Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Will be out of touch for a while, maybe sometime early January. Meanwhile, those who missed it should read Brad Johnson's piece from a few weeks back explaining the need to give solutions to people in order to convince them the problem is real.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Volokh Corrections #28 and #29: Adler should study environmental groups, Lindgren should review abstracts more carefully

Several weeks ago I was listening to Environmental Defense Fund's Insider Podcast where they described how their advocacy of "catch-shares" for commercial fisheries (allocating a percentage of fish caught to individual fishermen, instead of a quota) has created an ownership interest among fishermen that supports sustainable fishing. It was also a short time after the election where the California electorate preserved our premier climate change law, ratifying the way for the second-largest cap-and-trade market in the world to begin functioning in 2012.

About the same time, Jonathan Adler is writing about the "decline of the environmental movement" as it supposedly veers off course. Personally, I'm not surprised that environmental concerns played a lesser role than economic ones in the worst economy since the 1930s. Even then, climate legislation got further at the national level than it previously had in 10 years, California and other states move forward, the EPA will take its own actions on climate, and environmental groups continue to innovate. Adler could benefit from undertaking some research on these issues.

And more recently, Jim Lindgren complains about the pernicious effect of long-term unemployment benefits, quoting a study as finding "a 0.4% increase in the unemployment rate because of extending benefits for up to a total of 99 weeks." What he missed in the study is its main conclusion, that:

Analysis of unemployment data suggests that extended unemployment insurance benefits have not been important factors in the increase in the duration of unemployment or in the elevated unemployment rate.

Yes, it also found a 0.4% increase in unemployment from extending benefits, but that is minor in comparison to the real factors driving long-term unemployment. This makes clear the level of hardship Lindgren and friends would impose on people who are jobless and are sincerely looking.

There's also a bias in the study that suggests the 0.4% figure doesn't represent slackers. The study authors can think of two reasons why extending benefit durations could increase unemployment:

First, the extension of UI benefits, which represents an increase in their value, may reduce the intensity with which UI-eligible unemployed individuals search for work. This could occur because the additional UI benefits reduce the net gains from finding a job and also serve as an income cushion that helps households maintain acceptable consumption levels in the face of unemployment shocks (Chetty 2008). Alternatively, the measured unemployment rate may be artificially inflated because some individuals who are not actively searching for work or who are unwilling to take available jobs are identifying themselves as active searchers in order to receive UI benefits.

A third possibility is the rate is artificially inflated because people who would've given up in the absence of UI benefits accept the condition placed on receiving benefits, that they seek actively seek work and would accept jobs. They're not liars, and no one is being harmed by extending their benefits.

So just like Adler, Lindgren might benefit from studying the subject he's writing about more closely.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

First day on the job

My first water district board meeting was on Tuesday the 14th, and I've yet to rescue the world from all that's terrible. Actually, we did okay. If you feel like watching nearly six hours of scintillating and occasionally confused dialog, you can see it here.

Not sure if I did anything myself that directly helped the environment. I did speak in support of a project that helps endangered fish by keeping invasive species out of our streams, but it was really a budgetary comment (the program to help endangered species had spent a lot of money to date on planning and design, so I wanted to express my support for seeing some money starting to be spent on actions that help the fish).

I think a lot of our environmental work is going to be like this, where the environmental benefit results from getting good government efforts through first.

And today, I spoke on behalf of the Water District at the ceremonial ground-breaking for a new pedestrian overpass crossing Highway 101 here in Mountain View (it extends a creekside trail, thus the Water District connection and funding). That was fun, definitely environmental, and I got the chance to blather on despite having no personal responsibility for the decisions that all happened long before me. Life of a politician....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ice911.org presentation

Last week, on a tip from John Mashey, I went to a presentation in Portola Valley about the Ice911 organization. They have an intriguing if still-a-little vague approach to the loss of ice by using floating, retrievable, high albedo material in water that would either facilitate freezing or slow melting by making water cooler than it would otherwise be.

I had found their website a little frustrating in that it never showed or even described their product. I think one reason for that is what they really have is a concept and don't want to focus on any particular product - the version of their concept that actually works may end up being very different. The lawyer in me also suspects an intellectual property reason - while they're a non-profit, they can leverage investments by selling or leasing exclusive rights, and that means they can't publish a description of their work too early.

Anyway, I wish them luck. They're operating on a shoestring budget financed by what I'm guessing are wealthy local individuals (helpful for them to be located in one of wealthiest towns in the US). They call what they're doing "eco-engineering" to distinguish it from the more blase attitude found with some geoengineering schemes.

The albedo cooling concept might also be relevant to other areas. We lose a lot of water in reservoirs to evaporation. Maybe their ideas would have application here in California, and any water saved is water we don't have to pump from hundreds of miles away - a big energy savings as well as a reduction in net demand for water.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Judging the experts on the arsenic-bacteria pushback

Here's an angry pushback contradicting the implications of the recent Science article finding Mono Lake bacteria that could use arsenic instead of phosphorus. It's interesting from my perspective because I know virtually nothing about the field and am completely incompetent to judge its validity, but it feels like the pushback you see from the 3% of climatologists who have some doubts about climate disruption. It does sound "sciencey", which must be what climate skeptics think when they read something from Lindzen or Michaels telling them what they want to hear.

In this case, my worth-little gut reaction is that she might have a point. A big difference from people like Pielke Sr. and Judith Curry is that Redfield seems to be attracting support from experts (see the comments), instead of incredulous looks. And she's pushing back on a single paper at the cutting edge of new research, instead of trying to overturn decades of established knowledge. Finally, while her certainty in the post is offputting (as is her attacks on the Mars meteorite researchers, one of whom was a housemate of mine), she's much more reasonable in response to comments that criticize her post.

Should be interesting to see where this goes.

UPDATE: As Eli comments below, the problem may be pushing a cool discovery far beyond where it belongs. I posted something relevant to Rosie Redfield's blog:

This part of the OP interested me, re that either P or As had to be added for the bacteria to grow:

"(21) Agreed, with the proviso that the media be tested and shown to be identical except for the phosphate and arsenate. But this wouldn't mean that arsenic replaced phosphorus in any biological molecules in GFAJ cells, just that the cells needed arsenate for something."

That cells needed arsenate for something would be an interesting finding, I'd guess. And cells need As for something that P does is also implied by this finding.

Is this an area of potential agreement between the original article authors and critics?

