Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spotted: the elusive alarmist equivalent to denialists

RealClimate has a good writeup on a small NGO whose analysis is that temperatures will rise 2.4C by 2020, an increase that's not far from the low end of what mainstream analyses think can happen by 2100.

I think this example helps explain the process that a denialist goes through with the denialist's own ridiculous analysis. In the NGO's case, they took a relatively simple equation used to calculate the equilibrium result for climate change based on increased CO2, and applied it themselves, without seeming to care that all the established climatologists had totally different result. Unsurprisingly, they did it wrong.

It seems like a combination of incredible hubris, thinking they could do a simple thing right that everyone else had done wrong for some reason, and further thought, according to journalist Stephen Leahy, something like "well at least it will get a conversation going about this important issue." In other words, accuracy is less important than getting attention in the direction they want to see it go.

Straight denialist-like/skeptic-like motivations, with the exception of a few denialists who may be completely lying or utterly uninterested in the accuracy of their claims.

UPDATE: And of course, I personally would never take a simple argument, like tidal amplification, and claim to find a new effect that no one's ever noticed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Random comments I've posted elsewhere

On whether the Singularity's a problem:

Those who deny the Singularity also have to assume a near-future end to Moore’s Law and virtually no improvement thereafter. I think the contrary assumption is more probable, that Moore’s Law will continue to operate and may even accelerate in the 21st Century (and beyond, but that’s not essential).

I think it takes little imagination, that someone, somewhere, will use AI to make our lives better. I don’t expect AI to instantly turn our smart toasters into killing machines, and maybe they never will, but 10-20 Moore’s Law generations after the point of AI sapience, we’ll have little choice over the outcome.

We also might merge with the machines, but again, the biological part won’t be able to keep up with the non-biological part for very long.

On whether the biologists critiquing evolutionary psychology go on to condemn the entire field (I'm going to come back to this, it's relevant to climate denialism):

Carl, I think Coyne would disagree with your statement that he thinks evo psych can’t be done at all. This is from your link to him:

“Now I don’t oppose evolutionary psychology on principle. The evolutionary source of our behavior is a fascinating topic, and I’m convinced that the genetic influences are far stronger than, say, posited by anti-determinists like Dick Lewontin, Steve Rose, and Steve Gould. Evolved adaptations are particularly likely to be found in sexual behavior, which is intimately connected with the real object of selection: the currency of reproduction. I’m far closer in my views on this topic to Steve Pinker than to Steve Gould. And there are many good studies in the field, so I don’t mean to tar the whole endeavor.”

An older one on why the Obama administration took so long to partially fix the Republican War on Science:

One potential reason for delay is that there was an internal battle between this okay document versus pure drivel, this okay document versus something with more heft, or a combination of both. Just speculating.

And on a denialist claim that you can construct a climate model to say anything:

I’m not aware of any climate models that fail to show warming. I think Mr. Calhoun is talking out of his hat. And it’s not like the coal and oil industry is too poor to create a model. My guess is that they’ve fooled around with it privately, but the mangling they have to do to get the outcome they want is so bad that they’ve never trotted it out. Yet more evidence against the denialists, as if more was needed.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Obama responsibility period began this week

With exactly two years since Obama's inauguration having passed, I'm somewhat arbitrarily picking this as the time where his administration bears greater responsibility for anything done well or poorly by the executive branch than any previous administration. Credit and blame can be adjusted on a case by case basis - for example, Bush bears more responsibility for 9/11 than Clinton because he downgraded counter-terrorism efforts - but as a general matter this makes some sense to me.

A different question is when the current administration bears more responsibility than all previous administrations combined. I'd give about four years for that one.

I realize these are somewhat unfair and rushed periods, saying that a president has the responsibility to fix the mistakes of previous 200 years in four, but it's not supposed to be an easy job.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Global coolers not fessing up, and a SECOND not-wrong (?) Roger Pielke Jr. post

Green Grok catches a few denialists saying in 2008 that we're about to cool off, and asks them to fess up (Watts Up, of course is one of them). Good luck with the fessing up, though.

Deltoid had something similar with Andrew Bolt, who's equally unlikely to fess up.

