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October 27, 2010

Climate change: because it’s true, that’s why
Posted by Teresa at 07:25 AM * 243 comments

Worn out by arguments with climate change denialists? As Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait says in Climate Change: The Evidence,

Whenever I write about climate change, I get a pile of commenters from the noise machine side of things doing what they do best: making noise. They are loaded with nonsense, misleading data, political spin, and sometimes out-and-out falsehoods about climate change.

So I’ll be clear: climate change is real. The average temperature of the Earth is increasing. This is almost certainly due to mankind’s influence on the environment.

No doubt you’ve heard the puerile political propaganda from the denialists. To counter that—or at least, to make the point to people who might be confused on the issue—send them to NASA’s Climate Change evidence page. It’s basically one-stop shopping for clear, concise evidence that the Earth is warming up.

True! Dominating the page is a chart showing CO2 levels over the last 400,000 years. There’s an obvious longterm up/down cycle that always stays within certain ranges … right up to the Industrial Revolution, when it starts climbing off the chart, and goes almost vertical at 1950. The page also has references that show that the connection with climate change is causal, and makes statements like:
All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.
It’s clear, authoritative, and visually striking: a single-link refutation to throw at denialists. Bookmark it now.

Plait continues:

That page, together with an NOAA report clinching the fact that global warming is real and happening right now, should be linked to again and again by everyone defending reality from those who oppose it.

The noise makers want to confuse you, because that’s how they sow doubt. But the reality, while not precisely simple, is there for all to see who want to actually see it.

Emphasis mine. The way the world works is not a secret. And if Phil Plait wants us to Googlebomb the climate change denialists, I’m all for it.

Addendum: And while we’re on the subject, a blog entry posted today by Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters: Strongest storm ever recorded in the Midwest smashes all-time pressure records.

Comments on Climate change: because it's true, that's why:
#1 ::: Lowell Gilbert ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 08:39 AM:

Science is my political issue these days. I'm for it. Which marks me as a wacky extremist lefty, apparently, but 'ya gotta make a stand somewhere.

By the way, it's Phil *Plait*.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 08:43 AM:

Your denialists are a bunch of crackpots, cranks, and crooks, and the folks (Fox News watchers, mostly) who they've deceived.

They're like evolution deniers, only more dangerous, because evolution is going to go on regardless of what we do, while climate change (which will be ... disruptive) we might be able to fix if we act now. Only the fix will be more difficult and the damage already done will be greater, for every day's delay in finding and implementing that cure.

#3 ::: Lowell Gilbert ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 08:55 AM:

Sorry, Jim, but climate denialists go way beyond those groups. Even in fandom, it's fairly widespread, mostly because we have a lot of libertarians. When someone's central belief is the importance of keeping government out of their life, the temptation is very strong to deny a problem which clearly can't be solved without intrusive government action.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 09:02 AM:

I particularly liked a recent newspaper report which cited one person in Indiana who refused to believe that climate change was happening. His basis for refusal: "Rush Limbaugh and holy scripture". Now, I have no trouble equating the bloviator of Eructations in Broadcasting and the Bible, but I suspect that quite a few people here might.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 09:11 AM:

Lowell @1: Thanks, and damn. I'd been thinking I needed new glasses. That confirms it.

The denialist moment that hit me hardest was when Dubya said the question was whether we could afford to take action on climate change. What instantly flashed through my mind was "What is the combined value of all our oceanfront real estate and port cities?" And, a second later: "Plus the Gulf Coast and Mississippi Delta, the Chesapeake, the Sea Islands, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, and parts of Florida and the Carolinas." It wasn't a question. You could call that one on real estate alone.

Early days: it actually surprised me that Bush could could coldly and calculatedly lie about something that big.

#6 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 09:52 AM:

You know, I'll probably regret saying this publicly, but I'm kind of weirded out by the whole thing. I mean, I get the FOX News insanity and the bullshit meter runs high - but on the other hand, it seems like I'm also seeing people *talking about science* getting shouted down as "denialists" in a way that seems to me to be breaking down natural discourse.

I'll admit a bias here because I've seen my son (who is studying environmental science at school) try to engage in discussion about climate and being responded to with scoffing ... as if only a denialist would study such a thing or seek out answers. Note that he's not even a skeptic, there's no question in his mind that the climate is changing and that this is a hugely important area of study right now. But a close family friend recently accused *that* as a form of denialism, because we don't *need* more science, we need to just accept this as happening.

So yeah, I get wound up about bad science and creationists and denialists - but lately? I'm sort of feeling like the good guys have their share of blind-faith followers as well. :/

#7 ::: Matt Freedman ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 09:57 AM:

In looking at the NASA page with a skeptical eye, I have several questions:

1) The chart states that "for 650,000 years, atmospheric CO2 has never been above this line...until now." Well, what about *more* than 650,000 years ago? If atmospheric C02 was above the line 700,000 years ago, then wouldn't that be pretty compelling evidence that humans are not necessarily the primary cause of the current warming trend?

2)The article states that the "warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years." Well, what about prior to the past 1,400 years?

3) Who cares if the sea level rise is "double that of the previous century?" Shouldn't the question be, is the sea level rise this century out-of-proportion to ALL centuries from which we have data?

These are just a few examples, but it is hard for me to accept that this data shows a causal relationship between human behavior and the rising temperature trends this century. There is certainly a correlation, but I'm not sure it rises to the level of causation.

The way the statements on the page are phrased imply that authors are limiting the data set from which they draw their conclusions. Why limit the data to 650K years ago, or 1,400 years ago - shouldn't we be looking at the widest range of temperature data available to us?

For example, if it turns that that a very similar warming trend happened, say, 1 million years ago...shouldn't we be considering that?

I have no science background, so I'd be interested in hearing from someone who does as to why the issues I raise above don't apply or don't make sense.

#8 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 10:33 AM:

Matt Freedman @ 7 -

The main part of the issue with climate change is its relationship to the state of human civilization. Essentially, what the climate did a million years ago doesn't really matter, because humans (as such) didn't exist then.

The heart of the matter is that a modern technological civilization has developed during a relatively benign climate. Over seven billion people are alive today, and they're on the precarious tip of a technological pyramid. Climate and its influence on weather patterns has a much greater impact on humans today that it would have had a thousand years ago.

That said, the issue is not really with the science. The problem is politics and the recalcitrance of people.

Plus, there are simple facts that bedevil us. For instance, the Western nations could cut their CO2 output in half, and that would only slightly slow climate effects, as along as the developing countries (most of Asia) continue unabated.

And here's pretty much an Iron Law: Nations won't sign on to anything that is perceived to slow economic growth.

The science is easy. People are stubborn sons of bitches. Still, there's hope. I think Roger Pielke might be on the right track.

http://blogs.chron.com/sciguy/archives/2010/10/post_185.html

#9 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 10:39 AM:

Matt, I'm not a scientist either, but I have a hard time understanding your questions:

(1) The graph's being limited to 650K doesn't imply that CO2 was higher before then. We may just not have data prior to that. You can browse here if you want to see the date ranges for the data we do have.

(2) "Rate" is the steepness of the graph. Prior instances of a high *rate* don't explain the *continuation* of that rate over time. Rather strikingly, and for reasons I don't know, the graph shows that CO2 tends to spike up and then descend gradually. So high *rates* are not unprecedented; what's unprecedented is the persistence of the increase, i.e., no significant descent.

(3) I doubt we have much ancient data on sea-level rises, since the rise and fall of land masses (plate tectonics) also affects what surfaces are inundated or not. But the sharp rise over the past decade compared to the preceding century is surely notable. If *all* we had were sea-level rise, we could wonder what else might explain it. But *every* indicator points to increased warming.

I think you might do better to question your own reluctance to accept the data and the consensus conclusions from it, before you start trying to find flyspecks in the data. Scientists routinely draw valid conclusions from data a helluva lot *less* conclusive than the NASA site reports.

#10 ::: Derek Tattersall ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 10:40 AM:

Did you perhaps mean causal instead of casual?

I don't think the connection between C02 and rising temperature is casual. Qutie the opposite if fact.

#11 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 10:45 AM:

I've been of the opinion for some time now that there is more than just a coincidental relationship between the climate change and evolutionary biology variants of scientific denialism.

#12 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 10:46 AM:

Derek, did you perhaps mean "is fact" rather than "if fact"? ;)

#13 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 11:01 AM:

Sylvia:

Yeah, I agree. There's a basic problem when questions of fact (what is the world like?) turn into questions of identity (which side are you on?).

Now, this has become a question of political identity, ultimately, because many people don't like the implications of some claims about reality. Specifically, it's hard to imagine addressing global warming effectively without some kind of world government, at least at the level of policing CO2 emissions from each nation, and somehow convincing each nation to effectively police its own CO2 emissions internally. Any measures we take will also hurt some industries and regions relative to others (coal mining and oil are hurt relative to nuclear, for example), and those industries and regions have a strong incentive to call the whole matter into question.

This is a very common pattern in questions of fact (science, engineering, history, math, logic, statistics) that become political.

And the problem is, once some question of fact becomes political, it can be quite hard to distinguish between people taking some position on that question (or asking hard questions of those taking some position on that question) for political reasons vs for reasons of actually wanting to understand the world. Even worse, very smart people will take and argue some position for reasons entirely unrelated to any actual knowledge of the question.

The best solution I can come up with is to try to understand the reasoning of someone making a certain argument or asking a certain question, and to look for whether the reasoning seems more like rhetoric or more like honest questioning. Another thing to do (but one never done in US mass media) is to look at track records. If you could have predicted a person's position on a question before you heard it, it is of no value. If someone is a partisan hack who always finds a way to argue for his party's position on every issue, it's pointless listening to his arguments; he's not telling you about reality or any independent thought about reality, he's simply showing you how clever he is at backfilling arguments for predetermined positions.

#14 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 11:07 AM:

I'm a rhetorician. (Dammit, Jim, I'm a rhetorician, not a scientist). I, of all people, should be okay with the fact that in political argument, being right is not enough -- one must also have credibility, an emotional pull on the audience, an occasion to speak and a clear purpose, and so on. Aristotle said this; it's not news. It's not enough to have logos; you must also have a narrative, which is more than plot: it's an entire stage setting that defines your character and your relationship to the audience and why they care about your topic and whose actions are attributable to what causes and so on. Burke said this; it's not news.

So I should understand why climate denialism has such a hold on people.

But damn, I get frustrated with the fact that being right is not enough. Facts do not count. For a good part of our right-wing compatriots, there's a certain mean pleasure they get out of denying plain facts and opposing the common good.

So, I'm thinking that maybe facts need to make a comeback, and one way people begin to accept facts as facts is through repetition. People tend to believe whatever truisms are repeated endlessly, so it would be good if they heard true things instead of false. The whole strategy of the corporate-funded anti-science movement is to repeat falsehoods until people aren't clear what the facts are.

So, I wonder if it would have any effect on the public if an eye-pleasing version of that chart from the NASA page were plastered everywhere, on billboards and full-page ads and TV screens and pop-up advertisements, relentlessly and endlessly for years. If I were a billionaire I think those advertisements would be my project. If I felt capable of getting a grant or managing a non-profit that would be my project. Give people a bit of damn LOGOS for a change. Don't say anything about it, just give them this big fact and repeat it endlessly.

I think I know what would happen; the opposition is very well-funded, is basically a PR arm of multinationals, and would get rid of those ads.

#15 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 11:17 AM:

albatross: I have to agree, but also nitpick that the desire to give a surprising, unpredictable message can also become a tic for journalists. The stupidly contrarian even-the-liberal-New Republic and Creed-is-underrated/Kaus-is-worth-reading-Slate are outgrowths of this desire.

Sylvia: In agreement with albatross, I think part of the problem is that most of us aren't scientists, so making a decision to give credibility to science is kind of an act of faith. But, yes, I wish it wouldn't become blind faith.

#16 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 11:26 AM:

rm:

The problem is, repetition is effective independent of truth. If you hear it said a thousand times that all Muslims are terrorists, or that smoking is very bad for you, you're inclined to start believing it. And yet, one of those things is false, the other is true.

More generally, yes, you can imagine a world in which the good guys with access to the propaganda tools use those tools to spread truth. But it's far more likely that those guys will use those tools to spread stories that further their interests. That means that some facts will be emphasized, some will be de-emphasized, and some will be buried if possible.

In fact, I think the widespread use of propaganda techniques and spin is one of the things that makes anti-science, anti-reason, anti-fact spin campaigns so effective. Today the New York Times and the president tell you that global warming is real and must be addressed. A few years ago, they told you with equal sincerity and certainty that Iraq was a major threat to US safety. Why trust them as a source of information for one, and not the other?

Once the respectable, trustworthy sources of knowledge in your society get a deserved reputation for often lying to you in order to push some political or social position, for omitting evidence or suppressing discussions that might be socially damaging, etc., every pronouncement they make becomes suspect.


#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 11:42 AM:

Matt Freedman @7: Welcome to Making Light, Matt Freedman. You should have told us you're an attorney for a utility lobbying organization, so we could take your expertise into account.

#18 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 11:54 AM:

Kazango!

#19 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:00 PM:

Teresa, are you sure about that? My Googling of Mr. Freedman led me here.

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/matthew-freedman/5/9a8/a69

There is another attorney named Matt Freedman here:

http://www.turn.org/section.php?id=56#matt

#20 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:02 PM:

Or, in the parlance of our times, oh SNAP!

#21 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:02 PM:

TNH @17 writes: [...]

And this is why automated reputation systems suck so badly at moderating online discussion.

Oh and Matt, here's a ProTip™: keep using your real name. It will go very badly for you if you choose to run under a sock puppet now.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:08 PM:

rm: My current favorite formulation is "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. No one is entitled to their own facts."

In order to have a genuine public discourse, we have to have and privilege external, objective, ascertainable facts. The single thing I most object to about the noise machine is that they lie without hesitation or remorse. They've corrupted the information environment, and are no friends to democracy.

#23 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:11 PM:

My last comment was held for the Moderation Deities, presumably because it contained a couple of URLs.

#24 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:11 PM:

650,000 years? But the Earth is only 6,000 years old -- as proven by Bishop Usher.

I'm joking but the idiot denialsts are not. This is not about evidence, unfortunately.

#25 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:18 PM:

Matt Freedman @7 asks a few apparently innocent questions: "1) The chart states that "for 650,000 years, atmospheric CO2 has never been above this line...until now." Well, what about *more* than 650,000 years ago? If atmospheric C02 was above the line 700,000 years ago, then wouldn't that be pretty compelling evidence that humans are not necessarily the primary cause of the current warming trend?

For an attorney, you sure don't seem to be demonstrating very much skill with inductive reasoning. For it to be "pretty compelling evidence" of anything humans may or may not be doing requires denying the antecedent, i.e. making a statement of the form (A -> B) & ~A -> ~B, which is a logical fallacy.

Care to try again, only with more honesty this time?

2)The article states that the "warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years." Well, what about prior to the past 1,400 years?

Again with the denying the antecedent. Some variety would be nice.

3) Who cares if the sea level rise is "double that of the previous century?" Shouldn't the question be, is the sea level rise this century out-of-proportion to ALL centuries from which we have data?"

You're like the boy with a hammer, aren't you?

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:23 PM:

Steve, your first comment has been let loose. My honest reaction? If it turns out that there are two attorneys named Matt Freedman who write about climate change, I'll think it's a nifty coincidence.

#27 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:24 PM:

@17: Are you sure that this "Freedman" person is an attorney, TNH? After all, most attorneys are at least a little bit smarter than this:

"1) The chart states that "for 650,000 years, atmospheric CO2 has never been above this line...until now." Well, what about *more* than 650,000 years ago? If atmospheric C02 was above the line 700,000 years ago, then wouldn't that be pretty compelling evidence that humans are not necessarily the primary cause of the current warming trend?"

#28 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:24 PM:

I've seen something very similar to Matt's post somewhere in the last few days. Smells like talking points.

My theory on this is that we're in for some rough sailing. And that we (as a group, either locally, nationally, or as a species) would be able to survive the rough times a lot better if we had a good supply of non-carbon based energy. A lot of the "oh crap, we need to replace X" scenarios might actually stand a chance of working if there's power. If not, then we're totally screwed.

If we run out of clean fresh water? desalination, but that takes power. A lot can be done with hydroponics and grow lights (and not just illicit things), but that takes power. Retreat to air conditioned caves? power.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:32 PM:

fyi, Steve --

Two URLs shouldn't have been enough to get your comment held for moderation. I've also checked "pending comments" and found that Spiny Norman and Bob-the-Mole both had URL-free comments waiting there. I don't know what's going on.

#30 ::: Mike Dixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:33 PM:

As much as I appreciate the effort, that graph at the top of the page bothers me; the y-axis should go down to zero. (I'm also a little curious whether ppm of CO2 is really a useful measurement when shown as linear data rather than exponential, but that's a question for another day.)

At a glance, it looks like the amount of CO2 regularly varies between 1 and 7 of whatever unit those backing lines represent, but recently it's gone up to 11. Scary! 60% higher than it's ever been before! (With the additional unexpected benefit of being able to say that global warming goes up to eleven.)

