Monday, April 27, 2015

Hello Ethon! Moving my blogging digs to a new Rabett hole

This is just a note to my fine readers that I will be taking up new digs with Eli Rabett and John Farley at Rabett Run. They've got the science well-covered but I'll put up some uninformed commentary about that, policy, and whatever else.

I hope you all will join me there. As for this blog, I will cross-post both here and at Eli's for at least a while, but I'm turning off the ability to add comments here and really encourage people to go there, especially to read and participate in what I expect will be a vibrant comment community. Starting May 24th of 2011, all posts here are crossposts of what I've got up at Rabett Run.

"Date posted", btw, may not be accurate here at BSD because the original posts are at Rabett's and I only cross post a bunch of them at a time.

I'll keep bumping this post up near the top of the blog. Thanks again for reading, and see you at Eli's!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

March gave us the warmest 12 months in a row. And the warmest 13 months, 14 months...20 months...40 months...59 months...

...but not the warmest 60 months in a row, so climate change is a hoax. The warmest 60 months in a row happened in ancient history, from March 2010 through February 2015. OTOH, the warmest 61 months in a row did just happen in March, as well 62 months, 63 months, 70 months, and on for quite a while.

The point is that as you look at longer periods, it becomes even more obvious that we're still warming. Denialists made a lot of hay out of the fact that 2014 was the warmest calendar year based only on probability, with a lesser-but-still real possibility that another year was actually warmer. They die by the probabilistic sword though if you look at longer periods. There's virtually no chance that any period in the instrumental record longer than 18 months happened before 2014.

Anyway, I thought this is another way to communicate the idea (that temps are warming).

In other news, my careful reading of Tamino's recent blogging frenzy pulled out these two gems from Ted Cruz. In January, Tamino quotes Cruz saying (presumably in 2014):

The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that — that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.

In March, Tamino says Cruz says:

Many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem because the science doesn’t back them up. In particular, satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years, there’s been zero warming.”

Goalpost much? Someone should ask Ted why he's changed his tune, other than fine-tuning his cherrypicking to the only dataset he can still use.

One disadvantage for him in being a presidential candidate is that it becomes a little harder to duck questions.

Veep candidates bring a 0-5% increase in party vote in their home state

Got into a conversation about this yesterday:  how much help does a vice-presidential candidate provide in winning that candidate's home state? I vaguely recall that poli science says not much. I went and noodled around wiki and can now draw my own dramatic conclusion:  not much.

Wiki has all presidential results by state and year (e.g., here's Texas 1988) so it's simple to compare results before and after a state resident ran for vice president. In the last 30 years, not much happened, although 1992 and 1996 are hard to use because of a strong third party showing.  I'd say everyone brought in much less than a 5% bump, with only Bentsen and (sadly) Palin coming in at or slightly above that level.

This small of a bump suggests that veep candidates shouldn't be chosen based on the help they provide in their home state.

OTOH, there's Florida - that's a very big swing state, and a 2% bump could be useful. I've thought a joint ticket of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio could make winning Florida very difficult for Democrats. I believe Jeb isn't particularly popular in Florida and Rubio is only moderately popular, but people do tend to root for the home team.

Under what circumstance does McConnell's message to foreigners to do less on climate change help America rhetorical question?

Slate has a good article on Republican politicians siding with America's foreign rivals when Democrats run the executive branch, multiple times throughout the years.

The latest version of this is Mitch McConnell's advice to foreign countries that "Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn’t even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal." Ignore for the moment that these international commitments are voluntary, not binding. There is no circumstance under which this statement serves an American interest.

The Republican mantra has been the US shouldn't move forward without the cooperation of other countries:



Now McConnell is trying to stop that cooperation.

What's even screwier is that even if you think the American interest isn't in cooperating, but rather that the US should take a free rider position and let other countries do most of the work of combating climate emissions, then McConnell's statement to foreigners is still a bad idea. Trying to get them not to do the work just makes things worse for us.

Maybe one could take the position that climate change is a hoax, therefore there's no need to do anything at all, but McConnell has apparently used the "I'm not a scientist" incantation, and doesn't claim it's all a hoax:



If you don't know it's a hoax, then you should take feasible opportunities to help, or at least do nothing to interfere with other countries' efforts.

That second clip is partly revealing though when McConnell says a Kentucky senator's job is to fight for coal jobs in his state. What he really means is to fight for coal industry profits - if he were fighting for jobs, he'd have used his power to slow down the mechanization of the industry responsible for the vast majority of the lost coal jobs.

So what he's saying is his job is to fight for coal industry profits and not for the American interest in the world. That's what he's doing with his advice to foreign countries.

UPDATE:  credit where due, Jeb Bush surpasses the low bar set by his party and acknowledges reality of climate change (while not saying what he'd do as President).

EV costs at a tipping point for un-American countries

Un-American developed countries, that is. See here:


Bloomberg reprinted the above graph from a 2011 McKinsey report, and I added the green line for where we are today. Bloomberg adds the info that we weren't supposed to hit $300 until 2020 and that the market leaders are already there.

Bloomberg goes on to note the obvious fall in gas prices so that currently, all EVs are less competitive than they were in 2011. A person buying a car today might think twice though about whether gas prices are going to remain low.

What I thought missing from the discussion is the existence of developed countries not named United States of America, because of a little thing called the gas tax. In most of them, the price is over $4.50 (and also in many developed countries that don't produce oil). Forget the US - for the rest of the world, the tipping point is here.

Sadly though, I'm not aware of EV purchases in the rest of the world matching this prediction. Part of it could be that Nissan Leafs and Teslas simply aren't cheap for other reasons, and they need more development and more competition to knock down prices. The other and more depressing factor is that people aren't economically rational and may discount the future savings from not buying gas more than they should. Or just not be able to finance.

Overall though it's good news, and it should be interesting to watch overseas EV sales in the next few years.


UPDATE:  some good comments worth checking out. One point was that in countries with high gas taxes the electricity is also often expensive. I'd agree, but I doubt it come close to making up the difference.

Another point was about electric bikes - if you put them on the chart above, I think they'd win under any circumstances, and they'll do even better as batteries improve. Developing world countries are building and rebuilding their cities and towns on a much more massive rate than developed nations, and they have a real opportunity to center personal transportation around electric bikes, not cars.

Man bites dog

I've argued for a while that we should make use of analogizing sports statistics with climate/weather data, and Media Matters shows it happening (the analogy starts about a minute into the video).

Difference here being that it's a sports journalist using climate change to explain sports, saying a single piece of contradictory data doesn't refute an overall trend. Just as a single cold day doesn't refute climate change, a single exciting basketball game doesn't refute a bad system for administering basketball.

I think it's a good thing though - reinforcing climate change as a culturally-accepted fact.

Identifying specific people in the Philippines who were killed by climate change

We know people have been killed by climate change. That's true both in the broader sense that every single weather event we experience is different from a parallel Earth that didn't go through decades of human GHG emissions, and more specifically that some killer weather has been made worse in general (e.g., heat waves). What's been difficult to say is whether a specific killer event is randomly-caused as opposed to being exacerbated by climate change (although maybe not always impossible). And even when you can definitively say a specific killer heat wave was made worse, it would be hard to say who was killed by the "natural" level of the heat and who was killed by the anthropogenic increase in severity.

Enter sea level rise.

SLR is the one thing that's different from weather - if an effect can be traced to sea level rise, it can be traced to climate change. In the case of mass casualties from tropical storms, this should be possible to figure out.

Haiyan/Yolanda's effects on the Philippines is the best example so far, although there doubtless will be more. Six thousand people were killed, with the storm surge considered the deadliest effect. Worst-hit areas had storm surges of 13 to 17 feet, with many people drowning in an evacuation center where the lower floors were submerged.