I seem to see Don Easterbrook showing up more often in various places for who knows why. He predicts cooling, but won't bet on it.

In other news, 2011 is off to a good start. The year's barely begun and yet there's a post by Roger Pielke Jr. that's not obviously wrong, claiming the media does a decent job of portraying scientific understanding of sea level rise. While I didn't exactly RTFR as Eli Rabett demands, I did skim TFR that the post is based on and it still looks okay, and both the post and FR are free of hippie-punching. Progress! RP Jr also had a not-wrong post in 2010, and quite likely more that I've simply missed.

BTW, I swear I was going to skip the snarking, but on my way to recover Roger's post, I found this regarding climate change and tropical storms:

It is simply logical that a signal that cannot be seen for decades is not immediately relevant to judgments of near-term risk.
No, it's not logical to say that when we can derive damage from climate change, even if we can't distinguish it from the huge amounts of noise.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What I've been up to at the Water District

Thought I'd cross reference some posts I've done for my Water District blog. I'll have to decide whether they're really relevant here or not for future posts. As I've said before, the work is turning out to be more about good government than straight environmentalism, but the two concepts certainly overlap when you're talking about watershed restoration, flood control, and water supply.

Somewhat? That's putting it mildly.

What a relief to have Gage and Vice Chairwoman Linda LeZotte at the district's helm. Along with Brian Schmidt, they were elected in November as reformers. Having them head the board for the next two years -- the vice chairman generally ascends to chairman -- should reset the district's course.


The district for years has been distracted by board and management blunders. Now it can concentrate on the critical work of protecting our water supply, including shoring up dams that are vulnerable to earthquakes.

At the risk of repetition: What a relief.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Steps toward burning biomass in coal plants

Science Daily reports on progress towards making it feasible to burn biomass in coal power plants, using the "torrefaction" process to reduce plants to a burnable powder. I read Joe Romm a year or two ago talking about using biomass at coal plants, and this is another step in that direction.

The importance isn't just in a new potential carbon-neutral power source - it means potentially co-opting the coal power industry away from denialism and opposition to action. The coal mining industry would obviously have a different view, but this could strip them of an ally.

It's important politically as much as in any other way.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The housecleaning:global climatic disruption analogy

I've been giving this analogy a lot of thought.

Current housecleaning situation: not bad. Everything I own is scattered on the floor, where it's easily seen and retrieved. I just release whatever I'm currently holding and no longer want, and pick up the thing I do want.

The problem is this isn't sustainable into the future. I know to a near certainty that if I don't do something to mitigate the floorhouse covering, then Global Housecleaning will occur, and I'll be forced to adapt. Adaptation is definitely suboptimal, because things will be Put Away where I can Never Find Them Again.

The analogy to climate mitigation also works, because I can avoid Global Housecleaning through the mitigation step of putting things away myself, which results in a slightly better chance of being able to find them. However, I don't like doing this, and I still have trouble finding things that are put away, so even though I know it's better for all concerned to lead with mitigation, what I end up with is often adaptation.

I suppose I could be mitigating right now, instead of blogging. Or maybe I can do that tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Let the voters decide the California budget, through a pendulum-arbitration-style vote

Jonathan Zasloff has a great idea for addressing California's budget crisis: each of the two main political parties presents a budget to the voters, with an honest description by the Legislative Analyst's office, and the voters get to choose one. There's some hand-wringing in the comments about how this could be established, but a constitutional amendment voter initiative seems like the way to do it to me.

This sounds much like pendulum arbitration, which tends to force each side to be reasonable - if it's not reasonable, then the other side wins. Voters have enacted so many limits on legislative budgeting (and I'm guilty of voting for some of them) that we might as well force voters to take responsibility for this.

My one hesitation is that the passage of Proposition 25 means only a majority and not two-thirds of the legislature is needed to pass a budget. Maybe that will start fixing things. OTOH, this is a way to put taxes and budgets on the same level, instead of requiring a two-thirds vote.

More generally, I think progressives need to get over the fact that conservatives sometimes win voter initiatives, and just get out there and fight for good ones, like Proposition 25 and medical marijuana have proven to be.