"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. '...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Alleged Non-Limits to Growth

We presume as given that the energy consumption of the world must reach a finite limit, and consider whether the economy can maintain the imperative for growth. Prominent blogger Matt Yglesias comes up with some feeble handwaving that says it can. Yglesias is wrong.

Physics Prof Tom Murphy puts the endless growth conundrum through its paces and ends up in familiar places.

I'd like to quote this part. (If you don't fully understand it, go read it in context. In fact, go read it anyway. Murphy has had the patience and courage to work through several aspects fo the problem.)
The important result is that trying to maintain a growth economy in a world of tapering raw energy growth (perhaps accompanied by leveling population) and diminishing gains from efficiency improvements would require the “other” category of activity to eventually dominate the economy. This would mean that an increasingly small fraction of economic activity would depend heavily on energy, so that food production, manufacturing, transportation, etc. would be relegated to economic insignificance. Activities like selling and buying existing houses, financial transactions, innovations (including new ways to move money around), fashion, and psychotherapy will be effectively all that’s left. Consequently, the price of food, energy, and manufacturing would drop to negligible levels relative to the fluffy stuff. And is this realistic—that a vital resource at its physical limit gets arbitrarily cheap? Bizarre.

This scenario has many problems. For instance, if food production shrinks to 1% of our economy, while staying at a comparable absolute scale as it is today (we must eat, after all), then food is effectively very cheap relative to the paychecks that let us enjoy the fruits of the broader economy. This would mean that farmers’ wages would sink far lower than they are today relative to other members of society, so they could not enjoy the innovations and improvements the rest of us can pay for. Subsidies, donations, or any other mechanism to compensate farmers more handsomely would simply undercut the “other” economy, preventing it from swelling to arbitrary size—and thus limiting growth.

Another way to put it is that since we all must eat, and a certain, finite fraction of our population must be engaged in the production of food, the price of food cannot sink to arbitrarily low levels. The economy is rooted in a physical world that has historically been joined at the hip to energy use (through food production, manufacturing, transport of goods in the global economy). It is fantastical to think that an economy can unmoor itself from its physical underpinnings and become dominated by activities unrelated to energy, food, and manufacturing constraints.
I think we are already facing the problems of the real economy (especially food and water) becoming too small a fraction of the symbolic economy. I think Murphy is making the case that this can't possibly work.

How it will fail remains to be seen. An example would be some people starving while farmland is used to make gasoline.

Less obviously, emissions leading to massive climate change might thoroughly dominate over sustainability. That is, so much more "wealth" is tied up in energy than in the environment that we are willing to sacrifice the environment to such an extent that it will actually start to kill us.

Now consider the fact the speculative economy (banking and finance) is also many time larger than the symbolic economy. That is, banking and finance exchanges dominate symbolic exchanges (movies, real estate, fashion, personal computing gadgets) which in turn dominate over food and water. At some point, the decisions of the marketplace become stupid. The food goes away, driving the prices up, pulling the energy-intensive portion of the economy back into play.

What Murphy adds to the analysis is to close the loop. This is not just possible, somethinbg to worry about. On the presumption that the growth imperative can be maintained, it is inevitable, as the growth imperative keeps driving monetary value toward items disconnected from energy.

The real questions are first whether the time of the transition is already at hand, and second, whether we will have the social capacity to transition smoothly to non-growth, or whether disaster will force it upon us.

Endless growth supporting an endless debt-based economy cannot work.

Update: Again I remind everybody of the Ms Fnd n a Lbry

Update: Via Ron Broberg, this graphic from an article (in English) on der Spiegel

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spot the Outlier

Thanks to reader MM for pointing out John Nielsen-Gammon's latest posting at the Houston Chronicle site. It is very much worth a read if you are interested in climate or in Texas. (It happens that I am obsessed with both, as readers probably know.)

I'll steal just one of the stunning graphics as a teaser:

Climate change is now, folks, and this is what it looks like.

Will Texas revert to its normal, already quite variable, range? Well, yeah, probably. Will it ever be too wet again? I wouldn't be surprised. (Remind me to talk about why I believe that year over year climate variability is going to increase almost everywhere. I really don't think most people are thinking about this right. Take note of 2004 and 2007 over on the right side of the figure, for instance.)

But will there be another year like this next year? That's up to the tropical Pacific of all places. Another La Nina year (as some ENSO models predict) might just do us a lot of damage if it pans out the way this one did. Two years in a row like this one would cause permanent environmental damage to Texas. It's hard to imagine many unwatered trees left alive anywhere from El Paso to Texarkana if that happens.

And it's far from clear that the infrastructure would hold up either.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Truth About the Truth About Greenhouse Gases

REVISED

I've been asked to comment on William Happer's "The Truth about Greenhouse Gases", and finding no competent discussion of it anywhere on the first three pages of hits have agreed to take it on.

To give you an idea of the tenor of the document, it starts off modestly, like this:
“The object of the Author in the following pages has been to collect the
most remarkable instances of those moral epidemics which have been
excited, sometimes by one cause and sometimes by another, and to
show how easily the masses have been led astray, and how imitative and
gregarious men are, even in their infatuations and crimes,” wrote Charles
Mackay in the preface to the first edition of his Extraordinary Popular
Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. I want to discuss a contemporary
moral epidemic: the notion that increasing atmospheric concentrations
of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, will have disastrous
consequences for mankind and for the planet. This contemporary
“climate crusade” has much in common with the medieval crusades
Mackay describes, with true believers, opportunists, cynics, money-hungry
governments, manipulators of various types, and even children’s
crusades.
Yes, Happer, who holds a named chair in physics at Princeton, is of the paranoiac school of skepticism, the one that would rather believe in a grand conspiracy than to consider for a minute the possible need for collective action on this matter.

After this blistering start, he takes some time to get warmed up. A few pages go on about how plants like CO2 and CO2 is necessary for life, so we shouldn't call it a pollutant until we start suffocating. This, before taking on the climate question, is plainly putting the cart before the horse, but it takes up a few pages. And by now we are convinced that the reason the fellow is not getting around to making a point is that he hasn't got one.

