Thursday, August 28, 2008

Unilateral geoengineering against the global interest

A RealClimate piece on geoengineering through pumping massive amounts of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere doesn't make it seem very attractive. While it can control temperature, it does nothing to stop ocean acidification, and I assume we end up with the Mother of All Acid Rain-damaged ecosystems on land (pretty sure that's the case but I've not seen verification). Massive pollution would have to be continued as long as humans kept adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and for many decades afterwards, or temperatures would quickly rebound to the highs they would otherwise have achieved. Finally there's the issue RealClimate addresses, that significant decreases in precipitation could result from this plan.

Two points I would add to this depressing picture: first, as bad as it sounds, it's not as bad as what the Lovelock-types project. While I don't think 11C warming will happen, if it did head that way, we'd choose the sulfur-geoengineering future instead.

Second, all climate scenarios, including this geoengineering scenario, have winners and losers. Right now this looks like a bad deal for everyone, but we can't predict with certainty how specific countries will be affected. Twenty years from now, some medium-sized or larger nation may figure out that its precipitation pattern won't do too badly, and so for that specific nation, geoengineering will be the best option, and then it will simply go ahead and do it.

I came up with this little problem myself, but it turns out of course that a lot of others have thought of it too. Solution's not clear other than a treaty forbidding geoengineering without international consent (along with coordinated punishment against a transgressor). I expect that would tie conservatives into knots - they'd hate a treaty, but don't want to give China a free hand.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bad radio test for Kathleen Sebelius

Turning on the radio without knowing who's speaking, I thought she was some female Clinton supporter dragged up on stage and reluctantly pushing the unity thing for Obama. Wow. She was my vice-presidential pick, but at least for speechmaking, Biden's better.

Clinton was pretty good, and Schweitzer. Mark Warner, not so much.

A few mentions of climate issues, not a lot. I reluctantly agree with an NPR commenter that Obama will have to make health his top priority - people just care about it more than anything else.

Meanwhile, the DNC website is crashing when I try to view speeches. Get with it, guys.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Inel spots your more typical Internet con artists on the climate change beat

The "Global Warming and Climate Change International Conference & Exposition" in London this September doesn't really exist and appears to be a way to steal credit card numbers. Anyone who signs up will likely be out of far more money than the hotel reservation. Seems more sophisticated and targeted than your typical email phishing, which is a little disturbing.

Inel has the details here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rush Limbaugh, other conservatives insult Cindy and John McCain

Glenn Greenwald found a bunch of abusive quotations from the 2004 election criticizing John Kerry for marrying a wealthy heiress, and implicitly criticizing his wife as someone who patronizes a prostitute.

I assume people like Rush Limbaugh would never be two-faced, so they must be criticizing McCain the same way. To help them out, I took Rush's words, substituted McCain for Kerry, put in the correct dollar figures, and substituted Bush and war for Kennedy and programs. Everything else is just as Limbaugh said, so I'm sure he'd have no objection:

I mean, [McCain]'s been there, but he's basically a
skirt-chaser, folks. He's a gigolo. . . . McCain is cheap. Most gigolos
are. I mean -- I think it -- I think it goes with the, with the definition. . . .
[W]hat do you consider a fair wage? John McCain considers a fair wage a
wife with 100 million. So, he had to find a company that had one. Well,
there aren't too many of these companies that have little heiresses running
around that are single, have 100 million that some guy can marry into. . . .
Because see, Al Gore's daddy was a senator and Al Gore's daddy worked his way
up from wealth and power to wealth and power. I mean, he got more of it than anybody
ever dreamed of for having as little to go on. I mean, he's one of those old
boys. You know how that worked back then. Then John McCain 's daddy is his
wives. (laughter) I mean, he's a gigolo. Everybody knows this. There's
nobody in our party really has much respect for this guy and you can see it
last night, but I can't say that. I mean, you got sugar daddy wife back then. You
got sugar daddy wife now. He worked his way up from a blue blood to a platinum
American Express card, and it doesn't have his name on it.


[McCain] has lived the life of a millionaire living off
the inherited wealth of his two wives.... [As a]
millionaire who did not have to work for his fortune, Mr. McCain
never had to worry about the money he earned, the taxes he paid, or the war
he and George Bush forced the rest of us to pay for. . . . Mr. McCain is not
effected (sic) when these neighborhoods are destroyed and working class
families lose the largest asset in their retirement plans -- their home's value.

Recently I read at the Corner a whine that Dems supposedly opposed criticizing the wealth of a candidate's wife in 2004 but now embrace it. I think this type of abusive language is inappropriate but I haven't seen the Dems use it. I'd agree that any Dems who said noone's allowed to point out that Kerry was rich in 2004 would be two-faced to do something similar to McCain, but I'd like to see the Corner find an example.

