularly in the next few years, has more to do with the current government's actions than Exxon's or Saudi Arabia's.  To bet that oil prices will stay low in nominal dollars, one must bet that Obama's deficits won't destroy the value of the dollar, that the Fed's expansionist monetary policy won't lead to inflation, that Congress won't pass some kind of legislative restrictions making oil production more expensive, and that the world won't sign a treaty to restrict carbon.  In short, Congress will have more effect in the near term on oil prices than flow rates in Saudi fields, and I am certainly not going to make a bet in favor of Congressional or Presidential restraint.

Postscript: Here is what you have to believe to accept Romm's 15F global warming forecast.   Here is how I opened that post.  It is interesting how similar the forecasting issues are:

For several years, there was an absolute spate of lawsuits charging sudden acceleration of a motor vehicle "” you probably saw such a story:  Some person claims they hardly touched the accelerator and the car leaped ahead at enormous speed and crashed into the house or the dog or telephone pole or whatever.  Many folks have been skeptical that cars were really subject to such positive feedback effects where small taps on the accelerator led to enormous speeds, particularly when almost all the plaintiffs in these cases turned out to be over 70 years old.  It seemed that a rational society might consider other causes than unexplained positive feedback, but there was too much money on the line to do so.

Many of you know that I consider questions around positive feedback in the climate system to be the key issue in global warming, the one that separates a nuisance from a catastrophe.  Is the Earth's climate similar to most other complex, long-term stable natural systems in that it is dominated by negative feedback effects that tend to damp perturbations?  Or is the Earth's climate an exception to most other physical processes, is it in fact dominated by positive feedback effects that, like the sudden acceleration in grandma's car, apparently rockets the car forward into the house with only the lightest tap of the accelerator?

So Why Does Joe Romm Even Bother With Cap and Trade?

Joe Romm of Climate Progress is a leading climate alarmist, telling the world that burning fossil fuels will increase CO2 concentrations by 0.04% of the atmosphere over the next century and thus destroy mankind.  As such, he is a supporter of the current cap-and-trade bill in Congress, whose purpose is to raise the price of fossil fuels (either directly as a tax or by restricting their supply) so that less will be used.

On a different but related topic, Joe Romm is also apparently a peak oil alarmist.  As I have written, I suspect real oil prices will rise steadily over the coming decades, but we aren't going to fall off some cliff and see a sudden hyperinflation of oil prices (temporary spikes are a different story).  He writes

The IEA's work makes clear that for oil to stay significantly below $200 a barrel (and U.S. gasoline to be significantly below $5 a gallon) by 2020 would take a miracle

I tend to doubt it, in part because I have seen so many very similar predictions ever since the mid-1970s, but I suppose some day someone will be right with one of these.   I wonder if there is some kind of psychological profile that causes people to see positive feedback-driven accelerating curves everywhere.

But here is my confusion -- he is absolutely convinced that oil is going up by $140 a barrel or more.  Let's look at this in the context of Co2.  The CBO estimates the clearing price for a ton of Co2 emissions under the current bill will be between $20-$30 a ton.  Since a barrel of oil creates about a third of a ton of CO2 emissions, this implies the cap and trade bill might increase the price of oil by $7-$10 per barrel.  But if Romm think oil is going up by natural market forces by $140+, why even bother?  Why not just put a tax on coal and be done with it?

I congratulate Mr. Romm, however.  If he is so sure of 2020 oil prices, there are all kinds of fabulous ways to become ridiculously wealthy with this knowledge.

Postscript:  There are two reasons why people have been making this same forecast for 30 years and have been wrong most of the time.

First, there is a very human tendency to assume current conditions and trends will go on forever.  Everyone is subject to this bias, even the smartest analysts.  Romm might argue that these are savvy, detail-oriented commodities analyst, but I only have to point to the recent behavior of savvy detail-oriented debt security analysts.

Second, analysts tend to apply current understandings of what technologies and substitutes are economic at $60 oil to a world where oil is priced at $160.  It just doesn't work that way.   The market for petroleum and its substitutes is enormously multi-variate and complex.  A $100 bump in prices will do things that are sometimes hard to predict in detail to the markets for exploration, new technologies, substitutes, conservation, etc.  But in all this complexity, the one thing we do know is that time and again, such changes have occurred quickly and decisively in response to rising oil prices, and have acted to mitigate and reverse price increases.

One ironic way of looking at it, since this is Joe Romm, is to say that there are negative feedbacks that cut in to slow and even reverse sharp rises in oil prices.  Romm seems to reject these negative feedbacks, in favor of a price model that rapidly accelerates.  This is all ironic, since this issue of negative vs. positive feedback is what separates climate alarmists like Romm from many climate skeptics like myself.

Get Bob Cratchitt to Do It

The Town of South Attleboro, MA sent out wildly threatening past due letters for folks with balances as low as 1-cent  (thereby investing at least 42 cents to get one back).  In response to charges that this was stupid, City Collector Debora Marcoccio responded:

A computer automatically printed the letters for any account with a balance remaining, and they were not reviewed by staff before being sent out, Marcoccio said.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible for me to have staff weed through the bills and pull out any below a certain amount," Marcoccio said. " And what would that amount be?"