But... it's misleading. The actual numbers -- to their credit, they've actually labeled the axes, which is more than I've seen some people do -- vary between 180 and 300 historically, and are now at 380. 25% is a lot smaller than 60%, and you can see that very clearly if you draw your axes properly.

I just edited the image to show the full axis down to 0. It's available here, if you're interested. I think it's still an easily-noticeable, large change, but a) it leaves a bunch of aesthetically displeasing empty space below the line, and b) it looks less scary.

There's a lot of good information there; the historical range is around 120ppm high, and our current jump is another 80ppm above what's been seen before. That seems pretty bad no matter how you slice it.

Don't get me wrong, my father's a persistent climate change denier and it drives me batty, but I'd feel uncomfortable linking him to that NASA page. I'd rather not use potentially misleading information, even if it makes my argument stronger.

#31 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:43 PM:

albatross @13 You are right, it's the "identity" aspect that bothers me, I hadn't managed to put my finger on it before. The implications of trying to police CO2 emissions are enormous and frightening, of course. I've been frustrated at a focus on "little things" (Why are you driving a car when you could take the bus? How many flights have you taken this year? What do you mean, you have a wood burning stove, that's *terrible*) whilst disregarding the greater picture. I guess it's a direct response to the frightening implications of the huge changes that are really going to *need* to be done to bring things under control. Pointing at your neighbour is a lot easier to deal with than global implications?

rm @15 Good point. I can see how that gives rise to "which facts do I accept?" attitudes when it seems like people are being unclear or the background knowledge simply isn't there. That's where questioning helps while latching onto an "accepted truth" goes nowhere. I can see the issue with the questions from @7 which are followed by leading statements and implications. This kind of rhetoric is not helpful but even so, the resulting discussion is important and useful, even if his intentions were to confuse, I think.

#32 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Another useful resource is "How to talk to a climate sceptic". It is silent on Matt Freedman's points, though, so perhaps it needs a tune-up.

j h woodyatt@25 - I think you're technically right, but for me it sounds like an honest presumption of dishonesty. In his world, if someone says "X is true for Y amount of time", that always means that it was false at Y+1. Working in a denialist shop must be like judging the Gong Show - your ability to make objective judgements rots.

A bit of quick googling seems to show that the 750,000/800,000 year figure is as long as we have reliable records. There's no mysterious spike at the end. I did discover that there is a paper from last year published in Science about CO2 records from further back - the last time CO2 was this high and stayed this way was ~15 million years ago. Global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees F warmer, sea levels were 70 to 120 feet higher, dogs and cats lived together, etc.

I don't think the existence of natural climate change in the prehuman past disproves anthropogenic climate change today, any more than natural wildfires invalidate Smokey the bear. We know what natural cycles look like, and this ain't them.

#33 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:47 PM:

It's not just right-wingers and mouth-breathing morons that are denying climate change.

I volunteer at sci-fi conventions, and because of my credentials I'm often asked to join a science panel or two. At almost every panel -- no matter the subject -- someone in the audience tries to steer it toward the 'myth' of climate change. It's become a talisman against the scientific method. If someone wants to argue against facts, they bring up climate change as 'proof' that scientists can't be trusted.

I've asked my local convention to have a panel dedicated just to climate change discussion, but they haven't taken my suggestion yet. Either the people in charge are scared of having a panel devolve into a flamewar, or they don't trust the scientific viewpoint either.

#34 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 12:47 PM:

Arbor Day Foundation's side-by-side maps of US hardiness zones in 1990 and 2006. You can see the climate creep in just 16 years.

Audubon Society study shows that bird migration patterns are also shifting steadily northward.

When every marker you have points in the same direction, denying that it means something is just plain stupid.

#35 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 01:03 PM:

Ooh, I found a better set of maps! Climate change from 1960 to 2008. It's about halfway down the page, and there's other evidence along the way, such as butterfly ranges.

#36 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 01:04 PM:

I've had another comment held for review. Only 1 URL, but it's a long page and might have had some of the Magic Words on it somewhere.

#37 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 01:27 PM:

@5: Nevermind viable ecosystems....

Matt Freedman (presuming for a moment sincere inquiry) @7: 1) ... If atmospheric C02 was above the line 700,000 years ago ...

My understanding is that the issue is less the absolute value of CO2 than it is the rate of change. If the value creeps up slowly over time, we adapt, ecologies shift, 'sall good. Problem is, we're seeing a massive spike; how do you move a city in 10 years? What happens when your pollinators come out of hybernation a month before their food plants bloom? Pollinators starve, plants fail to reproduce. Bad news for everyone. Including the human populations that depend on those plants. As (only) one example.

My understanding is that it's also the rate and timing of the change that supports the homogenesis hypothesis. Natural CO2 levels don't spike and trough with anything like the severity that we're seeing now.

(Nb: TNH, Even if he is a professional denier, seems like these will be questions that legitimately come up for people who aren't schooled in this stuff (I have a particular friend in mind when I say this), and are therefore worth providing answers to. Over and over and over and over ... ::sigh:: See Sylvia's second 'graph @31)

What I don't understand is why the hell the oligarchs are so wedded to climate change denial in the first place. Don't they eat, too? Don't they like their sea-side getaways?

The only explanation I can come up with is that Vested Interest is a very primitive form of beast, vicious about maintaining its status quo, but very stupid about its long-term survival.

Hm. Maybe Earth has been invaded by aliens. The reason we've never noticed is that we've been expecting physical entities. Memetic invasion completely eludes our defenses.

rm @15 I think part of the problem is that most of us aren't scientists

When I rewatched Forbidden Planet a few months ago, one of the things that struck me was how casual was the embrace, acceptance, and regard for science. Entirely, "oh yes, of course." (Although maybe I'm incorrectly extrapolating that attitude out to the larger culture. Anyone here go back far enough to speak to that?)

<chomsky-esque paranoia>Do you suppose the oligarchy have been systematically undercutting the cultural value of science to support their accretion of power?</chomsky>

Mike Dixon @30: it looks less scary.

I dunno. Still looks plenty scary to me.

FungiFromYuggoth @32: and cats lived together

No no, they just hadn't speciated yet.

Lee @34: Coincidentally, following up on the OT pointer to the Science News website I find a cover story about Peccaries trekking northward to find a better climate

#38 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 01:28 PM:

Yargh. Should be "dogs and cats lived together..."

#39 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 01:44 PM:

I can't figure out just what the climate change deniers are trying to accomplish. Not the authoritarian mouthbreathers, who see everything as an Argument from Authority, but the big money guys, who presumably know what they are doing.

There is *a lot* of money to be made in retooling the world to use high-efficiency, non-carbon energy. Deny this, and you are handing that money to somebody else. The only reason to deny global warming is that they think they can make more money if nobody does anything. I don't see any way for this to work except in the shortest of terms.

#40 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 01:47 PM:

FungiFromYuggoth @32 writes: "...I think you're technically right, but for me it sounds like an honest presumption of dishonesty. ...

More accurately, I was making an honest presumption that Mr. Freedman was arguing like an attorney, i.e. when faced with an opposing argument that is better supported by the [inconvenient] facts, pick a logical fallacy and use it to undermine confidence in the reasoning of the opposition. He's using a fundamentally dishonest tactic— and, while that makes sense under an adversarial system of justice and in the funhouse carnival ride of American politics, it's still dishonest, and I'm calling him on it.

...Unless he wants to deny that he was merely pretending to be incompetent at inductive reasoning. At which point, I suppose I should apologize for being an ass.

I didn't feel comfortable, however, with assuming that he isn't tall enough to ride all the attractions at this park. I thought I was doing him a courtesy by assuming that he was intelligent enough to know what he was doing.

#41 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 01:49 PM:

"As much as I appreciate the effort, that graph at the top of the page bothers me; the y-axis should go down to zero."

No, it shouldn't, as the comments to Plait's post (with link to Edward Tufte) demonstrate to anyone's *reasonable* satisfaction.

The assertions are not the *percentage* of increase; it's the absolute value of that increase, and the very short timeframe within which it occurs. Neither assertion requires a graph beginning at zero for its demonstration.

#42 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 02:01 PM:

Lightning @ 39 -

There is *a lot* of money to be made in retooling the world to use high-efficiency, non-carbon energy

Yes, there is, but it's not going to be made by companies that extract and sell fossil fuels, or by the entities which use them. If your business model looked to become obsolete, you'd be yelping too.

#43 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 02:29 PM:

Martin Freedman @ 7: "If atmospheric C02 was above the line 700,000 years ago, then wouldn't that be pretty compelling evidence that humans are not necessarily the primary cause of the current warming trend?"

More than 650,000 years ago the climate followed a totally different pattern: the ice age cycle was very different previously, and before 2.5 million years ago it didn't exist at all. On long time scales, the earth's climate is hugely variable and poorly understood. But the pattern of the last 650,000 years is very clear, and that pattern predicted that the last few thousand years ought to have been cooling as we began a descent into a new glaciation with the CO2 levels dropping in sync with that. Instead, the temperatures have been increasing and CO2 has absolutely shot through the roof. We don't know what triggered previous pattern shifts in the global climate, but it'd be pretty hard to look at the last few thousand years and not notice that the big departure from the previous 650,000 years is human agriculture and industrialization.

"Well, what about prior to the past 1,400 years?"

They're being cautious. They don't want people to say, "but look at the increase in CO2 coming out of the last ice age!" Temperature has followed a pattern of sharp increase during deglaciation and then a gradual decline during reglaciation for the past 650,000 years. What's different about now is a) it's increasing when the pattern predicts we should began to be decreasing, and b) it's increasing at an unprecedented rate, especially the last 50 years. And that last "unprecedented" is not conditional--it includes every data set from every period we have.

"Shouldn't the question be, is the sea level rise this century out-of-proportion to ALL centuries from which we have data?"

The question should be, "is the predicted sea level increase going to destroy most of civilizations' built environment and impoverish our species?" And the answer is "Yes, it will." It doesn't even matter if it's anthropogenic or not: even if it was totally natural with millions of years of precedent, it would still be something we'd want to prevent if we could. And we can prevent it, because sea levels are highly correlative with CO2 levels, the causal link is theoretically well understood, and anthropogenic CO2 is a major part of the modern carbon cycle.

#44 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 02:45 PM:

I'd like to drop in a link to David MacKay's site http://www.withouthotair.com/ which is a detailed analysis of what the UK would need to do in order to completely stop using fossil fuels. It makes the case that this is a big project, but not an intractable one, and one worth doing for all kinds of reasons which are independent of climate change.

I kinda wish some of those arguments were in broader circulation here in the states. "Independence from oil imports" seems like it might be easy to get popular support behind in the present political climate.

#45 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 02:51 PM:
It’s clear, authoritative, and visually striking: a single-link refutation to throw at denialists.

Sorry, but NASA is in on the conspiracy. Simple.

As my own denialist father recently gleefully related, Emeritus Professor Hal Lewis, nuclear physicist, quit the American Physical Society because the organization at large supports the climate change "myth." And appeared on Fox News to brag about it. Clearly, it's all the scientists still in the APS who are lying or mistaken, not one elderly physicist speaking outside his area of expertise. Is there a pithy term for that sort of reasoning? "Occam's Nerf Bat," or something like that?

See, the connection to creationists is indeed significant. No clear, concise summary of facts will be sufficient for the sort Fragano Ledgister described @4, because (a particular whackjob version of) Christianity trumps facts.

#46 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 03:12 PM:

Jaque@37:
My understanding is that the issue is less the absolute value of CO2 than it is the rate of change.

A bit of both, I think. The rate is important -- given a few millennia to adapt there wouldn't be much problem. After all, Seattle was under a kilometer of ice not so many thousand years ago and it has recovered quite well. A nice line that I think I'm paraphrasing from Ian Stewart and/or Jack Cohen: "In a million years it will all be the same. But tomorrow it will be different"

Details of the level are also important -- for example, it is critically important whether global temperature at the peak gets high enough to melt Greenland or not. At the moment it isn't clear whether this is inevitable, and it would really be worth avoiding if possible.

albatross, Sylvia
Yes, political identity.

And telling people you study vaccine safety and side-effects, as some friends of mine do, tends to get you lumped in with antivaccine nuts, and this isn't fair either. On the other hand, to a good first approximation, everyone who talks about dangers from vaccination is a kook, and probably the majority of people who talk about the need to study the evidence for climate change are denialists, so some of this is just sensible stereotyping to save effort, rather than serious refusal to engage.


On the government intervention and regulation side, carbon pricing schemes (which used to be popular with conservatives in the good old days) don't have to be *that* intrusive or novel. They don't require qualitatively more or different information than a value-added sales tax already collects in many places. You don't need black helicopters and children taught to inform on their parents for leaving the computer on overnight.

#47 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 03:16 PM:

I don't remember where I found this link, but it's an interesting take on the political side of things: In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Cleaner Energy.

#48 ::: Matt Freedman ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 03:29 PM:

I guess I’ll start out by giving my own views on climate change. First of all, I believe in it. Second, even if the evidence for climate change is disputable, we should be risk-averse about something so possibly catastrophic for life on this planet. Third, I don’t care whether it’s human-caused because no matter what the cause, it is a problem that we must solve.

My responses to others’ comments:

@9 (Anderson) “I think you might do better to question your own reluctance to accept the data and the consensus conclusions from it, before you start trying to find flyspecks in the data.”

I do accept the data and the consensus conclusions from it. I merely question, as many climate change deniers would, apparent “holes” in the data. Why is the range of data restricted? Maybe the data ISN’T restricted – maybe that’s the entire range of historical data that we have. But if so, that’s not immediately obvious from the NASA web page. Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of semantics. I DON’T KNOW – that’s why I’m asking.

@17, 26 (Teresa) “You should have told us you're an attorney for a utility lobbying organization, so we could take your expertise into account.”

Thank you for welcoming me! I am an attorney, but I’m certainly not an attorney for a utility lobbying organization. I’ve never written about climate change before. I work as a law clerk for a state-level trial court judge. We handle mostly felony criminal cases and family law matters.

@19 (Steve C)

Yup, that’s me at LinkedIn.

@21 & 25 (j h woodyatt)

I don’t appreciate your not-very-subtle insinuation that I’m being dishonest. I may be stupid, but I’m not dishonest. I enjoy intelligent debate, but IMHO you’re kind of being a jerk.

@27 (Spiny Norman)

Calling someone stupid isn’t a very effective method of argument. That’s a tactic I expect from right-wing talking heads, not from the intelligentsia. Care to refute the statement you quoted instead of calling me names?

@30 (Mike Dixon)

This is sort of my point. The information on the NASA page may be misleading. Even if it’s not, it’s not MARKETED very well. NASA would do better to say “In all of the data we have about the earth’s climate throughout history, this is unprecedented” or something to that effect.

Instead, NASA basically says – and here I exaggerate for emphasis – “in the past 5 years, atmospheric CO2 has never been above this line . . . .” Wouldn’t a reasonable person say, “Well, hold on a minute. What about BEFORE the past 5 years? Isn’t that relevant?” THAT is my point.

I’m only saying that this is not the greatest resource to point climate-change-deniers towards either because of the data set or because of the semantics. Maybe it’s only unconvincing to idiots such as myself, but perhaps most climate change deniers fall into that category.

I enjoy spirited discussion, but I don’t enjoy name-calling. That’s what I expect from the right-wing mouth breathers on some of the other forums I frequent – not from the fine people here.

Thank you,
Matt


#49 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 03:51 PM:

Welcome back, Mike, and an excellent second post!

The marketing of information is a major problem. And with the various marketing expertise that's been brought to mis-information, it's not surprising how difficult it can be to sell an idea that might be costly.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 04:07 PM:

Matt Friedman @48:

(Everyone: note the first name; I'm seeing him addressed as Mike and Martin. We can do better.)

You did kind of come in sounding like a concern troll on a subject that's prone to concern trollery. I think you might want to state your views up front in these contexts.

I'd note that heresiarch @43 has addressed the point you were asking Spiny Norman about. If you're interested in discussing the subject (and thus proving yourself in this conversation) rather than having a fight, I'd suggest pursuing that line of discussion.

Also, I'm not sure I'd class us, or that we'd class ourselves, as the "intelligentsia". Seriously; will you be calling us "elites" next?

My personal out-loud comment to your first post was "where are the fossils of transitional forms?", by which I meant that one can always poke holes between two data points or at the end of a line. But I'd be happy to see my early concerns refuted by an interesting and intelligent discussion.

How did you find this thread, out of curiosity? And do you write poetry?

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 04:08 PM:

I swear, there's no content-based filtering on Making Light. Only comments with more than a set number of URLs in them should be held pending approval.

Eric @28, I could be wrong of course, but it looks to me like puree of well-strained gnat. There's another way to find out:

Matt Freedman @7, could you tell us how far back the data would have to go for you to consider it valid? And can you also tell us why you consider that a better cutoff point?

Sylvia, I'd love to see more actual discussions of climate change, but for years now, any time you get one going in the online universe, it's overrun by people who have talking-point tape loops in their heads.

Lee @35, I love the zone maps. I remember how tightly Zone 6 and Zone 7 used to follow the Mogollon Rim. It's completely changed now -- Zone 7 covers the whole Four Corners area.