UPDATE: I deleted an Ivy League reference that doesn't work for McCain, who instead was a legacy admit to the Naval Academy.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden and the Universe

I think the universe has two purposes: to irritate me, personally; and to make it blindingly obvious to anyone whenever I, personally, am an idiot. Note that the second purpose complements the first.

So Obama picked Biden, and I don't like the choice. He failed the same radio test that Obama passed spectacularly: I turned on the radio one time to hear someone give a speech without knowing who. In Biden's case I kept asking myself why this guy is so annoying.

My opinion didn't change during the primaries although I'll admit that he did well in the last debate I watched, and also I can't say I really know that much about him. I was disappointed to see Biden was a big supporter of Kosovo independence and supported the Iraq war resolution (although he and Richard Lugar did try to replace it with something more moderate until they were sandbagged by Dick Gephardt). Anyway, I don't see a Chris Dodd figure taking unorthodox stances that turned out to be right. Maybe I'm wrong.

So if Biden's a bad choice then it fits the universe's first purpose, and if he's a good choice then it fits the second purpose. We'll find out which.

UPDATE: After having just read the relevant section of this, possibly the last (only?) intelligent thing written by Glenn Reynolds, I'd say Biden's 1988 plagiarism scandal was overblown.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Error bands and known unknowns

Mostly just rehashing something I've mentioned in the past, but this time in response to Mark Kleiman's point regarding climate change that "uncertainty actually argues for more precaution, not less. Current estimates could be wrong in either direction; that's what 'error band' means."

Yes he's right, but there's more. The error bands involve uncertainty about currently-quantifiable factors, but there are a number of as-yet unquantifiable factors that with best-case scenarios have no effect but under any other outcome will make things worse. I'm not aware of unquantified factors that work in the reverse direction. In other words, the "true" error bars should be skewed to show a greater chance that things will be worse rather than better than the predicted outcome. All the more reason to start reducing emissions, quickly.

This point doesn't get enough attention, IMHO.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Rove/McCain Campaign understands about keeping surrogates on message

They might not be able to control McCain and his occasional verbal wanderings, but the graduates of the Bush/Cheney campaigns know that surrogates can only say what they're allowed to say.

So when "senior McCain surrogate" Steve Forbes says on CNN that "cap and trade is going to go the way of some other things....I don’t think those things are going to get very far," that's because Forbes is being allowed to say it. Bush made similar promises and reversed them after getting elected. Now we're getting a warning.

(And I don't actually question that McCain vaguely wants some kind of greenhouse gas regulations, but I expect Bush actually believed what he was saying in 2000 too. The issue is what McCain would actually do, and it doesn't look good.)

UPDATE: Turns out that McCain policy adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer is from a dirty energy, privately held company (Koch Industries) and ran a climate denialist, astroturf group called Americans for Prosperity. Policy advisers are likely to transition from the campaign to the administration if McCain's elected, so people like her would be in charge of McCain's climate policy. Wonderful.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Recommending Papa John's whole wheat pizza crust with light cheese

I love pizza, and it's terrible for you. Apparently Papa John's is the only major pizza chain that offers a whole wheat crust, which they only started two months ago. I ordered one with light cheese and a few other toppings (IMPORTANT UPDATE: by "light cheese" I meant "not much cheese", not the dreaded low-fat stuff), and it was really good. Baby steps in the right direction.

Unfortunately they don't give nutritional info for whole wheat or light cheese. I know the light cheese helps alot, and whole wheat has got to be at least a little better that white flour.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Denialists excited by Albertan engineers' disagreements over climate change

This showed up in Wikipedia and may be used elsewhere by denialists: a survey of members of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta found a majority of respondents felt the debate over scientific causes of climate change isn't settled. Alberta is an oil-producing province so it's a skewed sample to start with, but the main response is these people aren't scientific experts on climate change. Only 3% of the respondents were geophysicists, most were engineers, and only 23.5% had dealt with climate change as part of their professional duties (which still doesn't qualify them as experts on the science - I've dealt with the issue professionally and that doesn't make me a scientific expert).