In most of the world, the present SLR is only a few inches, making it harder to attribute damage from sea level rise as opposed to the natural level of storm surge. Philippines is different, with three to four times the amount of sea level rise as the global average, making the surge about a foot higher than it would have been.

My assumption is that deaths attributable to Yolanda storm surge decreases with elevation, and that above a certain level, the amount of surge wasn't enough to collapse structures (people would have died above that elevation, but from other causes). The storm surge deaths in the foot of elevation below that certain level were caused by sea level rise and by climate change, and that foot of elevation change can be a pretty wide swath of flat land. Maybe someone can go and find who those people were.

Not all the storm deaths within that band would've been caused by the surge, but deaths from collapsing structures seem to be pretty likely candidates. Many people lower down would've also been killed by sea level rise, or others higher up killed by other climate change effects on the storm, but they're hard to identify. What I'm trying to show here is the faces of people we could say with a fair degree of certainty were killed by climate change.

And if no one gets to figure this out with respect to what happened in the Philippines, then there's always next time.

Franzen attacks Audubon's attempt to do something about climate, withholds info that he's on the board of competing organization

There have been repeated attempts to find a "Third Way" between doing something about climate change versus not doing much. They haven't worked. Now in comes Jonathan Franzen with another rambling take that isn't denialist but insists that people not deal with climate change except to the extent it involves things he personally cares about, like tropical habitat protection. He also disses National Audubon, repeatedly.

As Dave Roberts says, it's really bad, intellectually empty, and factually wrong (tho it does have some interesting stories about people not named Jonathan Franzen who are doing some helpful things for the planet). Roberts' description of people having a Climate Thing hangup is potentially helpful, but I think it may more be that many people just have a Thing. For Franzen it's helping birds immediately, for some technophiles it's pushing nuclear power, for Naomi Klein it's fighting capitalism* - and either climate change must serve that Thing or climate change must be secondary to that Thing. He's got a round hole and that better be a round peg coming its way, or he'll muddle to a reason why it should be round.

Joe Romm has the corrections to Franzen, and he also calls out the issue that hasn't had enough emphasis:
Yarnold was especially annoyed with the New Yorker for running this extended attack on Audubon supposedly neglecting bird conservation in favor of climate change without bothering to mention that Franzen sits on the fund-raising Board of Directors for the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), which Yarnold calls “a group that views itself as a competitor to Audubon.”

According to its website, “ABC is the only U.S.-based group with a major focus on bird habitat conservation throughout the entire Americas.” I know you probably thought the National Audubon Society — with its motto “Protecting Birds and Their Habitats” — did that, too. Such is avian eco-politics today.

In making his case that the National Audubon Society has lost its way, Franzen does explain that “I gave my support to the focused work of the American Bird Conservancy and local Audubon societies.”

Here is where things get very hypocritical — because there’s something much worse than the New Yorker not mentioning Franzen is on the board of ABC. Franzen never mentions that the conservation-focused bird group he is on the Board of … wait for it … also has a major effort to combat climate change! Indeed, ABC’s webpage devoted to “Threats to Birds – Global Warming” explains that “ABC has conducted research in conjunction with partners to ascertain what the ongoing and potential future threats are to birds from rising global temperatures, and has published reports detailing the concerns that have been revealed.”
Definitely read the whole thing. While this isn't a financial conflict of interest, I think it should have been disclosed. I'm also curious if Franzen has connections to the various projects he praises in the piece.

I'll add just one Franzen paragraph for the refuse pile:

But climate change is seductive to organizations that want to be taken seriously. Besides being a ready-made meme, it’s usefully imponderable: while peer-reviewed scientific estimates put the annual American death toll of birds from collisions and from outdoor cats at more than three billion, no individual bird death can be definitively attributed to climate change (since local and short-term weather patterns have nonlinear causes). Although you could demonstrably save the lives of the birds now colliding with your windows or being killed by your cats, reducing your carbon footprint even to zero saves nothing. Declaring climate change bad for birds is therefore the opposite of controversial. To demand a ban on lead ammunition (lead poisoning is the foremost cause of California condor deaths) would alienate hunters. To take an aggressive stand against the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs (the real reason that the red knot, a shorebird, had to be put on the list of threatened U.S. species this winter) might embarrass the Obama Administration, whose director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, in announcing the listing, laid the blame for the red knot’s decline primarily on “climate change,” a politically more palatable culprit. Climate change is everyone’s fault—in other words, no one’s. We can all feel good about deploring it.
Well, that makes no sense. The difficulty attaching identifiable harm to climate change in light of random weather that might have had the same effect anyway makes climate change even harder to use, not easier to use. It isn't impossible to attach that harm by the way, and Franzen also makes the typical mistake of saying that if you can't identify with certainty any specific incident as caused by your GHG emissions, then harm generally cannot be attributed to your emissions.

And as for FWS and the red knot, just read what FWS has to say:
The rufa subspecies of the red knot now will receive protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the Service announced today. “Unfortunately, this hearty shorebird is no match for the effects of widespread emerging challenges like climate change and coastal development, coupled with the historic impacts of horseshoe crab overharvesting, which have sharply reduced its population in recent decades,” said Service Director Dan Ashe.
The article shouldn't have been published.


*Might be unfair to Klein - I've read a lot about her most recent arguments but haven't read the book. Seems though that it's just what I read from her before.

No SUVs on Mars, and no warming either

After reading recently that pits in the Mars polar CO2 ice caps were determined to be cyclical and not evidence of Martian climate change, I thought I'd do a cleanup post.

Time was that denialists relied on rather thinly-sourced evidence of potential warming on Mars to say it's proved, proved I tell you, that the warming that Earth has not even experienced came from the Sun. You saw and heard stuff like this:



I could've sworn that the SUV reference came from Michael Crichton originally, but digging around didn't confirm it.  Inhofe was into it, though. Here's the 'scientific' source of the claim:

Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun. 
"The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," he said.

So much for that.

To be sure, we don't necessarily know what's happening on Mars, we haven't studied it as long and as closely as Earth. Solar irradiance is well studied though and not the cause of the warming we're seeing on EArth. 

Pesticide drinks for thee but not for me

Patrick Moore, the climate denialist who falsely claims to have helped found Greenpeace (UPDATE: facts are unclear, see David Lewis' comments. Either the pre-2008 documents were wrong or someone did dubious editing at Greenpeace) most recently offered his expertise to deny any health risks associated with glyphosate. Embedding the video didn't work, so here's the link to it, and key dialog below:

Moore:  you can drink a whole quart of it [glyphosate] and it won't hurt you. 
Interviewer:  You want to drink some? We have some here. 
Moore:  I'd be happy to, actually. Not, not really, but... 
Interviewer:  Not really? 
Moore: I know it wouldn't hurt me. 
Interviewer:  If you say so I have some glyphosate... 
Moore:  I'm not stupid. 
(cross-talk) 
Interviewer:  So it's dangerous, right? 
Moore:  People try to commit suicide with it and fail fairly regularly. 
Interviewer:  Let's tell the truth, it's dangerous. 
Moore:  It's not dangerous to humans, no it's not. 
Interviewer:  So you are ready to drink one glass of glyphosate? 
Moore:  No I'm not an idiot. 

Shortly afterwards, Moore cuts off the interview and walks away.

Funny but also sad that an old man like that is so ready to lie. Drinking glyphosate is something that's okay for other people, but he's not stupid enough to actually believe the things he's saying.

I wonder if he continues to use the "you can drink it" line in contexts where he can't be challenged with a glass.

Immature post of the day



That is all.