#52 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 04:09 PM:

I have no philosophical problem with people showing up with an extremely adversarial viewpoint. Good science gets done by people stomping as hard as they can on every new discovery to see how tough it is. But don't be surprised when the defenders of their viewpoint stomp back.

I don't mind people being insensitive. I don't mind people being oversensitive. But pick one and stick to it.

More directly, here's a nice discussion of climate change and false controversy- I don't THINK I got it from here, but I might have:

http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?doc_id=1444

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 04:39 PM:

TNH @51:

There is keyword-based kicking to moderation, actually; go to tools/plugins/Spam Lookup-Keyword Filter on the back end and marvel at the regular expressions and assorted words of power, all beautifully alphabetized by one Yog Sysop.

That's why comments with drug names don't show up, for instance, or ones that use bbcode formatting and certain other generic human-like formulations.

#54 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 04:53 PM:

Ah, Jim's spam filters. I hadn't thought of those.

By the way, my comment #51 was written long before it appeared. It has way too many URLs to get through on its own, and I got busy and forgot to release it.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 04:55 PM:

Not just Jim's any more. I add things as they become necessary, too.

Might be time to weed some of it soon.

#56 ::: Matt Freedman ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 05:17 PM:

Abi @ 50

heresiarch @43 provided exactly what I had asked for – an excellent explanation that addressed pretty much all of my questions. Really, after reading that comment, there is no need to discuss the subject any further or to attempt to “prove myself.”

You are right – I should have set forth my own personal views in my first comment. I am a newcomer to this community and I am sure that y’all have suffered more than your fair share of trolls, so it is very understandable that certain members here reacted to my initial comment with animosity, suspicion, etc. I should have anticipated such and chosen my words more carefully. I apologize.

I also apologize for the “intelligentsia” remark. I meant it as a compliment to mean that the discussions here are at a very high level as compared to many other places on the internet. Tangentially, I also think it is unfortunately that the word “elite” has a negative connotation these days. Elitists suck; the elite are usually pretty awesome.

Thanks for the note about my first name – unfortunately, you spelled my LAST name wrong in your comment :) It is Freedman, not Friedman.

I am enjoying this thread and I have been enjoying this site for several years as a lurker. I haven’t really delved into the comments/community very much before, but I am glad I did. I wish that there were fewer “YOUR JUST STOOPID” comments, but the kind and intelligent comments from the majority of posters more than make up for that.

I don’t write poetry. I’m more of a visual arts person. Why do you ask?


Teresa @ 51

I don’t think I am explaining myself very well. I consider the data valid. I wondered why the NASA webpage seems to “cut off” the data at, for example, 650,000 years ago, instead of going back all the way to the beginning. (As I have previously stated, 650,000 years ago might BE the beginning, but you can’t tell this from the NASA webpage).

In regards to your question regarding cut-off points, I think that NASA should either (a) not use a cut-off point at all (instead using all recorded data) or (b) explain why they did use a cut-off point, as heresiarch @43 did so elegantly. Otherwise, a reasonable person might conclude (IMO) that NASA might be manipulating the data to support its conclusions – OR a climate-denier will try to discredit the NASA page by pointing out the seemingly arbitrary cut-off points. Does that make sense?

Thanks,
Matt

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 05:18 PM:

abi @ 50... I'm not sure I'd class us, or that we'd class ourselves, as the "intelligentsia"

The day I class myself that, I'll wonder if I was replaced by a pod person who just realized it's a pod person.

#58 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 05:20 PM:

One bit which jumped out at me from the NASA page:

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.

Why does the Greenland data go to 2006, while the Antarctica data goes only to 2005? Why don't either go further? If it's because that's the only data that's available, then that's one thing--and the page should mention that. If it's because it didn't support the argument as well, then that's quite another.

I tried to answer this question. Unfortunately, the page has no citation for this assertion. Googling for the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment turned up this page, which indicates that GRACE is ongoing. This seems to indicate that data should be available past 2006; on the other hand, it's possible that the appropriate analysis has not been done on more contemporary data.

I have so far failed at finding any further information on GRACE's data. If anyone has more luck, I'd love to hear your results.

I'm tempted to add something here to deflect accusations of concern trollery, as abi @50 suggests. I don't think I will, though; for one, it wouldn't work. For another, I find the concept offensive and I'd like to think better of Making Light than that.

#59 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 05:41 PM:

Part of the problem, I think, is that many of the simple, could-make-a-difference-if-we-all-did-it solutions are not going to make instant money for Big Business. Micro power for example: solar water heating panels and photo-voltaics on every roof, windmills on every isolated property and high-roof-in cities, ground pump heat exchangers, increased use of small photovoltaic systems for recharging mobile phones, rechargeable batteries, mp3 pleyers etc. Of course, if the energy companies invested in making and leasing out solar panels to home owners, linking them into the grid and using the surplus on sunny days, it could make them money - but it would require medium-term investment before returns.

And larger changes are going to be needed - reductions in consumption, perhaps a change in engineering so things last longer and/or are more modular (so you can easily replace the part that's outdated, not the whole piece of electronics).

Lee @ 34: Also, e.g. records from amateur naturalists in the UK, where certain families has been recording things like when the first bluebells come out, for the past several hundred years in a given location.

Greenland ice going yes, big problem. But what about if the Columbia Ice Field goes: parts of North America are going to lose much of their fresh water from rivers which are presently fed from the melting snows in summer, which are replenished in winter - but if the icefield goes (see e.g. the retreat of the Athabasca glacier), the snow won't stick around and melt slowly, it will melt rapidly - spring thaw will cause floods, then summer drought. (As I recall from hearing about it when we visited on our honeymoon five years ago, but I think I have the basics correct).

#60 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Identity politics works both ways, which IMHO is part of why everybody jumped on Matt Freedman (plus he'd also tripped one or two markers of Troll Bingo, presumably by accident), and the right-wing propaganda machine is Really Just Fine with that. Fighting instead of discussing? Now you're either competing with them on one of their strong points, or else you're alienating somebody who could be one of your friends, if you rolled the IFF dice wrong.

George Lakoff's book "Don't Think Of An Elephant" gives a good discussion on the framing and identity politics that the right wing have been using for the last decade or so, and it provides in interesting context for looking at the Tea Party. Every month, or sometimes more often, they get some new craziness to rant about, kind of like those record clubs you may have joined in the 80s. You don't have to buy every month's selection, but there's enough variety that some of them are interesting, and once you buy one of them they keep offering you more, and if you don't notice, they'll send you this month's record.

In the Tea Party Record Club, many of the issues are just there to keep you hooked and reading the ads - "Obama's a Kenyan Anti-Colonialist Other!", "Pelosi's Too Liberal!", "Obama's Dog Is A Socialist!", "Republicans Good, Democrats Bad!"
Some of them are serious - "Muslim Terrorists Are Hiding Under Your Bed!", "Iran's Got Nukes, Shouldn't We Invade?", "Health-Care Death Panels will Kill Your Grandma!", "Keep Moving Forward, not Backward!".
But some of them are messages from their corporate sponsors - "Global Warming's a Hoax!" "Cap&Trade Will Hurt America's Oil Companies!"
They're always reinforcing the frames and the identity connection, whether there's any message beyond maintaining audience loyalty or not.

Evolution denial is useful, because it uses identity to bring in well-understood customers and keep them around, and because it keeps people willing to be anti-science in cases where science comes to politically inconvenient conclusions (like climate change), and most of the people who aren't brought in by that one are willing to ignore the evolution denial as "those silly religious fundies" instead of rejecting the whole package, so they can still be sold on terrorists under the bed or socialized health-care death panels.

#61 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 05:59 PM:

Matt Freedman @ 56:
I wondered why the NASA webpage seems to “cut off” the data at, for example, 650,000 years ago, instead of going back all the way to the beginning. (As I have previously stated, 650,000 years ago might BE the beginning, but you can’t tell this from the NASA webpage).

I strongly suspect that the plot on the NASA page is taken from the Vostok (Antarctica) ice core, which only goes back to to 420,000 years ago. So you are seeing all the data from that source. (See, for example, this Wikipedia graphic.) I gather that data from other ice cores published prior to 2008 extended back to 650,000 years ago; that's presumably where the "650,000 years ago" number on the NASA page comes from.

Are there other (more recently obtained) ice cores with CO2 records going further back? Yes -- for example, this Wikipedia graphic combines several newer ice core datasets going back to 800,000 years ago (the most recent published in 2008). The overall pattern is similar; the truncated plot on the NASA page isn't really "hiding" anything. Note that the CO2 level in the older records is, if anything, slightly lower -- so the statement that "CO2 has never been this high in the past 650,000 years" can be amended to read "... in the past 800,000 years".

#62 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 06:01 PM:

Matt Freedman @48 writes: "...IMHO you’re kind of being a jerk."

Fair enough. I was being a bit of a jerk. I have my reasons to be one about this, but I know that's not an acceptable excuse.

So, here it goes: I sincerely apologize for my insensitivity, and I hope you'll forgive me if I bruised your feelings with my unwarranted assumption that a repeated and bald-faced use of a logical fallacy— by a lawyer— was probably a dishonest and deliberate effort to undermine confidence in the integrity of the work of NASA climate scientists.

My bad. I promise I won't do that again.

I'll assume instead that lawyers in the United States are, as a general rule, so poorly trained that basic predicate logic often completely eludes them. (Hmmm, though I suspect the next lawyer who comes along, laying down a fresh carpet of nonsense on climate change, will probably think I'm insulting their intelligence when I helpfully begin to engage with them by launching into a lecture in high-school level math. What to do what to do what to do...)

#63 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 06:13 PM:

Forgot to add to my rant - I'm not sure how we get past the anti-science identity politics on climate change, other than TV programs about cute fuzzy animals that are going extinct because of it (and really the more serious problem for most of them is habitat destruction, though it all overlaps.) I'm of the age that got all the Earth Day ecological mindset back when we were young hippies, which reinforced well with Boy Scout learning about nature and conservation and water cycles and such, and there have been years when schools tried to teach kids to value ecology, but not having kids of my own I don't know how much they're getting it, especially as society's becoming more urbanized and nature's something kids see on TV rather than experiencing.


For a while it looked like insurance companies might be economically interested in long-term survival and therefore in making sure we don't have a much larger Katrina-like disaster when rising water levels undermine Manhattan real estate and annual midwestern floods wash St. Louis down the Mississippi and Detroit and Buffalo down the St. Lawrence. But after the AIG debacle, I don't know that they've got enough resources left to balance out the oil companies that want to grab what they can now.

#64 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Damien Neil @ 58:
Why does the Greenland data go to 2006, while the Antarctica data goes only to 2005?

I think it's simply a matter of when the relevant (peer-reviewed) publications were done. This Science News article describes the Antarctic-related work using data through 2005 (in a paper published at the beginning of 2006); this article mentions work relating to Greenland published later that year and incorporating data through April 2006. Nothing more sinister than that, I fear.

(Are there more recent results? Yes. For example this 2009 article about Antarctica and this 2010 article about Greenland both deal with data from GRACE. Both of these are consistent with the earlier reports summarized on the NASA webpage, which surprises me not at all.)

#65 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 06:39 PM:

Steve C., #42: The "buggy whip" argument, yes. OTOH, if I were a leader in one of those industries, you'd better believe I'd be doing heavy research into alternative technologies right now, with an eye to riding the wave and being able to make a smooth transition. Unfortunately, that sort of long-term thinking has gone completely out of fashion in the energy industry.

Zack, #44: Yes, you'd think "independence from Arab oil" would have a lot of traction with the TPers -- one in the eye for the Saudis, etc. The reason it doesn't is that the people who control and bankroll the TPers are dependent on "Arab oil" for their own fortunes, so it's never allowed to be framed that way. There's an awful lot of blackwhite (in the Orwellian sense) in the various TP positions, if you look closely.

Matt, #48: You appear to be stretching a point beyond its useful life. There's a significant difference between a baseline 5 years long and one 650,000 years long. Arguing that "we need to look at the data before that" is reasonable in the former case, but rather ludicrous in the latter -- especially given that very regular pattern, marred by the drastic change at our end of the baseline.

dcb, #59: Individual solar panels are a good idea if you live in one of the areas with the climate to make them work. Lots of sunshine isn't enough; you also have to have a fairly dry climate. Houston's is too humid. But for the Southwest desert cities, certainly.


#66 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 06:57 PM:

I think there's no one way to answer denialists, because there's no one reason for their denial.

1) Folks who insist, always and forever, under every circumstance, that the government has no right to tell them what to do.

2) The folks with a significant interest in continuing our oil consumption because that's how they make lots of money.

3) Conspiracy theorists.

4) People who hear more from these three groups than from the scientists and don't have the background knowledge to evaluate.

I think the NASA page might work for the last group if they were exposed to it enough, definitely not for the third group (after all, as mds pointed out in #45, NASA is in on the conspiracy), not for the second group unless they can figure out how to make even more profit by no longer denying, and, well, the first group causes the tragedy of the commons no matter what the aspect of the commons under discussion is.

I'm sure there are more broad classes of reasons for denying climate change. And modern medecine. And the moon landing. And...

#67 ::: Matt Freedman ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 07:03 PM:

j h woodyatt @ 62

Whatever, dude. You "win."

Lee @ 65

The 5 year period was an analogy I was using to make the point that we either need to "look at the data before" the 650,000 period, or perhaps explain why we aren't doing so. I didn't mean to equate 5 years with 650,000.


#68 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 07:12 PM:

Peter Erwin @ 64: Thanks! That's the sort of thing I was looking for.

The NASA page states: "Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006." The second article you linked states, "...between April 2002 and February 2009, the Greenland ice sheet shed roughly 385 cubic miles of ice." That's about 55 cubic miles per year, which fits into the same range. Point in NASA's favor.

#69 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 07:26 PM:

#59, 65 (dcb and Lee): Time for me to take my fresh new book-learning out for a spin! I'm sure there's nothing more annoying than someone with a bunch of textbook theory and no practice, so I'll try to keep it short and relatively non-dogmatic.

There are a few kickers on alt-energy, aside from the It's The Oil Industry theory (always popular, and possibly true.) I don't necessarily think It's The Oil Industry, because we've changed something like 25% of our electric power generation in the last decade and it's mostly changed from coal to natural gas. You'd think they could have done something about that if they cared. Big Business doesn't just line up on one side of this- GE isn't small, Siemens isn't small, they've got some pretty good renewable business going.

1) The economics are currently (or were recently) pretty ugly. Apparently the price of solar panels has fallen by a factor of 2 in the last 2 years, which makes them closer to viable, but the problem is capacity factor. If you're dependent on sunlight, and you have no storage, you're generating power around 28% of the time (in Arizona where there are no clouds.) If you are running a natural gas turbine, you're generating power around 90% of the time and your capital costs are a factor of 5 or 10 less. One of my textbooks said "Bankruptcy is the opposite of sustainability."

2) Bankers like to loan money for projects that look a lot like projects that already work. Not necessarily a problem for household rooftop solar water heating (which works well, by the way) but more of a problem if you're trying to build, e.g., a $1.5 billion CSP system in the California desert.

3) Unrelated point: could we add "Necessary" to the spelling reference? Or am I the only person with that problem?

4) Wind is viable mainstream power now. Unfortunately it's not something you really want to do in a city, because serious turbines are this big and sometimes they break and throw a multi-ton blade or two in an arbitrary direction.

5) Personal soapbox moment: We use almost none of our oil to generate electricity (less than 8%), we get almost none of our electricity from oil(about 3%), and solar, wind and nearly all other alt-energy produces electricity. We can't poke the Bin Ladens in the eye simply by building more solar power.

#70 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 07:34 PM:

Matt Freedman @ 7:
If atmospheric C02 was above the line 700,000 years ago, then wouldn't that be pretty compelling evidence that humans are not necessarily the primary cause of the current warming trend?

No, it wouldn't, for a whole host of reasons. It's a bit like an arsonist (caught setting fire to trees, on a day with no thunderstorms) arguing that since lightning strikes have, in the past, caused some forest fires, he can't be possibly be responsible for the current one.

Look -- the evidence for human-caused global warming is not just that one dataset. Basic atmospheric and radiative physics says that if you put more CO2 into the atmosphere, you will get more warming. We've been putting lots of CO2 into the atmosphere for the past one or two hundred years (this is very well established), so we should expect there to be warming. Moreover, you can run detailed models that properly account for atmospheric, oceanic, and other processes, to try and predict how much warming there should be, and how fast or slow it should be; when compared with the temperature records for the past century, these models do an excellent job of retrodicting past data (without being forced a prior to do so).

It's not just correlation; it's a massive accumulation of data from multiple sources, combined with well-understood physical mechanisms.

#71 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 07:47 PM:

Coming very late to this party (having been out of town most of the day) and catching up:

Albatross #13: "If you could have predicted a person's position on a question before you heard it, it is of no value."

You know how I feel about seat belts and vaccination. But, so far, I haven't voiced my opinion on lighted fire-exit signs and panic bars. Can you predict what my position on them would be? Is my opinion therefore of no value?

Perhaps your statement is a bit stronger than it might need to be?

