Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category

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The Uncertainty Monster

January 23, 2017

Robert Tracinski writes about climate change at The Federalist. (My emphasis below.)

This is the point that Judith Curry makes when writing about climate.

Why NYT Hid The Numbers For The ‘Hottest Year On Record’

When you read a science report claiming that 2016 was the hottest year on record, you might expect that you will get numbers. And you would be wrong.

They say that mathematics is the language of science, which is a way of saying that science is quantitative. It is moved forward by numbers and measurements, not just by qualitative observations. “It seems hot out” is not science. Giving a specific temperature, measured by a specific process at a specific time, compared to other systematically gathered measurements — that is science.

So when you read an article proclaiming that, for the third year in a row, last year was the hottest year on record, you might expect that right up front you will get numbers, measurements, and a statistical margin of error. You know, science stuff. Numbers. Quantities. Mathematics.

And you would be wrong.

I just got done combing through a New York Times report titled, “Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year.” The number of relevant numbers in this article is: zero.

We are not told what the average global temperature was, how much higher this is than last year’s record or any previous records, or what the margin of error is supposed to be on those measurements. Instead, we get stuff like this.

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016—trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.
Note to the New York Times: “trouncing” and “blown past” are phrases appropriate to sports reporting, not science reporting. Except that no sports reporter would dare write an article in which he never bothers to give you the score of the big game.

Yet that’s what passes for “science reporting” on the issue of global warming, where asking for numbers and margins of errors apparently makes you an enemy of science. Instead, it’s all qualitative and comparative descriptions. It’s science without numbers. […]

It’s almost like they’re hiding something. And that is indeed what we find. I finally tracked down an exception to this reporting trend: the UK newspaper The Independent gives us the relevant numbers.

They should have been in the first paragraph, but at least they’re in the third paragraph: “This puts 2016 only nominally ahead of 2015 by just 0.01C — within the 0.1C margin of error — but….” There’s stuff after the “but,” but it’s just somebody’s evaluation. Even this report can’t give us a straight fact and leave it alone.

For the benefit of science reporters and other people who are unfamiliar with the scientific method, let me point out that the margin of error for these measurements is plus or minus one tenth of a degree Celsius. The temperature difference that is supposedly being measured is one one-hundredth of a degree—one tenth the size of the margin of error. To go back to sports reporting, that’s like saying that the football is on the 10-yard line — give or take a hundred yards. […]

When I was learning lab technique, a lot of time was spent on the importance of margin of error because that’s the limit of what you can know. In fact, I had a professor who would take credit off when people carried more decimal places in their results than the margin of error would allow.

It was one reason he preferred slide rules to electronic calculators. (Yep, it’s been a few decades.) The people with slide rules would skip those gratuitous digits because of the extra work, but people with calculators wanted to keep those extra digits because they were “free”.

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The engineering is settled (2)

January 17, 2017

Here’s an article from Manhattan Contrarian about the problems of making renewable energy financially feasible.

Or as I put it last April, the Engineering Is Settled.

A Dose Of Renewable Energy Realism

In the campaign to jettison fossil fuels as the main source of our energy and replace them with so-called “renewables,” a notable feature is the lack of discussion of the costs and practicalities of trying to make intermittent sources like wind and solar work to run a 24/7/365 electricity grid. Is there any problem here that deserves consideration? In Tuesday’s post I noted that in my home state of New York we are about to try to replace our big Indian Point nuclear power plant with mostly wind-generated power. Actually, we already have wind turbines with approximately the same “capacity” as Indian Point, but unfortunately over the course of a full year they only generate about one-quarter as much electricity as Indian Point. Still, can’t that problem be solved just by buying four times as many wind turbines? It may be a little pricey, but is there any reason why that won’t work?

In a publication called Energy Post on January 10, prominent German economist Heiner Flassbeck has a piece that addresses this question. The headline is “The End of the Energiewende?” Of course the problem is that the wind turbines don’t just run steadily and predictably at one-quarter of capacity; rather, they swing wildly and unpredictably back and forth between generating at near 100% of capacity and generating almost nothing. The “almost nothing” mode can persist for days or even weeks. In Germany under a program called Energiewende (“energy transition”), in effect since 2010, they have been pushing to raise the percentage of energy they obtain from wind and solar, and have gotten the percent of their electricity supply from those sources all the way up to 31%. But Flassbeck now looks at what just occurred during the month of December 2016:

This winter could go down in history as the event that proved the German energy transition to be unsubstantiated and incapable of becoming a success story. Electricity from wind and solar generation has been catastrophically low for several weeks. December brought new declines. A persistent winter high-pressure system with dense fog throughout Central Europe has been sufficient to unmask the fairy tale of a successful energy transition….