That is to say, William/Belette/Stoat's point is basically the right approach:
So the question is, how can Happer not be aware of this? He is not obliged to agree with the IPCC report, but he cannot but realise that it is the authoritative voice of the position he disagrees with; he is obliged to at least know what it says and (if he is being honest) he is obliged to report (and then, if he can, refute) its arguments. It is dishonest of him to substitute strawmen.
I summarize the case at greater length than William does:
  • Most of the constituent gases of the atmosphere are transparent at the frequencies of the earth's thermal radiation.
  • Most of the opacity in the infrared ("greenhouse effect") is due to carbon dioxide and water vapor, and clouds (liquid and solid water emulsions) which of course are also opaque to incoming radiation
  • Human activity directly increases carbon dioxide, mostly due to fossil fuel consumption, but also through deforestation and chemical processes related to manufacture of cement. Human activity also affects the radiative properties of the atmosphere via a few other trace greenhouse gases, and via increases in aerosol dust.
  • Finally, human interference in surface processes over land can have large regional effects.
  • As these perturbations increase in rough proportion to economic activity, the carbon dioxide comes to dominate over time because of its long residency in atmosphere-upper-ocean-land system. Though exchanges among these reservoirs is large, that does not reduce the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere. To a first approximation, carbon is removed on the time scale of the deep overturning of the ocean, on the order of a thousand years.
  • While of course the sun is by far the dominant energy source for the system, its variability is small (measured in energy) compared to the disruptions due to greenhouse gases and aerosols. Climate forcing is dominated by anthropogenic effects, of which warming is expected to increasingly dominate.
  • Water vapor feedbacks are well characterized and are known to approximately double the temperature sensitivity of the system. Cloud feedbacks, which potentially might be ameliorating or exacerbating, remain poorly characterized.
  • Various forms of evidence are in rough agreement that sensitivity is on the order of 2.5 degrees per doubling, but the uncertainty has proven stubborn. Probably this is correct within a multiplicative factor of 2, i.e., almost certainly between 1.25 C and 5 C per doubling.
  • Simulation of the atmosphere (using GCMs) is a useful tool within science, but its results should not at present be considered as reliable projections of the future, even given emission scenarios. Simulations are tuned to the present day, be expected to understate risks and fail to represent unprecedented configurations of the climate system.
  • Very little is known about the potential geochemical feedbacks which clearly exacerbated the glacial cycle in the geologically recent past. These could potentially greatly amplify the dangers without actually affecting the sensitivity as usually measured. It is expected and hoped that these feedbacks would take a long time on human scales to appear, but we may be committing future generations to deal with them.
I think all the above is uncontroversial. Happer addresses none of it. What does he come up with instead?

At the bottom of page four we come to the first mention of climate, and we are well into the fifth page before the famous physicist manages to construct the following argument:
The argument starts something like this. CO2 levels have increased from
about 270 ppm to 390 ppm over the past 150 years or so, and the earth
has warmed by about 0.8 C during that time. Therefore the warming is
due to CO2. But correlation is not causation. The local rooster crows every
morning at sunrise, but that does not mean the rooster caused the sun to
rise. The sun will still rise on Monday if you decide to have the rooster for
Sunday dinner.

There have been many warmings and coolings in the past when the CO2
levels did not change.
Yes, after five pages he leads with a version of the "dinosaurs had no SUVs, QED" argument!

What's more , he defends it with the "wine exported from Greenland" meme. I myself am responsible for tracking this one down to an archaeologust who showed that wine was imported into Greenland. A horse of a different color, you'll admit.

So by the time we reach page five we have four pages of waffling, a stunningly weak fallacy, and an incorrect anecdote raised in support of it. Hardly an auspicious start.


Bah. My bad. It was wine "exported from England". I jumped to a conclusion because the whole Greenlandic wine incident tickles me so. I have found lots of evidence, by the way, that wine was produced in the south of England in the middle ages for local consumption, but so far no evidence of any export. But that's a quibble.

But it's all in service of a ludicrous claim. Nobody has ever said that CO2 is the ONLY influence on global climate. This is a childish bit of misdirection, not befitting a scientist.

En passant, it's worth noticing, Happer manages this howler:
Yet there are strident calls for immediately stopping further increases in
CO2 levels and reducing the current level (with 1990 levels the arbitrary
benchmark).
There are no such strident calls. Everybody knows that CO2 will continue to rise for some considerable time. It is emission levels that form the arbitrary benchmark. Again, the whole reason that CO2 is the key to anthropogenic forcing is that concentrations are approximately cumulative, that the residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere/upper-ocean/land-surface system is very long.

Then
another rationale for reducing CO2 is now promoted: to
stop the hypothetical increase of extreme climate events like hurricanes
or tornados. But dispassionate data show that the frequency of extreme
events has hardly changed and in some cases has decreased in the 150
years that it has taken CO2 levels to increase from 270 ppm to 390 ppm.
Hurricanes and tornados have very noisy statistics with components at interannual time scales. There is also contention about the theoretical expectations, particularly regarind hurricanes. It will be some considerable time before we have much confidence in what the trend is.

But do we have theoretical and modeling reasons to expect increased floods and increased droughts in the greenhouse-enhanced world, and here the record is strongly supportive of those expectations. Happer carefully tiptoes around this evidence.
But these records show that changes
in temperature preceded changes in CO2 levels, so that CO2 levels were
an effect of temperature changes. Much of this was probably due to
outgassing of CO2 from the warming oceans or the reverse on cooling.
That the effect goes one way does not preclude it from going the other way. That, in fact, is what "feedback" means. There remains much for the scientific community to learn about the glacial cycles of the geologically recent past. But we are certain that it cannot be explained without the greenhouse effect. The energetics do not add up otherwise. Accounting for the CO2 brings temperatures back into balanace.
During the “Younger Dryas” some 12,000 years ago,
the earth very dramatically cooled and warmed -- as much 10 C in fifty
years -- with no apparent change in CO2 levels, and with life -- including
our human ancestors -- surviving the rapid change in temperature just
fine.
Um. No. The 10C in fifty years was the temperature shift in Greenland. Most life was not affected by it.
Our present global
warming is not at all unusual by the standards of geological history,
No, though it is unusual in human history. But this is not the point. The anticipated rate of CO2 increases, especially in the absence of a globally supported mitigation policy, are unprecedented in geological history (with the possible exception of the disastrous K-T PETM transition which nearly wiped out all ocean life, probably in a burst of ocean acidification). And the rate and duration of the incipient CO2 spike lead to a strong expectation of a very large shift in temperature to be anticipated over the coming century.
The organization charged with producing scientific support for
the climate crusade, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), finally found a solution. They rewrote the climate history of the
past 1000 years with the celebrated “hockey stick” temperature record
This is tendentious nonsense. Research advanced. The graph in the 1990 report was a rough schematic.
[M & M] showed that the hockey stick was not supported by observational data.
They nitpicked. The millenial preindustrial data remains unexciting. The evidence for a global Medieval Warm Period remains marginal and roughly irrelevant. And its removal has negligible impact on any serious estimation of the prospects. It's really not in any way significant whether or not these events occurred. It would merely be incorrect to claim that they are in the global record, though to be sure regional changes did occur on this time scale.
One of the most consistent themes of the e-mails is the need to hide raw data from anyone outside the team. Why the obsession on withholding data? Because the hockey stick lost credibility when it was possible to see the raw, unmanipulated data on which it was based.
This, I am sorry to say, is not just vicious but quite wrong. The reticence is based on a distaste for cooperating with people who had shown themselves to be rude and malicious. There is a long story here with raw feelings on both sides, but one side of it starts with a desire to avoid what was perceived as unpleasant people and time-wasting interactions. But the general outlines of the hockey stick remain. Numerous independent procedural investigations have concluded that no data was altered or misrepresented, and numerous scientific investigations have confirmed the general outline of the result, albeit some with a bumpier "shaft" to the hockey stick, a perfectly ordinary point of research contention.