TNH #29: "I've also checked "pending comments" and found that Spiny Norman and Bob-the-Mole both had URL-free comments waiting there. I don't know what's going on."

If you check the "spam details" drop-down box on the "manage comments" screen, you'll see why a post was held for moderation. There's a large number of links and phrases and codes that will get held, because there are a large numbers that are markers for spam. E.g., a post that gives a link to a linkedin address will be held, because there's a ton of comment spam that has linkedin addresses as their payload.

--------------

General comment: Yes, the carbon dioxide level on earth was once quite a bit higher than it is right now. But I don't see a return to Jurassic-swamp temperature and humidity levels, coral growing in the polar seas, as an over-all good. Even if it did happen before.

If you want to talk about devastating changes to the atmosphere brought about by organisms, the way green plants filled the atmosphere with a corrosive, poisonous, gas is a great one. And had there been anaerobic bacteria sounding the warning way back when, y'know, they would have been right.

---------------


As I'm posting this, the thread goes to #64. I expect there'll have been other comments while I was reading the earlier ones.

---------------

Recall, too, that in 19th century there were germ-theory-of-disease deniers too.

And do you know something? They had a point.

First, that while some diseases are caused by some germs, not all diseases are caused by germs. Those include genetic diseases, environmental diseases, and degenerative diseases. Many germs cause no diseases at all. Even with disease germs (for example, cholera, to take the case that brought about the debate in the 19th c. and which is in the news right now), of all the people who are exposed to the germs, only a fraction will become sick.

So: Not all germs cause diseases. Not all diseases are caused by germs. Even given the germs that the strongest proponents of the germ theory can point to, you cannot always cause the disease by giving a pure sample to a healthy volunteer.

By those standards, the germ theory is shaky indeed.

#72 ::: Matt Freedman ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 07:56 PM:

Peter @ 70


My questions apply to the NASA webpage standing alone. Of course there's reams of other evidence supporting the idea that climate change exists. But Phil Plait said that "[the NASA webpage] basically one-stop shopping for clear, concise evidence that the Earth is warming up." And although ***I personally believe that climate change is real***, when I read the NASA website from the perspective of someone who is undecided, it did not convince me.

Other posters have done a fine job of explaining why the dataset is accurate even though it may be incomplete. The NASA webpage might be more convincing if it incorporated some of these explanations - although I realize that the longer and more detailed the webpage is, the less likely people are to read or comprehend it.

#73 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 08:00 PM:

Sandy, #69: Just to clarify -- the "poke in the eye for the Saudis" argument isn't something I personally believe, but I'm pragmatic enough to use the tool when it's there in the toolbox. Admittedly, it's a much better argument for public transportation than for solar power.

Backing up a moment, no one else has responded to KeithS @47, and that link is well worth reading. Frames, again.

#74 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 08:55 PM:

Pardon me for mis-taking your name, Matt, and thank you abi for pointing it out.

#75 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 09:24 PM:

Razib over at the blog Gene Expression has been mucking about with survey data re creationism/gw denial and finds that they aren't that strongly correlated.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/10/a-relationship-in-attitudes-toward-global-warming-evolution/

His best guess is that, in the US, creationism is a marker for Christian fundamentalism and gw denialism represents libertarianism and business interests. The two groups may co-exist in the current GOP but they don't agree on all issues.

#76 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 10:04 PM:

I've noticed that it's warmer most winters in Los Angeles than it was 15 or 20 years ago. Less frost, less precipitation, more wind. And it's getting hot earlier in the year; 'June Gloom' has moved into April and May, when we have it at all.

It's also possible to check temperature records at weather.com, for a given weather station. (They'll give you the record highs and lows for a given date.)

#77 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 11:32 PM:

If atmospheric C02 was above the line 700,000 years ago, then wouldn't that be pretty compelling evidence that humans are not necessarily the primary cause of the current warming trend?

Strictly speaking, with the literal meaning of "necessarily", yes, since it would demonstrate the existence of at least some nonindustrial causes of CO2 spikes. For that matter, the fact that the past several spikes have been smaller than the current one is not, by itself, proof that the current one is qualitatively different. Some spike has to be the biggest and there aren't enough on the graph to be really confident what the distribution of spike sizes looks like or how far out on the tail the current one really is.

But when you add in what is known about mechanisms, it's the equivalent of an arson suspect arguing that the building *might* have spontaneously combusted at the exact moment he was walking by with a flaming torch in his hand -- theoretically possible, but practically, it would be stupid not to look at the obvious cause first.

#78 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 12:17 AM:

There's a chilling bit in one of Charles Pellegrino's books about the Titanic that was, for me, a real tipping point away from a vaguely-libertarian distrust of climate change claims. It starts with a simple observation: the rate of sedimentation in the North Atlantic is way up. The decade leading up to when Pellegrino was writing that book, in the early '00s, had seen nearly as much crud fall on the decks of the wreck as the whole period before, and the rate was continuing to escalate.

Pellegrino set out to find out why. It turns out that massive overfishing was one of two big culprits. By removing so many of the fish that normally prey on various of the little nearly microscopic critters, lots more of said critters were hanging around, to die and sink and become wreck-covering sediment. And the other was a pair of environmental changes: warmer waters, and increased flows of fresh water from melting glaciers and ice caps. Both of those favored the growth of some species over others, and the imbalances led to, again, more sedimentation.

He laid out his case very succinctly, and when I went to look it up, I found that he'd been quite right about the data and their interpretation. And I realized, you know, I could no longer argue against the realities of the sort he was describing.

It was very helpful for me to see a good study of a specific thing like that, and like the butterfly distributions mentioned above. These are the telling points, at least for me.

#79 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 01:30 AM:

Matt Freedman @56:

It is inevitable that any post pointing out a misspelling will contain its own misspelling. Having it be your surname was particularly unfortunate, though. I do apologize.

(You seem to have fended this off quite handily with the deliberate misspelling "STOOPID". I congratulate you.)

"Do you write poetry?" is shorthand for "stick around, participate in other threads". We have an intermittent history of falling into verse in the comment threads here.

#80 ::: Fred Moulton ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:00 AM:

Saying "gw denialism represents libertarianism" is a bit odd. The Libertarian philosophy is concerned with topics such as role of the individual in society, political theory and similar topics; climate change is the concern of atmospheric physics, climatology and related fields. I have heard Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and others express both agreement and disagreement on climate change. Positions on questions of science can not be derived from a political philosophy. If you hear someone claim that their position on climate change derives from being a Libertarian then it seems to me that they not a Libertarian but probably just someone spouting off and using the term because they think it sounds cool. There is one email list that I follow most closely which is explicitly devoted to discussions of libertarian topics and most persons on the list who have expressed an opinion agree climate change is happening and human activity is likely a major cause. But it is seldom mentioned because it is not a topic related to Libertarian philosophy.

#81 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:06 AM:

Bruce, #78: For me, it was those hardiness-zone maps. I kept looking from one to the other, tracking the slow northward creep of each zone; while I hadn't been a denier before, that image immunized me against their poison forever.

#82 ::: Emma in Sydney ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:34 AM:

I love this community. Even when people are cranky and over react, someone helps them walk it back. I hope Matt stays around. As always, xkcd might be relevant: http://xkcd.com/810/

#83 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:39 AM:

On the question of dealing with denialists: Any cutoff will give them "grounds" to dispute the dataset.

They have a set opinion on the worth of it, before it's read (i.e. they think it bunk. Barring the moving hand of their God becoming visible, and making tipping the scales of The Market, there is nothing they won't deny; it's an article of faith).

The name for the lone soul in disagreement is, "John in the Desert", or any other single yea-sayer (Pastuer, Wegener, Snow). That one person is the touchstone they need to justify their iconoclasm.

They are in valiant opposition to the misguided powers that be, and it is a comfort that so many disagree with them. They get to be Jeremiah.

#84 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 03:48 AM:

Zora @75:
His best guess is that, in the US, creationism is a marker for Christian fundamentalism and gw denialism represents libertarianism and business interests.

He doesn't seem to be making the second part of that argument in that post (a couple of the commenters do). All he ends up concluding is: "The dependence of attitudes toward evolution on religious views is pretty direct as expected. Not as clear with the Global Warming issues."

#85 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 03:53 AM:

Fred Moulton @ #80, perhaps small "l" libertarianism suits the "gw denialist" claim better than large "L" Libertarianism. It seems to me that that word has become a universal term meaning "government does nothing right and has bad intentions; keep it the hell out of my life. If government thinks I should give up my car ('Freedom!') in the name of some fuzzy concept like global warming, then government is obviously wrong."

To me large "L" Libertarianism implies a particular party or group or faction.

#86 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 07:04 AM:

To paraphrase one of my favourite actors in a bit of scenery-chomping goodness: "You'd best start believing in climate change; you're living in it!"

I'm living in Western Australia, where (as documented by Tim Flannery) we had a fairly major climate shift in around 1977. Since then, this part of the country has had recurring droughts, constant salinity problems, and steadily decreasing rainfall in the south-western corner. Guess where the majority of the people in the state live? This year, we've had our driest winter on record (which, for a state which depends on winter rains to fill the dams, is not good news) and we're being urged to save water - 6 bucketfuls per household per day (or 54L per day, in other words). This is on top of non-stop water restrictions for at least the past decade, which are an Australia-wide thing.

When I was growing up, there were maybe about a half a dozen days each summer in total which were over the old "century" mark (i.e. 100F or 38C). These days, we're looking at entire weeks where 38C is a cool day, and 40C is more realistic. Normally, our winters would be heralded in with about two to three weeks of rather extreme storms. This year, we got only one - google "Stormageddon" and "Perth" for details of it (two or three weeks of storms all bundled into a three hour period). Used to be Perth was too cool for mangoes to grow successfully. These days, they're sold down in the Bunnings garden centre, and the things which have trouble growing are things like apples and stone fruit (they don't get enough chilling in winter).

I can't deny climate change because it's something I come up against every single day.

#87 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 07:50 AM:

#80: Positions on questions of science can not be derived from a political philosophy.

Logically, no, but practically, there's a reason for the correlation. If a problem would require politically unpalatable collective action to solve, denying that it exists at all or is serious enough to need solution becomes a more attractive option, even though it isn't any better supported empirically.

Distaste for government doesn't automatically make someone a paragon of rationality (in fact, un-nuanced positions are in general a marker for irrationality IMO; the number of times the evidence points to "It's more complicated than you can sum up in a short slogan" is so large that anyone who routinely thinks in short slogans is deliberately dropping evidence that doesn't fit the enforced simplicity of their worldview).

#88 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 08:35 AM:

Terry Karney @83: They get to be Jeremiah.

They think they're Jeremiah, but sound more like Jonah to me.

Regarding the appeal of climate change denial to (a certain flavor of) small-l libertarians and/or (certain types of) fundamentalists: some hold to a conspiracy theory that all environmentalism is a stalking horse for Communism and one-world-government. They think environmentalists are "watermelons" (green on the outside, red on the inside). The very distinguished and honorable gentleman from Oklahoma calls climate science "the greatest hoax" because he thinks nefarious forces are using it to prepare for world domination. (Really, I don't mind if we use the Senate as out-of-state housing for our most hopelessly nutty fools, but do we have to give them legislative powers? Can't we just tell them they have powers and then pass laws with only the House? They'll be too busy preening to notice.)

#89 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 08:39 AM:

4) Wind is viable mainstream power now. Unfortunately it's not something you really want to do in a city, because serious turbines are this big and sometimes they break and throw a multi-ton blade or two in an arbitrary direction.

Anyone else familiar with the Windbelt? I've been trying to work out how to get hold of one (or several) to supplement my household electricity use. It looks like a truly great concept to me, and lacks the flinging-huge-chunks-of-metal problem. Their webpage says they're working on setting up deals with manufacturers. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:17 AM:

janra #66:

I'm noticing that there are no *good* reasons for denying global warming in your list. Is it really the case that the evidence for human caused global warming via CO2 emissions is so rock solid that there can be no sensible dissent?

It's not my field, but my impression as an outsider is that the current conclusions of the field are very much subject to change--it's a very young field, and all the data on which the models are built is observational and doesn't really permit meaningful experimental verification, for example. When last I tried to dig into this a bit, nobody could fully account for where human-emitted CO2 was going, which makes for kind-of a disturbing feature in the model[1].

That doesn't mean we should ignore global warming. As far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of people who study this stuff for a living agree that human CO2 emissions are driving global warming, and that continuing on our current path will lead us somewhere we don't want to go[2]. And changing something as fundamental as how we use energy is going to take a long, long time to carry off--we'll be a lot happier if we start now rather than later, should it turn out to be much more urgent than we currently think to cut CO2 emissions quickly. But it does mean that we need to avoid turning the question into one of morality--are you one of the good guys who believes in AGW or one of the heretics who still denies it?

[1] The disturbing part being the lack of a good answer to the question "how do we know that whatever is absorbing all that excess CO2 won't *stop* absorbing it or even start giving it all back next year?"

[2] In general, "we can't really have great confidence in these models' predictions" is not a good argument for ignoring the issue, since that means things may turn out much worse than the models predict.

#91 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:26 AM:

Wind and solar will definitely be a bigger part of our energy generation future, but unless we have a breakthrough in energy storage, they can't be counted on for baseline energy generation, i.e. those power plants that must be able to function at any time.

There are also capital costs in building transmission lines from where the wind blows and the sun shines to where the power is needed.
And any such costs are ultimately borne by the rate payers.

Short of fusion actually delivering on its promises, the answer isn't going to be in one technology. It's going to be a sheaf of technologies, coupled with further efficiencies in energy use.

#92 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:29 AM:

chris #87:

Questions of fact are very often morphed into questions of morality and political philosophy. That's the wrong way to find out anything about reality, but it's definitely the way people think.

How many people died in Iraq? Is there a meaningful biological definition for "race?" Does Al Qaida pose a threat to the continued existence of the United States? Is nuclear power safe and clean relative to coal power? Is Barrack Obama a US citizen? What does IQ really measure? Is homosexuality a choice? Do minimum wage laws really make poor people better off? Does immigration really lower wages? Do large government deficits harm the economy?

Those are all ultimately factual questions, and yet knowing how you voted in the last couple elections gives me a remarkable amount of information on how you'll answer them. Each of those questions, should they come up on TV, will likely be debated as party-line questions, with slogans that have little sensible to do with the facts at issue.

This is basically a systematic, built-in form of insanity. It's worth struggling against, by pushing back on the notion that questions of fact should become questions of identity, or questions of morality.

#93 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:32 AM:

Sandy @#69, Carrie S. @#89--

This Wikipedia article has some interesting links to small wind turbines, suitable for domestic applications. There are quite a few different designs and styles, some of which bear little resemblence to the huge commercial generators.

#94 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:34 AM:

I'm in a perfect place to mount a vertical-helix wind generator on my house. The State of New Hampshire has grants and rebates to help me do it.

Do you know why I haven't done it? Because I don't have $15K just lying around in order to get into the program. Even if it will pay for itself over the next ten-twelve years and be good for the environment and all that.

#95 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:34 AM:

Matt, re: abi @ 79: We have an intermittent history of falling into verse in the comment threads here.

Nothing intermittent about it; this thread is unusual for approaching the century mark with verse entirely absent. (I'm betting Fragano will come up with something devastating in both logic and imagery any time now.)

#96 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:48 AM:

Jim @#94--My landlord here is having pangs of agreement. I would say "If only money grew on trees", but those of us from timber states are aware that it does; it just grows on them very slowly.

#97 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:57 AM:

Jim #71:

Hmmm. I've been thinking about how to explain what I'm trying to get at here.

First of all, if I can completely predict what you'd say, then your input isn't going to make me better informed. Like, I don't need to call my cardiologist to ask whether I should skip going to the gym tonight in favor of eating deep-fried snickers bars all night. He knows a lot more about the *details* of what bad things such choices do to my arteries than I do, but I already know what sort of advice he'd offer.

Second, even if I know your advice, your reasoning (or my cardiologist's) can still convey information to me, because they're based on experience and studying stuff that ultimately is built on reality. I trust you to make an honest argument of it, not exclude inconvenient facts to strengthen your case. That is, I expect that if you write something up about lighted exit signs, it will be because you personally have come to the conclusion, based on experience and learning, that they're a really good idea, and you'll share your reasoning.

Now, imagine I'm reading some advertising materials from the Acme Lighted Exit Sign company. There may be some useful information in there, but I already know that it's not going to include inconvenient facts that detract from the sales pitch, that it's going to spin everything about its message toward the urgent need to cover the earth in lighted exit signs. The guy who wrote the advertising copy wasn't making an independent evaluation of the evidence, based on his knowledge. He was writing ad copy to pay the bills. He may not even know much about fire safety.

Or imagine a sincere public safety activist, who knows little or nothing about fire safety. He gives impassioned speeches about the need for lighted exit signs, sprinkler's, and Dr Snake Oil's Magical Fire-Repelling Pixie Dust in every home. How much will I learn, listening to him?