What, are we living in the 19th century with clerks in a musty room preparing bills by hand?  This fix probably requires one whole entire line of program code in the billing system to fix.  I could probably teach myself to code whatever language the payroll system is written in (my guess is COBOL, which, god help me, I already know) in less time than this woman has spent fielding complaints and media inquiries.  Compare this to what TJIC has to do just to get the mail out.

And don't you love people who don't even have enough spine to make a simple decision about the cutoff for minimum bill size.  I have found this is one of those things the government is really, really bad at -- making decisions under uncertainty  (which covers about all decisions, except routine ones embodied in SOP).  Government has no incentives, in general, for productivity, or production, or customer satisfaction.  The only time government employees get feedback at all is when they get negative feedback from having someone yell at them for making a decision that some higher-up didn't like..  So if a decision is not justifiable either by past precedent/SOP or explicitly by the rules, it is not made.

By the way, I had a personal programming milestone last night.  I finally built a website without using a WYSIWIG editor that formatted the way I wanted it to all in CSS without a single table.  I predict that now that I have finally gotten a decent handle on CSS, which mainly consists of learning all the workarounds for when it doesn't work as you would expect, that someone is about to introduce a whole new system for formatting web pages.

Advice to Climate Alarmists

If you are going to lecture skeptics on science, it is probably a good practice not to begin with an analogy that gets the most basic physics incorrect (hint:  the fact that falling objects of different masses fall at the same rate has been "settled science" since the late 1500s).  Also, using the children's book "If you give a mouse a cookie..." as proof of the existence of positive feedback loops will not be very persuasive to practitioners of big-boy physical sciences and other non-post-modernist researchers.

Modern Witch Trials

Kevin Drum, while sympathetic (as we all are) to the plight of parents of kids with autism, is obviously frustrated that a few people with no science behind them are causing kids to go un-vaccinated.  Both he and Megan McArdle suggest some reasons for this.  I added this in the comment section:

It all strikes me as part of the general rebellion against reason we see today, alas.

Last week in my class on the late Middle Ages, we learned about the
early origins of witchcraft denunciations. Most denunciations were
initiated by someone who had undergone a tragedy that seemed
inexplicable -- e.g. the death of a loved one due to disease or a crop
failure or, most commonly, the death of a child. It seems to be part of
human nature to seek out something or someone to blame, and in this case
people latched onto the least sympathetic, most marginalized people
around them (often widowed women) and accused them of witchcraft as the
cause for their tragedy.

The parallels, to me, are striking. I think many of the witchcraft accusers had the same
motivation with the Thimerosal crowd, with only the target changing (now drug companies are the
unsympathetic ones). The only real difference is that we have in fact
added a positive feedback to this point of human nature, by creating a
tort system dominated by sympathy over reason, which tends to pay off
on such wild accusations of witchcraft. 

Breast implant makers?  Burn them!  Vaccine manufacturers?   Burn them!  Obstetricians?  Burn them!

Thoughts for the Day

Happy Birthday Vladimer Lenin Earth Day.  I have a few thoughts for the day:

Sucking the Oxygen Out of the Environmental Movement

Observe today how little of the discussion is about anything other than climate.  There are still many environmental issues in the world that can be improved by the application of man's effort and technology -- unfortunately, climate is the least of these but the issue getting the most attention.  Consider how the global warming panic has sucked the oxygen out of the environmental movement.  Ten years from now, I predict that true environmentalists will be looking back on the hysteria over trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere as a huge setback for real environmental progress.

Environmentalism and Socialism

If you attend any Earth Day events today, notice how many of the speeches and presentations and such are anti-corporate, anti-trade, anti-capitalist, anti-wealth screeds, and have little to do with the environment.  If you actually go to a live Earth Day event, you will see why the selection of Lenin's birthday was no accident.  You will not see this on the network news, because the media is sympathetic to the environmental movement and tends to edit the socialist rants out as PR protection for the environmentalists, knowing that American audiences would lose sympathy for them if they listened to the whole package. (This is mostly an American phenomenon - I have found from my brief travels in Europe that the media there does less such editing, perhaps because they know their audience is more comfortable with socialism).

The Climate Denier Trick

There are a lot of reasons not to be worried about "inaction" on global warming.  To justify the enormously expensive cuts in CO2 productions, on the order of 80% as supported by Obama and Clinton, one has to believe every element of a five-step logic chain:

  1. Mankind is increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
  2. Increased atmospheric CO2 causes the world to warm (by some amount, large or small)
  3. The increases in CO2 from man will cause substantial warming, large enough to be detectable above natural climate variations
  4. The increases in world temperatures due to man's CO2 will have catastrophic impacts on civilization
  5. These catastrophic impacts and their costs are larger than the enormous costs, in terms of poverty and lost wealth, from reducing CO2 with current technologies.

