Thursday, March 28, 2013

Laughing at those who laugh at science

Chris Mooney had one of his usual good Point of Inquiry shows back in November that I just caught, an interview with Michael Gordin, who wrote The Pseudoscience Wars. Gordin considers the idiot Velikovsky to be one of the originators of modern pseudoscience. Astronomers of the time tried denouncing him, tried ignoring him, and then Carl Sagan even tried engaging and refuting his nonsense one step at a time. None of it worked. Instead, just as science advances one funeral at a time, pseudoscience sometimes gets scrubbed away one funeral at a time. Nobody cares about Velikovsky any more.

It's still unclear how to handle idiotic attacks on science. A latest idiotic attack by people who don't understand science and therefore respond by laughing at it, is an attack stating the study of evolution of duck genitalia is so stupid that it's funny. At the link, Carl Zimmer disposes of the idiots, but I think he's using Carl Sagan's technique of engaging and refuting them on the facts. As Sagan found out, that doesn't really work.

Eli's trick has been to engage, refute, and laugh at the science deniers. I think it's worth a shot but I don't know if it'll work, and I've not quite figured out the right tone to take myself. I've also tried engage, don't refute, just bet them, but that hasn't gone all that far. I can't figure out how to bet people who laugh at the scientific value of biology experiments, so maybe just laughing at those people is the best bet right now. The experiment of figuring out how to handle pseudoscience will have to continue.

My carbon or yours?

So our water district staff presented how they thought we could reach carbon neutrality by 2020. Depending on how you do the numbers, we became carbon neutral without even trying.

A lot depends on this:

(Full presentation via scrolling to March 26 2013, Item 4.1)

That's how much energy's used to cradle-to-grave a water drop from the Sierras to the outflow of a wastewater treatment plant. My district is a water wholesaler - we handle the first three steps, and then a water retailer (either a private company or city government) buys the water from us, gets it to the end user, and picks it up from there to a sewage treatment plant. You can see the main energy use is the end user, mainly because they heat it. Our staff argues that end use is by the end user, not our responsibility, and I said I'd have to chew on it. Any thoughts? Possibly relevant is that the vast majority of water we sell them never gets heated, so that end use figure conflates some very high and much lower energy using water together.

This is important not only because it says we're not causing that lion's share of energy use, but because our water conservation programs are focused on end users, so reducing their usage could be counted as an offset. That gets us to carbon neutrality pretty easily if you accept numbers that no one's really going to accept, but still more easily than I expected even with more realistic assumptions.

In other news, the Army Corps of Engineers is drawing a reasonable amount of tax money from our county but not funding many flood control or San Francisco Bay restoration projects. You can hear what passes for a "concerned statement" on my part below:

If the link's bad, click here, go to March 26 2013, and the video segment is from 1:57:50 to  1:59:04.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My "prediction": Tolkien was a wrestler

Off topic, but still a prediction in that I don't know the answer:  I think Tolkien wrestled in his youth. When you read his description of armed combat, it's pretty simple and somewhat vague, but when it becomes unarmed combat, suddenly every single motion gets described and punching takes a distant second place to grappling.

Maybe it's out there somewhere, but I've looked around and not read much about Tolkien's athleticism - some brief mention of tennis and rugby at Oxford, but that's about it.

Anyway, I always thought his description of physical combat demonstrated the saying, write what you know. Maybe sometime I'll find out if my prediction's right.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Have some denial spaghetti

Original, clean, persuasive chart from Skeptical Science:

BTW, as much as Hansen 1988 has been proven right despite fraudulent misrepresentations of what he said, the first consensus view like this one from 1990 is probably the best place to test consensus predictions.

Enter Deltoid:

Ridley doesn't look very good, and his escape attempts don't work.