The overwhelming majority of people who get a megaphone from the MSM to talk about politically-loaded questions of fact, as far as I can tell, are more like the guy writing ad copy or the uninformed well-meaning activist, than like you or my cardiologist. Even people with credentials that suggest real knowledge, talking to the MSM, often are working as spokesmen for some organization, and thus are constrained to spreading the message that organization wants spread. That makes it a lot less informative to hear what they say. It's useful to work out who is and isn't likely to have useful information to impart, and who has been honest in conveying information in the past. It makes you a more informed consumer of media.

#98 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 10:21 AM:

Carrie S:

It seems like wind power would never work out all that well inside a city. Once my neighbors' turbines have collected power from the wind, they will have slowed it down enough that I'll get less, and the guy behind me still less, till the wind isn't fast enough to supply any power.

Rooftop solar might work better, though I think there's still a watts/square meter problem there--you really want a fair bit of area for your solar collectors, if they're to power your city day in and day out. And, as Steve C points out, storing energy is a big issue for both solar and wind power.

I keep wondering if biotech can help here. Materials made by animal and plant cells all the time have energy densities comparable to that of fossil fuels. (I think animal fat and kerosene are fairly close in J/kg.) If there were a way to put electricity (or a temperature gradient, or mechanical energy) and low-cost feedstock into a biological system, and get the equivalent of diesel fuel out[1], at a reasonable cost, we could probably become carbon neutral over the next couple decades.

The current approach to that is to grow the solar collectors in a field, harvest them along with their stored-as-cellulose-and-sugar energy, and then spend more energy fermenting and distilling it into ethanol. And maybe that will always win, and one day, we'll be filling our tanks with processed algae or something. But it sure seems like it would be useful to be able to separate the solar panel/wind turbine/etc. source of power collection from the fat/sugar energy storage system.

[1] Dear God, I'm somehow visualizing this being done with butter bugs. Arggh!

#99 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 10:27 AM:

Hmmmm...albatross, if all we ever communicated is dry toneless text, then yes, no new information is conveyed if you can predict the answer.

But emotional context matters. Even if the response is "No", is it vehement? Diffident? Angry? Resigned?

Are there more people saying it? And what is the emotional context of all their utterances? What things in their environment contributed to what they said?

I've become firmly convinced over the years that understanding the emotional context is key. And if one says, hey, I just don't understand how they can behave that way, or say those things, then clearly it's not the text that's the problem.

#100 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 10:30 AM:

Steve C:

Fair enough. That's information, too, and if you couldn't have predicted it, it's new information to you.

#101 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 10:44 AM:

Albatross: No, actually, there aren't any grounds for doubting the existence and escalating pace of human-caused climate change, local and global. There are simply too many independent channels of evidence. The science is now in a state comparable to the study of the earth after the discovery of mid-ocean spreading the '50s confirmed the plate tectonics hypothesis, or microbiology in the wake of confirmations of the DNA structure as observed by Franklin, Watson, and Crick, or the treatment of AIDS in the wake of confirmations of Gallo et al's identification of HIV as its cause. There's no model consistent with the evidence of the present day that doesn't include a large and growing force of human-caused change.

This happens. Science works. Things get ruled in or out.

#102 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 11:03 AM:

Oh, the other thing I wanted to say...

Albatross, the fact that someone holds a view I expected they would tells me something important if they're someone I trust to pay attention to evidence and keep updating their foundations for judgment. It tells me that they haven't picked up on something important in ways that would shift their appraisal that I didn't already know about.

I take it as a given that there are always things I'd like to know and that are relevant but that I happen not to know. Life is like that. So when someone else tells me that they don't know anything judgment-changing, that's a good thing to know!

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 11:09 AM:

albatross @ 92... Is Barrack Obama a US citizen? (...) Those are all ultimately factual questions

Factual?
Or bullcrapual?

#104 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 11:38 AM:

albatross @ 90:
... all the data on which the models are built is observational and doesn't really permit meaningful experimental verification, for example. When last I tried to dig into this a bit, nobody could fully account for where human-emitted CO2 was going, which makes for kind-of a disturbing feature in the model[1].

I'm getting a bit of an odd vibe from this statement, as if you think there's something not quite kosher about "observational" data. You're not falling into the trap of thinking that the only "real" science is that done in laboratory experiments, are you? Because the overwhelming majority of (for example) geology, paleontology, ecology, solar physics, and astronomy are all based on observational data rather than "experiments" in the stereotypical sense. (We know how to do testing and verification with observational data, really we do.)

Of course, we are conducting a genuine "intervene and alter the situation and see what happens" climatological experiment: we're putting enourmous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere in a very short period of time, and we're going to find out what happens. There's the small problem of not having an identical control Earth where this isn't happening, and the fact that we and our descendants will have to deal with the consequences....

#105 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 11:52 AM:

One of the better sources I've found for reasoned, well-explained posts on climate change is Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, climatologist at Texas A & M. Here he talks about the reliability of climate models, and what they can and can't tell us.

Are Climate Models Reliable?

(Oh, if it isn't clear, Dr. N-G is fully confident that global warming is occurring, and that CO2 emissions are behind it)

#106 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 11:58 AM:

albatross @98: "Rooftop solar might work better, though I think there's still a watts/square meter problem there..."

Since installing a PV array on the 1/4 of the area on the roof of my house in San Francisco[*] six months ago, my household has sent more energy into the PG&E grid than it has consumed.

The kW/m2 problem is manageable. A more salient problem is that PV arrays don't grow on trees, and they wear out, but I strongly suspect that will turn out to be a manageable problem too, once we start seeing real engineering resources turned to it.

* In one of the foggiest parts of the city.

#107 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 12:01 PM:

JH Woodyatt @ 106 -

If you don't mind me asking, how many kilowatt-hours do you use a month on average? Here in the Houston area, with a house less than 2000 sq. ft, we average about 2000 kwh per month in the summer.

#108 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Terry, #83: Yes, the Brave Stance. To which I find the following comeback appropriate:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. - Carl Sagan

Meg, #86: Hotter summers here, too. But every mention of a cold winter is an excuse for the denialists to pipe up in noisy and idiotic chorus, like a bunch of cicadas. That was the original reason for talking about "climate change" rather than "global warming", even though both are accurate; however, it didn't take.

albatross, #92: Nit-picking one of your questions. Yes, large government deficits harm the economy -- but not as much as a real unemployment rate of 20% or more does! Sometimes you have to pick the lesser evil.

and @98: I think you're seriously miscalculating the energy-transfer mechanism for wind. Barring a complete blockage, enough air is going to flow around your neighbor's turbine without being affected by it that the energy reduction you posit is simply not going to occur. This isn't electricity flowing thru a wire, with a strictly-constrained path.

#109 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 12:05 PM:

...my household has sent more energy into the PG&E grid than it has consumed

Note Well: i'm still eating natural gas in the water heater, the laundry dryer, the furnace and the stovetop, plus we still have an automobile, but the next round of energy improvements will cut down some of that too. (The sauna and the space heaters are already electric.)

#110 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 12:20 PM:

j h woodyatt, #109: After our experience with Ike, I've concluded that natural gas is the way to go for anything that involves heating, because it's less subject to interruption than electricity. We were able to cook and have hot showers even though we didn't have power for 2 weeks. Now, I don't know if that would still be the case for you, since your main natural-disaster mode is earthquakes rather than hurricanes -- but it's worth considering.

#111 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 12:23 PM:

I'm fine with cutting the US deficit, so long as the plan involves heavier taxation of rich people and keeping their grubby paws off of essential services to the poor and elderly.

#112 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 01:27 PM:

It doesn't matter how factual catastrophic climate change is. The arguments don't matter.

Here's why nothing will be done: It's a huge Prisoner's Dilemma.

#113 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:09 PM:

Crikey: tl;dr.

thomas @46: On the other hand, to a good first approximation, everyone who talks about dangers from vaccination is a kook, and probably the majority of people who talk about the need to study the evidence for climate change are denialists, so some of this is just sensible stereotyping to save effort, rather than serious refusal to engage.

Very nicely put. This is one of the things I love about ML: people say stuff that makes it easier to think about things better.

Matt Freedman @48: even if the evidence for climate change is disputable, we should be risk-averse about something so possibly catastrophic for life on this planet.

Heh. Let's not find out where the cliff is by sailing over it, eh? I'm with you there!

Welcome, btw! And good standing up for yourself! Hee.

Instead, NASA basically says – and here I exaggerate for emphasis – “in the past 5 years, atmospheric CO2 has never been above this line . . . .” Wouldn’t a reasonable person say, “Well, hold on a minute. What about BEFORE the past 5 years? Isn’t that relevant?” THAT is my point.

One of the difficulties of science debating policy is that science is compulsive about stating things accurately. For this reason, implications are often left unstated (hence the "but what about before [range]?" question) and qualitative statements eschewed entirely. Science works very hard at keeping human reaction out of the discussion.

Policy is entirely the reverse. It's all about qualifying and direction reaction. As a consequence, science often sounds weak or equivocal in discussion about policy when, in fact, it is simply being accurate.

When a "before [range]" implication comes up in a policy discussion, as pointed out upthread, the inferrence is often that the opposite of "during[range]" applies to "before [range]," and discussion proceeds therefrom.

In a science discussion, when such a question arises, the implication is that you're supposed to ask (which you did! Props to you and :-P to people who scold you for doing so.) or go look it up.

Science tends to assume that this is what the audience will do. Policy tends to assume that missing information means They're Hiding Something!

Shorter me: Science is about examining information. Policy is about marketing information. The two agendas do not often mesh well.

Nb: I feel a little defensive on Matt's behalf because, while I have some familiarity with discussion of these issues, my level of expertise is by no means creditable, and I am likely to have the same kinds of questions he does. I'm just not as likely to have the nerve to come out and ask them.

abi @50 & Matt @56: This is why I use copy and paste. Memory not Zathras skill. :)

dcb @58: Part of the problem, I think, is that many of the simple, could-make-a-difference-if-we-all-did-it solutions are not going to make instant money for Big Business.

& Lee @65: if I were a leader in one of those industries, you'd better believe I'd be doing heavy research into alternative technologies right now, with an eye to riding the wave and being able to make a smooth transition. Unfortunately, that sort of long-term thinking has gone completely out of fashion in the energy industry.

Actually, since a lot of the tech dcb mentions is actual and not hypothetical, it's less that Big Business can't make money instantly. Given motivation and interest, stuff can be brought to market in astonishingly short order. Just look at all the knock-offs that come up when something successful hits the market.

Rather, I gather, it's more of an identity issue. It has been pointed out (sorry, no cites; this comes out of a conversation with a friend) that there is money to be made in implementing clean power? Why doesn't big oil jump on this? I mean, after all, it can't be all that more expensive than prospecting for new oil fields (I wouldn't think).

The reason, I'm given to understand, is that oil companies are oil companies, not energy companies. Which seems downright stupid and short-sighted to me, but this is not news.

j h woodyatt @62: Props to you for apologizing, but I have to say, reading from the sidelines, that didn't really feel like an apology.

I'll assume instead that lawyers in the United States are, as a general rule, so poorly trained that basic predicate logic often completely eludes them.

Consider the possibility that predicate logic is used by lawyers for different purposes than when used by scientists. Ahem.

Sandy B. @69: Wind is ... not something you really want to do in a city, because serious turbines are this big and sometimes they break and throw a multi-ton blade or two in an arbitrary direction.

Which is one reason I like this idea1. I could see that, scaled down, as a viable roof-top solution. Though the local chimney-sweeping concern would have to add a sideline collecting trash off the things, as TNH points out.

As to power storage, I'm keeping my eye on flywheel technology.

Your point #5 (and a nod to KeithS @47 & Lee @73) is why I swore I would never own a car, although I didn't know it at the time. Now, if I could just save up the $$ to get my windows and appliances replaced....

1For some purposes, ML is almost as good as Google.

#114 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:40 PM:

albatross @ 92: "Questions of fact are very often morphed into questions of morality and political philosophy."

To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it's difficult to get a person to understand a thing when their self identity depends on not understanding it. And philosophical claims are always about the nature of the world: if you believe that the dangers of having a large, empowered government are greater than the dangers of not having one, then you're not going to want to believe evidence of a global existential threat that can only be met by concerted, large-scale government action.

#115 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:44 PM:

Peter #104:

No weird vibe about it, I hope. It's a lot easier to build up confidence about some model of reality when you can build up experiments that would work out differently if it were wrong. That doesn't mean astronomy or evolutionary biology aren't sciences, it just means it's easier to have confidence in stuff you can test one-piece-at-a-time, instead of simply observe.

When you build a model up out of observational data only, one danger is that there may be stuff you can't observe that amounts to an extra parameter in your model you're not aware of, one that may change at some point in the future and mess up your predictions. Another danger comes when you try to extrapolate from your observations to rather different conditions you haven't seen before. Your previous observations can't tell you as much as you'd like to know about what will happen in the new conditions.

Let's be clear about this. What I'm saying here isn't "let's ignore AGW and hope it goes away," it's "I'd find it little more surprising to see climate models mislead us than I would be to see complicated econometric models mislead us."

Perhaps a better way to put it: The great majority of climatologists say we ought to be limiting CO2 output, because their best available picture of reality says not doing so is going to do us a lot of harm. A majority of macroeconomists seems to say that massive spending cuts and tax increases in the middle of a recession are a bad idea, and will do us more harm than good.

The best available course of action for us is almost certainly to follow the advice of those experts, subject to weighing the costs and benefits. But we should also be very clear about the fact that those experts' knowledge of their subject is much less precise than they or we would like. It could turn out that both sets of experts, with all their long study, intellect, deep thinking, and complicated computer models, are just flat wrong. That seems more like a 1:20 or 1:100 bet than a 1:1000000 bet.

#116 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 02:54 PM:

Jim #112:

Yeah. Also, democracy. We know by experiment that more than doubling oil and gas prices did not lead to anything like the scale of change of CO2 emissions in the US that we will need to address AGW. In the US, I'm finding it hard to imagine a political party successfully running on a policy of, say, quintupling energy prices in order to get our CO2 emissions under control.

If we manage to do it, it's still harder to imagine that every other country with a substantial industrial base will do the same. And yet, given free trade, a few manufacturing-heavy countries ignoring CO2 limits will allow the rest of the world to simply outsource much of our CO2 emissions to China or India or Argentina or wherever.

I think better technology is more likely to get us out of the crisis (if we do get out) than law or regulation. Once we have good low-CO2 energy sources that are workable and competitive in actual (non-subsidized) price with fossil fuels, then limiting CO2 emissions becomes moderately annoying instead of crippling and painful. Cheaters in the CO2 emissions scheme get a 5% cost benefit instead of a 50% cost benefit. Replacing fossil fuels with something that's not as polluting and doesn't require most countries to buy their energy from someone else would be enough of a win that most everyone would want it. (I suspect that if nuclear power weren't so damned expensive up front, that's what we'd see everywhere.)

#117 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 03:06 PM:

Lee #65:

I think its extremely hard for established companies or industries to change directions in that way, even when the handwriting is on the wall w.r.t. their current technology. See the history of the record companies, mainframe computer companies, typewriter companies, steel mills, etc.

This is partly because a company is not a person, it's a large group of people in a constant power struggle with one another, as well as with their competitors, suppliers, and customers. You not only have existing factories, you have contracts and long-running relationships with your suppliers and distributors, you have union contracts with a workforce that knows how to do what you're doing and does it pretty well, you have an understanding with local governments where your existing factories, your management has lots of people who know all about different aspects of what you're doing now, who came up learning all about the efficient manufacture of really good buggy whips or really high-quality photographic film or wonderful big heavy American cars or whatever. Changing direction means people who know all about those things ultimately yielding prestige and power to mostly younger people who know all about some new side of the business.

Even worse, often new technology just flat makes your existing structure not make sense anymore--like some country that's heavily invested in border castles for defense, and then some jerk comes along and invents cannons. Record companies used to have captive record stores, and strong relationships with other record stores, and advertising/bribery relationships with radio stations, and godawful amounts of physical plant and warehouse space and shipping operations to move little plastic discs around. That stuff is mostly useless in a world of electronic music distribution, but getting rid of it means massive, painful dislocation of your company, and that stuff is just hard to do.

Shorter me: Oil companies are supremely well adapted to being oil companies. It's really hard to make them wind turbine companies or solar energy companies or high-capacity rechargeable battery companies. Those companies can have operations that do all those things, but becoming primarily (say) solar energy companies would require massive and painful and all-but-impossible-to-survive changes to their structure.

#118 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 03:24 PM:

Meg Thornton @86: To paraphrase one of my favourite actors in a bit of scenery-chomping goodness: "You'd best start believing in climate change; you're living in it!"

I can't resist: who's the actor and what's the original quote? (I have a feeling I should know, but it's not coming to me.)

Climate change is not so noticeable here in Boulder, but it's been a long time since we've had a really proper winter. Most we get anymore is a couple of weeks of Crapitscold around Christmas, and then chilly-to-shirtsleeves the rest of the year.

albatross @98: Once my neighbors' turbines have collected power from the wind, they will have slowed it down enough that I'll get less, and the guy behind me still less, till the wind isn't fast enough to supply any power.

Which leads me to wonder if the Next Big Threat after atmospheric CO2 will be disruption of the global atmospheric circulation cycle. "Conserve Wind Now!!!" Heh.