(IANAS, BTW, so YMMV)


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Someone finally mentions the attack on the EPA will come through budget resolutions

I've babbled for months now that the Congressional Republican attack on environmental protection will be through the budget process, not through Clean Air Act revisionist legislation that would be subject to a Senate filibuster and an Obama veto.

Someone finally acknowledges that, in an Environmental Defense podcast (starting around minute 35). There they call it a potential "rider" or an add-on to an appropriations bill that would be very difficult for the Senate to kill or for Obama to veto. That's very close to what I'm concerned about, but an even more insidious and hard-to-kill action would be to zero out the budget for anything EPA could do to enforce application of the Clean Air Act to climate change issues. So I'm glad it's finally noticed, and the question is how to respond.

Complicating this is the Republican threat to de-fund health care reform. I could easily seeing the Republican controlled House passing a budget that both de-funds health care and prohibits spending money to enforce the Clean Air Act. They will then attempt horse-trading, and I fear the concession that they'll ask for.

I think it's to the Democrats' advantage to say these are established laws that aren't to be part of any games that Republicans will use instead of trying for revocation, and make sure the Republicans are set to take the blame if the Republicans cause a government shutdown over the budget.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lomborg misunderstands city subsidence and sea level rise

Maybe I should ignore this Bjorn Lomborg Op-Ed like everyone else has, but one part got a rise out of me. He compares subsidence that's happened in certain cities due to groundwater depletion to the long-term, multi-century sea level rise of 15 feet (actually it could be more than that), and says that we've handled "large relative sea-level rises without much difficulty." In other words, adaptation is no big deal.

I don't know the cities he's talking about, but I do know about subsidence in San Jose along San Francisco Bay. Contrary to Lomborg's statement, it's a big deal and a serious problem, especially when combined with other potential flooding problems that usually exist because cities are normally located near rivers.

The other point Lomborg misses is that city subsidence is geographically limited. The only area that needs to be protected from relative sea level rise is a small stretch of shoreline. And cities are the most economically valuable land on the planet, so the cost of protecting them relative to their value constitutes the best possible scenario.

Sea level rise, even minor sea level rise, is a much bigger deal. Here in Santa Clara County, we're going to have to deal with it, and it's already costing taxpayers money. Flood projects for near-sea-level creeks are right now being designed to handle sea level rise, which is the only intelligent way to construct these long-term structures. Adaptation is already here, it's a significant problem, and the question is who should pay for the costs. Seems like greenhouse gas emissions would be a good place to look for a tax to pay for greenhouse gas costs.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christy lays down an (unclear, skewed) marker

From a good and unsettling news article on accelerated glacier flow and melting in Greenland:

John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who is often critical of mainstream climate science, said he suspected that the changes in Greenland were linked to this natural variability, and added that he doubted that the pace would accelerate as much as his colleagues feared.

For high predictions of sea-level rise to be correct, “some big chunks of the Greenland ice sheet are going to have to melt, and they’re just not melting that way right now,” Dr. Christy said.


It's not clear exactly what Christy is saying is wrong - no numbers are attached. However, Christy generally thinks the IPCC overstates climate change. If the currently-observed rates cited in the article continue (no need for the pace to accelerate) then the IPCC has understated an impact from climate change. So Christy's bet should be that the current melting will decrease. Wonder if he'd put money on that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Teaching appropriate technology to wild chimpanzees

I wrote several years ago about the idea that we could facilitate cultural transmission between chimpanzee groups. Another reason for doing that came to light earlier this fall - some chimps in Guinea have learned how to destroy wildlife snares set by poachers. These wire-loop snares set under tension can accidentally catch chimps by the hands and feet, leading to partial amputations, and some male chimps have learned to break the branch that's used to create the tension.

So the idea would be to teach other chimps hundreds of miles away the same technique. Exactly how to teach them is a little tricky. Maybe the handful of groups that are used to people can be shown a model snare and how to break it, or possibly even shown a video similar to the one at the link, showing other chimps breaking snares. The other trick is getting juvenile female chimps to learn the technique, because males stay with the group they grow up with, while females disperse to new areas and can take their knowledge with them.

I don't know, maybe it's not feasible. But just the fact that we can consider teaching chimps appropriate technology in a manner resembling the way we think human societies can be taught appropriate technology suggests that highly intelligent animals should be considered as having some kind of intrinsic moral value.


UPDATE (slightly related): a psychologist finds that human males are much less aggressive if shown pictures of meat. Chimps are somewhat similar - Jane Goodall wrote that the dominance structure breaks down in the aftermath of a successful kill by chimps that were hunting monkeys, and an otherwise-dominant male will beg for meat from a subordinate but won't attempt to take it away.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Iron Law versus BOSO

Thought I'd just spell out the timeline I reference in the previous post.
  • 2006 (a gubernatorial election year): Democrats in the California Assembly pass AB 32, mandating greenhouse gas reductions. The Democratic candidate for governor immediately supports the bill. After some equivocating, Republican incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the legislation instead of vetoing it.
  • 2006-2010: Cap-and-trade consistently discussed as an important part of implementing AB 32.
  • November 2, 2010: Voters reject Proposition 23, which would have suspended AB 32, on a 60-40 vote.
  • November 5, 2010: Roger Pielke Jr. announces on National Public Radio that "the iron law of climate policy simply says that while people are willing to bear some cost for environmental objectives, that willingness has its limits. And cap and trade ran up against those limits time and again, and it's not surprising that it failed."

I think RPJ's Iron Law has some hindcasting problems. He could say it's just a reference to national politics, but his Iron Law doesn't seem phrased that way.

In lieu of the RPJ Iron Law, I'd like to propose BOSO, or Brian's Obvious Statement of the Obvious, which is that getting 60 votes in the Senate is hard. While BOSO may not sound quite as profound, I think it has better explanatory power and does better with hindcasting.

UPDATE: A nice write-up on California's proposed cap-and-trade by Michael Wara is here.

UPDATE 2: Matt Yglesias had a near-identical point here that I just stumbled upon. I like the term BOSO more than YOSO, though.

UPDATE 3: I was happy to find a RPJ post I agreed with on the value of testing carbon sequestration for a coal plant operation. Maybe it's not too surprising as a post, in that it gives him a chance to go hippie-punching against the Sierra Club, but in this case I think he's right and Sierra Club is wrong.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

How to be a climate hawk and a polite elected official

One of an important number of problems I saw with the elected leadership where I ran for office was insufficient politeness to members of the public, to the staff, and to each other. So now I'm an elected official wondering how to deal with things here on my personal blog, where I don't feel very politely inclined toward some people on climate issues.