Climate alarmists have adopted a rhetorical trick that no one in the media seems willing to call them on.   They like to wage the debate over global warming policy on points one and two only, skipping over the rest.  Why?  Because the science behind numbers one and two are pretty strong.  Yes, there are a few folks who will battle them on these points, but even very strong skeptics like myself accept points one and two as proved. 

Here are some examples of how this trick works.  If, like me, you do not accept steps 3-4-5 in the above logic chain, you will be called a "denier."  When asked what a denier means, a climate alarmist will often position this denial as somehow disputing #1 and #2.  On the other hand, if one publicly accepts #1 and #2, the alarmist will shout "QED" and then proceed to say that strong action on CO2 is now justified.  When an alarmist says that the a consensus exists, he is probably correct on points 1 and 2.  But he is absolutely incorrect that a consensus exists on 3-4-5.

Don't believe me?  Think back to the early Republican debate, where the moderator asked for a show of hands whether [I can't remember the exact question] man was causing global warming.  The implication is that you either have to accept this whole logic chain or not.  One can see why Fred Thompson begged to have 90 seconds to explain his position, and why the moderator, presumably in the alarmist camp, denied it to him. 

Over the last year or two, skeptics have gotten a lot better at making their argument.  Most all of them, like I do, begin their arguments by laying out a logic chain like this and explaining why one can believe that man-made greenhouse gases cause warming without accepting the need for drastic climate action.  The result?  Alarmists have stopped debating, and/or have declared that the debate is "over."  Remember that last great Al Gore climate debate?  Neither do I.

The Single Best Reason Not To Be Worried About Climate

I could, and have, in my books and videos, made arguments on many points in 3-4-5 (links at the bottom of the post).  In four, no one ever considers the good effects of warming (e.g. on growing seasons and crop yields) and most every other problem is greatly exaggerated, from hurricane formation to sea level rises.  And in five, every time someone has tried to put a price on even small reductions in CO2, the numbers are so enormous that they are quickly suppressed by a environmentalist-sympathetic media.  Suffice it to say that even the climate-sanctimonious Europeans have not been willing to pay the price for even slowing down their CO2 growth (which has risen faster than in the US), much less reducing it.

But in this logic chain, there is little need to argue about four and five if #3 is wrong.  And it is.

The effects of CO2 acting alone on temperatures are quite small -- And everyone, even the alarmists, agree!  A doubling of CO2 concentrations, without other effects that we will discuss
in a moment, will heat the earth no more than about 1 degree Celsius (though several studies recently have argued the number is much less).  This is not some skeptic's hallucination -- this is
straight out of the IPCC third and fourth assessments [IPCC text quoted here].  In fact, the IPCC in their reports has steadily reduced their estimate of the direct contribution of CO2 on temperatures.  CO2, acting
alone, warms the Earth only slowly, and at this rate we would see less
than a degree of warming over the next century, more of a nuisance than
a catastrophe.

But some scientists do come up with catastrophic warming
forecasts.  They do so by assuming that our Earth's climate is
dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the initial warming from
CO2 by a factor of three, four, five or more.  This is a key point -- the
catastrophe does not come from the science of greenhouse gases, but
from separate hypotheses that the earth's climate is dominated by
positive feedback.
This is why saying that greenhouse gas
theory is "settled" is irrelevant to the argument about catastrophic
forecasts.  Because these positive feedbacks are NOT settled science.

In fact, the IPCC admits it does not even know the sign of
the most important effect (water vapor), much less its magnitude.  They
assume that the net effect is positive, and in fact strongly so - on the order of 60-80% feedback or more, nearly unprecedented numbers for a long-term stable physical system [more on feedback and its math here].  This is particularly ironic because alarmist Michael Mann, with his hockey stick, famously posited that temperatures over the last 1000 years were incredibly flat and stable until man started burning fossil fuels, a proposition that is hard to believe if the climate is dominated by strong positive feedback.   Note that when people like Al Gore say things like "tipping point," they are in effect hypothesizing that feedback is greater than 100%, meaning that climate can be a runaway process, like nuclear fission.

In fact, with the 100 or so years of measurements we have for temperature and CO2, empirical evidence does not support these high positive feedbacks.
Even if we assign all the 20th century warming to CO2, which is
unlikely, our current warming rates imply close to zero feedback.  If
there are other causes for measured 20th century warming other than
CO2, thereby reducing the warming we blame on CO2, then the last
century's experience implies negative rather than positive feedback in
the system.  As a result, it should not be surprising that high
feedback-driven forecasts from the 1990 IPCC reports have proven to be
way too high vs. actual experience (something the IPCC has since

However, climate scientists are unwilling to back down from the thin
branch they have crawled out on.  Rather than reduce their feedback
assumptions to non-catastrophic levels, they currently hypothesize a
second man-made cooling effect that is masking all this feedback-driven
warming.  They claim now that man-made sulfate aerosols and black
carbon are cooling the earth, and when some day these pollutants are
reduced, we will see huge catch-up warming.  If anything, this cooling
effect is even less understood than feedback.  What we do know is that,
unlike CO2, the effects of these aerosols are short-lived and therefore
localized, making it unlikely they are providing sufficient masking to
make catastrophic forecasts viable.  I go into several reality checks
in my videos, but here is a quick one:  Nearly all the man-made cooling
aerosols are in the northern hemisphere, meaning that most all the
cooling effect should be there -- but the northern hemisphere has
actually exhibited most of the world's warming over the past 30 years,
while the south has hardly warmed at all.

