Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch Has Died

Word comes that Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch has died.  It is one of the sadnesses of living to watch those you like and respect die.  In a strange way Rick left his statement of being at Climate Science Watch just before he went into the hospital, responding to one of the usual suspects who was trying a double Dunning-Kruger with backflips, just the sort of thing Rick hated:
"I did my graduate study in political science and my undergraduate in experimental psychology, at Michigan, long ago. I listen to leading climate scientists, I know leading climate scientists. I would never pass myself off as one.  
I have been focused first and foremost on the problem of global warming and climatic disruption since Jim Hansen testified in 1988. I came to that interest, as with other environmental, natural resource, and energy issues I have worked on for the past 35 years, primarily from the policy side. I spent four years on the professional staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and 10 years in a senior staff position in the U.S. Global Change Research Program Coordination Office here in Washington (that's the $2 billion multiagency program that supports the research and observing systems on climate and global change).  
During those years I became very attuned to what I came to refer to as the "collision" between the world of climate science and the realities of Washington politics. I saw how politicians in Washington used, misused, and denied what scientists were telling them, and how difficult it was to make this essential communication channel function productively.  
So at this point I know considerably more science than most people in the arena of policy and politics, and more about the latter than most scientists. My project, and whatever contribution it makes, is primarily aimed at government accountability in national policymaking. I have an analysis and an approach for doing that, and Climate Science Watch is the vehicle via which I and various collaborators express that.  
At this point, I think the discourse about climate change, certainly at the power elite level, is shifting, or has shifted, from what we might call the science-policy nexus, toward questions about economics, business, politics, energy policy, national security planning, and so forth. I can deal with that and that's where our attention is moving, I think.  
Of course there are many important scientific questions about the physical climate system to research, and I spent quite a few years doing what I could to encourage bipartisan support for a strong research program, regardless of people's policy disagreements. But this is not a science education and debate site, and the discourse about unresolved research issues on the physical climate system are well-argued in many other venues by people with serious qualifications.
But when Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal put out a piece with a "take no action" slant on the eve of a big UN climate summit and climate movement rally, I take what the WSJ is doing as essentially a political gesture. They print only 'skeptic' or 'contrarian' pieces, there's no real balance in their coverage, they are trying to frame a political narrative for the corporate elite. When there's an opportunity to post something with an alternative view, that raises questions about what they've published, I can do that. I don't have to be able to resolve the science issues in order to do it."
Rick will be missed.

Winner of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling (2006).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Does Africa Need Telephone Poles

Eli, being Eli, has been excessively annoyed by the trolls at the Breakdown Institute.  True, they are excellent trolls, whose mission in life is to demand the impossible and denigrate the possible, a tried and true tactic if your purpose is to block all progress and, indeed they do appear to be prospering.

But never mind.  If you really must, go read their twitter blather.  Eli enjoys trolling the trolls a bit, and you might too.

However, the real point of this post is to point out that thanks to modern progress there now are cell phones which have made it possible to erect a functioning telecommunications, entertainment, information and banking systems in very rural and very poor areas including the megaslums of third world cities.  Eli would venture so far as to say that we have tools to electrify about every hut on the planet, if, by that you mean a light or two, a cell phone, and smart cell phones are pretty much mainframe computers compared to mainframe computers in the 1970s (remember the 1401 JohnM, first computer Eli ever programmed).  As anybunny walking through the streets or fields knows there is all sorts of educational and entertaining stuff that can be seen through small screens and if you must have a computer there is always as Raspberry PI.

White LEDs and even compact fluorescents have brought down the amount of energy that has to be generated for lighting, and lighting is no small part of what makes life worth living (ask Abraham Lincoln) and of energy use.  That Nobel Prize was well deserved.  Maybe even some refrigeration.  Refrigerators, insulation and compressors have become more effective and there might even be nanohelp for thermoelectrics.  A small solar array, a small windmill, maybe a bigger village windmill and a couple of storage batteries is the way to the good, or at least much better, life.