A Rashomon update on climate betting

So 2015 is coming in hot, .75C in January and .79C above base period in February, and nothing indicating that March is cooling. The rest of the year can be slightly colder than 2014 and still end up a record, the first time since 1998 that we had record years back-to-back.

While short term data on climate isn't especially meaningful, I have a particular interest in this - in addition to the minor issue of human and environmental welfare, I've got $9,000 riding on it. David Evans and I made a series of bets in 2007, and 2015 is the first year that starts counting against the baseline. David has the details here, but to sum up it's comparing 5-year averages, and we're betting both on temps warming either somewhat less than IPCC projected for the next few decades or much less (David acknowledges some warming is possible). I need temps to increase .13C/decade over the 2005-2009 baseline to win one bet and not lose/void the other one, and .18C/decade to win both.

The Rashomon aspect comes from whether the bet looks like good news or bad news depending on your focus. I'm winning the first two months of the five year period from 2015 to 2019, which is good for me but not all that definitive. Prior to 2015, comparing years that didn't count, I was losing the bets, and prior to 2014 I was losing them badly.

One way to view it:  if you focus just on the stats and forget all your priors about the science, and if you ignore the stats for the many years preceding the baseline period, then I think you'd rather be in David's shoes than mine, despite my little head start. If 2015 stays warm at the end of this year then you might feel differently, even retaining this constrained viewpoint.

I think it's a reasonable perspective, but too constrained. If you look at a longer period and consider reasonable scientific priors about what you expect to happen, then I think I still have good bets. There's also what I said in 2007 that I "at worst lose one bet, win most of them, and void the rest." I also said I had the best chance of losing the early 10-year bets as opposed to the longer 15 and 20 year bets. Not so different from my expectation.


The other interesting bet to look at is James Annan's, where he's over halfway through the determining period for his bet. He's coy about it but he's trouncing his betting partners who thought temps would actually decline compared to 1998-2003.

A perspective I think would be interesting to hear from is the two men he's betting with. While their economic interest would be to wait and hope for a miraculous change, they have other reputational interests. Rather than continuing to be wrong this year and for the next two years and then finally paying up, I'd end the period of being wrong now if I were them, write James a check, and start being right.

No doubts about Merchants of Doubt


I saw a sneak preview of Merchants of Doubt on Saturday - it's very good and very professionally made. Incredible how many of the merchants of doubt were willing to speak on camera about what they're doing, Marc Morano in particular. I knew only some of the tobacco issues and very little about flame retardant, so how that ties to climate is definitely worth watching.

I remember that a Stoat had issues with the book that inspired the movie, but this is footage and interviews, so while I haven't read the book I think the movie's pretty different.

Good piece in the trailer where Morano says "we're the negative force, we're just trying to stop stuff." He's right. Remember that's a good position to be in, when you can get it, like with Keystone.

It's scoring 83% at Rottentomatoes, you can check there for availability but is opening this weekend in some cities.

Okay, how about "global warm-hugging" or "climatic kitten snuggles"?

Florida is making use of the power of positive thinking by banning governmental use of the terms "global warming" and "climate change". Not quite as direct as North Carolina's banning the ocean from rising faster than a certain rate, but still innovative. Governor Rick Scott is apparently a big fan of The Secret.

All they need is another, more positive term. I kind of like global warm-hugging, but maybe something else works. "Planetary Florida-doesn't-need-all-that-land-anyway Effect" is a little long.

Analysis: Soon's disclosure of non-controversial funding supports the conclusion that he deliberately omitted fossil fuel disclosures

In the storm of controversy surrounding Willie Soon's failure to disclose that his academic papers were funded by fossil fuel companies, the background question is whether Soon deliberately concealed the funding. The fact that Soon and his co-authors did publish their noncontroversial and prestigious funders while consistently omitting the fossil fuel funder supports the conclusion that omission was deliberate.

Lisa Song from InsideClimate News has reported details about 11 papers funded by Southern Company, a massive corporate utility with more carbon dioxide emissions than any other American utility, and Donors Trust, a shadowy charitable foundation that allows donors to climate denying efforts to conceal their identities by giving money to the foundation that they can count on giving grants for climate denialism.

InsideClimate News summarizes the 11 papers, including whatever financial disclosure information was included, and in 5 of the papers the non-controversial funders that add prestige to the paper were listed, while Southern and Donors were not. No explanation has been offered by Soon or anyone else for this discrepancy in disclosure.

The 5 papers where the funders other than Southern and Donors were disclosed are (full list at InsideClimate):

1. "Centennial Variations of the Global Monsoon Precipitation in the Last Millennium: Results from ECHO-G Mode," Journal of Climate (2008) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Basic Research Program of China, National Natural Science Foundation of China, US National Science Foundation and NOAA/OGP.  
2. "Polar Bear Population Forecasts: A Public-Policy Forecasting Audit," Interfaces (2008) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing funding from the State of Alaska. 
3. "Multiple and changing cycles of active stars", Astronomy & Astrophysics (2009)
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing multiple funding agencies related to astronomy. InsideClimate notes the paper does not discuss climate change on earth. This raises the possibility that Soon "padded" the deliverables he provided to Southern. 
4. "Temporal derivative of total solar irradiance and anomalous Indian Summer Monsoon: An empirical evidence for a sun-climate connection", Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (2011) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company and Donors Trust while listing National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi and the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa. 
5. "Indian summer monsoon rainfall: dancing with the tunes of the sun", New Astronomy (2015) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing Indian Space Research Organization, Government of India.
Soon was a co-author in all of the 11 publications. One possibility in these cases of partial disclosure is that his co-authors disclosed their funding while he did not. Regardless of whether that was the case, the issue of deliberately failing to disclose is emphasized especially by these cases. The remaining 6 publications where no disclosures were included at all include some co-authors whose institutions have been asked by Representative Raul Grijalva to provide information about them potentially receiving fossil fuel funding.

Following exposure in the news media, Soon made a statement via the climate-denying Heartland Institute that asserts "In submitting my academic writings I have always complied with what I have understood to be disclosure practices in my field generally...." Smithsonian has promised an investigation of Soon's behavior - it is unclear whether this statement's accuracy itself should be considered when Smithsonian decides whether his behavior meets acceptable standards.  Soon goes on to indicate that unless disclosure standards will somehow change from what they currently are, then he need do no greater disclosure than he had in the past. In other words, his past behavior on disclosure will be his future level of disclosure.


Dr. Donald Prothero at Skeptic.com draws the following conclusion about Soon's general omission of disclosure:
This is not a simple slip but a deliberate effort to not reveal the obscene amounts of money he was getting paid, and where it came from.
To only reveal non-controversial funding while consistently failing to reveal his fossil fuel funders further reinforces the conclusion that the omission was deliberate.

The silence of the Roberts

Brief excursion into law-blogging here, following the morning Supreme Court hearing of the ridiculous challenge against Obamacare. Good summary, as usual, at SCOTUSblog.

The only reason the Court granted the appeal was because at least four justices thought they at least might want to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Four is enough to get a case heard, and you need to five to win. As SCOTUSblog notes, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas are almost certain votes to destroy health care for millions of people, while Kennedy asked questions critical of both sides (I'd guess he's leaning in favor of nonidiocy, he takes his federalism seriously).

The normally inquisitive Roberts wasn't inquisitive. Judges other than Thomas like to ask questions. If they've pretty much decided their view already, they still like to ask questions partly based on the self-delusion that they'd change their minds if given a good enough response, and partly to start jousting and convincing their fellow judges. If they haven't decided because they have unanswered questions, then they also tend to want to ask their questions.