Anyway, I want to play:

Lindzen is from his 2004 prediction that temps were as likely to go down as up in 20 years, and his offer to bet over that prediction that he ran away from as fast as his denialist legs could take him (by insisting on unscientific odds in his favor). To be fair, he didn't specify exactly what temps would do between 2004 and 2024, but we've eaten a big chunk of that time period already. You could also be more generous to Lindzen than I've been - his bet offer was reported on November 10 2004, I assume it had been his position for at least a little while and picked mid 2004 as the start. If instead, you pushed the start to as close to that 2005 peak as possible, then he might not look that bad to you. If you want to do that, please please let me know that you'd like to bet over it, 3:1 odds in your favor sound great to me.

Don Easterbrook, one of the bad Easterbrooks, said in 2006 that temps would decline "soon" and keep cool until 2040. Who knows what soon means, I assumed 2007. We're over one-sixth of the way through his time period though - a reasonably soon date would've started by now.  I chose a slightly declining slope for his prediction, I'm not aware of him being more specific. And yes, he's also ignored my effort to get him to bet over his prediction.

I'm happy to add others as long as they're at least semi-prominent and claim scientific credentials. Abdusamatov and Sorokhtin both predicted declines starting around 2012, so we can add them soon.

For good stuff on predictions, try the good Easterbrook. I don't consider the Christy/Spencer '95 ref to be a prediction though, it was just wrong stuff about satellites, and strangely for them finds a warming trend (UPDATE:  due to greenhouse effects) of .09C/decade, not all that far off the mark.

For where the models do seem to be getting things wrong, try Stoat's concern about Arctic ice:
even with the junk removed I fear you’d find the obs retreat faster than the models; and I’m beginning to wear thin the idea that this is just a few years anomaly. So, really, we need better models and a better understanding of what is going wrong with the current models.

My unscientific addendum is wondering whether models are getting frequency of La Ninas wrong for whatever reason, pushing more heat into the ocean than expected, and where the heat will get its revenge on us later (when is that, by the way?).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shameless self-promotion, Part Two

So the contest of Solutions for Planetary Stability continues, and both of the solutions I entered (former blog posts) have made it to the finalist stage. That sounds a little better than it is - they have a lot of company that also made it through as finalists.

The contest organizer, Sustainable Silicon Valley, encourages entrants to go out and drum up support for their solutions in a crowd-sourcing vote contest. If you like my solutions, please hop online and vote!

Solution #1:  Greening the Chambers - this solution works on increasing the green business/clean tech participation in San Francisco Bay Area Chambers of Commerce, with the dual goals of encouraging local environmental action and pressuring the US Chamber of Commerce to stop harming green business through its anti-climate activity. I'm very serious about this one, by the way - I'd consider it a career-topping life accomplishment to end the US Chamber's role in fighting action over climate.

Solution #2:  A first practical step towards a Vehicle-to-Grid system - using Electric Vehicle battery systems as backup power supplement during power outages for organizations that need 24/7 power. This would be a V2G system that would provide practical benefits if your organization owns several dozen EVs, instead of needing many thousands, and simplifies some of the technical and regulatory complexity of transitioning to a smart grid.

So if you like them or want to read up and vote for other solutions, first click here to register, then click here to read and vote for the Greening the Chambers entry, click here to vote for the Vehicle to Grid entry, or here to see all the solutions (all of them including non-finalists can receive votes). The crowdsource contest is officially independent of the expert judgment contest, but I'm sure that getting popular support is going to be helpful.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Shameless self-promotion, Part One

Following Eli's Twitter lead (@EthonRaptor), I'm Brian Schmidt @backseatdriving, where I talk about  some of the same stuff as here and other randomness.  A recent tweet discusses how important operations and maintenance budgets are to public infrastructure funding - subscribe now to get still more riveting/enthralling tweets along the same lines!

And rather than leaving all the shameless self-promotion to me, feel free to post a comment with your Twitter handle and a sentence or two about your tweets.

Friday, March 22, 2013

About as good as I can get

I'm sure other folks can top this

UPDATE:  Eli can try?. (the curve scarily follows the frame)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rose gets stuck on statistical significance

Too many takedowns to count for David Rose who doesn't realize that short-term fluctuations in temperature tell you little about long term trends.  The latest case is that according to one computer model, the temperature sequence ending in 2012 is close to the bottom edge of the statistical uncertainty range, a point where there's only supposed to be a 5% chance that random variation produces a temperature below the modeled range. Rose thinks this means an end to warming.