Which brings Eli to the point, the point, or rather points that one can read in an IEA report on energy use and needs and Africa.  In dense urban areas and even between then telephone poles carrying power from a central distribution system can be the most economical.  However, Eli senses a certain optimism that in very poor areas those poles and the wires on them are going to stay up for long, a point that the report itself makes in describing oil harvesting in the Niger Delta.

Still, once you have to put up a long line to reach a small village, things change radically

and the graph on the left shows by how much.  The graph on the right has a more interesting point for the Lomborg's of the world, who are claiming that Africa needs coal (like a hole in the head, sub-Saharan Africa will be hit harder by climate change than any other area, and even Tol agrees on that, as does just about every other IAM purveyor).  The major cost per MWh of fossil fuel is the cost of the fuel.  The amount of capital needed to build the generator is less than 5% or so.  However, for solar PV, small hydro, and small wind capital costs are more than ~80% of the cost of power, operating costs are maybe the other 20%.  Even now solar and wind are less expensive than fossil fuel, and they will be much less so in the future.  They are orders of magnitude more deployable and not as subject to mayhem.  Moreover, efficient modern lighting, telecommunications, cooling, other conveniences and necessities don't have large power draws.

That means that if anyone, are you there Bjorn, how about you Michael Shellenberger, really wanted to help Africa electrify they would be pushing investment by the developed countries to provide cheap to operate solar PV, small hydro and small wind to African communities, not coal and fossil fuel burning plants with expensive and constant fuel costs and the need of a hard to maintain electrical grid.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Monday, October 06, 2014

Eli Is Happy to Announce

That the San Jose Mercury News has strongly endorsed Brian Schmidt for the Santa Clara Valley Water District 

He is informed, diligent and ethical. And he's not afraid to talk about ideas in public. We like that in a public official.
Eli agrees.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

So David Rose, Tamsin Edwards, and Tony Watts Walk Into Nick Lewis' Bar

is the start of a hilarious joke, yet Eli lacks a punch line.  Sophie Yeo writes of a dinner thrown by Nick Lewis
Twelve scientists and sceptics have met privately to discuss how to suck the venom out of the climate change debate.

It was one of science’s strangest social events to date.
Eli enjoys British arch expressions well put, but hilarity ensues
 Some of the best known names in the climate debate – including Mail on Sunday journalist David Rose, blogger Anthony Watts, and Met Office scientist Richard Betts – shared salmon and civilities at a dinner party last month.
Sou writes daily of Willard Tony's lack of self awareness and Eli's suspicion is that Tamsin Edwards must be a distant descendent of Emile Coue, still, in the face of world class competition David Whitehouse brings the house down in a quote fed to Yeo
“Both sides are really fed up with the outrageous alarmists who are not representing science properly. Both don’t like those who shout about it and call people names and take a polarised point of view,” says David Whitehouse from the sceptic thinktank The Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Eli, Eli is simply not up to dealing with this, so the Bunny outsources to Paul Krugman writing about Nick Lewis' ilk
When the going gets tough, the people losing the argument start whining about civility. I often find myself attacked as someone who believes that anyone with a different opinion is a fool or a knave; as I’ve tried to explain, however, that’s mainly selection bias. I don’t spend much time on areas where reasonable people can disagree, because there are so many important issues where one side really is completely unreasonable.
for example, whether the rise in the airborne fraction of CO2 has been caused by humans.  Still, Krugman is right and he is right when he continues
 Relatedly, obviously someone can disagree with my side and still be a good person. On the other hand, there are a lot of bad people engaged in economic debate — and I don’t mean that they’re wrong, I mean that they argue in bad faith.
Perhaps in this context a word change or two but given the cottage industry in trying to beat back the numerous bad faith arguments made in denial of our changing our only planet and its climate not for the better, the Rabett might point out, why yes, bad faith arguments are everywhere