In sum, to believe catastrophic warming forecasts, one has to believe both of the following:

  1. The climate is dominated by strong positive feedback, despite
    our experience with other stable systems that says this is unlikely and
    despite our measurements over the last 100 years that have seen no such
    feedback levels.
  2. Substantial warming, of 1C or more, is being masked by aerosols,
    despite the fact that aerosols really only have strong presence over
    5-10% of the globe and despite the fact that the cooler part of the
    world has been the one without the aerosols.

Here's what this means:  Man will cause, at most, about a degree of
warming over the next century.  Most of this warming will be
concentrated in raising minimum temperatures at night rather than
maximum daytime temperatures  (this is why, despite some measured
average warming, the US has not seen an increase of late in maximum
temperature records set
).  There are many reasons to believe that man's
actual effect will be less than 1 degree, and that whatever effect we
do have will be lost in the natural cyclical variations the climate
experiences, but we are only just now starting to understand.

To keep this relatively short, I have left out all the numbers and
such.  To see the graphs and numbers and sources, check out my new climate video, or my longer original video, or download my book for free.

Update: Very relevant article by Roy Spencer on the over-estimation of feedback in climate models.

Many of us, especially those who were trained as meteorologists,
have long questioned the climate research community's reliance on
computerized climate models for global warming projections.  In
contrast to our perception that the real climate system is constantly
readjusting to internal fluctuations in ways that stabilize the system,
climate models built upon measured climate behavior invariably suggest
a climate system that is quite sensitive - sometimes catastrophically
sensitive "” to perturbations such as those from anthropogenic
greenhouse gas emissions.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to
articulate our "˜hand-waving' concerns in ways that the modelers would
appreciate, i.e., through equations.   

After years of pondering this issue, and after working on our two
latest papers on feedbacks (Spencer et al., 2007; Spencer and Braswell,
2008, hereafter SB08), I believe that I can now explain the main reason
for this dichotomy.   Taking the example of clouds in the climate
system, the issue can be introduced in the form of a question:

To what extent are climatic variations in
clouds caused by temperature change (feedback), versus temperature
change being the result of cloud variations? 

My New Favorite Audio Device

About two years ago I made the time investment to rip all my CD's to digital  (this was a real death-march, at 20 CDs a night for a month).  In doing so, I actually ripped every one of them twice:  once into a small, variable bit-rate MP3 file for my iPod, and a second time into a much larger FLAC digital file  (this is an open-source lossless compression format).  All the FLAC files sit on an old computer on my network that does nothing but act as a file server for these music files.

Now, having lots of nice, high quality digital files, the trick is to play them through my home audio system.  My first solution was an iPod dock on my home audio system, but I found this awkward.  Next, I added a Squeezebox from SlimDevices, a small inexpensive box that hangs on the network that basically takes the digital files off the network and puts then in an analog or digital signal my stereo system knows what to do with.    SlimDevices has always been a favorite among audiophiles, because of their open-source approach and their willingness to continue to improve their product with user feedback.  And, they are pretty reasonably priced.

Both of these solutions suffered from one problem.  My living room is fairly large, and while each system had a remote, the menu screen I was navigating was way over there, either on the small iPod screen or on the larger squeezebox screen.  Either way, I still did not like the ergonomics.

In their new version of the Squeezebox
, Slimdevices has come out with what I consider the near perfect streaming audio device.  The product consists two pieces.  First, the audio device, which is pretty small, that hangs on the network (either by cable or wireless) and does the same job as the old boxes I had, converting digital music files to a format my music equipment can handle.  The key area of improvement is in the remote control.   The remote communicates with your wireless network, and allows one to scroll through his whole music collection right on the remote in an interface nearly identical to the iPod, including album cover art if one so chooses. (click for larger view)



I have had this new Squeezebox for over a month now, and I love it.  For those of you with a lot of CDs, like I have, it is just amazing how much more I listen to my music collection with this setup.  In the old world of shuffling through CD cases in a rack, I would tend to get the same five or six in a rotation.  Now, I listen to much more.  The remote also has a headphone jack so it can operate like a portable music player  (as long as it is in range of your wireless network).

By the way, I know there are devices like this that are all-in-one, meaning that they have their own hard drive so you don't need to network it to a computer.  I find those boxes to be a) way expensive and b) difficult to upgrade.  The cost of a cheap computer (it does not need much of a processor to just serve digital files up to the network) with a good size hard drive is cheap, and is the perfect use for an old computer you have upgraded.  The only real flaw of this device is its inability to do video, but SlimDevices has always focused on audio and will probably stay that way.

And the Winner Is...

Mixed news on the contest front.  My outline and draft novel did not make the finals of the Mackinac Center's Freedom in Fiction Prize.