I'll try to handle it mainly by the fact that this isn't where I intend to discuss Water District issues primarily, something I'll do at my campaign blog. There, I'll be Mr. Polite. No climate denialists being labelled there, just misguided skeptics. And it's helpful to remember that the position is with a special district without even the police power of local government.

As for here, I'll continue to point out problems, like the ones with (non-denialist) Roger Pielke Jr.'s alleged Iron Law that economic policies will always outweigh climate policies. Roger claims that his book is much more subtle and one shouldn't criticize his Iron Law without first reading (buying) his book. I'm going to have to pass on that suggestion - buying the book is probably creating a bad incentive given his past work on these issues.

The point I tried to make is that I'm certain that had Prop. 23 won in California, then Roger would've claimed it as vindication of his Iron Law. Instead it got roundly thumped and California moves ahead on its cap-and-trade provisions, right before Roger explains on national radio that moving ahead on cap-and-trade will be stopped at the ballot box. Roger could try to make the argument made against me, that it was unfair to focus on ancillary benefits from fighting climate change, and that defenseless Texas oil companies and coal billionaires had no ability to respond, but the question is whether you can get climate change policies passed. We can, and Roger's Iron Law seems pretty squishy.

But he is polite though, so I'll give him credit for that. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Last pre-election update for my campaign

Last one here, anyway, I'll be busy at the campaign blog until Election Day. Previous post was here.

I feel reasonably optimistic about the race, but it's impossible to tell for sure in an open seat election with two serious candidates in a local race - I certainly can't afford a poll. I hope my opponent spends his money on one but he doesn't seem likely to make such a big mistake, and the results would be useless anyway in a race that many voters won't think about until they pick up their voter guides.

I feel pretty good in having done far better in endorsements and having an active ground campaign. With 133,000 voters, we can't reach them all, but we've done a reasonable amount of precinct walking with the help of volunteers, as well as going to farmers markets, train stations, and a few special events with a lot of people. As far as I can tell, my opponent doesn't have that ground campaign.

His one advantage is money. This election has no contribution limits. I set my own, at $250/person, $500/organization, and invited my opponent to do the same but he declined. His advantage is from big donations that range four to ten to twenty times the maximum donation I'll accept. All perfectly legal, of course, and I have no reason to suspect improper deals, but it is an issue regardless. He has virtually no small contributions, though, and I have tons, and that helps build support. I still have one more printing going out, so if anyone wants to help out with a small donation, you can donate here (must be US citizen or permanent resident).

There are many other worthy issues and candidates, of course. I am deeply concerned about national politics. Voters will punish Democrats for failing to completely fix the mess created by Republican leadership, and do so by electing Republicans. In the long run, this will actually help Democrats, because the Republicans need to have some kind of ideas other than keeping government out of Medicare. The Tea Party types may someday morph into a libertarian concept that's useful, but they're nowhere near that now, and winning now will stop that transformation. Demographics will also kill the Republican prospects with non-whites and young people who accept homosexuals and science. All we can do is support good people on the national stage - I just gave some money to Congressman Jerry McNerney, and others could do something similar.

More locally, I support my fellow Water District candidate and excellent environmentalist Linda Lezotte in her race (we're in different electoral districts). I also support Water District Measure C, imposing okay-but-not-great term limits.

Mountain View Council Member Margaret Abe-Koga has done a great job. The other two incumbents, Ronit Bryant and Jac Siegel, should also be re-elected, but I know that Margaret in particular has stuck her neck out to take on some regional challenges. Jim Zito running for Evergreen School District in San Jose has also taken some strong environmental stances, and many school districts have been more than ready to throw the environment out the window if it saves them some money, so Jim's presence is needed.

Other than that, we'll see what happens next Tuesday!

(And one good thing I remembered - we've sent thousands of postcards out reminding voters of the problem of sea level rise and San Francisco Bay, something the Water District will have to deal with, so we're keeping climate disruption in the minds of voters.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Salvaging climate action in one-eighth of the US, and other stuff

I've felt a little guilty about not doing more to fight Prop 23, the Texas oil company initiative to kill California's fight against climate change. I've been busy, although I have been talking about climate change in my campaign. The one thing I did do was send some money their way, and it would be great if anyone reading this would do the same. California is one-eighth of the US economy, so what it does is important. Tesoro, Valero, and Koch brothers are attacking California for a reason, so fighting back is important.

Related stuff - a great interview by Rachel Maddow with climate denialist/(apparently former) HIV denialist/radiation enthusiast Art Robinson. How she keeps her sense of humor is beyond me. At the same link is the video debunking of Robinson's Oregon Petition that fraudulently claimed 32,000 scientists dispute climate change.

And yesterday, I was precinct walking for my campaign and a nice old man in slippers invited me into his living room. He was an arch-conservative, couldn't stand Obama, and convinced that climate change is only natural. Then he said that based on his gut reaction to me, he liked me and would give his vote to me. My reaction: I'll take it!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I don't usually join the media-bashing, but this Chamber stuff qualifies

Yet another report from Think Progress on how the US Chamber of Commerce is accepting foreign funds and putting them in the same accounts it uses for political lobbying.

I read this particularly shameful New York Times article that simply accepts the Chamber's claim that it keeps the money separate without providing an accounting, accepts the Chamber's claim that it's a small amount, and worst of all, refused to interview Think Progress to give them a chance to respond (see the first link above - "Most reporters (from the New York Times, McClatchy, the Associated Press, etc.) never contacted ThinkProgress, instead opting to only interview Chamber officials.")

I know some of our local Chambers here in Santa Clara County, and some of them do good work. But the US Chamber is doing some terrible work, and the media is making it even worse.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Republican Party denialism and Roger Pielke Jr.'s analysis

The National Journal finds that no major party in any democracy is as thoroughly in denial about climate science as the Republican Party. Roger Pielke Jr. writes "it didn't have to be this way....I have no idea as to how that circumstance may have evolved differently." That seems incoherent to me, especially as he acknowledges a strong and widespread anti-environment shift among Republican political candidates. He does his best to blame climatologists for provoking this shift instead of reacting to the shift.

What I really had been looking for in Roger's work is this piece from 2007 saying that climate science was so widely accepted that the "issue of science is no longer relevant to debate in Congress." Even in 2007, the massive level of Republican denialism meant only 57 Senators accepted the consensus position. Not enough to overcome a filibuster, and Roger felt that denialism didn't matter.

I think the level of denialism at the highest level of the Republican Party has an obvious connection to the inaction we've had in the US, and it should be a pretty obvious connection.