The above link shows a broader set of models gives a wider uncertainty range.  And anyway, it's within the uncertainty range for the more sensitive model albeit near the lower edge.

The being near the edge is where our Rose gets stuck. A little over two years ago, Rose declared that global warming had halted since 1995. His proof - while measured temperature had risen since 1995, the amount of rise was only near the edge of being statistically significant:
Phil Jones replies: "The key statement here is 'not statistically significant'. It wasn't for these years at the 95% level, but it would have been at the 90% level. If you add the value of 0.52 in for 2010 and look at 1995 to 2010 then the warming is statistically significant at the 95% level." [What this means is that the warming trend for the past few years previously met a lower test of statistical significance. With addition of the results so far for 2010, it now means the higher test.]
So according to Rose, being near the edge may as well be proof if it's on the cold side, but means nothing at all if it's on the warm side.

Might also be worth noting that given decades of data, random variation will actually push the actual result outside the 5%-95% band at some points.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are we at the "then they fight you" stage?

I think it's promising that climate denialists in Congress feel a need to actively fight against carbon taxes and a "fee and dividend" proposed legislation. Given that the legislation has zero shot of passing before 2017, I'm glad that the forces of status quo feel the need to fight it.

The article at the first link is good but flawed, with the incorrect and uncited statement, "Economists favor a carbon tax over cap-and-trade as more efficient and transparent". A tax gives greater certainty on costs but less on carbon emissions than cap-and-trade. It's a less efficient and less transparent way to achieve a proposed level of emissions, but more efficient and more transparent way to demonstrate the costs.

This part's good:
most new versions of the tax, including Boxer/Sanders, would include a border tariff on the carbon content of imports that is equivalent to the tax. That would create a big incentive for exporting countries like China to impose their own carbon tax so as to keep the revenue. 
Opponents clearly think the idea is gaining traction and want to stop it before it gets too far.
I'm looking forward to seeing something similar in Europe and Australia, providing the same incentive to us that we'd like to provide to China. I do think though that at least half of the revenue from an import tariff from a developing country should be sent back to exporter to help reduce their emissions.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Trans Canada's Humpty Dumpty wrote Obama's environmental review of Keystone. Nothing unusual about it, sadly.

Brad Johnson writes that the Environmental Impact Statement giving a fairly decent review was written by, wait for it, a consultant hired for that purpose by Trans Canada, the applicant for the permit.

Conflict of interest, you say? Humpty Dumpty says a conflict of interest is what he says it is and no more, and in the best Washington DC scandal sense, my sense is that this is legal.

I should qualify that by saying I don't know federal environmental review (NEPA) law as well as California's equivalent (CEQA) law, but this would pretty much be allowed under California law, and CEQA is usually stronger than NEPA. Here I am banging on about this, nearly 6 years ago:
In most Bay Area cities, when a developer applies for a permit that requires the city to do environmental review, the developer pays a fee and the city then uses the fee money to hire expert consultants to prepare the environmental report. San Jose, by contrast, allows the developer to directly select and hire the environmental consultants who prepare an administrative draft of the environmental report. While San Jose may then modify the administrative draft, the developer-controlled draft is biased to play down the impacts. The direct expertise is in the hands of people loyal to the developers, not to the City or to a neutral evaluation process.
While most Bay Area cities have moved away from this, San Jose still hasn't, and it's still legal.  Almost as embarrassing, my own water district has the same bad policy (it's on my to-do list and we almost never issue complicated permits for private parties anyway, so there). Now under CEQA, an agency can get in theoretical trouble if it can be shown they rubber-stamped the document they received from the developer's consultants, but you know that happens anyway, and the bias will survive regardless. I'm not sure what the standard is under NEPA and whether they've met it, but given the scrutiny, they probably have.