However, my 3-minute climate video did win second place in the Kids and Globaloney contest

The results surprise me a bit.  I really felt good about my story concept for the fiction prize, so much so I will likely finish it and at least release it as an e-book.  On the other hand, I found the 3-minute limit almost impossible to make work in the video contest, and thought my video, which I include below, was rushed.

A better version is the 9-minute version here which covers the same subjects but with a bit more leisure and explanation.  This video, however, is a bit dated.  As I write in the YouTube comments, I want to take a better shot at explaining the issues around positive feedback.  I think I can fix it with just a rewrite of the narration.  That longer video is here and below.

My really long video, 60-minutes in 6 parts, is here.

Wherein A Libertarian Argues For Regulation Enforcement

I got to thinking today about regulation and its enforcement in this imperfectly government-dominated world after reading this Jon Stewart quote as relayed by Kevin Drum:

With this administration, if a passenger blows up a plane, it's a
failure in the war on terror. But if the plane just blows up on its own
"” eh, it's the market self-regulating.

What struck me that I had not thought of before is the question of whether non-enforcement of a published regulatory regime was the same as letting a market self-regulate.  And my answer was:  No, at least not in the short to medium term.

The reason is that the government regulatory regime crowds out private mechanisms that might attempt to achieve the same goals.  What do I mean by crowding out?  For example, if the government published car reliability metrics and regulation for all cars, no matter how imperfect, would JD Power and Consumer Reports bother with the investment to do the same?  For decades, insurance companies wrote de facto building codes and performed fire inspections of their insured structures.  They no longer do so, because the government has taken on that role (arguably less well than the insurance companies, who had the reputation of being tigers on such inspections).  Would Moody's exist to rank bond risks if the government had regulations in place that theoretically forced all securities to (I don't know how) have the same risk?  My marina liability insurer conducts occasional inspections of my marinas.

As a result, insurers don't inspect airlines, nor do manufacturers enforce inspection and replacement regimes (as automobile companies do, to some extent, to protect their warranty).  Third parties rate airlines for customer service but not for safety.  The whole private evaluation regime for airlines exists on the assumption that the government has regulatory program X and Y in place that is enforced.  In the long term, if the government were to abandon enforcement, and this lasted long enough for that expectation to exist in the market, new private regulatory methods would arise [arguments would most certainly exist between libertarians and others whether these new regimes were as effective as the old regime, but almost undoubtedly something would emerge].  But in the near term, we don't have a self-regulating market or even the expectation of one. 

As a result, I come to the conclusion that while deregulation may be needed, the absolute wrong way to do it is via non-enforcement of existing regulations.  So there you have it, a libertarian calls for better enforcement.  Comments?  I am just starting to think about this and would appreciate feedback.

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:

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.

The Format Wars May Be Over

It looks like Blu-Ray will soon defeat HD-DVD

Fans of Toshiba's HD DVD format have been kicked while they're down, this time by Wal-Mart's decision to ditch the format,
and sell Blu-ray players and media exclusively. Effective June, the
move is the result of customer feedback, and an attempt to "simplify"
patron's decisions. This news closely follows Best Buy's decision to
also give the format the boot. Speculation has already surfaced that
suggests Toshiba will abandon their own format "in the coming weeks"...

So file all that HD-DVD software next to your Betamax tapes.  I actually preferred the HD-DVD format, but thought from the beginning that Blu-Ray's position in home gaming machines, which immediately gave them a huge installed based before any of us started buying High Def. movie players for our home theaters, might give it a lead that could not be overcome. 

Most consumers have just wanted the format wars to be over so they could pick the right player and software (I partially avoided this problem by buying a combo player).  This is an interesting consumer-friendly role for Wal-Mart that I have never seen discussed, that of standards-setter.

So here is a message to Blu-Ray:  Now that you are on the verge of victory, you need to clean up your own house.  The creeping standards problem you have had, which has caused early players to be unable to play newer disks, has got to end.  In particular, it is irritating not to be able to play a newer disk because the fancy multimedia menu won't work.  When when you learn that we aren't interested in all that crap and just want the movie to start?  Just because the technology says you can do that stuff does not mean that you should.

Update: Reuters with the same news, and a rumor that Toshiba has already shut down production line.

The Critical Flaw with Catastrophic Global Warming Theory

I began with an 85-page book.  I shortened that to a 50-minute film, and then a 9-minute film.  With that experience, I think I can now pull out and summarize in just a few paragraphs why we should not fear catastrophic global warming.  Here goes:

Climate catastrophists often argue that global warming theory is "settled science."  And they are right in one respect:  We have a pretty good understanding of how CO2 can act as a greenhouse gas and cause the earth to warm.  What is well agreed upon, but is not well communicated in the media, is that a doubling of CO2, without other effects that we will discuss in a moment, will heat the earth about 1 degree Celsius (plus or minus a few tenths).  This is not some skeptic's hallucination -- this is straight out of the IPCC third and fourth assessments.  CO2, acting alone, warms the Earth only slowly, and at this rate we would see less than a degree of warming over the next century, more of a nuisance than a catastrophe.