Unfortunately, it took me a while to find that 2007 post of Roger's. While looking for it, I also came across this one from 2009 saying cap-and-trade is likely to get Congressional support sufficient to pass in the next few years; another one making the (incomprehensible to me) argument that improved mitigation of potential weather-related damages doesn't affect the damage signal from climate change; and another from 2007 saying the public has accepted climate change science (with the implication being there's no point in battling denialists).

I'm not finding any of these five blog posts particularly persuasive.

Friday, October 08, 2010

And the voting starts

So here's my video campaign statement, courtesy of the free services provided by the Midpeninsula Community Media Center, which will be showing candidate videos on their channels:




I should've talked a little faster I think, but it wasn't too bad for a 20 minute session and my first use of a Teleprompter. My opponent apparently decided to skip doing it.

Nothing about climate change in there, but I've said quite a bit elsewhere.

In answer to the most common question - how's the campaign going? - I can't really tell for sure. The people I talk to are enthusiastic supporters but there's an obvious selection effect. I've done very well with endorsements. We've got people walking precincts too (no sign of my opponent doing the same), and this is a Democratic Party-favoring area. On the other hand, my opponent's got decent name recognition as a Council member of one of the four biggest towns in the district.

So we'll just keep pushing, and we'll get the answer in less than a month.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Captain Kirk would do with the Texas oil companies and Proposition 23

Proposition 23 would use its weasel language to kill California's premier law to fight climate change, AB 32 (requiring rosy economic conditions that rarely happen before AB 32 could come into effect). It's a tool of Texas oil companies to delay inevitable action to address climate change.

The oil companies could have vigorously expanded into alternative energy, but they chose this approach instead - trying to slow down their demise by taking California and the rest of the planet with them.

I agree with Captain Kirk:




You can start after minute 1, or at minute 2:30. I need to learn how to edit these things.

Attention literalists: I don't advocate doing this to real humans (or real Klingons), but for the fossil fuel corporations that are trying to take us down with them, I've had enough.

The No on Prop 23 Campaign is here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The small, non-zero set where Laughlin is right and Hansen is wrong

Michael Tobis dismantles the "thought" involved in a piece by physicist Robert Laughlin that mostly repeats the climate consensus science. With the scientific depth that anyone could get from Wikipedia, Laughlins says that on the time scale of centuries, after we're done adding CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, most of it will be absorbed by oceans but some will remain in the atmosphere, heating the climate for more centuries/millenia until geologic processes finally capture it.

The alleged insight by Laughlin is his argument that we're going to consume all fossil fuels so all the handwringing and attempts to escape the future won't work. This is a political judgment that we're incapable of making a decision to refrain from burning everything. I don't see why a physicist has any great claim to insight on that question. (It also ignores the possibility of sequestering carbon and keeping it sequestered, but that's just yet another flaw.) Due to Laughlin's poor writing, where he says things like the climate is "beyond our power to control" he confuses people with potential denialism, but I think he's basically talking about his political willpower claim.

To a tiny extent, though, Laughlin has a decent argument. People like Jim Hansen opposed the cap-and-trade legislation this summer because it wasn't perfect and instead reflected political compromises. I think Laughlin is right that our political will isn't infinite, and Hansen is wrong to reject a solution that reflects political constraints. Laughlin just goes way too far in the other direction of assuming zero political willpower.

My own little electoral campaign reflects this. My Republican opponent has never mentioned climate change, so I don't know how he feels about it. I've talked about how our Water District has to deal with it, and is dealing with it. I could theoretically argue that we should also immediately cut our water consumption in half, which would reduce a lot of energy demand by eliminating the need to pump water from the Sacramento Delta all the way to here in Santa Clara County. But I think that's unrealistic, and instead we just need to focus on conservation that's possible. We can't do everything, but we can do something, and I think both Laughlin and Hansen need to get that right.



One other note. To be fair to Laughlin, he gets this right: "humans can unquestionably do damage persisting for geologic time if you count their contribution to biodiversity loss. A considerable amount of evidence shows that humans are causing what biologists call the “sixth mass extinction,” an allusion to the five previous cases in the fossil record where huge numbers of species died out mysteriously in a flash of geologic time. "

I've thought for a while that the mass extinction we're causing, probably dating back to the extinction of ice age mammals, and definitely dating back to numerous island extinctions, could be seen as our biggest effect on the environment, one that will take millions of years for nature to fix. Climate change accelerates the problem because species have to move in response, but we've destroyed the connecting habitat that could make migration possible.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Water District campaign update - so far, so good

I wrote a while back that I was running for office for a Director's position at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and my low output here lately has a lot to do with the work in the election. It's a lot of work.

So far, so good though - here's the campaign website endorsement list, and it's pretty good. I've got one opponent whose campaign says they're going to raise a boatload of money, so that's the challenge to deal with.

I've tried to tie some of my work with climate change, but it's not the first thing that voters focus on. Still, flooding of San Francisco Bay is a concern among folks, and I've tried to pick up on that. I'm also hoping to help mobilize people against Proposition 23 (the Texas oil funded proposal to kill California climate change efforts) at the same time through the campaign.

It'll be even more interesting if I get elected. I'm not sure how many bloggers focused on climate change went on to get into office. We'll see what I can do if elected. Eli Rabett has rightly focused on the fact that the problem is with the political system, not the scientists, but I'll do what I can on my level. Of course, if anyone wants to pitch in a hand by telling their friends in north Santa Clara County to help out, or even by sending a contribution, that's fantastic too.

Hopefully the posting will pick up a little after the election, and even better, discuss what the heck to do because I've been elected.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Denialist Attorney General shot down in Round 1

Virginia's Attorney General Cuccinelli attempted to investigate Michael Mann for fraud because Cuccinelli (let's call him Cooch) didn't like Mann's views on climate change, but that's hit a road block. A judge thinks the investigatory demand should spell out what the fraud was before Cooch can legally require the University of Virginia to open all of Mann's computer files to Cooch investigators. From the opinion (p. 3-4):

In order for the Attorney General to have "reason to believe" [that fraud may have occurred], he has to have some objective basis to issue a civil investigative demand, which the Court has power to review.
....
What the Attorney General suspects that Dr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth [of Virginia] is simply not stated....

Cooch really has two problems here: first, he couldn't figure out how to say "I think Mann may have intentionally misrepresented data in order to show compliance with grant funding that he had received." That's the first-year law student mistake which has received deserved ridicule.