But finally we come to the central myth of post "Climateg*te" bunk:
Peer review in climate science means that the ”team” recommends publication of each other’s work, and tries to keep any off-message paper from being accepted for publication. Why this obsession with cleansing the “scientific” literature of any opposing views? Because it allows climate extremists to claim that they represent all of science and anyone who questions their message is at war with all of science, except for a few “flat-earthers”, “deniers,” or others scorned with carefully researched epithets, designed to discredit dissenting scientific opinion
This is simply begging the question. If there is in fact legitimate scientific argument that the consensus position is wrong, then it is wrong for people to keep these positions out of the literature. But if the so-called skeptic papers are garbage, scientific flat-earthism, it is the legitimate function of editors to keep them out of the literature and out of the literature review.

This can only be addressed by actually looking at the science, which Happer refuses to do. He simply repeats the usual political talking points, trying to justify doing so by his position and his reputation. But his reputation is as a physicist, not as a politician. He does himself and us no favors by repeating shabby talking points from the political press.


It goes on. Shabby attacks on the models:
John von Neumann once said, “With four
parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle
his trunk.” Climate models have dozens of parameters, not unlike the
epicycles of Ptolemaic astronomy.
Yes, but with dozens of parameters, climate models simulate systems with millions of degrees of freedom at the implementation level, and at least thousands at the physical level. This can only be possible with an actual underlying physical model. It cannot be a coincidence.
No model predicted the lack of net warming of the
earth’s temperature that we have experienced over the past ten years
Well, we don't have a date on this publication, or I didn;t find one at least. For a brief moment in 2008-9 one could actually make this case without being blatantly dishonest, but of course even so it is just cherry-picking. In other words, it is at best a truth of a mendacious sort. As has been explained many times, there is unforced interannual variability which can mask the trend over relatively short time intervals. If Happer had any genuine interest in the material, he would know this. And indeed, a later paragraph shows that he does understand how this works, yet he repeats the flawed argument in the very next breath.
All of the proposed controls that would
have such a significant impact on the world’s economic future are based
on computer models that are so complex and chaotic that many runs
are needed before we can get an “average” answer. Yet the models
have failed the simple scientific test of prediction.


etc. etc.

The last several pages are reduced to conspiracy-mongering of the worst kind and make no pretense to engaging the science at all. As with Dyson, the points of actual substance are few, incoherent, and ill-informed. But at least Dyson manages an air of decency and humility. Happer is blazing with anger and contempt, without showing any signs of having listened to the people he is criticizing.

It's true that the intellectual style of earth science is different from that of pure physics. But it's not as if Happer were remotely as intellectually lazy as this empty attack would indicate. Politics seems able to override reason. This is a pile of political talking points, not any sort of engagement with the evidence. It's a shame.

Climate science could well do with competent criticism. It increasingly appears that serious concerns about the science must be impossible, because all the critiques are so spectacularly non-serious.

--
pic: William Happer from his lab's website





Stray Thoughts as Montreal Loses Power to Irene

My sub-Arctic hometown took some damage from my wife's tropical storm namesake. Sort of odd from my point of view but probably not worth your attention. However, I did think a conversation from the comments to that report was worth noting:
What sickens me is how every time there is a storm thousands (in the U.S. MILLIONS) go without power because stupid utility companies hang wires on poles. Hello people...wires on poles are NOT weatherproof, haven't you noticed by now?

B.C. is full of trees, as is Québec and every storm brings tree branches (or ice) taking power lines out. Canadians are suckers to put up with this nonsense in a climate like ours, yet they just string up more wires and down they come again next storm.

For your information, Europeans put their utility power lines underground, and have been doing so since electrical power became available in Victorian times, but Canada continues to copy the U.S. and other third world Latin American countries in trying to "make do" with wires on poles.

When are we going to say "enough is enough" and force these power companies to start burying wires? How many deaths and blacked out neighbourhoods are acceptable to power companies before they start doing something? How come Europe can do it and we can't?"

******

You're right.

We just had our roads torn up for a whole summer in my neighbourhood and they wouldn't bury the lines. Lines, I might add, that have shredded insulation covers that are rotting and falling onto the sidewalks because they are very OLD.

Why? Because Bell and Hydro didn't want to pay for it. Yet they come twice a year with a crew of at least two guys to trim the trees all along the street. Every year. I wonder how much that costs.

And we were an area hit hard by the ice storm years back.

Par for the course for corporations as well as governments.
It's not only stupid and dangerous, it's ugly and demoralizing. Why do we do this?

I think it's because of the constant barrage of propaganda in North America that the collective will is powerless to change anything. (Anything set up by the collective will in the past is treated as if it were mysteriously handed down from heaven as if on stone tablets.)

Of course, this idea is spreading in Europe as well. It seems to be leaving them in something of a quandary. If worse comes to worst and economic havoc ensues, in America Obama will be blamed for it, of course.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Austin Plugged by a 44.

Austin got plugged by a 44 today. Celsius that is. Hottest damn day of my life. And tied for the hottest ever in Austin. But apparently they didn't cancel the hot sauce festival in Waterloo Park.

Here are a couple of tastes of Texas shotgun lyrics for Steve Bloom, who picked up on the Texas resonances of the number.





And though it looks like hell warmed over around here these days, there's this:




Saturday, August 27, 2011

A concern

Quoth NOAA:
MORE SO THAN WITH MOST STORMS...THE WINDS WITH IRENE INCREASE

SHARPLY WITH HEIGHT ABOVE THE SURFACE. AS IRENE MOVES THROUGH
AREAS WITH HIGH-RISE STRUCTURES...THESE BUILDINGS COULD EXPERIENCE
WINDS SIGNIFICANTLY STRONGER THAN THE SURFACE WINDS. WINDS AT THE
30-STORY LEVEL WILL LIKELY BE 20 PERCENT HIGHER THAN AT THE SURFACE
...AND WINDS 80-100 STORIES UP COULD BE ABOUT 30 PERCENT HIGHER
THAN AT THE SURFACE.
OK, that's bad enough because power goes as the square of velocity (and damage as the cube, or something like that).