All that should be enough to dismiss it, but I might as well go on:

  • This wasn't a random survey - all the members were asked to respond and so the ones who did were self-selected.
  • The survey report doesn't say what response rate it had in percentage terms.
  • The survey could be completed online or faxed in, and the report doesn't describe any security methods (a past online survey of "climatologists" by Dennis Bray had been crashed by denialists who gained password access). Providing identifying information is listed as "optional."
  • The question on the cause of climate change is inadequate: it asks to choose between primarily natural factors, primarily human factors, or both factors together. The third option is a different question. They should've asked if it was primarily natural, primarily human, or if the science wasn't clear enough to judge which cause is primary.
  • Amusingly, only 20% trust the climate models, but a solid majority think climate change is a significant risk to public safety. How do they know that if the models stink? I guess they trust the theory, or just take a ruler to the instrumental record and extend the upward-sloping line out a few decades. Whatever. (Might be evidence against the idea that the poll was crashed, though.)
Bottom line: somewhat useful for Albertan engineers to know what Albertan engineers think, maybe, but not relevant to the existence of a consensus.

UPDATE: 52,000 members, 1,000 self-selected to respond back.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Support for Kosovo independence comes home to roost

I was right on this one (unfortunately). From Crooked Timber:

...this is part of the long pay-back for Kosovo. When Russia was strong-armed on the UN Security Council into accepting Kosovan independence, they made it clear that the precedent would ring out in the Caucasus and indeed any where else the Russians want to destabilize. Again, the rights and wrongs of springing Kosovo free of the Serbs can be argued, and so can the means of doing it. But the outcome is that Russia believes it has a free hand to prop up Russian or other minority nationalities anywhere geopolitically convenient within its Near Abroad.

It's sad that the same sovereignty fetish that made the West want to recognize Kosovo is also what motivated Georgia to try and retake the areas of Georgia that had been semi independent:

Georgians are intensely nationalistic, and viewed these de facto states on their border as an intolerable violation of sovereignty. Mr. Saakashvili cashed in on this deep sense of grievance, vowing to restore Georgia’s “territorial integrity.”
For those thinking that Georgia is 100% in the right (from the same link above):
The Abkhaz talk about the Georgians pretty much the same way that the Georgians talk about the Russians. On that point, the Abkhaz share much with the South Ossetians. For them, as for the Ossetians, Georgia is the neighborhood bully.
Not that I have much any idea what to do about it all. I don't think having a lobbyist for Georgia's government on McCain's payroll is a great idea though.

UPDATE: I'm reading that Georgians took encouragement from Bush too seriously as one reason for their quick strike into Ossetia. Shades of Bush 41. (And in this case, the Russians might have taken Putin's mastery of Bush as a reason not to hesitate on their side).

UPDATE 2: For what it's worth, I'd support a quick membership for Georgia in NATO, but only with mutual self defense obligations starting outside of the two disputed provinces and south of wherever Russian forces are when the treaty's signed. Russia can (unofficially) keep what it's taken; they just can't take any more. Given that their presence is likely popular in South Ossetia and Abkhazia but would be an occupier in Georgia proper, it's not the worst of outcomes.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

So much for my candidate John Edwards

Good thing the voters didn't follow the lead of us Edwards supporters.

Among the other things I'm mad about is that my policy of paying attention to people when they turn out to be right meant I had to read an entire Mickey Kaus blog post. Disgusting.

So Edward's toast now for any high level elected position, which I think is about right. Forget the morality issue, he's shown himself not to have the good judgment those positions require. Maybe an appointed position would be alright, sometime in the future.

Somewhat controversially, I don't think Elizabeth Edwards comes out all that great either with this - not because of the adultery, which is 100% his fault, but because she pushed his candidacy while knowing he had this secret that could kill his campaign and the Democratic party's chances if it came out after Edwards secured the nomination. If John Edwards deserves blame for running with this secret in his background - and he does - she doesn't escape the blame entirely either.

And while I'm mad at Edwards, I might as well also mention I'm annoyed they took down all the blog posts at the Edwards website, including quite a few I posted. I can understand freezing the posts when they no longer have staff to monitor them, but taking them offline was unnecessary.

UPDATE: Eli correctly notes in the comments that McCain is getting a free pass for similar behavior. That's true, but it was also a long time ago (assuming the Vicki Iseman affair isn't true) and not when he was running for president, and not a secret either. Edwards knew the political rules and the risks.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Mucking my way through Pielke Jr. (and the Volokhs)

I haven't paid too much attention to Roger Pielke Jr. lately, as it's just too much work to sort through his stuff. I don't even know how to categorize him - not a denialist, exactly. Maybe just contrarian for the sake of it, a climate change nihilist.

But let's go through the exercise. Jonathan Adler at the Volokhs does his usual uncritical citing of RP Jr. to take potshots at Joe Romm who pushes for rapid action. This is how it works, by the way. Even if RP Jr. doesn't directly oppose attempts to mitigate climate change, he's used extensively by people like Adler who does.

RP says a new climate study doesn't support the idea of emphasizing how climate change makes weather more extreme. A casual reader might think RP is saying that weather won't get more extreme, so RP gets to send that message without actually saying it. To support his argument, he says the study finds in the US that

3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation , there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).