One possibility for Roberts' silence was that he hasn't decided and hasn't even figured what questions he'd like to ask. I think that's unlikely. More likely was that he does have a viewpoint or questions but other justices were expressing them adequately, so he saw no need to pipe up. Seems most likely that Kennedy would be his doppelganger. If Roberts is going to tick off his side yet again over Obamacare, maybe he'd prefer to see Kennedy be more visible.

I'm guessing a 6-3 ruling in favor of sanity. I could be off by two votes though.

Chu 'n' tobacco


Last night I went to Palo Alto High School's Great Minds lecture by Steven Chu on climate change. For those unfamiliar with Palo Alto public schools, billionaires send their kids there - they're pretty well decked out.

Chu is all in on using tobacco as the analog for climate, which he did at great length during the discussion (including comparing the corporate disinformation tactics). He did a good job overall, being a professor has made him a good speaker. He said the 500-1000 year period to mostly recover from the effects of GHG emissions is an imposition on costs on umpteen future generations, "500 to 1000 years of future generations breathing our second-hand smoke."

The kindly professor showed some steel at two points during Q&A, sharply correcting two people who misstated something he'd said previously. Guess you need that to survive at a high level in DC.

Few other random notes:  very bullish on wind and solar, believes the business world has really seen the light. He's also bullish on battery technology and has his own business venture in the area. I hope he's right. For all that he still sees a long-term future for fossil fuels - I can't remember quite what he said and don't want to get sharply corrected, but it seemed like 20% of energy to come from fossil fuels well into the second half of this century.

He's supportive of nuclear power but not in the US, saying we take too long to make it happen, and that utilities keep messing around with designs instead of turning out cookie-cutter plants like they do in South Korea and did in France (EDIT - he's pessimistic about near term prospects in the US, but still supports nuclear power). He also supports carbon sequestration and is doing research in that area. I tried to ask a question about the economic failures in that area but didn't get the chance.

He made fun of his fellow physicists for believing they can understand anything in science, but then attempts to do the same thing himself.

New fact:  he was the first scientist ever appointed to a Cabinet-level position, and was replaced by another scientist (Ernest Moniz). He gives Obama a lot of credit for appointing scientists against the advice of people surrounding him, who don't think scientists play well in the DC pool.

EXTENDED REMARKS (Eli)  From YouTube, a talk by Chu at the Stanford Business School.





MOAR EXTENDED REMARKS (Brian) The YouTube clip is pretty similar to his Paly talk. He gives an extended version of the second-hand smoke allegory 15 minutes in, although I think he was pithier with the high school audience.

First Oslo, then the world



Obviously no gas engines when there are no gas stations. In 2013 I argued that each percentage of vehicle sales that EVs take away from gas engines is a percent that will not be maintaining the gas engine infrastructure, and that loss of infrastructure support may make a difference in the near future in some places.

Norwegians are currently buying EVs for about 15% of vehicle sales (admittedly with a lot of incentives that may be gradually reduced). Obviously the existing vehicle fleet composition is different from the new vehicle fleet. Per the video above, a gas engine car bought 20 years from now could still be around 20 years later. Still I think the correct reference for when the gas infrastructure will start becoming spotty and inconvenient uses the percentage of vehicle miles traveled in a given time done by EV. People with two cars generally drive more with the newer one, and with electricity always costing less than gas, it will make sense for people to choose their EV when they can. That 15% will translate into 15% less gas revenue, not today but soon, and gas stations are going to notice it. If I were a young businessperson in Oslo today, I don't think I'd view a gas station as an attractive long term investment.

I don't expect range anxiety for gas vehicles so much as range annoyance as they have to go further and plan more to refill their cars. Mechanics and the rest of the infrastructure that support gas cars will also be less common and more expensive.

The above is obviously true at some large percentage of vehicle miles coming from EVs, the question is whether it can and will happen anytime soon at some smaller percent, say 10%. We could see that in Oslo in 5-10 years.

And FWIW, I don't think gas stations will completely disappear everywhere. There will be some vintage/hobby cars tooling around, maybe retrofitted to run biodiesel or other biofuels, and there will be some businesses that service them.

The coal divestment and oil divestment arguments are the same

Some people make a qualitative distinction between divesting from coal businesses versus divesting from oil. I'll concede at the start that coal is the worst, so if you choose to only divest from one sector then it should be coal. That doesn't serve as a reason to oppose oil divestment.

The main reason I hear for distinguishing coal and oil is that we can live semi-normally without coal but not without oil. Depending on the time frames, though, we arguably can't live without coal and we can live without oil.

Two hypotheticals:

First, the one thing that changes tomorrow is that the political willpower suddenly exists worldwide to stop using coal, completely, and the question you get to decide is when to implement that decision to maximize human benefit. I think it's pretty clear that while immediately ramping down coal use is a good idea, ending all coal use literally tomorrow would not be a good idea. The energy grid would collapse in many countries and take months and years to reconstruct, causing a deep global recession.

Instead you'd want to use a time frame - I'd guess the best balance of reducing emissions with minimizing economic disruption would mean 5 to 15 years for eliminating coal use in developed countries, and add five years for developing countries.

Second hypothetical is the same as the first except the political willpower also suddenly exists worldwide to stop using oil, and you get to choose whether and when to get to zero. In this case an appropriate time frame does allow us to live without oil. We switch the power grid to near-zero emission sources and switch transportation systems to electricity, maybe with some use of biofuels (managing land use impacts) and hydrogen. Maybe very limited, continued use of oil balanced by carbon-negative practices. All you need is time, maybe 30-50 years.

So no, we can't live semi-normally without coal tomorrow, but if that doesn't keep you from supporting coal divestment then it shouldn't stop you from supporting oil divestment. We can get to a point of living without oil, so it's not wrong to use oil divestment to push us in that direction.

I haven't talked about natural gas divestment, which is a little trickier. While the time frame arguments apply to it, there's also the fact that natural gas competes with coal at the same time that it competes with renewables. I think it's a close argument and I'd welcome the natural gas industry reaching a deal with renewable energy, but in the absence of that deal then I'd rather pressure the natural gas industry as well through divestment.

Finally, some other folks may lump in tar sand oil with coal divestment. I agree that tar sands are the worst oil option so it's a start, but not the place to stop.


UPDATE:  thought I'd add that Palo Alto City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the state agency CalPERS, which manages Palo Alto pensions, to divest from fossil fuels. Palo Alto has done some pretty good work on limiting their own emissions, so that's evidence that divestment is compatible with direct emission reductions.

Nice place to rest


Walking back through Stanford campus yesterday, I decided to detour through the New Guinea sculpture garden and came across this simple memorial. I had no idea it was there.

The inscription on the top just reads "Teach your children well."

The Professor Snowball lecture on coal carbon sequestration's record to date


FutureGen 2.0 carbon sequestration just lost most of its funding - all that was left from the 2009 Obama federal stimulus funding, because it's far too late to to spend it responsibly between now and the September 2015 deadline.

This is a pattern with CCS (aside from CO2 injection for recovering more fossil fuels). It's kind of like nuclear power, not penciling out under the green eyeshades.

That cancellation happened is also Not A Good Thing - we need options, wedges to reduce carbon, and this was one of them. Biomass-plus-CCS is also one of the very few carbon-negative options available to bring down not just emissions but actual CO2 levels.  It won't be any more economical than coal CCS, quite likely less economical. I'd like CCS and especially biomas CCS to happen, but the facts are being stubborn, absent some revolution.

Guess we're going to have to rely on biochar.

Serengeti Strategy gets the horns



The Serengeti Strategy targets individual climate scientists for personal attacks as a way to intimidate the entire field. Michael Mann is the most famous target, but another one, Andrew Weaver, just proved a flaw in the strategy when it's based on false statements - it can cost the attacker $50,000.