Second and more important IMHO is that Cooch needs an "objective basis" for suspecting fraud: a little thing called "evidence." Absent that, Cooch is just doing a little thing called "witch hunting." Restating the demand to actually suspect a fraud also requires a reason to suspect fraud, and the judge could decide if the reason is ridiculous.

There's more to the opinion, mostly against Cooch, a little in support of him. The University's lawyers went for the approach of "try any argument that could potentially win" instead of limiting to a few arguments that show Cooch was making frivolous claims, so Cooch did win a few of the subsidiary battles while losing this round. My guess then is that this judge wouldn't sanction the Attorney General for making a frivolous demand, unfortunately.

Unless he's foolhardy, Cooch won't revise his demand or appeal. OTOH, maybe he thinks there are more judges in Virginia whose understanding of the law matches his own.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Climate regulation is all about next year's budget

With climate legislation shot this year and having no chance for the next two years when the Republicans pick up votes in the Senate, the only game in town on the national level is EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act.

The advantage that climate realists have over climate nihilists is that all we need to do is defense, and stop Republicans from passing legislation that amends the Clean Air Act. People look at the summer's 53-47 defeat of Sen. Murkowski's attempt to do just that as good news, saying Republicans need a majority in the House, 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and possibly override a presidential veto by two-thirds vote in both houses.

I don't think defense is that easy. Republicans will focus on the budget process and attempt to amend the budget so that the EPA can spend no money to enforce or promulgate regulations related to climate change. As a budget item, it's not subject to a filibuster (UPDATE: should've said, as a budget reconciliation item, it wouldn't be subject to a filibuster, but that only makes it a slightly harder hurdle to overcome). Right now, the attempt would likely fail in the Senate by a 53-47 vote against, but if the Republicans pick up four or more Senate votes as predicted, then they've got the votes.

The Senate might then be in a game of chicken with the House, or maybe not if the House also switches enough votes to the Dark Side on climate budgeting. Obama could theoretically veto a budget with this provision, but in an election year budget with money for seniors and soldiers, that'll be hard to do. I could see an unfortunate compromise as a result.

Conclusion #1: we're in a hard battle yet.

Conclusion #2: this might have something to do with Obama's disappointing opposition to climate change lawsuits. He's saying that they should be dismissed, as long as regulations are in place and enforced. Having a stick of lawsuits waiting in the wings if the Republican zero out the budget might reduce some enthusiasm for that budgetary trick.

Anyway, the budget is what we have to watch.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cordoba House and learning from the Hamas-Likud symbiosis

The radical extremists among Israelis and Palestinians have an unstated symbiotic relationship - each extremist side advocates committing outrages upon the other side but has to contend with more moderate elements who oppose them. Each time the extremists on one side commit an outrage against the other side, the moderates on the victim side get weaker. The extremists on the victim side are now more free to commit an outrage in return, and the cycle worsens. It doesn't have to be a deliberate or conscious collusion by the two extremist sides, and they don't have to be morally equivalent to each other. It's still a symbiosis.

I think that's partially what's going on with the Cordoba House controversy. Islamophobes in America don't even want to acknowledge the existence of Islamic moderates like the ones running the Cordoba project, so they lump all forms of Islam together. And to the extent Islamophobes succeed in killing or tarnishing the project, they succeed in harming moderate Islam. That's just great for extremists in Islam, or even unreformed and undemocratic elements of Islam, and their behavior will then just reinforce the power of Islamophobes.

What to do about this symbiosis is less clear, except that the cycle can work in reverse, of increasing moderation. I think the Cordoba House will be built and will help increase the influence of moderate Islamic leaders at the detriment of Islamic extremists and American Islamophobes.

I've also thought the Cordoba House could highlight the Muslim victims and heroes of 911, something that could help blunt the claim that the project is somehow an affront to the memory of 911.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Give Michael Tobis his Jim Hansen moment

Michael argues that the Russian warming is virtually inexplicable without anthropogenic climate change (and follows it up in his blog). If he's correct, then this would be the first severe weather event that we could specifically say was made worse by climate change, as opposed to just saying that the dice had been loaded by climate change.

His argument's getting some attention, but not what it deserves. Hansen had his 1988 moment in front of Congress saying that global warming had already arrived, and Michael should have the same chance to say the same thing about tying specific weather events to climate change.

Of course there's the tiny issue of whether Michael's correct, something I can't really judge. The same question was in place when Hansen testified to Congress, though. Just because it's not yet known as a certainty isn't justification for downplaying it - let's get the word out, with uncertainties expressed.

It should also be noted that specific physical events (not just statistical changes) that we can tie to climate change right now also include sea level rise and ocean acidification, but they're quite as dramatic as Russia on fire.


UPDATE: Michael Tobis backs off slightly, and finds Pat Michaels making his first worthwhile contribution to science in years. While the Russian heating may still be unprecedented, the case for being it nearly impossible without climate change is less strong now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hoisted from the comments: it's the dog that doesn't bark that tells the story

Jeff S. says:

Your last point [failure of skeptics to create an alternative to hockey stick analysis is significant -ed.] is similar to another point you made on this blog that I don't think gets made often enough, or really, ever. If it is possible to construct a plausible, defensible climate model wherein a doubling of atmospheric CO2 leads to minimal warming, it is reasonable to expect that the allied forces of the fossil fuel industry (the largest industry in the world) and the skeptic community could have produced one by now. As Sherlock Holmes might have it, it's the dog that doesn't bark that tells the story.
(Links added by me.)

Of course I like the comment since it goes along with my view, but I wish I thought of the Sherlock Holmes piece.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Goodbye Neil



Hard to see, but the tiny white cloud above the cliff face is the ashes of my friend and climbing partner Neil Kelly, scattering to the winds and rock of the Sierras.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Response to Michael Tobis: everyone knows the climate's gone screwy, so let's use it

Michael wrote a great post on how climate denial has sunk into a significant portion of our populace so much so that simply pointing to facts isn't going to fix a personal bias against the concept.

My response is something I tried to argue several years ago. The right psychological approach is to ask people to call upon their personal experience with climate in past years to help them overcome a prejudice that we've not affected the climate. What might be hardest for science realists is to accept that it's not a bad thing to call upon personal experience, because we're not asking people to be scientists but only to contribute to the overall decision-making.

For example, let's talk about the fascinating subject of my teeth. Here in America we still have debates about whether to fluoridate the water to prevent cavities. I've lived in a bunch of different places in the country, and two of them - Alaska and Portland Oregon - didn't fluoridate. You can guess which two times of my life when I've had the most problems with cavities.