Here is a chart from Flassbeck’s piece showing German electricity demand through the first half of the month of December, against the sources of the electricity that supplied that demand. Among the sources, solar, on-shore wind, and off-shore wind are broken out separately:

power-demand-germany-dec-2016

As you can see, at some times wind and solar sources supplied as much as half or more of the demand for electricity, but at other times they supplied almost nothing. Flassbeck: […]

I would dearly love to install solar panels and go off the grid. And I’ve been watching the prices and the expected equipment lifetimes for a couple of decades now to decide when it will make financial sense.

But the problem of storing the energy aside, there are periods of weather like our current one. Today was the sixth gloomy, sunless day in a row in Missouri. That’s not unusual in January or February in the center of the US; it’s more common than not, I believe.

On the other hand, if I still lived in Tucson I’d probably have done it by now. (Check your insolation.)

H.T. Jeff G

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Judith Curry moves on

January 8, 2017

I mentioned Judith Curry a few weeks ago. She’s a Professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.

This week she announced that she’s leaving her academic post and planning to devote her time to a business she co-founded called Climate Forecast Applications Network.

On January 3rd, she wrote at her Climate Etc. blog:

JC in transition

Effective January 1, I have resigned my tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech.

Before reflecting on a range of things, let me start by answering a question that may have popped into your head: I have no plans to join the Trump administration (ha ha).

Technically, my resignation is a retirement event, since I am on the Georgia State Teachers Retirement System, and I need to retire from Georgia Tech to get my pension (although I am a few years shy of 65). I have requested Emeritus status.

So, I have retired from Georgia Tech, and I have no intention of seeking another academic or administrative position in a university or government agency. However, I most certainly am not retiring from professional life.

Why did I resign my tenured faculty position? […]

It’s worth a read if you want to get a feel for how climate research is being funded and handled in academia these days.


Here Dr. Curry talks with Tucker Carlson on January 6th about this topic.

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Climate heterodoxy quashed

December 11, 2016

I read Mr. Pielke’s column in the WSJ last week but didn’t want to link to another pay-walled article.

But Marc Morano has excerpted the column at Climate Depot, so I’ll link to that instead.

My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic

Excerpts: Much to my surprise, I showed up in the WikiLeaks releases before the election. In a 2014 email, a staffer at the Center for American Progress, founded by John Podesta in 2003, took credit for a campaign to have me eliminated as a writer for Nate Silver ’s FiveThirtyEight website. In the email, the editor of the think tank’s climate blog bragged to one of its billionaire donors, Tom Steyer : “I think it’s fair [to] say that, without Climate Progress, Pielke would still be writing on climate change for 538.”

WikiLeaks provides a window into a world I’ve seen up close for decades: the debate over what to do about climate change, and the role of science in that argument. Although it is too soon to tell how the Trump administration will engage the scientific community, my long experience shows what can happen when politicians and media turn against inconvenient research — which we’ve seen under Republican and Democratic presidents.

I understand why Mr. Podesta — most recently Hillary Clinton ’s campaign chairman — wanted to drive me out of the climate-change discussion. When substantively countering an academic’s research proves difficult, other techniques are needed to banish it. That is how politics sometimes works, and professors need to understand this if we want to participate in that arena.

More troubling is the degree to which journalists and other academics joined the campaign against me. What sort of responsibility do scientists and the media have to defend the ability to share research, on any subject, that might be inconvenient to political interests — even our own?

I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax. But my research led me to a conclusion that many climate campaigners find unacceptable: There is scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally. In fact we are in an era of good fortune when it comes to extreme weather. This is a topic I’ve studied and published on as much as anyone over two decades. My conclusion might be wrong, but I think I’ve earned the right to share this research without risk to my career.

Instead, my research was under constant attack for years by activists, journalists and politicians. In 2011 writers in the journal Foreign Policy signaled that some accused me of being a “climate-change denier.” I earned the title, the authors explained, by “questioning certain graphs presented in IPCC reports.” That an academic who raised questions about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in an area of his expertise was tarred as a denier reveals the groupthink at work.