The Canadian denialist newspaper, the National Post, published repeated nonsense about paleoclimatologist (update:  and general climatologist) Weaver by multiple authors. The paper and all the authors just lost a defamation lawsuit in British Columbia (writeup in the Hill Heat and by Greg Laden, and the opinion is here.)

No info so far on whether there are plans to appeal (American courts typically have 60-90 day deadlines to file an appeal after a decision). Assuming somewhat recklessly throughout this post that there's a broad similarity to American law, both sides could appeal:  the plaintiff could argue he deserves more than $50k, especially to dispute the ruling finding no malice, only falsity in the statements (i.e., no conclusion they were deliberately lying). Defendants could argue the court was just wrong.

Appellate courts usually defer to lower court's factual findings, so it will be difficult for either side to change the ruling, (the court is called the BC Supreme Court, but it's a lower court, in a Canadian attempt to prove themselves as ridiculous at naming conventions as New Yorkers are). If I were a defendant and had the money to do it, I'd appeal. I wouldn't if I were Weaver (who mostly won), but I would file a cross-appeal on the amount of damages if the defendants do appeal. No idea if a settlement is possible, but defendants will now have to offer better terms than they needed four years ago when the case was filed.

Three points in particular I'd emphasize:  first, while the decision isn't binding on anyone other than the parties, it does give a sense of what a legal expert with no particular axe to grind thinks about these cases, and there's a lot of similarities to the wild allegations in the other climate defamation cases in Canada and the US.

Second, the legal standard is different in the US, but legal realism suggests a similar outcome. The judge here didn't find malice, which a public figure plaintiff has to show in American defamation law, but she didn't need to make that finding in order to punish bad behavior. Legal realism argues that judges make decisions for many reasons in addition to abstract application of law to the facts. The BC judge could punish the clearly bad behavior just by finding they were indifferent to the truth but in America you have to show at least "reckless" indifference for a public figure to win, and a judge is more likely to make that step if the alternative lets the defendants get away with it.

Third, the individual defendant authors aren't just responsible for their separate defamation of Weaver but are also jointly responsible for the overall damage they jointly caused. IOW, if you're a denialist who wants to write nonsense in a denialist rag because they're willing to regularly publish such nonsense, you could be in more trouble than you bargained for. You might want to be a little more careful of where you publish, or maybe try writing the truth.

I'll end with two excerpts from the opinion, first on joint liability:

In Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 1130 at para. 176, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that it is well-established that all individuals involved in the commission of a joint tort are jointly and severally liable for the injury: 
It is a well-established principle that all persons who are involved in the commission of a joint tort are jointly and severally liable for the damages caused by that tort. If one person writes a libel, another repeats it, and a third approves what is written, they all have made the defamatory libel. Both the person who originally utters the defamatory statement, and the individual who expresses agreement with it, are liable for the injury.

[182] The evidence is that Mr. Foster and Mr. Corcoran communicated on Weaver’s Web; indeed Mr. Corcoran added to it; they communicated about this particular theme that ultimately ran through all four articles, i.e. Dr. Weaver’s deceit and alleged distraction from Climategate.

[183] Furthermore they are all writing for the same publication which published this series of articles. Ultimately, I have found the cumulative effect of the articles, particularly the first three, to make the same defamatory theme of Dr. Weaver’s character, of lack of integrity and scientific incompetence and/or deceit.

Second on the malice issue:

[246] As noted in Creative Salmon at para. 33, malice is a state of mind. While Dr. Weaver argues malice is evident in the defendants’ actions, I do not find malice to be present. Rather, I conclude the defendants definitively espouse a skeptical view of climate change and are unwavering in their expression of this. While certainly entitled to express those views, in this case as part of that expression, they deliberately created a negative impression of Dr. Weaver.

[247] In doing so, I conclude the defendants have been careless or indifferent to the accuracy of the facts. As evident from the testimony of the defendants, they were more interested in espousing a particular view than assessing the accuracy of the facts. This lack of accuracy has led in part to my conclusion that certain aspects of the articles, especially when read together, are defamatory and are not saved by the fair comment defence. This is not sufficient, however, to lead to a finding of malice.

And one more thing:  unless they work it out quietly, there could be an interesting catfight among defendants on who pays the damages.

Good news from one political weather vane

(UPDATE:  well, so much for Mitt. We can only hope he joins the handful of retired Republican leaders that no longer have to win Republican majorities and are telling the truth about climate change.)


Mitt Romney now rebelieves in human-caused climate change:

Romney, though, kept his focus on the issues. He said that while he hopes the skeptics about global climate change are right, he believes it's real and a major problem.

He said it's not enough for Americans to keep their own carbon emissions in check when much of the rise in greenhouse gases globally is coming from countries such as China and India.

Climate change drew little attention from either candidate in 2012, when Romney sought to deny President Barack Obama, a second term. At that time, Romney said he believed global warming was occurring but he was skeptical of its man-made origins and questioned spending to curb carbon emissions.

Mother Jones has more of Romney's history.

My guess from this and some other Romney statements is that he figures there's no point winning the nomination and then losing the general election. American voters want to do something about climate (without paying too much) and that somewhat favors a more activist position. Or he just wants to try something different from the severely conservative tactic he took in 2012.

If he or Christie get the nomination and stick with a semi-realistic position on climate, that would make three out of the last five Republican nominees claiming they want to take action on climate (not Bush in '04 or Romney in 2012). Obviously there's a real issue with whether they could be trusted given subsequent actions by the national Republican Party.

Hanoi beats Jakarta on climate (plus some random Indonesia notes)

My last two overseas trips were to Vietnam two years ago and Indonesia last month, so it makes sense in my mind at least to compare them.

Summary is that Hanoi has the opportunity to avoid the mistakes of American city development while Jakarta has already made them. Hanoi could focus on bicycle and electric bike-oriented transportation, and we saw a good number of electric bikes when we were there. Good luck seeing more than a handful of bicycles in Jakarta though (the city is trying a tiny bit, we did see a bike lane). Motorcycles are common but the electric motorcycle industry seems years behind the electric bicycle industry. Jakarta will likely have to follow the American future of electric cars plus some public transit combined with renewable energy.

On the good side, Jakarta has a pretty successful Bus Rapid Transit system, with dedicated bus lanes and the feeling of light rail without the infrastructure cost. We saw it and wished we had used it instead of making the mistake of walking through three miles of motorcycle exhaust. We’re trying to get BRT here in the South San Francisco Bay, although my home of Mountain View is dragging its feet.

Hanoi and northern Vietnam had a reasonable number of solar thermal water heaters and a tiny amount of photovoltaics. We saw no solar thermal in Jakarta (to be fair, hot water seems less necessary there). Seemed like there was less PV in Indonesia too, although on a boat trip in Borneo we noticed many of the boats had a couple of PV panels, so that’s something.

Random Indonesia notes:

From our limited exposure to much smaller Indonesian cities, they seemed much less car-dependent, so they’ve got a chance to avoid Jakarta’s mistakes.

Indonesia’s new, reformist president took advantage of low oil prices to remove most fuel subsidies. They function mostly as price ceilings so it was easy to do. We’ll see how it goes when prices rise again.

President Jokowi is the first national leader not from the elite family dynasties, so it’s a good sign for their democracy. The people I talked to seemed pretty enthusiastic about him, although the old parties still control a majority in the legislature.

We did orangutan boat tours in Borneo/central Kalimantan. I’ve got a thing for great apes and have seen all but bonobos in the wild – if I had to choose one to see it would be the orangutans. Something about their faces and their eyes really make it seem like there’s a person looking back at you.