Now it's hardly scientific to draw conclusions based on my experience, but if I made my own decision on whether to vote for fluoridation based on my experience, and aggregated my vote with others doing the same thing, then you'll get something approaching a reasonable scientific judgment as well as the right policy.*

The same thing is true for climate. Anyone over the age of 30 can remember a modestly different climate in the past, and everyone knows older people who can tell them about earlier periods when it was even more different. People can feel it in their bones that the climate's gone screwy. That's what we need to latch on to.

Yes, huge amounts of noise in this type of data, and yes, urban heat island and urban migration can confound perceptions, but people can adjust for urban heat if they want in their personal experience, and millions of human data points are being aggregated to filter the noise. My point is that it's not invalid to call upon these experiences.

The other issue is the claim by denialists that it's just coincidental warming. The way to handle that is to latch on to the fact that people like patterns and don't like coincidences. Point out that the people who are arguing that it's just a coincidence are the same ones who still dispute the scientific record that shows what we feel to be true, that the climate has changed, that it's gotten warmer, that weather patterns are different. It is not a coincidence that the people denying the warming are making that argument - they don't like the implications of it. Again, personal experience of how much the world has changed could help people consider whether our modification of the planet could be responsible for the modification of climate.

So this may not be the scientific ideal approach, but it's not invalid, and it could be a way to make progress.



*I'm ignoring the alleged low-frequency dangers of fluoridation, which isn't really relevant to the analogy I'm making of people drawing on personal experiences to understand whether fluoridation prevents cavities/that climate change is real.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Remembering Stephen Schneider, and voting No on Proposition 23

(This is a repost from the Brian for Water District campaign blog.)

Driving to a meeting of the Water District's Environmental Advisory Committee earlier [last] week, I heard the sad news about the unexpected death of the prominent Stanford climatologist, Stephen Schneider.

While a student at Stanford Law School, I participated in one seminar where he guest-lectured and heard him on other occasions during school and afterwards. I thought he gave the most convincing demonstration of who to trust in the climate debate by showing a survey of the mainstream climatologists and the small number of scientists that doubted climate change. Schneider showed that the mainstream scientists were reasonably confident of their predictions but also admitted a wide margin for error. The few skeptic climatologists admitted nothing, and were absolutely confident that they were right. He had given the best demonstration I could imagine of scientific honesty on one side and over-confident hubris on the other.

Schneider's death comes as California wrestles with Proposition 23's demand to suspend its premier climate change law, AB32, a theoretical suspension that would actually kill it if Proposition 23 passes. I know that Schneider actually had some criticisms of his own of AB32, but I can't imagine he would favor the misguided effort to kill the law and do nothing in return.

I'll be voting No on Proposition 23, an initiative that will harm efforts to fight climate change and efforts to protect our water and watersheds. We will have to learn from Schneider's legacy as the state and country move forward.

-Brian

For a eulogy about Steve Schneider, read RealClimate here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Human behavioral adaptations accelerating evolutionary changes

What I'm saying is either 1. so obvious noone's bothered to say it, 2. wrong, or 3. somewhat interesting. It's about the evidence of a significant recent natural selection in the human genome, covered in the New York Times.

Our behavioral adaptations have made it possible for our primate body to succeed in new habitats and climates. After the successful introduction into new niches, we started competing against the most dangerous game, each other, and evolution started playing catch-up, adapting our bodies to colder climates, less sunlight, and higher elevations as applicable.

Then instead of just entering new habitats as hunter-gatherers spread around the world, humans also started creating new habitats through agriculture, succeeded there and began competing on evolutionary levels, like when Asians adapted to metabolize alcohol after inventing rice cultivation. In the last few thousand years or less, we created still more new habitats of dense populations in cities, and resistance to diseases that spread at high concentrations like measles began to develop.

I think it's interesting because evolution is working on us in ways or at a speed that's highly unusual, because a species usually succeeds in a particular type of habitat instead of spreading to multiple habitats simultaneously.

I suppose it's similar to adaptive radiation, like where an ancestral finch species reached the Galapagos and eventually became 14 species adapted to different food sources. I just suspect it's happened much faster with us. And of course we won't differentiate into separate species, given the high level of gene flow.

It might be interesting to look at species that have come along for the ride with us - rats, house mice, cockroaches, head lice, gut bacteria - and see if they've undergone similar recent evolution.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Everything going well for climate denialists, except for climate

I've been meaning to link to this excellent, long post at Fivethirtyeight on the fall of Australia's Prime Minister, in large part due to the politically-successful decision by the opposition party to stop supporting legislation to fight climate change. Crucially, the PM "strung out" the issue to damage the opposing party rather than quickly passing a good bill, leading the opposing party to dump its rational leader and choosing the "Party of No" attitude instead.

Being destructive rather than collaborative is a good political strategy, as we're seeing in the US, where formerly realistic Republican senators are inventing excuses to oppose climate legislation. Many enviros did very little to support comprehensive cap-and-trade legislation because they prefer bills with no chance of passage, and the next Senate is guaranteed to be worse. Our best shot this year, and it won't get better again for at least two years, is a cap-and-trade bill on utilities only. It's far better than nothing,* but it's only a possibility at this point.

Those of us who think we should do something about climate change need to work harder. Unfortunately, the actual climate as opposed to the political climate is making that clear, as yet again, recent warmth makes the Jan-June period the warmest recorded, and fits yet again as one more unnecessary piece in the mountain of evidence for climate change.


*I should note that I have to see if this reduced-scope legislation still pre-empts some action by the EPA. I'd guess it would still be a good idea, but I'd also be less certain about that.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What I think about global warming

I've stolen the headline and most of "my" thoughts on the issue from a good post by William that people should read.  But enough with the praise, let's focus on the smaller points where I might disagree.

William writes:
The main points that most would agree on as "the consensus" are:

1. The earth is getting warmer (0.6 +/- 0.2 oC in the past century; 0.1 0.17 oC/decade over the last 30 years (see update)) [ch 2]
2. People are causing this [ch 12] (see update)
3. If GHG emissions continue, the warming will continue and indeed accelerate [ch 9]
4. (This will be a problem and we ought to do something about it)
I've put those four points in rough order of certainty. The last one is in brackets because whilst many would agree, many others (who agree with 1-3) would not, at least without qualification. It's probably not a part of the core consensus in the way 1-3 are.