But some scientists do come up with catastrophic warming forecasts.  They do so by assuming that our Earth's climate is dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the initial warming from CO2 by a factor of three, four, five or more.  This is a key point -- the catastrophe does not come from the science of greenhouse gases, but from separate hypotheses that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This is why saying that greenhouse gas theory is "settled" is irrelevant to the
argument about catastrophic forecasts.  Because these positive feedbacks are NOT settled science.  In fact, the IPCC admits it does not even know the sign of the most important effect (water vapor), much less its magnitude.  They assume that the net effect is positive, but they are on very shaky ground doing so, particularly since having long-term stable systems like climate dominated by positive feedback is a highly improbable.

And, in fact, with the 100 or so years of measurements we have for temperature and CO2, empirical evidence does not support these high positive feedbacks.  Even if we assign all the 20th century warming to CO2, which is unlikely, our current warming rates imply close to zero feedback.  If there are other causes for measured 20th century warming other than CO2, thereby reducing the warming we blame on CO2, then the last century's experience implies negative rather than positive feedback in the system.  As a result, it should not be surprising that high feedback-driven forecasts from the 1990 IPCC reports have proven to be way too high vs. actual experience (something the IPCC has since admitted).

However, climate scientists are unwilling to back down from the thin branch they have crawled out on.  Rather than reduce their feedback assumptions to non-catastrophic levels, they currently hypothesize a second man-made cooling effect that is masking all this feedback-driven warming.  They claim now that man-made sulfate aerosols and black carbon are cooling the earth, and when some day these pollutants are reduced, we will see huge catch-up warming.  If anything, this cooling effect is even less understood than feedback.  What we do know is that, unlike CO2, the effects of these aerosols are short-lived and therefore localized, making it unlikely they are providing sufficient masking to make catastrophic forecasts viable.  I go into several reality checks in my videos, but here is a quick one:  Nearly all the man-made cooling aerosols are in the northern hemisphere, meaning that most all the cooling effect should be there -- but the northern hemisphere has actually exhibited most of the world's warming over the past 30 years, while the south has hardly warmed at all.

In sum, to believe catastrophic warming forecasts, one has to believe both of the following:

  1. The climate is dominated by strong positive feedback, despite our experience with other stable systems that says this is unlikely and despite our measurements over the last 100 years that have seen no such feedback levels.
  2. Substantial warming, of 1C or more, is being masked by aerosols, despite the fact that aerosols really only have strong presence over 5-10% of the globe and despite the fact that the cooler part of the world has been the one without the aerosols.

Here's what this means:  Man will cause, at most, about a degree of warming over the next century.  Most of this warming will be concentrated in raising minimum temperatures at night rather than maximum daytime temperatures  (this is why, despite some measured average warming, the US has not seen an increase of late in maximum temperature records set).  There are many reasons to believe that man's actual effect will be less than 1 degree, and that whatever effect we do have will be lost in the natural cyclical variations the climate experiences, but we are only just now starting to understand.

To keep this relatively short, I have left out all the numbers and such.  To see the graphs and numbers and sources, check out my new climate video, or my longer original video, or download my book for free.

UPDATE: Based on a lot of comment activity to this post at its mirror at Climate Skeptic,
I wanted to add a bit of an update.  It is sometimes hard to summarize
without losing important detail, and I think I had that happen here.

Commenters are correct that positive feedback dominated systems can
be stable as long as the feedback percentage is less than 100%.  By
trying to get too compact in my arguments, I combined a couple of
things.  First, there are many catastrophists that argue that climate
IS in fact dominated by feedback over 100% -- anyone who talks of
"tipping points" is effectively saying this.  The argument about
instability making stable processes impossible certainly applies to
these folks' logic.  Further, even positive feedback <100% makes a
system highly subject to dramatic variations.  But Mann et. al. are
already on the record saying that without man, global temperatures are
unbelievably stable and move in extremely narrow ranges.   It is hard
to imagine this to be true in a climate system dominated by positive
feedback, particularly when it is beset all the time with dramatic
perturbations, from volcanoes to the Maunder Minimum.

To some extent, climate catastrophists are in a bind.  If historic
temperatures show a lot of variance, then a strong argument can be made
that a large portion of 20th century warming is natural occilation.  If
historic temperatures move only in narrow ranges, they have a very
difficult time justifying that the climate is dominated by positive
feedbacks of 60-80%.

The point to remember, though, is that irregardless of likelihood,
the historical temperature record simply does not support assumptions
of feedback much larger than zero.  Yes, time delays and lags make a
small difference, but all one has to do is compare current temperatures
to CO2 levels 12-15 years ago to account for this lag and one still
gets absolutely no empirical support for large positive feedbacks.

Remember this when someone says that greenhouse gas theory is
"Settled."  It may or may not be, but the catastrophe does not come
directly from greenhouse gasses.  Alone, they cause at most nuisance
warming.  The catastrophe comes from substantial positive feedback (it
takes 60-80% levels to get climate sensitivities of 3-5C) which is far
from settled science.

New Climate Short: Don't Panic -- Flaws in Catastrophic Global Warming Forecasts

After releasing my first climate video, which ran over 50 minutes, I had a lot of feedback that I should aim for shorter, more focused videos.  This is my first such effort, setting for myself the artificial limit of 10 minutes, which is the YouTube limit on video length.