Palm oil is everywhere in Indonesia. The Europeans really made a mess of this issue. In addition to cutting down the original forests, in Borneo they drain peat soils before planting, making the carbon emissions much worse.

I’ve got no doubt that eco-tourism is good for protecting jungle habitat in Borneo (and the coral we saw diving in Sulawesi). Whether it makes up for our carbon emissions in getting there would likely depend on some heroic assumptions. Carbon isn’t everything, though.

One welcome sight was Indonesian tourists visiting Indonesian national parks, something I haven’t seen in other, admittedly poorer, developing countries. They do have a problem with leaving plastic trash everywhere, especially visible when you’re diving.

Man, the Indonesians are friendly. Highly recommended if you have a free day in Jakarta is the Hidden Jakarta tour to get taken into the slums of Jakarta, where people welcome you with open arms.

By jarring contrast to that friendliness, there are still unoccupied buildings in Jakarta from the anti-Chinese race riots in 1998. As tourists, we can only have a superficial sense of what’s going on in the country.

Recommendations for tourists:

*Orangutan Voyage to see orangutans in Central Kalimantan – they went the extra mile for us. If you’re there for a while like us (8 days) you need to add different things to do. I’d skip the sea turtle hatchery and maybe do an overnight/multiple day trek instead. It is hot hot hot though.

*At Bunaken National Park in Sulawesi we stayed at Living Colours dive resort – a very nice, Finnish-owned place with half the guests from Finland, so we got a little taste of Finnish culture in an unexpected place. I loved the diving, lots of big sea turtles and fantastic coral walls, although visibility in during monsoon season is variable.

Today's king tides, tomorrow's normal high tide


Literally today's king tides - they're happening this week and people are encouraged to go out and document what sea level will be bringing us at some future point, so off I went on my bicycle this morning to snap some blurry pictures on my phone.

This picture has San Francisco Bay at my back, looking towards land in the South Bay (Mountain View). That slough-looking thing on the right would be Stevens Creek under normal conditions. Background buildings are part of the Googleplex on the right and NASA Ames/Moffet Airfield on the left.

Levee freeboard here is about two feet, so even a modest flood at this inconvenient time would be enough to overtop into the saltponds on the left (and other ponds you can't see on the right). That's not great but OTOH they're just ponds. Not a big deal so long as the overtopping doesn't destroy the levee.



My attempted artsy photo of the creek mouth, taken where the razor-wire fence ends the trail on the levee.  Normally the mouth is further down (this was my running route before my ankle gave up running). Reaching through the razor wire to take the picture wasn't easy.



Further upstream here, closer to Google campus and NASA Ames. The creek surface is significantly higher than the land surface, but the freeboard here is more like 6 to 8 feet. That would take a bigger flood, and I also happen to know that the creek has another breakout point a mile or two upstream that would relieve the flooding (onto somebody else).

Someday the Water District will fix that breakout though, so the increased maintenance cost and increased risk from elevated water levels will be permanent.

Try to argue with this, warmists

Shorter Bob Tisdale:  remove the part of the 2014 dataset that warmed the most, and then 2014 isn't as warm anymore.

Who knew?

Never-ending cooking cycle

Now that NASA and NOAA have also found 2014 to be the warmest, I thought I'd recycle a cooking recipe from 2006. Could be especially useful if 2015 shows a slight drop from 2014:

How to cook Tim Blair, Andrew Bolt, and Patrick Michaels 

1. Place Blair, Bolt, and Michaels in a large, water-filled pot equipped with a step ladder they can use to escape at any time. Set initial water temperature at average levels.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: We're quite comfortable, thank you!!

2. Increase temperature to an unambigous, new historic high.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: No big deal! Not going to last!

MICHAELS: Want to bet it won't be this warm again?

3. Drop temperature back down, but still far above average.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: See!! Vindication!! There is no potboiler warming! Not a problem!

4. Gradually increase temperature to near or above the historic high.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: We deny it's above the historic high! Deny it!

MICHAELS: And, uh, the bet offer is withdrawn.

5. Keep temperature very high, but a tiny bit below Step 4.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: The science behind potboiler warming is bogus, and we'll stay here for as long as it takes to prove it!

BLAIR: I'm not feeling hot - crank it up, people!

BOLT: Me neither!

6. Repeat Steps 2 through 5 until done. Don't worry, they won't use the step ladder to get out. Process will be sped by the fact that their brains were already cooked.

Please, please, please, may some denialist point out to me that we haven't yet repeated Step 2 - just be prepared to put your money where your mouth is about what will happen in the near future.

(Hat tip: Deltoid.)

2006 UPDATE: From RealClimate:

Most bizarre new contrarian claim:
"Global warming stopped in 1998".
By the same logic, it also stopped in 1973, 1983, and 1990 (only it didn't)
So we have repeated steps 2 through 5, multiple times.

Well hello again

Brian here, and back from my Rabett blogging hiatus while campaigning for re-election to the Water District, with an outcome that came in about 1% less well than I would've wanted. When the elected position ended I took some time off to gallivant in Indonesia. Below the jump, for those that may be interested, I'll post a few thoughts on the election (I'll save Indonesia for another post) and then I plan to return to regular blogging in the days and weeks ahead.

Click the headline for the full post.....

Water district election update from a guileless heavyweight

The title above refers to a San Jose newspaper article. I've mentioned a while back that I'm running for re-election, and it turns out it's going to be interesting.

People seem to have differing reactions to the column, so read it for yourself and I won't try to bias your view.

What I have been thinking for a while though in this runup to the election is to actually acknowledge the mistakes I've made. I've got one general category, and then one specific issue. The general category is dividing my attention on too many things. Here's an incomplete list of the memos I've written:  too many subjects. Obviously we do a lot more work than can be measured by memos, but those memos should usually be priority items. If I had chosen fewer subjects and put more time into them, we could have progressed further. (I'll still defend our progress overall, though.)

The other, specific issue is pretty technical but involves the best approach to resolving legal and environmental issues under both state and federal law for the protection of endangered steelhead salmon. We'd been attempting to get simultaneous state and federal permits but had been held up on the federal level. Some local environmental groups wanted to split the process to speed up actions to help steelhead under state law; our staff resisted this approach. A few months ago, our staff changed their minds. Maybe that could have happened two years ago instead - the split approach was the right one. Now we have to make up for that lost time.

Anyway, I think you can acknowledge mistakes while still doing a good job, and that's what I hope to do in this election. 

And to be a good politician (or less guileless one), I'll also add that help is greatly appreciated.

All this has happened before

So Microsoft has decided to ditch the lobbying group ALEC because of ALEC's opposition to renewable energy. As the link says, the lobbying group is facing increasing problems with its corporate members. This is obviously good news and it parallels something that happened years earlier, where a conservative corporate coalition (the Global Climate Coalition) mobilized against climate change was gradually picked apart. In the earlier case, the demise of the conservative coalition received a helping hand from a moderate alternative established by the Pew Foundation. I am not aware of any behind-the-scenes nudging of Microsoft, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Despite this, I stand behind my original admiration for ALEC and think it should be imitated on the progressive side of politics. Maybe we can skip the unsavory stuff though, especially the secrecy that is getting it into trouble.

Chait gets it

The focus on per-capita emissions, the obligation to look at total emissions that have brought us to this point instead of ignoring the disparate emission levels between nations in the last decades, and the completely ignored commitment (okay, something of a commitment) by India and China not to reach American levels of per capita emissions.