Again a casual reader might think this means that things aren't getting worse. What RP leaves out is this compares high flows within a single period, not against the past. If total precipitation increases, the 90th percentile can also increase compared to what would have been a 90th percentile flood, fifty years ago. In other words, things are getting worse and it supports the opposite of what RP implies (this could be wrong, see updates below).

Another example - RP says the study (available here) emphasizes flooding when in fact "there has been no increase in streamflow" and is therefore ignorant or misleading (RP also says damage has decreased as a percentage of GDP, but he's ignoring the effect of flood control measures). TokyoTom valiantly tries to figure out in the comments what he's talking about regarding "no increase" in streamflow. RP says, "The report is not discussing flooding when it says it is discussing flooding. It is discussing precipitation. They are not at all the same thing, and implying that precip = floods is in error, and misleading." RP is accusing the study of doing what he just did - implying (not saying directly though) that streamflow is a proxy for extreme weather and it's not getting worse. Eventually RP cites to yet something else he wrote, but I'd had enough by this point.

UPDATE: Good grief, that was quick - Roger has a response in the comments. I'm not satisfied. And in somewhat related news, "Scientists studying variations in tropical heat and rainfall since the mid-1980s have found a strong link between warm periods and a rise in the frequency of the most extreme downpours."

UPDATE 2: Thinking some more about the comments, I did the same wrong leap from more extreme precip = more extreme flooding. It does ceteris parabis, but not over time with heavily managed and altered watersheds. Going back to the study itself, it's pretty measured on streamflow issues (p. 53), so I don't see the problem. More broadly, extreme events and their possibilities do motivate people, and is an important part of the economic analysis. They shouldn't be overplayed or downplayed.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Guest post: The Dumbing Down of America

(This is a guest post from Dad. I don't have too much to add, except that while playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid might not have helped my tan, it did help me with numbers. Maybe that's what kids today need. -Brian)

The first major sign this author encountered was the switch years ago by merchandisers to the use of electronic calculators that figured out what change is owed the customer. When I was a cashier for the A&P in 1958, we did not have those and each of us had to be able to make change in our head. I can still do that now, and do that to check the machine. But forget having the clerk do it. As a result our clerks are dumber than those in developing countries that LACK those crutches, er I mean, machines.

Recently, one more example: Turns out that Office Max no longer gives you an instant rebate on used ink jet cartridges turned in at the store. Instead you have to join their "club" and they will SEND you a coupon for you to use, if and when you remember to bring it in again. When I complained Office Max was counting on some of us never turning in the coupons, I was told no, that is not the reason. Turns out the only cartridges ever available for the refund were HP cartridges (which is what I use), and some clerks were unable to make the distinction when they were turned in, and instead paid out willy-nilly. So instead of teaching their clerks how to be smarter, we have this new system.

The dumber we get, the worse is the service we get.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Two recent Obama policy mistakes

1. Obama caved in on his previous proposal to delay the "Constellation" successor program for the space shuttle in order to pay his early education program. He also didn't specify where he now plans to get the money for his education program, and he wants an extra flight of the dangerous space shuttle in 2010, after it's supposed to be decertified (IIRC), and I presume without the expensive program of recertification.

2. Obama now proposes letting the Michigan and Florida delegations get seated at full strength, with no penalty for violating the primary calendar rules. If Obama with all his advantages can't stand up to swing vote states, then we can hardly expect future candidates to do anything. The next election will have primaries in November.

Obama is getting hit for the wrong things, and not for the right ones.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Clearing up some confusion over Hansen 1988

A while back, commenter "Nick" made some assertions in the comments to this post about James Hansen's famous 1988 paper that I didn't have specific responses too. Some good recaps elsewhere make that possible. Nick says:

"We take the Scenario A prediction that is in line with what has happened with non human causes for climate change and CO2 output."

This is a little confused, but Scenario A was meant to show exponential growth in emissions, as opposed to Scenario B's more accurate linear growth. "Scenario A, since it is exponential, must eventually be on the high side of reality."

"Well, there are reasons for not using scenario B. Hansen put in a volcanic erruption to show its effects. Over the post Pinatobu period there has not been a major erruption. Scenario B therefore has a downward bias that makes the prediction look better than it should. (The erruption that didn't happen would have depressed temperatures.)"

Hansen in 1988 assumed a major volcanic eruption in 1995, and one actually happened in 1991. In other words, his assumption doesn't bias the outcome (it would have if he assumed two major eruptions when only one occurred).

"The claims are still being made that we have an escalating CO2 problem. That's scenario A."

No. Scenario B also had escalating CO2. Only Scenario C didn't.

More info at RealClimate.