But as I ponder it this seems even scarier than that. If the storm is still symmetrical when it hits Manhattan, I could imagine that there could be enough tall structures to set up turbulence that could mix momentum back downward. Is this crazy? Suppose a sustained 60 mph wind over Manhattan heading north to south. It hits midtown hurricane force winds at 30 stories start mixing up with all the artificial canyons and crevasses and mix down?

What are the maximum sustained winds independent of altitude? How high up are they?

Will the streets of Manhattan be covered in glass tomorrow? Are highrise buildings unsafe under these conditions?

I hope not. I love New York. But I'm not sure this situation has any precedent.

Are We Having Fun Yet?


OK, OK, it's NOT a climate change hurricane. Still...

(click image to unblur)


Thanks to Joe Romm

Thanks to Joe Romm for displaying my schematic of the distribution of informed opinion from the podium at the Schneider symposium during his excellent (scary) talk.



I can't repay the favor in any comparable proportion but let me at least display my favorite slide from his talk.



We need to talk about what the infamous "deficit model" means. Does it mean there's not enough science for people to act? If it does, I agree with the critics. We don't need more journal publications, more text, more explanations, per se.

Does the "deficit model" mean that people don't understand the science well enough to make decisions? If it does, then hell yes. I support the deficit model that says, obviously people don't get it.

So we need to talk about the science. Not about peak oil. Not about solar power. About climate. About ocean acidification. About how uncertainty is not your friend.

Let's talk about science to the people who need to hear it. And if and when they don't hear us, (and many of them won't) let's do it again.

Anything less amounts to holding the world and its future in contempt. Science is about the best evidence about the truth. Politics and journalism are about winning and losing. Alliances and rivalries make sense. But about the emergence of truth there should be no rivalry. Science can hold us together and move us forward. Contention is necessary, but contention is only useful when it is based on a shared respect for truth among the contenders.


Molly and Steve


Now it's up to us.




Friday, August 26, 2011

Uncertainty, Uncertainty, Uncertainty

It's peculiar that Judith Curry is criticizing the IPCC and climate community for understressing uncertainty. It's something one can imagine from the Wattses and McIntyres with their narrow focus on data, but it's incomprehensible from a member of the community.

It's hard to avoid this thought popping up as I watch the Schneider Symposium; probably over half the speakers have talked at length about uncertainty, and how to treat it in interfacing with the public and the policy sector. This includes a few high level IPCC muckety-muck types.

An interesting aspect that several have agreed upon is that the word "uncertainty" carries unfortunate semiotics; the public perceives "uncertainty" as meaning "confusion". A comment from the audience, after much talk about how to communicate the range of plausible outcomes, noted that the new draft AMS statement on climate change eschews the word "uncertainty" entirely, even though the prior statement used it many times. I was astonished to hear this greeted by general applause and enthusiasm!

I heard one speaker suggest turning it upside-down and talking about "certainty" as a quantitative measure, which makes little sense. The right word to use is "confidence", which in fact means exactly the same thing as "uncertainty" technically, despite appearing as its exact opposite in informal speech!

But the idea that this isn't something the community struggles with is nonsensical.

Turning the word upside-down to call the "uncertainty range" the "confidence interval" may not help the basic battle against agnotology. The forces of confusion keep insisting that action is counterindicated because uncertainty is broad. As I've always said, this is complete nonsense. The greater the uncertainty, the greater the need for a vigorous response. It's palpable but unstated in most of the sessions. People look at the uncertainties and are mostly concerned about cataclysms, not about false negatives. Schneider was quoted explicitly making the case that a false negative is far more dangerous than a false positive in this matter.

But it's a matter which is easy to distort. And so, those inclined to inaction stress uncertainty. This is odd enough. But then they criticize a community that is plainly obsessed with uncertainty of ignoring it!

We can use the actuarial concept of risk very nicely. Risk is cost-weighted probability. The risk spectrum in the climate matter is dominated by worst cases, not by best cases. And that is why uncertainty is not your friend. And if you advocate inaction, it is not your ally.


Meanwhile

There is a heat wave in Europe, and in particular, Florence has reported its highest temperature ever.

Austin has surpassed its maximum number of 100 degree days and is still counting.

The highest dewpoint in the history of Minnesota has been reported.

And there's this:


Monday, August 22, 2011

Conservative Cowardice?

Scott Denning thinks so.



Bart writes about it here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Horn

From http://horn.wfp.org/main.html via Tim O'Reilly



A humanitarian crisis has slowly unfolded in the Horn of Africa. Drought, conflict, and rising food prices have affected more than 13 million people in the region. On 20 July, famine conditions were declared in several southern regions of Somalia. The Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) forecasts that famine conditions will spread if humanitarian assistance does not increase. In response, WFP is planning to feed over 11.5 million people, including 3.7 million people in Somalia, 3.7 million in Ethiopia, and 2.7 million in Kenya.

Restricted aid access

Access to some vital areas is restricted to humanitarian aid organizations. The hatched area on the map shows areas in which some aid organizations are unable to work— including the places where people are most in need of assistance.

Operational efficiency

The figure of USD $0.50 per person per day is based on the average combined daily costs of World Food Programme's operations within Somalia, Ethiopia, & Kenya, as well as the number of people reached by those efforts.

For Press

The map on this page can be easily embedded on any website or blog - simply click here to copy and paste the embed code.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Blue Monnett

The eye of Sauron has cast its gaze on Dr. Charles Monnett, the fellow who had the misfortune to be footnoted by Al Gore on the polar bear question.

Becky Bohrer provides a nice report in Huffington's, which is better on climate change than it is on medicine. A couple of quotes:
The federal investigation into suspended wildlife biologist Charles Monnett has focused on the scientific merit of a 2006 article in which he and a colleague recorded their observations of apparently drowned polar bears in the Arctic

...

The article, published in 2006 in the journal Polar Biology, is based on observations that Monnett and fellow scientist Jeffrey Gleason made in 2004. At the time, they were conducting an aerial survey of bowhead whales, and saw four dead polar bears floating in the water after a storm. In the peer-reviewed article, they said they were reporting, to the best of their knowledge, the first observations of the bears floating dead and presumed drowned while apparently swimming long distances.
The bunkosphere, of course, sees it differently.

First of all, this is not the sort of thing the administrative branch of the government should be focusing on.

Period.

If Monnett's reasoning about the observation is wrong, so be it. Do you expect a wildlife ecologist to simply ignore an observation like that? Surely it is his obligation to report on it. It would be hard to convince him not to think about what it means.