Yep, all of that remains pretty well true, and remains the core....In the years since I wrote that nothing has come along to overturn any of that, and much has come in to buttress it....However, I still think there is room for honest skepticism and disagreement about point 4.... The real argument should be about point 4: that it will be a problem and we should do something about it....I don't know the answer to point 4, and I know that I don't know :-). 
So let's stop there for a moment.  I think it's better to split point 4 into:
4.a.  This will be a problem.
4.b. (We ought do something about it).
I don't think it's reasonable for anyone to acknowledge point 3, especially acceleration, and deny 4.a.  Even in the imaginary world where benefits in some areas outweigh the problems in others, there are still problems.  And virtually no one really believes in that imaginary world - if we could wave a Pielkean magic wand, a technology that cheaply and safely scrubs all GHG emissions from the atmosphere, any reasonable person given a yes or no choice on waving that wand would do it.
As for 4.b., I'll just note that it's not an exclusively scientific question - engineers, economists, and wonderful wonderful lawyers all play a part, not to mention the general public that pays the bill one way or another.  No wonder it's a squishier issue.
Also on 4.b., I think if we drop two unstated assumptions in much of the climate discussion - first, that the universe ends in the year 2100, and second, new GHG emissions will magically cease the moment we hit 2x present CO2 equivalent levels - then we know the answer.  Maybe someone could argue we still have a decade or so of playtime available before doing something about the problem but that would both be unwise and not relevant to 4.b.
Finally, I may not know anything more about ocean acidification than William notes in original post (probably less), but it's really a separate scientific consensus issue that doesn't even depend on climate change being real.  My amateur opinion is that acidification consensus is as solid as the climate consensus through its own version of 4.a., and on policy matters the issue pushes for the same policy solutions as climate change other than some geoengineering and ocean sequestration proposals, and possibly on a slightly longer timeframe.


UPDATE:  I continue to think, without much evidence to back it up, that the biggest human cost from GHGs will be malnutritrion-related deaths in areas of subsistence agriculture and fishing due to precipitation shifts and acidification.  Not necessarily an increase against the present baseline but an increase against a future baseline where the world aggressively reduces GHGs.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

I'm all in, and running for the Santa Clara Valley Water District election this November

As I hinted at a while back, I've thrown my hat in the ring to run for the Santa Clara Valley Water District in the November 2010 election, representing the north county cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, and neighboring unincorporated county land extending up the Santa Cruz Mountains to the county line.  My official campaign website is http://brianforwater.org/, and campaign blog at http://brianforwater.blogspot.com/.

The Water District is pretty unique, combining responsibility for water supply, flood control, and watershed protection.  Many water districts have been extremely destructive water-grabbers or dam builders - this one is different, but a lot more can be done to make it even better.  It may not sound immediately important, but it does a lot of work, and I've been involved with it as chair and vice-chair of its Environmental Advisory Committee over the years.  The elected position occupies a somewhat-vague middle ground between the all-volunteer, supposedly-limited time commitment of most city councils, and the full-time, paid positions at the county and state level.

So will I win?  I'll exceed the accuracy level of many campaigners by skipping the false certainty and admit that I don't really know.  It would be hard to lose just right now - it's an open seat and I'm the only one who's filed an official Intent to Run.  On the other hand, other people are interested and have their own very good qualifications, so we'll see.  I do plan to run a serious campaign - I'm very certain of the support of the local environmental community and that I have more experience than any other name I've heard with the District.

Coming back to the relevance to this blog - the Water District is very clued in to climate change, but again it's always possible to do more.  I also want to highlight the foolishness of Proposition 23 on the November ballot that would suspend California's premier climate change law, AB 32, on the false pretense that the law has anything to do with high unemployment.  I'll be able to make some useful trouble there.

With the campaign effort taking time, I probably will be posting a bit less here, and some of the posting here will be cross-posted from the campaign blog and may be of less interest to readers who aren't from here.  I even thought of making Backseat Driving my campaign blog, but many of personal rants are unrelated to the job of the Water District, so I'd rather let people concentrate on the central issues while not hiding the rants that are here.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The $100,000 Indecent Proposal is causing the most problems for conservatives right now

Rightwingers at Breitbart are offering $100,000 for any one of the 400 members of a moderate-to-liberal, journalist email list to betray their confidentiality pledges and to turn over the archives, with Breitbart guaranteeing anonymity to the source.  We're on day three and nearing day four with no-one having taken the leap yet.  Kind of a pleasant surprise that game theorists would find inexplicable.

So all four hundred members of the list have so far maintained their integrity, but some conservatives are having a little more trouble.  Sad-sack cases like Breitbart and Althouse try to gasbag their way into claiming that selling out and encouraging people to sell out are ethical things to do.  Others like Instapundit and Transterrestrial have transmogrified way beyond such petty ethical concerns.

I expect we'll soon see a conservative blog reminding the 400 listmembers that each person probably cares deeply about 10 or more people, any one of whom could be in deep financial or medical trouble and need that money.  Shouldn't you be able to find the people who are most worthy, she'll wheedle, and you'll only keep what you need rather than some other idiot taking it all for alcohol and prostitutes.  These people will be implicitly saying that your soul isn't really worth more than $100,000, because they're selling out their own just for the joy watching someone else go down the drain.

Someday I expect the archives will be made public, but we'll see how many other conservatives first fail the test that they think is being placed just on the Journolist members.

(Kudos btw to The Corner of all places for acknowledging the ethical problem, if somewhat vaguely.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Applying the Chilean fiscal model to California state budgets

I've been meaning to blog about this idea for a while:  the Chilean counter-cyclical fiscal strategy could be used at the state level here in California and elsewhere.  The very simple idea is to run a governmental surplus in good times and a deficit in bad times, so the governmental spending reduces overheated economic bubbles and helps speed recovery from recessions.  They also used independent panels of experts to make sure the government isn't just skewing forecasts so it can spend as it desired.

As the link mentions, the panels correctly determined that copper exports were driven up by a bubble and saved the money, which came in very handy when the price collapsed.  So much for the excuses by many Bush-era policymakers that you can never tell if you're in a bubble until it collapses - you can tell (like the gold price bubble we're experiencing now), you just can't predict exactly when it will collapse.

I think the idea would work better if it begins implementation during a non-recession time period, but I'm not sure that's absolutely required.  It would also be interesting whether local level governments could apply it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Roger Pielke Jr. incorrectly ties flawed Inhofe list to a good study of climate researchers

(UPDATE:  Roger Pielke Jr. asserts I've got it all wrong - see his post starting around comment 89.  He did help clarify one minor point about the Inhofe list that I'm inserting below, but other than that I stand by everything I said here, as well as my posts about misinformation he's given on open-air capture and ocean sequestration.)