Dear God, I'm somehow visualizing this being done with butter bugs. Arggh!

"It's a car wax! It's power source! It's a dessert food! Buy your new family pets now! Special monogrammed variety, only $5 extra!!"

albatross @115: there may be stuff you can't observe that amounts to an extra parameter in your model you're not aware of, one that may change at some point in the future and mess up your predictions.

I remember distinctly the cold chill that went down my spine the first time I heard about the insolation deficit. Evidently, less sunlight is getting to the ground due to atmospheric aerosols. Seems global warming would be even worse by now if it werent for air polution.

#119 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 03:27 PM:

Jacque @ 113:

Many of the large oil companies are (at least somewhat) trying to brand themselves as energy companies, and throw some money at non-oil technologies. Not a lot, in the grand scheme of things, but some.

I'd say there are lots of reasons that the oil companies don't jump on alternative technologies. One is that the large oil companies tend to be very conservative about what technologies they use, and would prefer to stick to things that have worked over the last 100 years. Others are that there is an existing infrastructure that will happily buy their products, in both energy and chemicals markets. They see no need to branch out.

Fred Clark has posted a few times on Slacktivist in the last few months of the fallacy of putting off working on infrastructure now as a cost saving. If stuff is falling down, it'll only cost more later to fix. Constructing new power generation facilities of any kind now will cost money, whereas getting along with our existing facilities and infrastructure seems to cost nothing. Add to that that wind and solar facilities can not produce nearly the same amount of energy in the space that a hydrocarbon-based power plant would take up.

albatross @ 115:

One of the ways that you validate models is to take past observations and see if they match up to reality. It is my understanding (and I am not an expert by any means) that many of the current models have used historical data as inputs, and they have then verified the output against later historical data.

And again @ 116:

There do exist a few CO2 capture technologies that can be included in power plant design, or even retrofitted to existing power plants. It is my opinion that they will never be taken up until there is legislation requiring a cap on CO2 emissions, much like sulfur recovery wasn't very popular in refining until sulfur limits in fuels were mandated.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 03:35 PM:

Poetry?

No frozen ground-swell damages my wall,
And all the warrens have been hunted out.
My neighbor's apples withered in the drought,
While since the fire I've got no pines at all.
What woods are left are never filled with snow,
Nor crossed by grassy paths just wanting wear.
I seldom stop; the thought that strikes me there
Is how I rue that no more hemlocks grow.
Some say the world will end in fire, while some
In water that erodes the shore defense.
From what I've seen so far of man's good sense,
I doubt it matters much. The end will come.
So all our wealth and words will wash away
Or burn to ash. For nothing gold can stay.

#121 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 03:51 PM:

roses are ruddy
violets are blueish
climate is warming
people are foolish

#122 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 04:23 PM:

There's a core argument I use against deniers: where's the heat going then?

You see we know - absolutely, experimentally, that greenhouse gasses absorb infrared radiation. We know the concentration of these greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and the amount they've changed in the last 30 years by simple measurement. We can then calculate the amount of extra heat retained in the atmosphere by these extra gasses - simple maths. (I did a back of the envelope calculation last year, using figures from google, and worked it out to about equivalent to a 1KW electric heater running 24/7 in every square kilometer of the Earth's land surface. I'm fairly sure I'm within an order of magnitude.)

So, if climate change isn't happening then that extra heat must be just vanishing. Now it could be venting out the top of the atmosphere - but fortunately we know it isn't, because we have satellites looking for it and they haven't found any change. So either it's just vanishing, or it is warming the planet. And any argument that climate change is natural has to argue that all that heat isn't having an affect, but co-incidently the planet has just happened to alter the climate at the same time as we dump all that extra heat into the atmosphere. And look, I didn't use computer models, hockey sticks or any grant-funded research (to use three denier shibboliths) - just basic physics and maths.

But it does little good, because deniers are not part of the reality-based community. I'm reminded of the lady I met when digging fossils on the beach. She remarked that she'd never found an ammonite, despite walking the beach for years. Since I had one in my hand as we talked, and I'd pulled six in the last hour, I gave it to her. She thanked me, and as she walked away remarked "of course I really shouldn't have this - I don't believe in evolution"



#123 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 04:34 PM:

Jacque @118:

The actor would be Geoffrey Rush, the film PotC: Curse of the Black Pearl, the character Captain Hector Barbossa, and the original line spoken:

"You'd best start believin' in ghost stories, missy, you're in one!"

#124 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 04:36 PM:

Albatross #90: Regarding where the CO2 is going, you might want to check out absorption by the oceans, a fairly recent addition to the models. It turns out that the resulting acidification is becoming a problem in its own right....

General: Part of the problem is that the government of the world's (then-) technology and industrial leader spent several decades giving away political power to corporate interests, both in specific and in general, plus methodically undercutting long-term planning by same. At this point, if you can't make a short-term profit on something, it's damn hard to get it done in the USA.

#125 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 04:49 PM:

"And yet, given free trade..."

But that's *not* a given. Every trade agreement that I've seen is conditional. And I don't just mean in the obvious sense of reciprocity (if you don't have *that* condition, you don't need an agreement). All the major recent trade agreements have additional conditions and requirements of their own. (Which is why I prefer not to call them "free trade agreements"; that sweeps the conditions, and the political forces that put them in, under the rug.)

For instance, for the last few decades, for instance, the US (and the EU as well) has been putting all kinds of new demands to extend and strengthen copyright and patent monopolies as part of "free trade" agreements. (It's why lots of countries now have life+70 years copyright terms instead of shorter ters.) Similarly, there are all kinds of rules about what kinds of subsidies a country can and cannot make, as conditions of trading agreements. (This seems to come up especially often with respect to agriculture.)

There's no reason in principle that trade agreement couldn't be formed that specify minimum environmental (or safety) standards as a condition of favorable trade terms. It's really just a matter of political will. Currently, the US fights harder for Mickey Mouse's copyrights, patents for software, and stronger drug monopolies as conditions of trade than we do for keeping the planet's climate favorable. But that can change.

#126 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 05:01 PM:

Steve C @107 asks: "If you don't mind me asking, how many kilowatt-hours do you use a month on average?"

I haven't looked at my bill, but I know my meter has run more backward than forward for the last month, and the monitor says under "This Month" that I've generated 181.9 kWh, and the month isn't quite over yet. Looking back over the history, that's about 50% of what we have gotten during the summer months. (Today's peak was 862 kW, but the array routinely gets over half again that much at the height of summer. I just eyeballed the array again with the Google Maps satellite view, and I think I have to confess to a mistake. It takes up more than 1/4 of my roof. I'd say it takes about about 2/3 of the south facing half of my peaked roof.)

If you're burning 2 MWh each month, that would be about 300% of baseline in my neighborhood. If you're burning, on average, 2700 W every hour of the day, seven days a week, in a 2000 sq. ft. home, then that's pretty impressive. At PG&E rates in San Francisco, that would cost several hundred dollars a month, I'd imagine. I'd seriously consider a PV array, but I think you'd need one about six times the area of mine to break even like I do.

#127 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 05:12 PM:

Jacque @113 remarks: "...but I have to say, reading from the sidelines, that didn't really feel like an apology."

Nevertheless, it was sincere. I'll cop to the charge that it wasn't very enthusiastic, but it was sincere. I rather wished it was reasonable of me to expect more professionalism among U.S. professionals. Disappointed engineer is disappointed.

#128 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 05:19 PM:

Abi @120 - Brava!


(I wish I had time to read this thread right now, but miles to go etc.)

#129 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 05:23 PM:

David #124:

Yeah, the whole idea that we're measurably altering the pH of the ocean is just creepy as hell. The image I have here is very much the chimpanzees f--king around with the controls of the life support system on their starship. "Hey, I wonder what this slider bar does."

I gather than microscopic ocean life is still quite mysterious to us--people who do deep-sequencing and proteomics/systems biology stuff on seawater samples are finding a lot of surprises. We could easily discover we don't like the direction of some of those surprises....

#130 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Andy Brazil @122

"You see we know - absolutely, experimentally, that greenhouse gasses absorb infrared radiation. We know the concentration of these greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and the amount they've changed in the last 30 years by simple measurement. We can then calculate the amount of extra heat retained in the atmosphere by these extra gasses - simple maths. (I did a back of the envelope calculation last year, using figures from google, and worked it out to about equivalent to a 1KW electric heater running 24/7 in every square kilometer of the Earth's land surface. I'm fairly sure I'm within an order of magnitude.)

So, if climate change isn't happening then that extra heat must be just vanishing. Now it could be venting out the top of the atmosphere - but fortunately we know it isn't, because we have satellites looking for it and they haven't found any change. So either it's just vanishing, or it is warming the planet. And any argument that climate change is natural has to argue that all that heat isn't having an affect, but co-incidently the planet has just happened to alter the climate at the same time as we dump all that extra heat into the atmosphere. And look, I didn't use computer models, hockey sticks or any grant-funded research (to use three denier shibboliths) - just basic physics and maths."


That is, basically, why I don't really buy into arguments along the lines of "it's still an open scientific question that might go either way". No. The physics behind it was settled long ago, and none of the arguments made by the climate skeptics address the physics. (Except for a few people who have gotten into crank physics, claiming that radiation physics as we know it is all wrong.)

Climate skeptics/deniers might be able to tell us all about 16th century climate charts and the recent wellbeing of various polar bear populations and the positions and trajectories of all major sunspots and the good sides of carbon dioxide and the towns that had one or two cold winters recently and every detail of Al Gore's electricity bill, and write it all down in Babylonic cuneiform. But none of that changes anything about the fact that carbon dioxide and some other relevant substances absorb infrared radiation and get warmer in the process.

And that's why I think that perhaps a short summary of the relevant physics should be attached to every document about the issue.

#131 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 06:01 PM:

While CO2 is certainly a key issue, there are several different climate forcings, including orbital variances, solar irradiance, ocean circulation trends, albedo changes because of ice and cloud cover, and other greenhouse gases such as methane and water vapor. Now, some of these things are well accounted for in the models, and some aren't. It's one of the main reasons for the variance in the average temperature increases that are predicted.

One important thing to note is that climate models aren't forecasts. Forecasts are designed to take initial conditions into account. Climate models are designed to give you a broad picture of the climate based upon the various forcings, and what happens when those forcings change.

#132 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 06:18 PM:

Lori Coulson @123: Right, right right! Thank you! (I knew I'd heard that...)

#133 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 07:39 PM:

Andy Brazil @122, I don't see how your argument makes sense, and the mere fact that climate change deniers don't want to pay attention to Science enough to counter it doesn't make you right.

The earth is always getting hit with extra heat from the Sun, but if all that heat stayed here it would rapidly turn into molten rock and then evaporate. So that heat's going somewhere, whether it's reflected off the clouds or ice, radiated out as black-body radiation, convected by escaping atmosphere, or whatever. If nothing's messing with the system, it reaches an equilibrium, whether a comfortable one like Earth's, hot like Venus's, or cold like Mars's. Occasionally there are naturally-occurring changes in the equilibrium, like the climate changes that occurred after the dinosaur-killer asteroid or during the Ice Ages.

Global warming works by a variety of mechanisms, including increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere absorbing some of that heat that previously escaped, which drives climate change by redistributing how much heat is in the system and where, and it's complex and chaotic. Some changes can potentially cause runaway disequilibrium, for instance if the polar ice caps start melting off, there's less white ice reflecting sunlight and more dark land absorbing it, which causes more heating and faster melting until the ice runs out, and potentially releases methane gasses from the rotting permafrost, which absorb even more heat than CO2. But if a lot more water evaporates, that can lead to more clouds, more reflection, some cooling. And it doesn't take dinosaur-killing freezes or boiling oceans to really trash the human race - a 20-foot rise in ocean levels would trash Manhattan real estate and much of the world's rice farming land, or if temperate wheat-farming areas have serious drought for a decade, we're also in real trouble.

Of course, it's gotten too obvious that Climate Change is actually happening for most of the deniers to keep a straight face. I've got a friend who's a tugboat pilot who was recently hauling stuff between northern Alaska, Tuktoyaktuk, and Nunavut, and there are people racing yachts up in the non-frozen Northwest Passage, not just Inuit doing traditional hunting and Victorian explorers looking for the lost Franklin expedition. And even the Inuit say life started getting easier about 200 years ago as it got warmer.

Therefore, it's been necessary to invent the concept of human-caused global warming vs natural climate change, because the oil companies want to make it very clear that, like Han Solo in Margaritaville, it's Not My Fault. If anything, oil is letting those third-world people stop burning wood for charcoal, and petroleum-industry-derived fertilizers are letting them stop doing slash-and-burn agriculture, so Oil Companies are Helping Save The World, and Chevron's promoting Human Energy, and BP's Beyond Petroleum! We're the Good Guys, Really, Trust Us! Or at least blame the coal companies...

#134 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 08:31 PM:

albatross @129 writes: "The image I have here is very much the chimpanzees f--king around with the controls of the life support system on their starship."

The one in my head is of the guys chopping down the very last Casuarina equisetifolia on Rapa Nui so it can be used to transport the very last ma'oi down the hill where it will eventually stand at the island perimeter as a stark reminder to the paleontologists from Gliese 581 of exactly why it was always a bad idea to consider letting the chimpanzees onto the starship in the first place.

#135 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 08:55 PM:

113
At least some of the oil companies are moving into solar. BP was in solar for a while, but one of their more recent executives killed it off (because they're an oil company, was his reason).

#136 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:27 PM:

Serge at # 103: Factual? Or bullcrapual?

"It's the truth, it's actual, everything is satisfactual."

#137 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 09:39 PM:

P J Evans @ 135 (and me in reply to Jacque), riffing off albatross @ 117:

The thing is, the oil companies aren't energy companies. They pull oil and gas out of the ground that they then refine and sell the products to people who burn it to make power (as well as sell to other people who do other things with it). Alternative power generation technologies don't really fit into their business model, because they don't generate power. It would be like a steel company investing money in researching brick houses.

This is not to say that I wouldn't appreciate them spending money on things like solar and wind power, mind you.

#138 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 10:06 PM:

Hyperlocal op-ed page: Area man annoyed at conservatives hijacking libertarian brand; writes longer rant to publish elsewhere.

GW denialism and big-L or small-L libertarianism? Well, the LP platform has a fake compromise on global warming. Presumably some wanted to mention it and some didn't, so they say that it's real but no coordinated action is required. I call that a fake compromise because if there is anything at all to global warming, then excess CO2 is as much of an externality as any other pollutant.

Hyperlocal letters page: "What took him so long? Sincerely, The Readers of Making Light"

#139 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2010, 11:18 PM:

And the thing that confounds most individual people about 'global warming' is that those are the wrong words.

the whole thing that happens is climate weirdening, as in, aside from the zonal warming (we now have robins that overwinter here in Kansas City), we get stranger, strong weather events. Like really cold and really warm for winter alternating in one month.

Then again, as other people have pointed out, the power is in the hands of those who produce oil and natural gas and etc. They're likely to make sure we ride this pony right into the ground because they have a deep hand in everyone's pocket and a vested interest in keeping us giving them money.

Just saying.

#140 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 03:10 AM:

P J Evans #135: At least some of the oil companies are moving into solar.

I think what they're actually doing is moving into solar marketing with the goal of spiffing up the corporate image.

#141 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 06:00 AM:

rm at 14 says

"So, I'm thinking that maybe facts need to make a comeback, and one way people begin to accept facts as facts is through repetition. People tend to believe whatever truisms are repeated endlessly, so it would be good if they heard true things instead of false."

Would be nice if that were true. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be.

From the Boston Globe:

"Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger."

#142 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 07:17 AM:

albatross @ 115:

Hmm. OK, I am definitely getting the feeling that you really don't understand what is meant by "observational science", particularly when you seem to think that testing models doesn't happen in fields like astronomy or evolutionary biology(!), and when you say things like "build a model up out of observational data only" or "extrapolate from your observations". The latter is not how science works, except in the most primitive/exploratory of circumstances.

"Observations" have, I would suggest, three purposes in science: exploration/discovery, refinement of existing data, and testing the predictions of models and theories. Most of the evidence for Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, from the initial solar-eclipse observations of 1919 through the binary-pulsar measurements that got Hulse and Taylor the Noble Prize, has been observational: taking predictions of the theory for certain situations, and then observing those situations to see how well the predictions match the data. This sort of thing goes on all the time in observational sciences.

General circulation models (one of the main tools that climate scientists use to make forecasts of future climates) are not "extrapolations from observations" -- they are complex models based on well understood physics and chemistry. They are used not only for modeling the Earth's climate, but the climates of Mars, Venus, and Titan as well ("rather different conditions", indeed!). Earth GCMs are tested repeatedly, not only against historical and paleoclimatological data, but also by the simple expedient of running them years into the future and then waiting to see what the real climate does. (When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 and sent large quantities of sulfuric acid aerosols into the upper atmosphere, at least one group ran their GCM with aerosols added to see what the effects on the global climate would be; the actual cooling observed over the next several years matched the model predictions rather well.)