Being wrong is part of advancing hypotheses. It's part of science. It may be more fun to be right, but being wrong is not something you expect to bring down the Spanish Inquisition.

Now, I suppose this doesn't obviate the possibility of some gross misallocation of funds that Monnett manages, as has been darkly hinted. But the interrogation really doesn't seem to go to that point at all. Indeed, the transcript is quite funny in spots, in a sad and outrageous sort of way. It is the usual sort of nonsense that you can see everywhere on the internet, a person with vastly less knowledge making nonsensical allegations about a scientist's work in an arch tone suggestive of malfeasance, but in addition to the usual intellectual mismatch (Monnett can't seem to hide a sneer at one point) there is also the peculiar intrusion of legal authority into the life of a scientist.

As you consider the innuendo, consider in addition to the ludicrous transcripts of the intrepid gumshoes grilling the poor guy, the bizarre Bush-administration-science-commisars episode. (Also a minor echo here.) Lomborg goes on endlessly about them too. It is clear that the bunkosphere, the Bush administration and various career appointments they made to the executive branch, and the Inhofe-Perry axis, have an absolutely ridiculously huge and mean bug up their butts about polar bears.

Consider also that Monnett is under a gag order while the bunkosphere is not.

Also consider the Texas lease contingency scam. Scientists, even many of those who manage large budgets, are not trained or experienced administrators. Like Texas deeds of title, a flaw can always be found in how a project was managed if one has the heart to throw an innocent scientist and his entourage onto the fire. The acceptance or rejection of any particular management style is almost a matter of taste.

Thus if someone in authority wishes to hang aspersions systematically on results one dislikes and not on results one likes, for reasons which may have little to do with the underlying truth of the matter, there is plenty of rope around. Of course, once can resort to this extreme course only very rarely, as one does not actually want to have one's entire scientific community pack their bags for some less dangerous country. At least, one hasn't until now.

Real crimes should be prosecuted, of course, but neither hackers nor government appointees should be encouraged to go on vast fishing expeditions on the basis of accusations of marginal transgressions and judgment calls blown out of any reasonable proportion. This applies to Monnett, and applies to Sauron's previous and ongoing victims as well, notably Mike Mann who amazingly still manages to get some work done despite the constant harassment of (what I certainly hope is) the biggest fishing expedition in the climate world.

Update: For some reason (grumble) much of the conversation is happening at Eli's. Fair enough, but please, if you haven't looked at it before, don't miss the aforementioned bizarre Bush-administration-science-commisars episode. Polar bears make those people especially crazy for some reason.

Also Neven has had a very similar position up for a couple of weeks now.



Image: Union of Concerned Scientists. More here. (I also really like #6.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Five States with Strongest Obama Support in 2008

Which states gave Obama the most votes in the previous election?

Well, to be sure, this will weight larger states more. But in some ways that matters.

It matters what state has the largest numbers of supporters of a reasoned, reasonable policy. Those are people who can provide money and energy as well as electoral votes. Those are people who can swing local elections. Those are people you don't want to alienate.

The largest number of votes for Obama, by a wide margin, came from California, with 7.25 million. In second place, New York State, with 4.63 million Obama votes. In third place, Florida, with 4.14 million.

Texas is in fourth place with 3.52 million Obama voters (admittedly only 43.8 % of votes cast in Texas), edging out Illinois, Obama's home state, with 3.32 million or 61.8%.

There were more Obama voters in Texas than in Illinois, or Michigan, or Pennsylvania, or North Carolina. More than in Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. More than in Wisconsin and Minnesota combined. More than in Washington state and Oregon combined.

Kindly treat stereotypes of Texas the way you treat stereotypes of anybody else, please. Remember there are 43% of us who do not like the way Texas votes, and that is a whole lot of folks.

That's not enough to be pleased with but it's too many to ignore.

Thanks.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Texas Real Estate

"In many instances [the landholder] had received a first-rate skinning when his land was leased. For example, after an agreement had been reached on the terms of a lease, I may have switched the papers upon him while he put on his glasses. But the principal racket, and one it will do well to remember if you own an acre of land, is this.

"A wildcat (a shot-in-the-dark or blue-sky exploratory well) is being drilled within a mile or so of your land. I have timed my trip within a week or so of the completion of the exploratory well. You'd already been offered a dollar an acre, think it worth five, so you ask me ten.

"I try, for the window dressing, to beat you down on the price. But finally, though you are scared stiff that I am going to back away from the trade entirely, I let you have your way. I write something on a piece of paper binding both of us to the trade, contingent, of course, on the validity of your title. To that you, as a fair-minded person, agree. And I've got you stretched over a barrel.

"A flaw can be found in any Texas land title. The acceptance or rejection of any particular one is almost a matter of taste. If the wildcat makes a producing well, your lease is worth fifty dollars an acre and up, and I take it for the agreed-upon ten. If the well fails, I don't like your title, and would like to see the color of the man's eyes that can make me pay for it."

From "Texas: A World in Itself" by George Perry (1942)

Groundwater in Texas

The hydrology of Texas is amazingly complex. Here's the major aquifers:



There's a map of minor aquifers too. They can't easily show them on the same map because of overlaps.

Better version of this map and others are available for the clicking from TWDB


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tex: Post Factoids

Although Luling is much closer into Austin, the first Texas town I encountered which actually smelled of the oilfield it is surrounded by was Post TX, way up in the panhandle.

And you know, I never really felt the scale of the wind industry before driving through all of Boone Pickens's holdings south of Abilene. It was exactly the same way with the oil a couple of years earlier, and the moments when I "got it" were the moment when I saw the Dow plant near the coast, and the moment I smelled Post.

This wasn't even my first time in the Panhandle. There was the earlier trip through Spur and Turkey, with Irene.

Anyway, despite the odor, or arguably because of it, Post appears a relatively prosperous little outpost. (Wikipedia has a better-than-standard bunch of pics of Post, including one of the exact spot depicted here in my photo.)

The corner of the world where New Mexico and Texas meet is a place of amazing scale and purport, where long skeins of pipe carrying water, oil, gas, and even brackish water and CO2 hither and yon are in the process of doing what Texans have always done. What Texans do and have always done, in the short, amazing history of their vast, peculiar territory, always, since the age of the buffalo, is extract value from their surroundings and sell it to the world.

Despite what I now discover from Wikipedia are Post's utopian origins (almost every town in the West has idiosyncratic origins in one way or another), and despite the unusually good repair (particularly for rural Texas) of pretty much everything I saw in Post, Post is no Utopia.