There is another check on the developer bias - an environmental report can be challenged in court, and going too far in one direction will make it legally vulnerable. By express legal design, however, the courts favor agencies over plaintiffs for the more extensive environmental reviews, and many reviews never get challenged by anybody.

There's been some noise in California about "reforming" CEQA, mostly to make it easier to get projects done. I'm not adverse to some deals on it, but the type of reform I'm talking about hasn't seen much discussion.

For a contrary opinion to the idea that Keystone won't have much of a climate effect, read NRDC.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

We should admire and learn from them

That is all.*

*Except that I'm breaking my own rule of not posting a hotlink without also giving people some idea of what it's about.  I'm annoyed when bloggers do that.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Add lead-bullet poisoning denialism to the crank magnetism list

This one was new to me:
Fresh off a wave of success in the state Capitol last year, animal welfare groups are taking aim at a new target this year: hunting with lead ammunition.

The Humane Society, Audubon California and Defenders of Wildlife are behind a major push to make California the first state to ban lead ammunition for all types of hunting....

....environmentalists say a statewide ban is needed because overwhelming scientific evidence shows condors, bald eagles and other birds are still dying from lead poisoning when they eat dead deer and other animals shot by hunters.... 
"These people want to ban hunting. Go to their cocktail parties and snuggle up to them, and that's what they'll tell you," said Don Saba, a member of the NRA board of directors.... 
Saba, a Tuscon, Ariz., resident who has a doctorate in toxicology from UC Berkeley, appeared last August at a state Fish and Game Commission meeting to question the science linking condor poisoning to bullets.... 
Scientists say it's clear bullets are to blame for the lead poisoning. They have published studies that match isotope ratios of lead in condors' feathers to isotope ratios in lead bullets.

Saba says that lead paint and other substances, like lead from batteries, also can have the same ratios, and that condors may be eating paint from old fire lookout towers, eating lead in dumps or finding it other ways. But researchers dispute those claims.

"What is lacking is any evidence -- and certainly no published evidence -- to substantiate their claims," said Don Smith, a professor of microbiology and toxicology at UC Santa Cruz.

Biologists track the birds with GPS and observe them closely, Smith noted. "They are not going to lots of fire towers to eat paint. They are not eating wheel weights off wheels," he said. "There isn't one shred of evidence they have to support any of that."

Evidence that they don't like, doesn't exist. One more for crank magnetism.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ten years since the Iraq invasion, many more years with Iranian threat inflation

James Fallows thinks about the ten year anniversary of the Iraq invasion. He says he'd like to hear from the liberal war hawks and what they've learned.  I don't quite fit that category - not always a liberal for one thing, and was undecided rather than a supporter of the war.  I did believe the WMD stories, and that getting rid of an entrenched dictator could be enormously valuable (I've lived in two dictatorships and had a taste of them).

On the latter issue of overthrowing dictatorship, I think I've learned a distaste for putting American boots on the ground absent clear popular support, which is why I opposed the Afghanistan war expansion but supported doing what we did in Libya, and doing something and not the nothing we've done so far in Syria.

On the former issue of WMDs, Fallows makes an excellent point about "threat inflation", that threats are almost always portrayed as far worse and more imminent than is actually true, and gives some examples.  I've been thinking about Iran's nuclear threat, and it turns out in 2011, Christian Science Monitor had a good description of that over time.  Here's a condensed version:
1992: Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the US."

1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tells French TV that Iran was set to have nuclear warheads by 1999. "Iran is the greatest threat and greatest problem in the Middle East," Peres warned, "because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militancy."

1995: The New York Times conveys the fears of senior US and Israeli officials that "Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought" – about five years away – and that Iran’s nuclear bomb is “at the top of the list” of dangers in the coming decade.

1998: The same week, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile – one that could hit the US – within five years. The CIA gave a timeframe of 12 years.
I think we should forever rename Netanyahu as Bibi "Iran Will Have Nukes in 1997" Netanyahu, and never again take seriously anything he says.  As Kevin Drum says, we're also far better off to discount significantly any claimed threat elsewhere.