Yet I was right to question the IPCC’s 2007 report, which included a graph purporting to show that disaster costs were rising due to global temperature increases. The graph was later revealed to have been based on invented and inaccurate information, as I documented in my book “The Climate Fix.” The insurance industry scientist Robert-Muir Wood of Risk Management Solutions had smuggled the graph into the IPCC report. He explained in a public debate with me in London in 2010 that he had included the graph and misreferenced it because he expected future research to show a relationship between increasing disaster costs and rising temperatures.

When his research was eventually published in 2008, well after the IPCC report, it concluded the opposite: “We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and normalized catastrophe losses.” Whoops. […]

Pielke’s description of (a) the groupthink about climate and (b) how the climate issue has been highly politicized is pretty sobering.

I think I’ll read his book.

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In that case, let the good times roll

December 1, 2016

Here’s a news item from New Zealand about a biology professor from the University of Arizona. (Mr. McPherson is a professor emeritus at Arizona.)

Humans ‘don’t have 10 years’ left thanks to climate change – scientist

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

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

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

“It’s locked down, it’s been locked in for a long time – we’re in the midst of our sixth mass extinction,” he told Paul Henry on Thursday. […]

Where the hell is Julian Simon when we need him?

And check out Professor Curry’s talk that I mentioned recently.

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Was the election also a referendum on climate change?

November 27, 2016

A couple of days ago, I watched a video of Judith Curry talking about Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster. Her presentation is long (and a little dry) but she brings up some interesting points.

One of the slides in Curry’s presentation was a map of state-by-state support for President Obama’s climate change programs. Here’s Curry’s map, captured from the video. (You can find a very similar map at ThinkProgress.)

curry-state-map

Look familiar? Here’s a map of Electoral College results (via 270toWin.com).

2016-election-results

I was struck by the correlation between the two maps, even though it’s not perfect.

Since the election, I’ve read any amount of commentary along the lines of "Trump’s victory means (fill in the blank)." The collection of opinions I’ve read reminds me of the elephant and the blind men. Everyone’s putting his own interpretation on the Trump elephant and frequently, I suspect, with little knowledge about Trump himself.

But I suppose you could add my interpretation here to that collection because what I’ve gathered from the people I know is that reaction to new Federal regulations under the Obama administration – climate change, among many others – was a factor in Trump’s win.

But back to the maps: It doesn’t surprise me that states whose governors & legislatures support active measures against climate change voted Democrat while those that don’t support those measures voted Republican. Before liberal readers begin buffing their halos as members of the Reality Party, though, it seems to me the Democrat support for action on climate change could have any number of explanations.

And that brings me to an article that John Tierney published in City Journal recently. I found Tierney’s article pretty interesting and you should RTWT. (My emphasis below.)

The Real War on Science
The Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress.

My liberal friends sometimes ask me why I don’t devote more of my science journalism to the sins of the Right. It’s fine to expose pseudoscience on the left, they say, but why aren’t you an equal-opportunity debunker? Why not write about conservatives’ threat to science?

My friends don’t like my answer: because there isn’t much to write about. Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science. I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?

Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples. […]

The danger from the Left does not arise from stupidity or dishonesty; those failings are bipartisan. Some surveys show that Republicans, particularly libertarians, are more scientifically literate than Democrats, but there’s plenty of ignorance all around. […]

The first threat is confirmation bias, the well-documented tendency of people to seek out and accept information that confirms their beliefs and prejudices. In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology. […]

And that brings us to the second great threat from the Left: its long tradition of mixing science and politics. To conservatives, the fundamental problem with the Left is what Friedrich Hayek called the fatal conceit: the delusion that experts are wise enough to redesign society. Conservatives distrust central planners, preferring to rely on traditional institutions that protect individuals’ “natural rights” against the power of the state. Leftists have much more confidence in experts and the state. Engels argued for “scientific socialism,” a redesign of society supposedly based on the scientific method. […]

(H.T. Jeff G)


Update 11/28/16: Here’s a more recent, post-election, column by Tierney. (My emphasis again.)

Trump and Science

What will a Trump administration mean for scientific research and technology?