It's not Utopia, it's just noplace. (*)

While Post is well-maintained and is probably a fine little community, there is little overt sign of the vast wealth that has poured through it. That is to say that all the crossed pipes heading every which way are supporting one and only one thing: the extraction of wealth from the landscape. That wealth is destined for delivery as nearly intact as possible to massive property holders with mansions near Houston or Denver or Santa Clara, and to bankers and stockholders everywhere whose great-granddaddy's were barely literate Tennessee mountain small game hunters who came down here once because why the hell not?

But there are two sides to this. Why not extract the wealth if you can manage it?

This land that is currently supporting more people than Australia doesn't look like much. The Mexicans ceded it to the coon hunters and wild men of the Appalachians because it was too hot, the weather too fickle, too far from civilization in Mexico City. They simply couldn't pull together a string of colonies to hold a Mexican society together, and not for want of effort. Except for the Gulf Coast, where a lost, purportedly naked, thermophile culture was obliterated very early on, and until the equestrian Comanche made the some native peoples' last stands in North Texas, the native presence was also rather light, though the locals have little trouble to this day finding arrowheads at likely camping spots near rivers.

How could the industrial civilization make so much of this place when its predecessors could make so little of it? A simple fact of geography explains it all. The land is porous. Skeins of fluid travel vast distances beneath it. So hidden under the harsh, unpromising terrain sit the three fluids of modern life.

Water. Gas. Oil.

(And, I can't help thinking, over the top of it all, now and again, the fourth fluid was spilled. Blood.)



The point is, there is plenty of wealth here. You just have to have the wherewithall to pump it out. And this we have done, or at least countenanced to be done on our behalf. And this we are still doing.

Does it matter that the soils of the panhandle are being used up? You could argue that it matters not a whit. The soils might as well be used up on the day the water runs out. Anything else wouldn't be cost-effective!

In these places where, even if the current droughtiness really isn't a harbinger of the future, it doesn't rain enough to be worth mentioning. But the soil is fertile and sunshine is ample and the growing season is long and water is to be had underground. In consequence one has two choices regarding the water. One can pump up the water and use it to grow lots of things and make a lot of money until the water runs out. Or one can do nothing while one's neighbor does the pumping and profiting.

Fluids are funny that way. They don't actually stay put.

So the ancient water underground is very much like the oil in another way.

The fluids are here because the land is limestone, an uplift of an ancient sea floor, chock-a-block with caves and underground rivers and deep ancient mysteries that haven't just been bulldozed by glaciers. And the person who owns the land above a given puddle or river, should he or she find it, has the right to pump up as much as the pump will reach. And the right to do nothing. But under the laws and traditions of Texas, no person has the right to prevent his neighbor from exploiting his own property.

The state will appropriate property for roads and reservoirs, but otherwise mostly prefers to keep hands off. And federal influence on local affairs has been frowned upon hereabouts from the day Texas entered the Union in 1845, never mind when it was forced to re-enter in 1865.

So the fluids are fated to be pumped. Nobody can imagine anything else happening. There is no mechanism imagined to stop it. And few of the beneficiaries really want anything to happen differently, at least until their own particular well dries out.

Of course, the oil and the gas will recharge even more slowly that the Ogallala Aquifer, but the calculation is the same. There's wealth down there. If I leave it there too long somebody else will get it. So someone who has enough land to matter is likely to suggest that one might as well drill here. Now.

Without understanding that a lot of livelihoods of real human beings are at stake, it is foolish to try to understand the opposition.

Yet, I am seeing the public awareness over climate science turn into a battle over climate policy, and then a battle over party, and now increasingly a really terrifying impulse to refight the civil war. Please, for the love of God, leave the region-baiting the f alone.

Guys, it's a purple country.



Please let's not get screwed up with stereotypes, especially hopelessly clueless ones.

Now the map is really interesting insofar as Texas is concerned. (Non-natives may not recognize it as representing proportion of democratic bluest to republican reddest votes by US county, scaled by population. Specifically this is the 2004 election of Bush II over Kerry.)

You will see that much of the state is not so red as you might presume. Rather, there is a bolt of shocking red through the parts of the state where the extractive industries are pretty much unmitigated by anything else. Leaving aside the remaining genuinely conservative strongholds of Utah and Indiana, not places that appeal to me but cultures worthy of respect, are the red zones really just the places where wealth is extracted as opposed to built up? The brightest red swaths are the open country, where most people work in or for extractive industries. The bright blue blobs are the cores of the cities.

Since our map is population-scaled already, the blue areas, though occasionally flamboyant, use less energy (per area on this map) than comparably sized red populations. (On the other hand, area-scaled the cities are much worse, and this is easier to perceive in real life without the assistance of a peculiar map.)

Anyway, please do us the kindness of thinking about Texas as a whole country, not as a character on a sitcom. Yes, we do have our eccentricities and we don't mind flaunting some of them on occasion. But so what. Do you really want your Texans bland and boring? But there are twenty five million of us. A few of us here and there are bound to have something to say for ourselves.



PS. Of course this is not to justify in any sense the horribly overdrawn, Inhofesque attitudes toward climate science of our esteemed governor, never mind his grand ambitions.

Molly Ivins, who so personified Austin, is sadly no longer with us, but a quotation of hers is being widely quoted. It certainly seems relevant.
Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.
Everybody knows what Molly would have advised. We are just sad not to know just exactly how she would have said it.



(*) Yes, on purpose of course.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stop the Environment!

On Nonscientific Bias in Climate Research

A well-known researcher, who requested anonymity, said this in private communication:
On the claim that climate alarmism is due to research funding: this incentive exists in all science, yet it's never occurred in the past. And there's no evidence that it's occurring here: there's no way to dismiss the null hypothesis that scientists are worried because the data are worrying.

On the other hand, there is evidence that climate skeptics are truly working off an agenda. See Spencer's statement "I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government." There's no way that you can reach that conclusion by looking at data. It's a pre-determined political goal.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mr. Gore's Blurt

It might be said to be unbecoming to a former Vice President and former President-Elect to use foul language in public. It's possible he didn't want it published.

But it's true enough, every word of it. Even if there's room for argument at the fringes, the key points of the bunkosphere simply don't add up to a supportable view of what is going on. In fact, they don't even try.

As Eli says, Gore, and Romm, and Hansen (and one might add Eli and myself) may not be perfect but more importantly what they (we) are is mostly right. The posture that the situation is, without any doubt, not serious enough to merit a response is a combination of ignorance and arrogance that seems medieval, until you reflect that medieval errors could not do nearly so much damage.

Update: ABC news reports that the public release of this presentation was indeed inadvertent on Mr. Gore's part.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chess

Photo + Micaël Reynaud

Cluelessness

Watching the worst of the NotTheIPCC gang at work is probably not a productive obsession.