UPDATE:  thought I'd add that the new Republican willingness to cut the defense budget may be complicating budget negotiations, but otherwise it's a good thing and might lead to less adventurism.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The expert exception to consensus reliance

I've really enjoyed Chris Mooney's Point of Inquiry podcasts, so it's too bad the latest one with pro-GMO activist Mark Lynas failed to wrestle significantly with real arguments about GMOs (Chris, you talk about GMOs too much to say you don't want to delve into technical issues).

One interesting issue did come out of the podcast - at one point Lynas says the Union of Concerned Scientists' rejection of the National Academy of Sciences position on GMOs is a contradiction of UCS arguments that we should rely on the consensus opinion on climate change.  I've argued something similar before, that the expert consensus should basically just plug in as fact in policy discussion, but there's one exception - if you yourself are an expert in that field, I think you could conclude that you're right and the consensus is wrong.  Presumably UCS could make this conclusion.

It takes a lot of hubris to conclude you're right and the other 90% of the experts are wrong. You might carefully examine whether you're missing something little or something big, and withhold judgment for a while. In the end though if you feel like you really understand the issue, you don't have a choice but to conclude what you conclude.

So what should happen next depends on who you are.  If you're the dissenting expert, you should work to move the consensus in your direction.  If you're someone else, the dissenter is just a dissenter, and only if there's enough of them to disrupt the consensus do we need to worry about them.

So no change to the big picture, but I disagree with Lynas that experts are required to toe the line of an expert consensus when they disagree with that consensus.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Another way to look at it: China and India committed to permanent greehouse gas advantage for the US (and Marco Rubio is lying)

News recently announced that China plans to enact a carbon tax, along with its longstanding commitment to never match US per-capita emission rates, and India's greater commitment to never match OECD rates, all suggest a need to look at emissions a different way.

What matters is total emissions over the modern time period from the recent past until several generations (at least) into the future.  There has to be a limit, that limit has to be divided among nations, and that division has to take population into account at some level.  The US can't be expected to produce the same total emissions as Mexico, and China can't be expected to produce the same as the US.

So if we set a per-capita limit, with China and India agreeing that for all of the 20th Century and for much of the 21st Century that the US can produce more per-capita, then the total per-capita emissions over the two centuries (or even just the 21st Century) will be far greater for the US.  China and India are saying they're willing to accept that outcome.

China and India could easily have taken a different stance, and said that because the US produces more emissions per-capita in the first 50 years of the 21st Century (let alone the previous century), then they should be allowed to produce more per-capita in the second half.  Instead they are planning to do more than we are doing.

For Republicans like Marco Rubio to say the rest of the world is doing nothing and therefore we shouldn't either, when China and India have actually committed to do more than the US by having total lower emissions, is outrageous.  And no matter how you slice it, Rubio is lying about India repeatedly - even with three times the US population it is not "polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are" - their total emissions are one-third of ours.  Rubio is lying, and the rest of them are deceptive.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

California cap-trade passes second test better than first

California's cap-and-trade passed, barely, its first test last fall with an auction price that just barely exceeded the $10/ton minimum price.  The second auction of carbon allowances last week went better, with all carbon allowances selling at $13.62/ton, right in the middle of the expected range of $11-15/ton.  The amount of carbon allowances released for auction isn't so big that regulated buyers figured they only needed to pay the minimal amount because it would only take minimal effort to comply with or buy allowances later, nor was it so little that buyers were forced to pay top dollar and would then come screaming that the political system is demanding more change than is economically feasible.

Coming in at another $3/ton also means more money available to fund the other important parts of California's climate mitigation plan.  Finally, half the 2016 allowances were sold, which is fine - the market has another way to satisfy the same demand by selling them as futures.

So far, the California system seems to be doing a lot better than Europe's.  Probably not a huge surprise - we got to see what didn't work.

Incremental progress - we just need more of it and faster.