Illustration looking glassed from Stephen Kade Illustration blog

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Eli Is Busy

Go read Ray Pierrehumbert in Slate on the Koonin follies

Let’s imagine you are a smoker and go to the doctor with a variety of troubling physical complaints. She tells you, “Well, a lot of these troubles are typically associated with smoking, but you don’t have cancer yet and the fact is we don’t know everything about the precise biochemical pathways that connect smoking to cancer, and anyway there’s always the chance you’ll get emphysema before you get cancer.” If you were to apply Koonin’s reasoning to this situation, your response would be, “OK, Doc, I’ll wait to give up smoking until you can tell me exactly how it will kill me and when.” 
Climate science is settled enough (Bunnies read it here) to provide the policy guidance that matters most, namely that there is an urgent need for halting, and eventually reversing, the worldwide growth in carbon dioxide emissions. At a time when essentially nothing effective is being done, it is pointless to fret, as Koonin does, about exactly how much reduction is optimal—the clear answer from climate science is: “The more the better, the sooner the better, and whatever we actually do is apt to be less than what is really needed, though worth doing nonetheless.” Major policy decisions are routinely made in economic and national security areas in the face of far greater uncertainty than prevails in climate science.
and Stefan Rahmstorf at Real Climate explains why the recent jeremiad by David Victor and Charles Kennel advocating giving up on the 2 C limit is hogwash rooted in ignorance (physicist type)
Victor  & Kennel claim the 2 °C guardrail was “uncritically adopted”. They appear to be unaware of the fact that it took almost twenty years of intense discussions, both in the scientific and the policy communities, until this limit was agreed upon. As soon as the world’s nations agreed at the 1992 Rio summit to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”, the debate started on how to specify the danger level and operationalize this goal. A “tolerable temperature window” up to 2 °C above preindustrial was first proposed as a practical solution in 1995 in a report by the German government’s Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). It subsequently became the climate policy guidance of first the German government and then the European Union. It was formally adopted by the EU in 2005.
However, Eli believes that, at least as far as the US Government is concerned 3 C is the new 2 C, first the speech by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, covered at RR
Looking ahead, leading estimates suggest that if we see warming of 3° Celsius above preindustrial levels, instead of 2°, we could see additional economic damages of approximately 0.9 percent of global output per. Our Council of Economic Advisers puts this figure into perspective – 0.9 percent of estimated 2014 U.S. GDP is approximately $150 billion. 
Last week, Eli went to a symposium at the Brookings institution about the economic effects of climate change moderated by Robert Rubin and featuring Jacob Lew, US Treasury Secretary.  Lew too indicated that the administration's planning is based on a 3 C temperature increase.  2 C is a done deal
By its nature budget projections are backwards looking.  So as we go through a decade of dramatic weather experiences there is more and more being built into the projections as you see in the size of the disaster relief fund that has grown dramatically over the last decade.   I am not sure it encompases every risk out there but it is catching up.  GDP, as you know better than I, is a complicated model that is imperfect but does bring in both direct and indirect effects with a very high degree of utility.  The projections I referred to that the Council economic advisers did that looks at the impact of three degrees versus two degrees increase in temperature on global GDP reflects the indirect impact of climate through the GDP model.  
People so high in government don't say such things by accident.  Lew summarized
if the debate is about how bad it is going to be,  but we know it is going to be bad that is a enough of a case to act.  The fact that there is no uncertainty about the direction and legitimate debate about the exactly how bad it is shouldn't be a reason not to act
Michael Greenstone, the third member of the panel and a environmental economist at the University of Chicago, actually broke in on Lew to state the real consensus:
There is a line that people have that there is clear consensus among scientists.  I think there is one thing that people don't fully appreciate.  There is a consensus among the economists about what to do about it.  That ranges all the way to Milton Friedman to fill in your favorite left-wing economist who writes for the New York Times.  There is a clear consensus about what to do.  That is when you are engaged in activity that is harming other people, that activity should be pricey.  We should not have a society where it is OK for me to dump garbage in the former secretary's yard.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Enough of This PC1 Nonsense, Time for Something Important

Sometimes a bunny just has to answer a tweet nothing