But sometimes the examples are so astonishing as to be entertaining if not revealing:
"The real problem with the models is they show an exponential rise in the rate of sea-level rise, the so-called hockey stick approach," [Professor emeritus F.] said.
I'd like to know whether an actual professor that emitted this third-hand muddled ignorant juvenile blithering, whether it was a complete fabrication by the reporter at the Australian, or whether it was a collaboration of some kind.

Regardless, a newspaper capable of stringing those words together and publishing them is providing no actual service.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Toward Skepticism without Denialism

I have to admit that it is easier grumbling about a discipline you don't understand than defending the one you do. I hope that our economic discussions here don't look to economists the way Watts Up does to climatologists, and I would really welcome participation by mainstream economists, even to the point of shooting down most of what most of us say, if they had the patience to explain themselves.

Now, Watts, on the other hand, actually tends to remove the most effective counterarguments from his stream. And Liljegren, though scrupulous about including them, eventually decides that one is among those to whom one should be consistently rude and dismissive, thereby discouraging participation. At McIntyre's, that's left to the fans.

So I am left following the skeptics at Curry's and Kloor's. Although much of what they say and do strikes me as strange, they do create an environment where participation by someone like myself is not harshly punished.

I am concerned that, as an economics skeptic, I not end up acting as an economics denialist. I encourage readers to be as polite to newcomers to the conversation as they would be to a human being entering a room, because that is, after all, what is happening. Cogent opposition is the most valuable commodity around.

Of course, the trouble is that non-cogent opposition is much easier to come by, and occasionally hard to get rid of. But being explicitly rude and hostile even to positions you feel have no merit creates an environment where ideas don't get adequately challenged. Saying what you think is not enough. It's best to say what you think and then turn around and doubt it as effectively as you can - to be your own skeptic.

To the extent that we (the numerate climate blog community) meander into territory in which we have little experience, it's possible that we get things badly wrong. We should welcome attempts at correction from people who are steeped in these matters. In politics, it's best to ignore or deflect effective challenges. In science, it's best to welcome them. Above all, the principle this site espouses is that there is a need to bring the scientific culture into policy. I think we should be kind to each other as people and as hard on our own ideas as on each other's.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Here Comes Sunshine

If this pans out I believe it will make 30 consecutive days over 100 F here. Climatologically Austin does historically get over 100, about a dozen times a year.

As I saw somewhere today "100 is the new 90".

(100 F ~= 38 C)

But not to worry, everything is normal.

Climate change is always in the future. What we are seeing is merely weather. It is in the nature of Climate change that you can never observe it because only weather is observable. So everything is fine, Austin will never have a string of days over 110 F, and even when we do it will be a coincidence...


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Growth and Contraction

When talking about "growth", you do have to understand what it is that is growing, as Eli points out on a recent thread. What economists and politicians want to grow is the velocity of money exchanges. This is primarily because that is where all three good things, public revenue, profit and employment, come from. This is called the "gross product", the total of all financial transactions.

Many of the transactions are destructive, but there is enormous pressure to continue. Without being on the selling side of transactions, you are not allowed to be on the buying side. And without being on the buying side, you are essentially not allowed any resources at all, except marginal castoffs.

We have paid very little attention to encouraging that such exchanges actually tend to have a net positive value.

Kindle replaces books at lower capital cost. The paper industry loses jobs. The economy shrinks. The environment benefits. We are better off if we aren't in the paper or ink business. It counts as negative growth.

Craig's list replaces a key profit center of newspapers. Reporters lose jobs, but the rest of us find buyers and sellers of used furniture. New furniture manufacturers face a shrinking market. Negative growth for newspapers, for furniture, for hardwood, for softwood. Consumers are better off for it. It counts as negative growth, contraction.

State and federal taxes are cut, reducing police services in a neighborhood. The neighborhood declines. People who can afford to do so move out at the cost of expense and disruption. Buildings are abandoned and fall into ruin, while new buildings are constructed in the new neighborhood. This is growth.

When this happens you are likely to get a job. When you get a job, you are selling something (your efforts). When you sell things you get to buy things. If you don't get to buy things you are not entitled to them. Therefore you demand policies that create jobs. But nobody checks to see if these jobs are actually a good idea.

The more we successfully replace material goods with ethereal goods, the more jobs will be lost. Thus the more demand there will be to construct conditions where there are more jobs. If we are not careful (and apparently we are not careful) the new jobs are as destructive as the old ones or more so.

The idea that we are in poverty in America is ridiculous. Demand is declining because people have the stuff they want. The problems we are seeing are because we live in a system designed to cope with scarcity encountering surplus. Yet almost everybody wants to restimulate demand.

I'm sorry. I'm still not getting it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not really a Texas-centered drought at all

via University College London

Getting it Right

A polished and, to me, convincing summary of our predicament. Big hat tip to Joe Romm for passing this on.



So do you agree? On the relationship of the debt bubble to the argument that growth has essentially been a charade for decades? On the idea that public debt is a claim on resources?

See, what this does if it holds is kill Keynesianism altogether, from a sustainability viewpoint. It's important because it reveals a contradiction in progressive thought.

I have been saying it is full employment vs sustainability. This video makes a comparable claim that it is debt vs sustainability. It's very compatible; clearly companies take on debt to expand their employment in the hope of expanding future profit. And their way of putting it is a bit less disturbing than mine; we have been taught that employment is an unalloyed good, while we are conflicted about debt.

Both views go against the conventional economic wisdom of liberal economists, Krugmanites. I like these people, and in some ways I like the way they think, but they are so happy with their abilities to manage the infinitesimal that they seem to have lost track of the finite.

Remember that the people most upset about the recent resolution of the Tea Party blackmail are those who believe we should take on more debt, and aim for full high-pay low-skill employment as if this were the heyday of General Motors. But that day is over.

The video doesn't take the necessary step though. An end to growth is an end to full employment.

What we need is to bring back the welfare state, because there are not enough useful jobs for everybody, but everybody deserves dignity. We need to replace wealth with efficiency. Stuff with information. More parks, less yards. More theater, less theaters. More community, less corporation.

Oh, and one last point in closing, the last bloody thing we need in America is to "revitalize the construction industry". Have you counted vacant buildings in your vicinity lately? Anyone who can say this with a straight face (most economists, investors and business reporters) deserves to be slapped in the face with a less-than-fresh fish. That's just stupid.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Rolling Urgency Paradox

We have only ten years to act on climate! Four years ago we only had ten years to act! Ten years ago we only had ten years to act! Twenty years ago, the same!

This is very poor messaging, even though in a sense it is true.

Let me try to explain how this could be true in some sense. Then maybe we can consider how to say this better.