Best paragraph:
The United States has emitted far more carbon into the atmosphere than India or China — indeed, more than India and China combined. The United States continues to emit several times more carbon per person than either China or India. Since China and India have vastly more people and are industrializing, they are likely to increase their per-capita emissions over time. I have seen no morally cogent explanation as to why the entire burden of sparing the world from runaway global warming should fall on the countries that have contributed the least to its existence. Developing countries have already made the significant concession that they will not be allowed to follow the cheap dirty-energy developmental path used by the West.
Read the whole thing.


UPDATE:  from the comments, Raypierre has a well-developed paper on the whole issue. I'll quibble with one point:
Perhaps there should be a statute of limitations for carbon emission. This cannot be justified on the basis of ignorance of consequences of carbon emissions, since that has been known for well over a century,
I can understand a start date of responsibility for past emissions in 1896, but I think the stronger argument is that the scientific notice given to the public and policymakers of a substantial risk from GHG emissions was insufficient prior to the 1960s or 1970s. The latest start date could even be the Rio Declaration, when you transfer from a risk of a problem to a near-certainty of a problem. I think the better argument is that a realistic and reasonably understood possibility of risk, communicated to the broader community, should be the start date of responsibility.

This part nails down the overall issue:
Some forms of unequal circumstances at birth (being born black, or female, or poor) are clearly irrelevant to the question of access to something like education or adequate health care, and need unconditional redress. The question of whether a person should suffer a reduced share of the Carbon Commons simply because she was born African or Indian falls naturally into the same category.

Climate change, desal and astronaut water

As Eli points out, California has a water crisis, and much of the rest of the country needs to be much more water efficient. Water efficiency is the obvious place to start but then the next-step question comes up.

While plenty of people don't live near the ocean, lots do. Oceanside areas with large populations are going to have wastewater treatment plants (in developed countries, anyway).  These places therefore have two potential sources of new water supply:  ocean desalination or potable reuse of recycled wastewater.

Potable reuse of wastewater is nothing new. Almost any city drawing water from a river which has another city upstream is already doing it; the question is can we do it without lying to ourselves. In the case of astronauts and the International Space Station, they can do it outright, but the rest of us have to catch up.

Or not. Ocean desal actually uses the same technologies that potable reuse requires, either distillation or more commonly through reverse osmosis. The difference is that ocean water has a lot more stuff in it (mainly salt) than wastewater which already has to go through some purification before it reaches your reverse-osmosis system. That means a lot more energy and cost is involved in ocean desalination than potable reuse, so we've got a climate change issue.

The other climate change issue is that the lack of water currently stops a lot of unwise sprawl development, but ocean desal could change that, or maybe even mandate it - a very expensive desal system could be built on the expectation that there will be a lot more development to pay for it. I suppose there's some sprawl risk from potable reuse as well, but because it functions best in an existing populated area, starting at the wastewater treatment plan and then spreading from there, the risk is lower.

Many other factors involved of course, but these are the main climate issues. All but one of the factors weigh in favor of potable reuse. The one factor favoring ocean desal is psychology and political acceptance. People hesitate to drink this water, and that hesitation killed an earlier potable reuse project in San Diego (p. 17).

I view desal and portable reuse as being in a race. Money is limited so communities are going to prioritize. As much as I can I've supported potable reuse and opposed desal.

First step for potable reuse is Indirect Potable Reuse, achieving psychological acceptance by making the treated water sit somewhere for a while before reuse, either in a reservoir or underground. It's good but maximum flexibility and less cost require Direct Potable Reuse, shunting the water to your drinking water plants.

At my water district we've set up a reverse osmosis system. Currently it's just to improve the quality of non-potable recycled water which will help with certain types of uses, but the goal is potable, if we can get public acceptance.



Note:  stumbled across this - Los Angeles actually constructed an indirect potable reuse plant in the 1930s, but shut it down when they acquired Colorado River water. Back to the future, like with electric cars.

Also, desalination sometimes refers to desal of brackish water, usually groundwater. This water is much less salty than ocean water so a lot of the energy concerns are reduced with brackish desal. But brackish water and even potable reuse require a fair amount of energy, just nowhere near as much as ocean desal.



Tweeting science over the last few thousand years

Twitter conversations by scientists, beginning with one of Pythagoras' tweets. Be sure to read the ones from Jonas Salk.

Meeting Michelle yesterday

(Not very substantive post on meeting Michelle Obama, click here to read if you're idly curious....)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stigma for fossil fuel companies, the reverse for the churches that dump them

World Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists, United Church of Christ, and many smaller/regional church denominations and affiliated organizations have established climate divestment policies. Others are percolating - the Methodists are studying their investment policy, the Presbyterians are first going to try to persuade the companies to give up their core business model (good luck with that!)* and then we'll see them and others consider this issue.

People involved in climate divestment and had also been involved in South Africa divestment a generation ago say that climate divestment is moving faster. An Oxford study backs that up (p. 11).

The same study acknowledges limited direct financial impacts of divestment except for coal industry, but then focuses on the stigma issue:

As with individuals, a stigma can produce negative consequences for an organisation. For example, firms heavily criticised in the media suffer from a bad image that scares away suppliers, subcontractors, potential employees, and customers. Governments and politicians prefer to engage with ‘clean’ firms to prevent adverse spill-overs that could taint their reputation or jeopardise their re-election. Shareholders can demand changes in management or the composition of the board of directors of stigmatised companies. Stigmatised firms may be barred from competing for public tenders, acquiring licences or property rights for business expansion, or be weakened in negotiations with suppliers. Negative consequences of stigma also include cancellation of multibillion-dollar contracts or mergers/ acquisitions. Stigma attached to merely one small area of a large company may threaten sales across the board.
(p. 14, citations removed)

The stigmatization from divestment will have financial consequences. These companies will have to pay more for employees and for other businesses to work with them. Companies with a toe-hold in the fossil fuel sector will find it better for them to get out.

Most important is that stigmatized industries will find it tougher to manipulate the political sector. That's one reason why they disguise their funding, but the disguise is imperfect, and the difficulty gets worse with the stigma.

Two other points. The study acknowledges political restrictions resulting from the climate divestment effort could destroy the perceived value of reserves that end up staying in the ground. When the carbon bubble pops is hard to predict, but any downward pressure increases the possibility of it happening soon.

Second, when companies divested from South Africa they weren't required to physically blow up the businesses they left behind - they sold them. The argument that it had no financial impact was around then, but we see what happened in the end.


*I think there is a business case that fossil fuel companies should 1. stop wasting money exploring for new reserves, 2. sell the reserves they're not going to be allowed to develop before the carbon bubble bursts, 3. play out the remaining and cheapest reserves and 4. either distribute the profits and wind down their companies, or invest in another business model. Not bloody likely to happen, though.

I'm ignoring the complications of when natural gas can substitute for coal. 

Suderman meets Tojo

Japanese citizens reading their newspapers during World War II noticed that the reports of unending series of Japanese victories in the Pacific had a pattern - each time that the Japanese smashed Allied forces, it was closer to the home islands than the previous time the Allies had been smashed.

Peter Suderman's critique of Obamacare over time follows a similar eerie pattern.

After losing Saipan, Imperial Japan did start to come clean about what was happening, somewhat. We'll see when that happens with the Republican leadership.

Two by JQ

John Quiggin has two good climate-related posts out from recent days. Tobacco International discusses the recent decision in Australia to mandate plain-packaging for cigarettes, mainly featuring pictures about the health effects of smoking. Tobacco companies fought the law tooth and nail and are now doing the same in England against a proposed law. Their apologists claim the law doesn't work. John points out it's the same people who deny climate change at work, doing the same type of data torture (in this case, seizing on a too-short trend line and drawing conclusions from it).

John also takes apart the funhouse-mirror justification for being wrong on climate change by Ross Douthat, something that was much needed. Douthat says the recession somehow changed the need to respond to environmental issues that have been festering for decades and will be with us for centuries.