(Background on the good PNAS study here - it found that only a tiny number of active climate researchers are unconvinced about human caused climate change, and that the unconvinced ones don't produce as much work nor are cited by others as much as the mainstream scientists).

I'll cut RP Jr. more slack than I otherwise would, because it's his father being categorized as on the losing side of scientific history, and I'd have trouble maintaining perspective myself in that situation.  However, he still needs to be factually accurate, and he isn't when says this:

 "What qualifies one to be on the [PNAS study] APHS10 list of skeptics, which I'll just call the "black list"? ....In fact, it turns out that you don't even have to sign an open letter or argue against immediate cuts for emissions. You can simply appear unwillingly on Senator James Inhofe's list."


Actually, no.  Inhofe and Marc Morano compiled a list of climate denialists that's as flawed as everything else that the denialists put out, and it included climate believers with the skeptics.  RP Jr uses the inclusion of the Inhofe list to discredit the PNAS study, but the PNAS study didn't use the Inhofe list.


Three of us tried to get this clarified/corrected in the comments to Roger's post, with little effect.  He says that the study links to one of the co-author's website who relies on the Inhofe list, which provides legitimacy to a flawed (apparently broader) list.  He won't fix his post, so far.


Incidentally, he hasn't shown where the PNAS author Jim Prall relies on the Inhofe list, so the entire critique could be wrong.  (UPDATE:  Roger's additional comments did help with this at least - Prall uses Inhofe's list here, but never used it as the sole source of information on a skeptic, and again it wasn't used in the PNAS study as Roger says it was.)


Moving on from the Inhofe thing, the whole claim that it's "blacklisting" to point out a viewpoint is held by a tiny and mostly undistinguished group means that Pielke Jr. and the other critics object to an attempt to determine the state of scientific opinion.  I could imagine this type of analysis could apply very usefully to wholly unrelated scientific questions, but apparently Pielke Jr wouldn't want that to happen.


Finally, an interesting choice of tactics here - during the whole stolen climate emails thing, some people wanted to focus on the privacy invasion and illegal theft, which I thought would be viewed as an attempt to distract people from the content when the content wasn't that bad.  Here, denialists and unhelpful types like Pielke Jr. are ignoring the PNAS study content and screaming about blacklists.  Maybe it's like the lawyer's saying that if you can't pound any arguments in your favor, pound the table instead.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Saying "genetically modified foods are bad for health" does show epistemic closure

I'll disagree with John Quiggin on this one.  He seems to think the statement, GMO foods are unhealthy, is too broad to be refutable, and therefore people who believe the statement aren't showing epistemic closure.  The problem is that AFAIK there's no evidence to support the statement, so people who are convinced of it in the absence of evidence are showing a certain close-mindedness that's evidence of epistemic closure.  I guess I should hasten to add that I'm no close follower of the field, and I do vaguely recall concerns that gene transfer from allergenic species to non-allergenic species could be dangerous to some people, but there's almost nothing to back up the statement.

There are more valid reasons to be concerned about GMO foods, especially contamination of wild varietals, but the health issue isn't a good one.  Nothing like the level of closure that we see on the right, but it's still there.

UPDATE:  See the comments - John says we may not be in disagreement on the broader allegation over whether GMO foods are unhealthy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In a world where John Hawkins actually makes sense

Via Sadly No, I came across an intramural battle among rightwingers where the semi-famous Debbie Schlussel accuses many other conservative bloggers of being anti-semitic, none of whom seem to belong to the authentic Pat Buchanan branch of conservative anti-semitism.  One of the accused, climate-denying, bet-dodging, completely ridiculous John Hawkins, posted a response that accurately accuses Schlussel of insanity.

I feel like an anthropologist watching two alien cultures fight it out.  Weird.  There have been plenty of dustups on the left, especially during the Democratic primary battles, but they don't seem to be quite this personal.

The other interesting thing is that it seems pretty clear that one side's correct - the non-Schlussel side.  The right has shown zero capacity to see the truth when it comes to science, so it'll be interesting to see if Schlussel proves the right incapable of detecting truth in any controversy.

Strange to read the genius John Hawkins, whom I've been glad to ignore for a few years, and suddenly start agreeing with what he says for more than a half-sentence in a row.

I'll just finish by noting that Sadly No and the commenters there seem to completely miss that there are right and wrong sides in that particular battle.  They could try being a tiny bit less partisan on the left.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Visual proof that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation

I hate it when I have a good idea and then find out someone's already done a better version of the idea.  This happened with my idea of taking a picture with an infared camera of a fire extinguisher discharging CO2, which I figured should basically look like a black plume.

Jeff S., a friend whose PhD in spectroscopy gives him a knowledge base nearing that of my own derived from watching nature documentaries, clarified that the idea required a heat source and that the CO2 be in between the heat source and the camera.  Various details about camera operation and the frequencies it uses could also affect the outcome.  But the principle should work, and I thought it could be an effective educational tool.

And then, Jeff found that BBC's already done it:



(If the embed doesn't work, you can watch it on Youtube.)

More info here, and a NOVA documentary apparently does something similar (I'll provide an update when I watch it).

What could still be useful is a photo instead of a video, not to mention one that's in the public domain so we could put it up on wikipedia.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More on Intrade and the skewed Climate Bet

(Original post here.  Summary:  people trying to criticize Al Gore set up a skewed bet against him on Intrade, which they are in the process of losing anyway.)

As current global temperatures continue being awful, the Intrade bet between exaggerated warming trends for a ridiculously short 3-year period and no warming clearly supports the high end warming at a 3:1 market ratio right now.  A while after my first post on this subject, I contacted Andreas Grafe, one of the people who set up the bet and who works with climate denialist Scott Armstrong.

To Grafe's credit, he did respond to my first email.  He says he never had an opinion on the climate issue and just wanted to set up a prediction market as part of his academic work on those markets.  He also points out that Armstrong would only expect a slightly greater than 50% chance of winning based on a short time frame, and mentions a longer ten-year time frame on an imaginary-money market (Hubdub) that has now shut down.

However.  No response to my pointing out that the IPCC didn't predict a short term rise of .03C/year in 1990, or the differences with modern IPCC predictions.  He did say that they wanted but couldn't get a ten year period from Intrade, but I think and said that a three year period is so short to be virtually useless.  Never heard back from my second email.

I'd hope that after the Climatebet crowing over "winning" the first 20 months of their bet, that Grafe would distance himself from their nonsense.  Maybe he did a little bit, but if he wants to help with useful prediction markets, he needs something better than this.