Different processes have different time constants. Suppose you are driving on an isolated mountain road and find yourself low on gas. This is an urgent concern. If you don't come across some fuel in the next hour or so you will be stranded. Then you go round a bend and see a truck barreling down toward you straddling the center line. This is an urgent concern, and you have three seconds to figure out what to do about it. See how the urgency is related to the problem?

The earth is a much larger system than those of our mundane concerns. Larger systems tend to have longer time constants associated with them. Remember how LONG it took for the World Trade Towers to actually fall? That's mostly because they are much larger than things we ordinarily see falling. To the earth, ten years is an instant. Much less than ten years doesn't really allow for a significant change in greenhouse gas concentrations. The climate, at least in its ordinary state, usually takes about thirty years to wander through its ordinary configurations. By ten years, in geophysical sense, we essentially mean "really really fast" though in political contexts it seems like eons.

In 1992, the world agreed that it was necessary to start getting a handle on CO2 emissions soon, such that they did not rise much over 1992 levels and returned to those levels by 2010. Had we achieved that, there would be substantially less carbon in the atmosphere now, and substantially less draconian cuts needed. 1992 was pretty much the last minute to deal with the problem cheaply and at modest risk.

Each decade that passes has increased the risk and the steepness of how fast the risk rises over time, especially given that our actual performance has been so far off what we agreed we needed to do. So we are now to the point that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (especially CO2 and methane) as quickly as is feasible. Here feasibility is set by the sunk costs in existing infrastructure. As quickly as is feasible amounts to abandoning carbon emitting infrastructure in favor of other infrastructure whenever possible, and adding no new capacity.

Drill noplace, drill never!

It's incredibly counterintuitive to say this in Texas. It really is seen as close to insane. I understand this. I have friends and acquaintances for whom the spigot just turned on. I have a hard time wishing their good fortune to end.

And I understand that we still have all that automotive infrastructure to feed at the least, and the existing supplies won't last forty years, so, well, so it's hard to say exactly what activities to stop when. This is why we need to think quantitatively and collectively. And nobody with any stake in the fossil fuels will welcome such collective wisdom, I promise you that!

So we're stuck where we are, in a great hurry and caught like deer in headlights, if you'll pardon the cliche, motionless, paralyzed.

Yet we only have ten years to act. Ten years until what? That's the question.

Until the costs get substantially higher and the risks get substantially worse. It's always ten years. And that's longer than an election cycle. And so nothing gets done.

"We only have ten years to act" will remain true until we act, or until our inaction does us in, whichever comes first. But it sounds bogus and incoherent and inconsistent, just the same. We need another way of putting this.

Computational Prediction Lecture

Well, I went to the Austin Forum talk as promised, "a presentation by J. Tinsley Oden on predictive computational science. In this talk, Oden traces the development of scientific thinking and philosophy that underlie predictivity" and about a third of it was tantalizingly close to being interesting. It really looked like it was leading up to some substantial insights, but then it sort of fizzled into a tired supercomputing pep talk.

First my favorite slide:



Yes. Although Oden allowed that this might have been slightly tongue-in-cheek on Eddington's part, it is really important to emphasize that purely empirical science is a bore; that the ability to collect numbers and plot them on graphs is a very long way from the pinnacle of science.

This was in the context of the computation enthusiast's claim that computation is a third pillar of science, joining observation and theory as a coequal. I think this is possible but a long way off, and Oden did talk about some spectacular failings of modeling in a frank way, except that implicitly but notably none of those were at the University of Texas.

Another refreshing point was his antidote to the grade-school model of the scientific method, and the Popperian model for which he had equally little use. He offered this view of What Science is Like. I think it has a lot more merit than the gross oversimplifications that most nonscientists are taught to believe in in grade school.



Sorry, it's a bit blurry but I think you get the idea. (You can click on the images for a clearer view.)

Before indulging in twenty minutes of tedious cheerleading for TACC and ACES (our local supercomputing institutions) he offered the following four guideposts:



Translation:
V & V = Verification and Validation = (respectively) a) is it the right system for the purpose and b) does the software actually model the system?
QofI: Quantity of Interest = The "answer", the quantity or quantities you want to predict
UQ = Uncertainty Quantification: estimated error statistics of the predicted quantity

This seemed to be a good place to launch into some substance but that's as far as he got.

Note this talk was not about climate models but about predictive models in general. He certainly didn't get into the differences between prediction types, where climate models present some unusual philosophical problems.

I left feeling that I had seen a very fine meal but had not actually tasted it.

To be fair he actually did show Bayes' theorem and talked about it for a couple of minutes.

I really think there is some alternate universe where quantitative public talks are given to nonexperts who nevertheless can be expected to know fundamentals such as Bayes' theorem like their own phone number. Somewhere over the rainbow I suppose.

Update via rpenner at Stoat: Slides are at http://www.austinforum.org/presentations/oden.pdf

I Try to Sympathize

I try to sympathize with the dyed-in-the-cotton southerners, but then somebody manages to say something like this.
Texas’ grid operator declared a Level 1 Energy Emergency Tuesday afternoon as record heat across the state led to the second consecutive day of record power use.
...
“We are requesting that consumers and businesses reduce their electricity use during peak electricity hours from 3 to 7 p.m. today, particularly between 4 and 5 p.m. when we expect to hit another peak demand record,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of system planning and operations. “We do not know at this time if additional emergency steps will be needed.”
...

“NO!” shouted ‘Ed C.’ “What part of that do you not understand? I will now go cut my thermostat down and run my dryer just because you told me not too. Fix the PROBLEM liberal democrats! Get off your rear and do something about it!”

We aren't all like that, really. But I'm afraid some of us are like that. I don't really want the rest of the world bombing us back to the stone age but I can understand the temptation, too.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Obama Budget Deal

Obama still reminds me of Trudeau. The original one. Just the smartest guy in the room by a long shot, and different, which drives all the interchangeable grey suits crazy.

Many people are reading Obama's moves wrong, I think. He really did get something out of the deal. See here and here.

The White House official summary is here.

The idea that this doesn't raise taxes is wrong. Obama gets to veto an extension of the Bush Jr. tax cuts:
The Enforcement Mechanism Complements the Forcing Event Already In Law – the Expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts – To Create Pressure for a Balanced Deal: The Bush tax cuts expire as of 1/1/2013, the same date that the spending sequester would go into effect. These two events together will force balanced deficit reduction. Absent a balanced deal, it would enable the President to use his veto pen to ensure nearly $1 trillion in additional deficit reduction by not extending the high-income tax cuts.
Liberal Democrats as usual are declaring defeat but I guess I don't see why. Maybe it's because the press is garbling it. But remember, that's their job.

Canada is Still Different



h/t +Atul Varma