John:
The best way to understand Douthat’s piece is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained minimization problem The objective is to minimize the craziness he needs to embrace, subject to the constraint that he must end up in line with the denialist conspiracy theorists who dominate the base. The best approach is to combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation, with the rosiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.
I'd say that's pretty widespread among the inactivists who aren't fully embracing the lizard people conspiracy theory of climate fraud. The science is correct up to the point where it obviously mandates action, and then by a huge coincidence the "honest skeptic" suddenly decides the science got turned off somehow.

It's okay

I've finally slogged my way through last week's Supreme Court decision on EPA regulation of some sources of greenhouse gases. For those with livelier things to read, it was generally seen as an okay-to-good result for climate hawks - the EPA tried to regulate 86% of stationary sources using two legal theories under the Clean Air Act. On a 5-4 vote the Court rejected Theory Number 1 and on a 7-2 vote the Court accepted the more restrictive Theory Number 2, which still allows regulation of 83% of the sources.

Put me closer to the "okay" side of the spectrum in terms of what this hints at for future challenges to the proposed regulation that Obama announced in early June.

The big picture is that the Clean Air Act is very broad legislation from the 1970s meant to regulate air pollutants that would be specified at a later date, but it is still difficult to adapt the law to very unexpected air pollutants in the form of greenhouse gases. Past current and future litigation revolves around the extent to which the EPA can be flexible. Climate hawks mostly want flexibility.

Theory Number 1 tried to install flexibility to avoid an over-harsh result (a numerical limit that catches relatively small producers of GHGs), which the Court rejected, but it had a backup theory to use (larger producers were already regulated for their other emissions and therefore could be regulated "anyway" for GHGs). Not clear how that approach affects the June proposal, which would limit overall emissions but look "outside the fence" of emitters and allow energy efficiency and carbon markets to achieve reductions. I think the previous decision earlier this month is somewhat more indicative.

Some commenters think this decision reaffirms the 2007 Massachusetts v EPA ruling establishing EPA's ability to regulate GHGs, but I think it just treats it as the controlling law without commenting on whether it's correct. If President Cruz gets to replace Ginsburg or Breyer, then we could be in big trouble.

Some other comments:

One thing I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere is this excuse the Court majority gave for rejecting the EPA's proposal to rescue Theory 1 by someday issuing general permits that cover small emitters:

"Nor have we been given any information about the ability of other possible “streamlining” techniques alluded to by EPA—such as "general ” or “electronic” permitting—to reduce the administrability problems identified above."

I don't know if no one briefed them (they could always demand more briefing, they are the Supremes) but anyone with a passing familiarity with environmental law knows that one-size-fits-all general permits are commonly used to make permitting easier for the regulated and the regulators. This excuse doesn't work.

To read more, the first link above is for the case, read as much as you like. Or to get the essence, read these two paragraphs in the dissent as to why EPA should have prevailed:

The implicit exception I propose reads almost word for word the same as the Court’s, except that the location of the exception has shifted. To repeat, the Court reads the definition of “major emitting facility” as if it referred to “any source with the potential to emit two hundred fifty tons per year or more of any air pollutant except for those air pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, with respect to which regulation at that threshold would be impractical or absurd or would sweep in smaller sources that Congress did not mean to cover.” I would simply move the implicit exception, which I’ve italicized, so that it applies to “source” rather than “air pollutant”: “any source with the potential to emit two hundred fifty tons per year or more of any air pollutant except for those sources, such as those emitting unmanageably small amounts of greenhouse gases, with respect to which regulation at that threshold would be impractical or absurd or would sweep in smaller sources that Congress did not mean to cover.” 
From a legal, administrative, and functional perspective—that is, from a perspective that assumes that Congress was not merely trying to arrange words on paper but was seeking to achieve a real-world purpose—my way of reading the statute is the more sensible one. For one thing, my reading is consistent with the specific purpose underlying the 250 tpy threshold specified by the statute.The purpose of that number was not to prevent the regulation of dangerous air pollutants that cannot be sensibly regulated at that particular threshold, though that is the effect that the Court’s reading gives the threshold. Rather, the purpose was to limit the PSD program’s obligations to larger sources while exempting the many small sources whose emissions are low enough that imposing burdensome regulatory requirements on them would be senseless.

It's not a Godwin if you only talk Nazis

After reading some of The Nuremberg Interviews, I found this on wiki:
In 1934, Hitler named Ribbentrop Special Commissioner for Disarmament. In his early years, Hitler's goal in foreign affairs was to persuade the world that he wished to reduce military spending by making idealistic but very vague disarmament offers (in the 1930s, the term disarmament was used to describe arms-limitation agreements). At the same time, the Germans always resisted making concrete arms-limitations proposals, and they went ahead with increased military spending on grounds that other powers would not take up German arms-limitation offers. Ribbentrop was tasked with ensuring that the world remained convinced that Germany sincerely wanted an arms-limitation treaty while also ensuring that no such treaty was ever developed.
Interesting stuff.

Warmest May ever

Sayeth GISS.

In the interest of fairness, I'll be sure to post whenever we have a coldest month ever in the GISS records.

Obama's CO2 regulations can semi-automatically lower Indian and Chinese maximum emissions

One point I've been meaning to make and haven't seen mentioned is that the Chinese and especially the Indians have said their per-capita emissions won't exceed the US or the industrialized world average, respectively. If we reduce our emissions, that tightens the level that they've promised not to exceed.

I think this is worth submitting as a comment on the proposed EPA regulations. Unfortunately it's not an airtight argument because the promises aren't airtight. The Chinese commitment was by a high-level government official, not a legal pronouncement (and not entirely clear that the bar adjusts downwards as US emissions decrease). The Indian commitment was by the then-Prime Minister, again helpful but not binding. The Indian statement also included a confusing disclaimer that limiting US emissions was necessary but not something imposing requirements on India as well. I think the way to resolve the confusion is to assume it meant that the US emissions needed to drop while Indian's very low per capita emissions needed to grow, but grow only up to a certain point.

One diplomatic goal should be to make these commitments binding and to obtain them from other countries. The other point is that they're not enough - if India ever neared current industrialized world per capita emissions, that would be the real game over for the planet. We in the West have to realize we're asking far more of the developed countries than of ourselves.

In the long run, post 2050, developing world per capita emissions should actually be higher than the developed world. Best case scenario is the developed world has sharply negative emissions and developing world has modestly negative emissions. That might make up for some of the inequity in prior carbon emissions.

Iraq runs its own Pottery Barn

Not much reason for the US to jump in - we may have screwed up in the past, but as for what's going now, the Iraqis need to work it out.

The tricky issue is when "working it out" means massive slaughter of one sect by another, intentionally triggering the wanted counter-slaughter. It no longer looks like the Shiite-dominated government will fall, but if it did seem under threat, I could theoretically imagine airstrikes on troop movements that only keep ISIL out of Shiite cities (if airstrikes would work, which is doubtful). Some real changes in the government's behavior could be reason to support it, but otherwise we should stay out.

ISIL seems momentarily popular in their part of Iraq. Fine, let's see how long that lasts. I doubt they'll have ability or energy to attack foreign countries given what the civil war they're dealing with now.

While consistency might not be the most important thing in the world, I think I'm taking a consistent position on this as with saying the West shouldn't conduct airstrikes in parts of Libya that supported Gaddhafi and that we shouldn't have a troop surge in Afghanistan in the parts that rejected Karzai.

Finally, I don't think this will be seen as a political problem for Obama - the Republicans who claim otherwise will be asked if they learned anything at all from the Iraq War.