The good news is that the next president doesn’t seem all that interested in science
, judging from the little he said about it during the campaign. That makes a welcome contrast with Barack Obama, who cared far too much — in the wrong way. He politicized science to advance his agenda. His scientific appointees in the White House, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration were distinguished by their progressive ideology, not the quality of their research. They used junk science—or no science—to justify misbegotten crusades against dietary salt, trans fats, and electronic cigarettes. They cited phony statistics to spread myths about a gender pay gap and a rape crisis on college campuses. Ignoring mainstream climate scientists, they blamed droughts and storms on global warming and then tried to silence critics who pointed out their mistakes. […]

Trump has vowed to ignore the Paris international climate agreement that committed the U.S. to reduce greenhouse emissions. That prospect appalls environmentalists but cheers those of us who consider the agreement an enormously expensive way to achieve very little. Trump’s position poses a financial threat to wind-power producers and other green-energy companies that rely on federal subsidies to survive. […]

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The conspiracy rocks on

October 27, 2016

Ron Bailey writes an update about the Attorneys General United for Clean Power, the group that’s issued subpoenas to ExxonMobil (and the Competitive Enterprise Institute) to investigate them for fraud regarding climate change regulations. This is a topic I posted about last April.

ExxonMobil Climate ‘Fraud’ Investigation Follies Continue

ExxonMobil is suspected by New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman of misleading shareholders about the damage that climate change regulations might do to its business prospects. Scheidnerman and nearly twenty other Democratic attorneys-general have joined together in an effort to prove these suspicions correct. Under New York’s capacious Martin Act, Schneiderman has issued investigatory subpoenas demanding that the company turn over various documents including those related to research results by company scientists and donations made to suspect academicians, think tanks, and advocacy groups. […]

In August, Schneiderman issued another subpoena demanding to see records held by the company’s accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Exxonmobil refused, asserting an “accountant-client privilege” under Texas law. Now a New York Supreme Court judge has ruled that New York law applies and ordered the company to comply with Schneiderman’s subpoena. (Note the Supreme Court is not the highest level of New York’s judiciary.)

“We are pleased with the Court’s order and look forward to moving full-steam ahead with our fraud investigation of Exxon,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a statement. “Exxon had no legal basis to interfere with PwC’s production, and I hope that today’s order serves as a wake up call to Exxon that the best thing they can do is cooperate with, rather than resist, our investigation.”

The Washington Post reports that the company plans to appeal the decision.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of Texas issued a discovery order to Massachusetts Attorney-General Maura Healey to turn over documents that would enable him to understand how she, Schneiderman and the other Democratic attorneys-general cooked up their joint investigation of ExxonMobil’s possibly fraudulent behavior. The joint investigation is governed by what is called a Common Interest Agreement among the Democratic AGs. In his order Kinkeade noted:

Attorney General Healey’s actions leading up to the issuance of the CID [Civil Investigative Demand] causes the Court concern and presents the Court with the question of whether Attorney General Healey issued the CID with bias or prejudgment about what the investigation of Exxon would discover. …

The Court finds the allegations about Attorney General Healey and the anticipatory nature of Attorney General Healey’s remarks about the outcome of the Exxon investigation to be concerning to this Court. The foregoing allegations about Attorney General Healey, if true, may constitute bad faith in issuing the CID….

At the Attorneys General United for Clean Power press conference in March 2016 featuring remarks by climate warrior Al Gore, Healey did say:

Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable. That’s why I, too, have joined in investigating the practices of ExxonMobil. We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public. We are here before you, all committed to combating climate change and to holding accountable those who have misled the public.

Could Healey’s statements be considered biased or prejudged? You decide. […]

As I reported when all this got started a year ago, ExxonMobil began disclosing its annual reports the possible risks to its business posed by climate change in 2006. That happens to be the same year in which the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report definitively stated: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” […]

The follies continue.

This effort by the AGs sounds like they’re hoping for something like the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. You remember that… a group of states collectively settled for a series of payments from the four major tobacco vendors. The tobacco companies "agreed to pay a minimum of $206 billion over the first 25 years of the agreement." (There are nine years left in that period.)

That settlement turned into a slush fund for many of those states since there was no monitoring of how the settlement money was spent by the states. If my speculation is right, maybe those states can be milking the petroleum companies by the time the tobacco money runs out.

What industry will come next?

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