While the science of how CO2 and other greenhouse gases cause
warming is fairly well understood, this core process only results in
limited, nuisance levels of global warming. Catastrophic warming
forecasts depend on added elements, particularly the assumption that
the climate is dominated by strong positive feedbacks, where the
science is MUCH weaker. This video explores these issues and explains
why most catastrophic warming forecasts are probably greatly

You can also access the YouTube video here, or you can access the same version on Google video here.

If you have the bandwidth, you can download a much higher quality version by right-clicking either of the links below:

I am not sure why the quicktime version is so porky.  In addition, the sound is not great in the quicktime version, so use the windows media wmv files if you can.  I will try to reprocess it tonight.  All of these files for download are much more readable than the YouTube version (memo to self:  use larger font next time!)

This is a companion video to the longer and more
comprehensive climate skeptic video "What is Normal -- a Critique of
Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory

The Catastrophe Stems Completely From Feedback

Over at Climate Skeptic, I dissect climate models to show that the future warming in the models from CO2 alone is not much more than 0.5C.  All the catastrophe comes from positive feedbacks that modelers assume dominate the climate, an odd assumption for such a long-term stable system.  I summarize as follows:

  • Climate sensitivity is the temperature increase we might expect with a doubling of CO2 to 560 ppm from a pre-industrial 280ppm
  • Nearly every forecast you have ever seen assumes the
    effect of CO2 alone is about a 1C warming from this doubling.  Clearly,
    though, you have seen higher forecasts.  All of the "extra" warming in
    these forecasts come from positive feedback.  So a sensitivity of 3C
    would be made up of 1C from CO2 directly that is tripled by positive
    feedbacks.  A sensitivity of 6 or 8 still starts with the same 1C but
    has even higher feedbacks
  • Most thoughtful climate scientists will admit that
    we don't know what these feedbacks are -- in so many words, modelers
    are essentially guessing.  Climate scientists don't even know the sign
    (positive or negative) much less the magnitude.  In most physical
    sciences, upon meeting such an unknown system that has been long-term
    stable, scientists will assume neutral to negative feedback.  Climate
    scientists are the exception -- almost all their models assume strong
    positive feedback.
  • Climate scientists point to studies of ice cores and
    such that serve as proxies for climate hundreds of thousands of years
    ago to justify positive feedbacks.  But for the period of history we
    have the best data, ie the last 120 years, actual CO2 and measured
    temperature changes imply a sensitivity net of feedbacks closer to 1C,
    about what a reasonable person would assume from a stable process not
    dominated by positive feedbacks.

A Window into the Reality-Based Community

Kevin Drum links to a blog called Three-Toed Sloth in a post about why our climate future may be even worse than the absurdly cataclysmic forecasts we are getting today in the media.  Three-Toed Sloth advertises itself as "Slow Takes from the Canopy of the Reality-Based Community."  His post is an absolutely fabulous example how one can write an article where most every line is literally true, but the conclusion can still be dead wrong because one tiny assumption at the beginning of the analysis was incorrect  (In this case, "incorrect" may be generous, since the author seems well-versed in the analysis of chaotic systems.  A better word might be "purposely fudged to make a political point.")

He begins with this:

climate system contains a lot of feedback loops.  This means that the ultimate
response to any perturbation or forcing (say, pumping 20 million years of
accumulated fossil fuels into the air) depends not just on the initial
reaction, but also how much of that gets fed back into the system, which leads
to more change, and so on.  Suppose, just for the sake of things being
tractable, that the feedback is linear, and the fraction fed back
is f.  Then the total impact of a perturbation I is

J + Jf + Jf2 + Jf3 + ...

The infinite series of tail-biting feedback terms is in fact
a geometric
, and so can be summed up if f is less than 1:


So far, so good.  The math here is entirely correct.  He goes on to make this point, arguing that if we are uncertain about  f, in other words, if there is a distribution of possible f's, then the range of the total system gain 1/(1-f) is likely higher than our intuition might first tell us:

If we knew the value of the feedback f, we could predict the
response to perturbations just by multiplying them by 1/(1-f) "”
call this G for "gain".  What happens, Roe and Baker ask, if we do not
know the feedback exactly?  Suppose, for example, that our measurements are
corrupted by noise --- or even, with something like the climate,
that f is itself stochastically fluctuating.  The distribution of
values for f might be symmetric and reasonably well-peaked around a
typical value, but what about the distribution for G?  Well, it's
nothing of the kind.  Increasing f just a little increases
G by a lot, so starting with a symmetric, not-too-spread distribution
of f gives us a skewed distribution for G with a heavy right

Again all true, with one small unstated proviso I will come back to.  He concludes:

In short: the fact that we will probably never be able to precisely predict
the response of the climate system to large forcings is so far from being a
reason for complacency it's not even funny.