(Actually, "extrapolating from [a subset of poorly understood] observations" is something denialists like to do -- everything from "but humans haven't modified the climate in the past, so they couldn't do so in the future" to "every 100,000 years there's an ice age, then 10,000 years of warmth; the current warm period started over 10,000 years ago, so we're overdue for a new ice age; therefore we need global warming!"[1])


All science is "observational". It's just that in some sciences, you can carefully contrive the situations you observe so as to test your theories, while in others you have to be clever about finding pre-existing situations that will test your theories.


[1] We actually have a moderately good model for what drives periods of glaciation -- Milankovitch cycles -- and this lets us work out how the system is likely to behave (in the absence of human modifications). It turns out that the next glaciation probably won't start for at least 50,000 years.

#143 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 09:41 AM:

re 139: That's actually getting out into the definitely questionable area. Weather modelling is still highly iffy, with some of the most fundamental processes (e.g. cloud formation) being very poorly understood. Metastability is everywhere. There are a lot of different cycles interacting.

So if you say, "well, there are going to be more hurricanes, or more destructive hurricanes," well, first of all there are at least two cycles which together produce a lot of variability. This year we are in the "La Niña" part of the Southern Oscillation. Normally this means more hurricanes, and indeed we have had above average activity; last year was an "El Niño" season and there was less activity. However, for whatever reason the steering currents this year have consistently directed the "Cape Verde" hurricanes (the ocean-crossing type) away from CONUS (and indeed usually east even of Bermuda), while the Caribbean storms have tended to form very far south and have tended to make landfall in Mexico or Honduras. So unless we have a really atypical storm, this is going to prove to be a low damage year. On top of all that there la a much longer cycle, long enough to where modern records can barely tell it's there, which we are somewhere near the peak of. If you look at this chart and concentrate on the blue line (seasonal ACE) you can see both cycles in operation: there's a shorter cycle of a few years long, and a much longer cycle with a trough in the 1970-80 period. The short cycle is produced by the southern oscillation; the longer cycle is the tropical multi-decadal signal, and its period is somewhere around 60-80 years. If you read the NOAA pages about this you will find lots of disclaimers; they don't agree as to how global warming fits into it, but the prevailing view at least back in 2005 was that the cycle was more important; I think now they may think it is at least as important.

Anyway, the point is that making these kinds of claims is perilous politically if for no other reason. The short term variability in hurricanes is much greater than the long term, and the long term is long enough that people just don't live to see it through (at my age I'm just old enough to remember the wind-down of the previous warm period in the multi-decadal cycle). We've probably got more time on the current warm phase but if switches over soon (and it could) it's going to be hard to defend global warming by pointing at hurricane activity.

#144 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 10:34 AM:

C. Wingate @ 143 -

Quite true. Just about any climatologist will point out that it's impossible to pin any one weather event on climate change. About all one can say with confidence is that a greater likelihood of out-of-the-ordinary events is a probable consequence of climate change. For instance, instead of your average heat wave raising high temperatures 10 degrees above normal, it might raise them 12 - 15 degrees.

#145 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 10:41 AM:

Jacque @132 -- I've lost count of the times I've rewatched that film and its sequels. I can even mentally hear the music that concludes that exchange.

One of my favorite mind games when I'm listening to a soundtrack is visualizing the scene that goes with a particular section of the film score.

Horner, Williams, Goldsmith, Korngold and Hermann scores are really good at triggering memory.

#146 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 11:04 AM:

Steve C., #144: Just so. It's been my empirical observation that we're getting a LOT more temperature records being set than we used to, both high and low, and I keep wondering if anyone is tracking that over the entire country. If the number of record temperatures per annum is increasing, that would be evidence pointing in the direction of climate change.

#147 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 11:06 AM:

Fred Clark adds more to the conversation at Slacktivist.

#148 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 11:58 AM:

re 138: The thing you have to understand about Libertarianism is that it is about half moral-doctrinal. Libertarians I know tend to believe that regardless of the consequences the government cannot be allowed to intervene in the way that GW activists want it to intervene; therefore they are biased towards preferring models in which that intervention is unnecessary. The pattern comes out more strongly in economics: every Libertarian I have ever met was a follower of the Austrian school if they knew anything about the subject. It's this kind of thinking that leads me to the conclusion that the libertarians are never going to be politically viable, because the pressure for the government to Do Something is always going to win out at the voting booth, whether it should or not.

#149 ::: toyg ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 12:11 PM:

(I could say tl;dr, but I actually read quite a bit of the thread and I'm consciously side-stepping it, going back to the original post).

I'm not a denialist, and I'm not skilled enough to formulate informed opinions on scientific data on climate change. I can only give you a data point on the average ignoramus' attitude.

In the political arena, all of a sudden Climate Change has become a trump-card for anything vaguely related to "green parties" or "green issues". Any debate at any level, on subjects ranging from waste disposal to fox-hunting to deciding which stationery should be used, can now be rhetorically shut down by clever deployment of (often completely made up) CO2 statistics. "Can't use cheap air travel, too CO2 intensive, just stay at home"... "Can't buy more toilet paper, too CO2 intensive, find replacements" ... "Can't build this essential facility, too CO2 intensive, just don't get sick" etc etc...

You could say this is because the subject is so huge and all-encompassing, and you might even be partially right; but quite often, it is just being used as a way to steamroll political opposition into submission. A lot of green activists still can't believe their luck, and indulge in the practice with gusto. (Having been ridiculed for years by the "need-for-development" lobby, they obviously feel it's their time to gloat, which is comprehensible.)

After a while, people started to react and contest, and many of them ended up with dodgy comrades with their own agenda -- more or less like anti-Bush movements often ended up courting 9/11 conspiracy theories. That's not because they hate science or because they've all been brainwashed by Fox -- hell, we don't even have Fox in the UK ! (ok, we got tabloids and Sky, but I honestly can't touch that trash)

Until green activists stop abusing the issue, people will keep treating it with hostility, regardless of its scientific merits.

#150 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 12:40 PM:

David @141: Oh, yeah -- I read that at the time. Holy f*&^ing sh#@, I think I need to go out and eat a bunch of chocolate bars, or sign on to a cruise with the Pequod. In a few minutes I go teach the younguns how to reason and argue again.

#151 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 01:42 PM:

For context:

Matt Freedman @48: Instead, NASA basically says – and here I exaggerate for emphasis – “in the past 5 years, atmospheric CO2 has never been above this line . . . .” Wouldn’t a reasonable person say, “Well, hold on a minute. What about BEFORE the past 5 years? Isn’t that relevant?” THAT is my point.

Jacque @133: One of the difficulties of science debating policy is that science is compulsive about stating things accurately. For this reason, implications are often left unstated (hence the "but what about before [range]?" question) and qualitative statements eschewed entirely. Science works very hard at keeping human reaction out of the discussion.

It struck me that the most elegant way of describing this problems is that, for most people, in ordinary conversation, a "scope" statement (along the lines of "in [time period X]") typically falls under the Gricean Maxim "Be Relevant", but in the context of scientific/technical prose it typically falls under the Gricean Maxim "Be Truthful".

That is, in a technical statement, the inclusion of a scope statement is a neutral indication of the context in which the truth claim is asserted. But in non-technical contexts there is an implicit assumption that the very inclusion of a scope statement signals that the scope is relevant and meaningful in and of itself, especially for contrastive value.

Look at it this way, if you ask someone "what color are your socks" and they answer "When I put them on this morning, they were brown," and you know that the speaker is prone neither to scientific precision nor smart-assery, there is an implication left hanging that the socks are no longer brown.

#152 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 02:23 PM:

rm #150: In a few minutes I go teach the younguns how to reason and argue again.

Thank you for your service.

#153 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 03:02 PM:

Man, people are hitting all my "Monologue on it!" buttons. For backup on most of the below, my textbook is Wind Energy Explained, Manwell, McGowan, and Rogers, second edition.

Facts about wind (for #98, #108, etc.):

1) Wind blockage is real. It's not 100% or anything, but it's not 0%. The term of art is "array losses" and they like to space turbines 10 rotor diameters apart to keep it down to around 10%(less space is needed in the crosswind direction if you have a very strongly prevailing wind.) A typical 50 kw turbine has, say, 15 meter diameter so you can only place them every 150 meters. If NY city blocks are 20 to the mile, that's one every two blocks. I'm not Tony Stark; my math is frequently wrong. Feel free to correct it.

2) Wind power goes with the cube of the wind velocity (you may not be able to harvest that power efficiently after a certain velocity, but that gets into turbine design.) So you want fast wind more than you want anything else. Windspeed, very approximately, depends on how high up you are and bumpy the ground is upwind of you, ie what sort of things are sticking out of the ground. Trees bad, open ocean good, cityscapes VERY bad. Does starting your tower on top of a tall building make up for being in the middle of a city? I don't think there's a universal answer.

3) There are specific places and times where you get extra-strong wind - maybe crosstown streets, for instance. There may be ways to identify them, but I don't know 'em.

4) The "windpower without the blades" idea is interesting, but I have no idea how efficient it is, either on an areal or financial basis, theoretically or in practice. I'm doubtful because of the array effect, the inefficiency of drag vs. lift (I only saw it calculated for wind turbines, but drag is really inefficient) and a "gut check" feeling- grass stalks are evolutionarily encouraged to NOT catch a lot of wind, and that looks like a field of grass to me. My gut-check last week [on steam turbine regenerators]was totally wrong, but I still would like to see either theory or results.

5) I'm curious, Jim (#94) about two things.Your choice of vertical helix ["eggbeater"] turbine is slightly mysterious. Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWT) is industry standard, I'm told, and VAWTs are kind of dead ends. Not a lot of effort was spent proving to me that they didn't work as well as HAWTs. Mostly it came down to tower height. Additionally I'm curious about, for instance, whether you'd be capable of (interested in)? borrowing $15K from a bank for a nearly-guaranteed return on investment. (I assume the federal 30% rebate on renewable energy is included in that $15K. If not, that's $11.5K . )

6) Turbines and size: For a (theoretical, far from anything) wind farm the professor in one of my classes just gave out the math on having 25 4 MW turbines, vs. 100 1 MW turbines. The cost in overhead (roads, etc.) was nearly 4 times higher for the 1 MW turbines, and that's a meaningful percentage of the total cost of system. Generating 100 MW from having 2000 50KW turbines will not be 80 times as expensive. But it might be expensive enough.

Not wind:
Storage. One of two big problems in the field. (The other being cost per kWh.)I've seen compressed-air energy storage designs that should be 77% efficient, electricity out to electricity in, and should cost an acceptable amount. Pilot plant under construction. I saw something from South Africa involving abandoned mineshafts full of water and huge weights, but it was a marketing document and they haven't built one yet. There's a lot of good progress on heat storage for solar thermal systems.

Thank you for your patience. Wall of Text will be back soon.

#154 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 03:09 PM:

re 142: Having read that great long article on the GCMs, I am left with the impression that they are subject to exactly the bias to which I thought they were prone to begin with. The history begins with them not being able to model things at all, for reasons including computational intractability. Eventually as computers and techniques improve, they are able to start doing some real modelling, but what they find when they get models that are worth comparing to the real world, they find that they go off the rails in various directions. So they go through a series of refinements, which isn't bad in itself; but the point after all is to get the model to behave by imitating what the atmosphere is doing now. That's less questionable when pulling the model away from present conditions produces a straight-on linear-ish extrapolation of present behavior; when the models produce tip-over behavior (e.g. the flow of the Gulf Stream is disrupted) the risk is that this anomalous behavior is more misbehavior that hasn't been eliminated from the model because there isn't present real-world behavior to use as a basis for its rejection.

And there is still model misbehavior in that these models do in fact simulate weather, but the simulations produce weather-like behavior; they can't take current weather conditions and extrapolate them into the future for very long. If you have been following the forecast discussions on the NHC site this year, for instance, you'll see that their models had a lot of trouble predicting the behavior of this year's storms, and that the forecasters did more than usual of "that result is implausible so we're going to ignore it" use of the models. The persistence of the macro misbehavior is a fault in the model; the argument is that we can disregard it as irrelevant to the metaresult of "this is the kind of behavior we can expect". The risk is that fixing the macro-behavioral faults will bring about substantial meta-behavioral changes.

None of this is justification for anthropogenic warming denial. It seems to me that there's enough confidence in the models to say that if we reversed things right now, we could get back to where we were, modulo it would take quite some time to verify that we succeeded because of the large short term variability in the weather. The policy problem is that we can't do that reversal; at this point it's going to take some years and a lot of effort and disruption just to get to the point where we aren't making things worse. In the meantime, the model had better be right, because if the modellers have to keep adjusting it to make it produce the right current metabehavior, public confidence in it is going to be hard to maintain.

#155 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 03:32 PM:

Sandy B #153:

Compressed air? Man, I must be missing something, because it sure seems hard to imagine you could get useful energy density there. How much of the energy stored in a propane tank is the pressure difference between inside and outside the tank? Maybe I'm just thinking on the wrong scale or something?

#156 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 03:46 PM:

I was thinking 24 tanks, roughly the largest size you could put on a standard 18-wheeler trailer (53' long, about 8' diameter), at a pressure of roughly 80 atmospheres, to store 480 megawatt-hours of energy (120 MW, stored for four hours). Again, I'm not Tony Stark.

What scale were you thinking?

#157 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 03:50 PM:

C Wingate #154:

A big issue here is that uncertainty about the models' predictions is not actually an argument for ignoring CO2 emissions, unless the models are so uninformative as to tell us nothing. The Lomberg/Manzi argument, as I've understood it from minimial skimming and listening, is that global warming is real but that it may be cheaper to adapt to it than to try to comprehensively address it[1]. But that relies on believing that we can broadly rely on those models' predictions in ranges of temperatures, CO2 concentrations, etc. that have not been seen on Earth since our species arose. If not, ISTM that the error bars on our predictions ought to widen quite a bit, and we simply don't know enough to know how wide. But the tails of that distribution, whose probabilities we can't really know, involve stuff like the sea level rising 60 meters, Europe freezing over, lots of heavily populated places losing their year-round fresh water supply, lots of food-producing places becoming less productive or radically different in what can be grown when, etc.

My mental model is that we're much more in the position of the chimpanzee f--king with the starship controls ("When I slide the bar this way, sometimes a banana drops out of the chute!") than in the position of the engineer adjusting controls of some system he understands pretty well to balance (say) climate change, economic impact, and political goals.

[1] I suspect it may be *necessary* to adapt to it, because addressing it by decreasing global CO2 emissions on the scale necessary just to stabilize atmospheric CO2 is likely to be a really hard political problem, but that's rather a different argument. And for some possible futures, it may be that adaptation looks rather like a massive global attempt at disaster recovery.

#158 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 04:03 PM:

Some people are arguing seriously for geoengineering -injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to combat the greenhouse effect.

The contribution of the CO2 increase to our heat balance is estimated be 4 watts per square meter. It doesn't take much of a reduction in sunlight to counter that -- just 1 per cent.

#159 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 04:08 PM:

Ah. Great. As though CO2's contribution to oceanic acidification wasn't bad enough.

#160 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Sandy B:

Interesting. I wouldn't have thought of compressed air as being a very efficient way of storing large amounts of energy, but I was thinking more in terms of batteries than tank farms.

My back-of-the-envelope Wikipedia assisted calculations suggest that a propane tank ought to have only a really tiny fraction of its energy stored in its pressure difference--compressed air stores something like 100 kJ/kg, propane has something like 40 Mj/kg, so it's something like a 400:1 ratio of chemical energy to pressure diference. But I've really never looked at these numbers before, so I may be missing something.

#161 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 04:46 PM:

At this point, my understanding is that the "uncertainty" in the models isn't about whether it's happening or not... it's about whether humanity, or at least civilization, still has a chance of surviving the next 100 or so years. There are disturbingly prominent possibilities that we have already screwed the pooch, or soon will. If that turns out to be the case, Homo sapiens will be lucky to survive as a remnant population.

#162 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 04:47 PM:

Earl @152: Thank you for your service.

It's a cushy job, but somebody's gotta do it.

No, seriously, dude, today in class I had a hardened veteran in tears because he was writing about his service in Afqhanistan. Thank him for his service, even if -- no, make that especially because -- we no longer go to war for any discernible just cause. That ain't this guy's fault; he just pays the price.

Not trying to threadjack. Back to wind . . . . (It just occurs to me that if not for our dependence on oil, we wouldn't be in Afghanistan, so anyway, wind).

Also on the theme of humility, I am very impressed by all this science y'all are talking. I will try to understand it.

#163 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 05:12 PM:

I gotta say that saving the earth by making it smoggier is not my idea of a rescue.

Albatross, I think that in terms of restoring the CO2 levels to lower-but-historic levels there's reason to believe that it isn't going to result in anything surprising happening, where "surprising" in this case means "direly catastrophic". The first problem is that what is a relatively small turn on the CO2 knob is an enormous, potentially-end-of-American-life-as-we-now-know-it change in society. I'll come back to this, but the immediate point is that relatively small errors in how much we have to do translate into huge differences in the impact on society.