Actually, I can think of two unstated facts that undermine this analysis.  The first is that most catastrophic climate forecasts you see utilize gains in the 3x-5x range, or sometimes higher (but seldom lower).  This implies they are using an f of between .67 and .80.  These are already very high numbers for any natural process.  If catastrophist climate scientists are already assuming numbers at the high end of the range, then the point about uncertainties skewing the gain disproportionately higher are moot.  In fact, we might tend to actually draw the reverse conclusion, that the saw cuts both ways.  His analysis also implies that small overstatements of f when the forecasts are already skewed to the high side will lead to very large overstatements of Gain.

But here is the real elephant in the room:  For the vast, vast majority of natural processes, f is less than zero.  The author has blithely accepted the currently unproven assumption that the net feedback in the climate system is positive.  He never even hints at the possibility that that f might be a negative feedback rather than positive, despite the fact that almost all natural processes are dominated by negative rather than positive feedback.  Assuming without evidence that a random natural process one encounters is dominated by negative feedback is roughly equivalent to assuming the random person you just met on the street is a billionaire.  It is not totally out of the question, but it is very, very unlikely.

When one plugs an f in the equation above that is negative, say -0.3, then the gain actually becomes less than one, in this case about 0.77.  In a negative feedback regime, the system response is actually less than the initial perturbation because forces exist in the system to damp the initial input.

The author is trying to argue that uncertainty about the degree of feedback in the climate system and therefore the sensitivity of the system to CO2 changes does not change the likelihood of the coming "catastrophe."  Except that he fails to mention that we are so uncertain about the feedback that we don't even know its sign.  Feedback, or f, could be positive or negative as far as we know.  Values could range anywhere from -1 to 1.  We don't have good evidence as to where the exact number lies, except to observe from the relative stability of past temperatures over a long time frame that the number probably is not in the high positive end of this range.  Data from climate response over the last 120 years seems to point to a number close to zero or slightly negative, in which case the author's entire post is irrelevant.   In fact, it turns out that the climate scientists who make the news are all clustered around the least likely guesses for f, ie values greater than 0.6.

Incredibly, while refusing to even mention the Occam's Razor solution that f is negative, the author seriously entertains the notion that f might be one or greater.  For such values, the gain shoots to infinity and the system goes wildly unstable  (nuclear fission, for example, is an f>1 process).  In an f>1 world, lightly tapping the accelerator in our car would send us quickly racing up to the speed of light.  This is an ABSURD assumption for a system like climate that is long-term stable over tens of millions of years.  A positive feedback f>=1 would have sent us to a Venus-like heat or Mars-like frigidity eons ago.

A summary of why recent historical empirical data implies low or negative feedback is here.  You can learn more on these topics in my climate video and my climate book.  To save you the search, the section of my movie explaining feedbacks, with a nifty live demonstration from my kitchen, is in the first three and a half minutes of the clip below:

More Ways to Watch My Climate Video

There has been a lot of interest in my new climate video.  Already we have nearly 450 1500 views at Google video and over 200 700 downloads of the video.  I am now releasing the video through YouTube.

YouTube requires that all videos be under 10 minutes, so I have broken the film into six parts.  If you want to just preview a portion, the second half of the fourth film and the first half of the fifth are probably the most critical.

A Youtube Playlist for the film is here.  This is a cool feature I have not used before, but will effectively let you run the parts end to end, making the 50-minute video more or less seamless. 

The individual parts are:

Climate Video Part 1:  Introduction; how greenhouse gases work; historical climate reconstructions
Climate Video Part 2:  Historical reconstructions; problems with proxies
Climate Video part 3:  How much warming is due to man; measurement biases; natural cycles in climate
Climate Video Part 4:  Role of the sun; aerosols and cooling; climate sensitivity; checking forecasts against history
Climate Video Part 5:  Positive and negative feedback;  hurricanes.
Climate Video Part 6:  Melting ice and rising oceans; costs of CO2 abatement; conclusions.

You may still stream the entire climate film from Google Video here. (the video will stutter between the 12 and 17 second marks, and then should run fine)

You may download a 258MB full resolution Windows Media version of the film by right-clicking here.

You may download a 144MB full resolution Quicktime version of the film by right-clicking here.

Why I Blog

I had a call today from a reporter at the Christian Science Monitor who wanted to discuss climate skepticism.  What a disaster of an interview I am!  He would ask an open-ended question, and off I would go into feedback theory and then to acoustics and then into helicopter dynamics and back to the ice age and then to temperature measurement in Tucson.  I try to follow 6 trains of thought simultaneously and the result is a mess. 

The poor reporter was quite friendly and ended with "I am not sure where we are going with this story" which is the universal reporter speak for "your interview was such a mess I am not sure how we would ever use it."  LOL.  Only by writing, with the implicit governor applied by the keyboard, am I able to organize my thoughts well.  Which is why I have never invested in a computer dictation product - I shudder to think what I would find on the page after a session.  Which reminds me of the early Doonesbury cartoons with Duke when he was a reporter at the Rolling Stone, when he would come into the his editor's office and claim to have dictated some really powerful stuff, only to find a garbled drug-induced mess, which was obviously a reference to Hunter S. Thompson, who... oh crap, I'm doing it again.