The second problem is that assessing whether what we are doing is working takes a lot of time. CO2 varies seasonally, so unless you make an exceptionally drastic change it takes a couple of years to spot a trend. The contributions of the various cycles I mentioned above (and there are still others) mean that it takes on the order of a decade or two (or more to the point, at least a couple of presidential terms) to assess what's happening (note for instance that in hurricane ACE the variation due to the southern oscillation is almost an order of magnitude larger than the contribution of any of the other cycles). It's reasonable to expect that at least the silver standard of validation--that there is a plausibly correlation of change in real-world behavior to the changes you are making--be met, even if you can't prove that it was your changes that were the cause.

The third problem is what I mentioned earlier: we can't stop on a dime. Indeed, at the moment it's questionable whether the technology we have now would allow us to start bringing the levels down. So we spend some time trying to get to that situation, and then some more time after that bringing the CO2 levels down, and some more time after that assessing whether we're getting the result we want. I am not sure I'm going to live to see the end of that.

The problem behind the problem is all that social disruption. We are living in an age where a large part of the populace (especially right now) sees their standard of living eroded from decades past, and is not the least bit happy about being told that it's going to have to come down a lot further by people whom they suspect are not going to have to give up as much. Or to put it in an anecdote, there are a lot of people who are stuck driving a decade-old foreign compact who imagine the day when the government inspector, driving a nice new vehicle, pulls up on their doorstep to tell them that they're going to have to get rid of their car, and they can't really afford a new one and besides their neighbor got one and it was tiny and pokey and limited in range, and had no AC. And they have pictures of their parents driving big old Detroit iron with a front seat the size of a sofa and power to burn and AC that would put icicles on your nose-- and they bought a new one every four years whether they needed to or not. And they resent being called ignoramuses because they resist giving up what they have in the service of an abstraction-- and that's what it is to them, because all they have is someone's word that the numbers tumbling out of the machine have some connection to reality. That's the thinking that we have to overcome.

#164 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 05:40 PM:

Yes, telling people who have been enabled to live a wasteful and unsustainable lifestyle by a system that has been ignoring environmental externalities for a century is going to be a hard job.

And a lot of shameless pols will successfully run on the You're A Patriot For Keeping Your Head In The Sand ticket.

But that doesn't mean climate change isn't happening.

#165 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 06:06 PM:

re 164: The thing is, Stefan, they figure that people like the people who are going to enforce the changes aren't going to be expected to give up much.

Not to mention that the chiding tone of your response is, well, undiplomatic would be one way to put it. Hitting them with ancestral guilt when they view themselves as powerless encourages a tea party state of mind.

#166 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 06:12 PM:

rm@162, I have also recently used "thank you for your service" to applaud people who note online that they've just voted. It's a good phrase.

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 06:16 PM:

David 141:

Shorter Boston Globe: People are really frakkin' stupid.

Maybe it would be best if this execrable species of which I am a member died out.

#168 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 06:19 PM:

Darn. I was shooting for disgusted and despairing.

I think it will take a generational change before anything happens. The fact that the generation that fixes things will consider their grandparents spoiled, shortsided chumps is small consolation.

#169 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 06:21 PM:

What we have here, if I may summarize, is a clash of Inconvenient Realities.

IR1: the climate is changing, and not in ways that will make us happy, well-fed bunnies
IR2: people act the way they do, including tribal identification with beliefs and denial of inconvenient realities in the hopes that it will All Magically Get Better

Complaining about either of those two inconvenient realities may be satisfying, but it's not effective. Likewise, complaining about people who point those awkward realities out is as effective as shooting the messenger ever is.

#170 ::: Jason Aronowitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 06:26 PM:

C. Wingate @163:” That's the thinking that we have to overcome.”

I don’t think we can get enough, um, market penetration to overcome that kind of thinking. We need solutions that do not require large scale change in thought patterns, because we can’t count on that change, and indications are that we’re in deep trouble. I believe in global warming (and in other peer-reviewed science). However, the renewable energy -recycle more - waste less “solutions” are, IMHO, more exercises in public education than a way out. The cost per ton of CO2 reduction may be too high, and worse (again only in my opinion), those solutions cannot lead to the kind of future I grew up dreaming of.

In 50 or 100 years, the amount of energy at our disposal should be many times what it is today. We should not be scraping by. Living standards, ability to control pollution, civil rights, all appear to be functions of available energy. Fundamentally, I do not want people to have to live in a scarcity economy for any longer than necessary. I know we aren’t going to get there by burning inexhaustible supplies of magically-appearing abiotic oil (Have you seen that one?). Human society needs to believe in engineering solutions to physical problems, and retain and improve its capabilities in that regard. One way to do that is to build things: nuclear reactors, photovoltaic plants, transmission grids, etc. Many etcs.

So, my objection to attempts to address global warming through efficiency , conservation and renewables is that I fear a dead end. We could end up with a population of 1 billion living like 18th century farmers. I like efficiency , conservation and renewables, but I’m afraid it’s the wrong path.

On the other hand, the sulfur dioxide approach seems to reek (sorry!) of the potential for unintended consequences. I’m less afraid of sequestration of crop waste in subduction zones and generating water vapor clouds over oceans, but I’m certainly no geoengineering expert. Acidification of the oceans from human-generated CO2 is worrisome, too.

Anyone know the best current thoughts in regard to reversible geoengineering techniques to reduce climate change? We need to learn which will work with the least harm, and we need those techniques in our collective back pockets before it’s too late.

#171 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 07:26 PM:

C Wingate:

Further, even if you can convince Americans with that logic, it will be much harder to convince Chinese and Indians and many others that they should stop trying to achieve a first-world quality of life, so that we can keep ours. That's basically an impossibly hard sales job....

#172 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 07:44 PM:

On the other hand, the Chinese and Indians, while they are buying cars, seem to be a lot more into the notion of "green" as a commercial opportunity.

The perfect may be the enemy of the good, but not accepting that there's an alternative than the status quo is an even worse enemy.

#173 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 08:02 PM:

abi 169:

in the long run shooting the messenger will not be effective because in the long run the messenger will be the weather.

#174 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 08:51 PM:

I just went over to the Oil Drum, and ran a search on Wind Turbine.

I remember the post on small turbines - they found that they don't produce as much as the manufacturers claim, when mounted according to the manufacturers' instructions. (Masts are too short, for one thing.) So turbines for individual houses may not be a really workable idea.

#175 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 09:26 PM:

Sandy, #153: Thank you, that's very informative. Beginner question here... when you said "vertical turbine", the first thing I thought of was something like a typical roof vent. Would something like that work at all for a single-dwelling installation, or would it be too inefficient?

Stefan, #154: A large part of the problem is that their standard of living is eroding -- see "distribution of wealth". Proper application of new technologies could start bringing it back up again, but they are also being encouraged to distrust both technology and the science behind it. This is a multi-layered issue, and it's not by any means all the fault of the people who are making all the noise.

Jason, #170: A global population of 1 billion would be a very large step in the right direction. However, I'd prefer we get there by non-catastrophic attrition, and that's not going to happen any time soon.

#176 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 09:52 PM:

# 148: the pressure for the government to Do Something is always going to win out at the voting booth

Yes, that. But in practice it sometimes works out that the government just appears to do something.

#177 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 10:01 PM:

I probably shouldn't drink and type. I beg the forgiveness of my audience, as I will exceed even my normal volubility.

#175, Lee:
Vertical Axis Wind Turbines:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darrieus_wind_turbine

(that's a lift-based VAWT, instead of a drag-based one. I only understood about 60% of that explanatory text.)

The problem with roof vents, or anything of a similar size, is that the amount of power you generate ( at whatever percentage of efficiency) is based on the amount of wind your turbine blocks. If (making up numbers) you get 100 watts per meter squared at typical windspeeds, and you've got a four foot circle of cross-section, that's going to generate around 140 watts. A forty-foot circle would generate 14,000 watts for the same power generation. So a roof vent is going to be fairly irrelevant even it is operating at theoretical max efficiency (which is the Betz limit, 16/27 or roughly 59%.)

(There is "solidity", which is how much of the swept area is occupied by blade at any given time. If you look at a 3-blade standard HAWT, the swept area is the whole disk that the blades sweep through. Solidity is not nearly as much of a factor in efficiency as I would have guessed. So the VAWT can be very effective even though it doesn't seem like it's blocking very much wind. )

#170, Jason: I believe (not to sound too Gernsback Continuum) that we in the first world will continue to increase our standard of living and our access to energy* , and that large portions of the planet will catch up to [and possibly surpass] us. Renewable energies are all young technology. You can tell, because mature technologies gain a couple percent ROI in a good year, and photovoltaics have gotten twice as cheap (in $/watt) since 2008. The federal government pays 30% of the cost of renewables and that makes wind commercially viable. I think solar thermal is commercially viable at that level too- there's an Arizona solar thermal plant in development that is a crucial milestone: the selection criteria had no mention of renewables. It looked like the best choice to the utility, period.

*Access to energy doesn't 100% correlate with standard of living; a cellphone doesn't take much energy to create or use but raises the standard of living considerably for a farmer in India.

#178 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 10:08 PM:

Stefan Jones, #172, China's factories cause their water to be so poisonous that a lot of it can't be brought back to safe drinking level.

#179 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 10:09 PM:

Sandy B. @ 153 and 177:

That is interesting to know. I'd say you're welcome to wall of text some more on the topic if you feel inclined.

albatross @ 160:

The reason you'd want to use air for energy storage is for peak times, or times when you're not generating energy by the normal way. When you have excess energy, you pressure up your vessels. When it's peak time, or if it's calm out, you let the air back out through a turbine generator. It actually sounds rather elegant, with the bonus that air is free.

Obviously you can get a lot of energy out of burning hydrocarbons, but it's rather impractical to put the hydrocarbons back together for energy storage.

Allan Beatty @ 176:

The government could legislate CO2 capture on power plants. I'd like it if they did. (Disclaimer: I work for a company that has a CO2 capture process that they'd be happy to sell you.)

#180 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2010, 11:38 PM:

In an SFnal vein, how will the world look different if power production is decentralized? I gather that right now, a lot of poor countries spend a large amount of money (sometimes more than they make on all their exports combined) buying energy in one form or another from overseas. What happens when that changes?

There are obvious changes there--countries and regions and states that are net producers of oil and coal today will be relative losers. It will probably suck to be Russia, and more to be Saudi Arabia. It probably won't be all that nice to be West Virginia, either. What else happens?

You can imagine a situation where at the level of a house, or neighborhood, or town, power is mostly locally generated, for most of the US. Solar power plus efficient storage or transmission probably means that some places (especially the northwest and far north) end up importing energy, but that they do so with a lot of alternative suppliers available.

This would make it a lot easier to live entirely off the grid. It might make squatting of various kinds easier--between this and cellular data networks, you can put your house someplace without getting anyone to run infrastructure with it, and still have power and phones and internet. (You've still got to deal with water and sewer, though.) I'm not sure how that would affect the world, though I kind of suspect it would affect other countries more than the US. (From what I've read, cellphones have had a *huge* impact in countries where corruption, civil war, crime, and general dysfunction of the society make it hard to get reliable wired phone service everywhere. I wonder if something similar would happen with, say, efficient solar collectors + efficient batteries--you no longer have to get the broken local power utility to run wires to your house, you can just buy a power collector and have power.)

I imagine we'd all come up with some other justification for why we needed to invade and bomb other countries, but removing oil (and natural gas) might be a start for removing some of those justifications. It sure seems like this would lead to decentralizing power in other ways, though I'm not sure that's really how it would work out. (And maybe we get something more like big centralized solar thermal plants or something, which leaves the world looking much like it currently does.)

But I have a feeling I'm not seeing the really important effects here. What really, fundamentally changes in the world?

#181 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 01:08 AM:

I met a guy in a startup incubator open house whose business concept was airborne wind turbines on tethers. Would this actually work? It seems that too much energy would be absorbed in blowing the thing around.

#182 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 02:51 AM:

In an SFnal vein, how will the world look different if power production is decentralized?

According to Nicole Foss (interview here) there are major losses resulting from pumping power back into the grid down low-voltage powerlines, and the state of the grid (at least in the US) leaves a bit to be desired as well.

#183 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 05:23 AM:

How about 50k rpm flywheels for energy storage?

As for China running out of drinking water due to pollution, all they have to do is take the water from other countries that aren't strong enough to resist them: at some point, I think that competition over water resources will become more likely than oil as a rationalization for war.

#184 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 09:47 AM:

re 177/180: The main city issue is not so much the terrain (though it's certainly a problem) as it is that the population density gets to be more than the energy pouring in through the wind and sun can handle.

Likewise decentralized generation is old US technology: 24 volt self-contained farm power systems were something you could buy out of the catalog in the 1920s, running off windmills. Interconnection, though, helps give you reliability on some levels (and unreliability on others, of course). The bigger issue is that a lot of times you need a lot of power in one place. If you're going to even recycle glass or aluminum (and never mind making the latter from bauxite) you need to dump a lot of heat into a relatively small space.

#185 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 11:49 AM:

C. Wingate #184: Decentralizing population is a bit tougher... cities form for a reason!

#186 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 12:17 PM:

One of the companies working on mechanical batteries (who basically went to Sandia and licensed their centerfuge tech) said the problem with using them in cars is the gyroscopic effects got strange enough that they'd decided to work on trucks first. That reminds me--are supercapacitors still at the "We'll have something practical before fusion goes online, honest!" phase?

Also, why do I have the feeling that most of those who oppose climate change would not recognize a Pascal's Wager situation if it peed all over their legs?

#187 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 01:04 PM:

the pressure for the government to Do Something is always going to win out at the voting booth

Well, maybe. Right now in the US there are substantial political movements based on the idea that the government *shouldn't* do something, even (or perhaps especially) about the most serious problems. Even the ones that are admitted to exist.

#188 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 04:20 PM:

toyg #149 nails one of the issues with AGW - its overuse as a trump card. It seems an unfortunately human trait, at least amongst a percentage of the population, to use any excuse to ensure that you get that job/ can go home 5 minutes earlier/ don't have to explain anything etc. Thus, in combination with media who are after sensation rather than information, means that we get a repeat of the issues with health and safety, i.e. that some jobsworths misunderstand or misuse the legislation and approach, and next thing you know 10 million people read in their morning papers that playing conkers in the playground is banned or somethig.

I'd like to think that more education would help, I'm pretty sure that more substantial involvement by most people in the running of the power structures that surround them would help, but thats probably a bit optimistic.

Another problem is that simply demonstrating the fact that it is human caused leaves both the more sophisticated denialist and the honest enquirer asking "So what? I like it being warmer in the winter".
Getting across the importance of global ecosystems, the trillions of dollars of capital invested in previous sea levels, house heating and cooling and the effects of night time temperatures upon rice fertility (Hint - it gets worse the hotter it is, and we may well have to GM the entire rice crop to try and get by it, or stop eating rice) is rather hard. Too many people seem withdrawn from bigger issues. Many are of course joining in with trying to fix the problems, but ultimately we appear not to have critical mass.

#189 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 04:34 PM:

Earl, I'm sorry I bit your head off. I did appreciate and smile at your comment. I was kind of emotional because of my crying veteran, and I let loose without noticing my tone.

#190 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 06:47 PM:

rm, no worries. I was born into a military family, so I understand that phrase sets the bar pretty high for appropriate use.

#191 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 08:41 PM:

#180 ::: albatross:

It wouldn't surprise me if there's further decentralization of production-- I'm not sure how quickly fabbing can become economic.

#192 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2010, 11:58 PM:

#183 and #186: I had the impression gyroscopic energy storage was expensive per kw-h, but could get you a lot of POWER for a short period time. I'm far more a student than a teacher on the subject, though.

#181, Airborne wind turbines on tethers: I saw a webpage on the idea. I don't know anything real about blimps and zeppelins. Using an approximation for windspeed from my textbook (v/vref = h/href^(1/7) ) and a spec sheet for a 3 MW turbine, some numbers:

The turbine has a 80 meter mast and about a 45 meter swept radius. The difference in windspeed between the lowest point a tip reaches and the highest point is about 20%. The nacelle, hub and blades weigh around 110-120 tons.

If you can hang a similar-performance turbine [1] off a blimp or two, at 545 meter hub height, you'd have around 30% more windspeed (so 2.2 times the power) and the difference in windspeed between top and bottom would be only 2%- so there would be much less stress on your turbine blades. Blades rotate around 16 times per minute, and go through that stress EVERY time. I believe there's also less turbulence the farther you get above perturbing things like trees and buildings, and turbulence is the other big cause of stress on wind turbine blades.

So faster steadier air is a big deal. Building a zeppelin armada capable of lifting dozens or hundreds of tons and keeping it there might be hard, but building an enclosed, 80 meter high, low-sway tower has its own engineering challenges. [2]

Balloon-deployed wind turbines are an attractive idea. I would want to see a lot more information before I'd actually invest money, but it might not be crazy.

[1] It couldn't be the SAME turbine because you'd need to redesign it for higher rated windspeeds to produce more power.

[2] You don't want a bird-friendly tower right next to a giant bird-grinder.

#193 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 02:03 AM:

Miniature wind turbines lofted by box-kites made of foldable Powerfilm solar panels? Maybe you could recharge laptop batteries with one of those. heh.

#194 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 10:12 AM:

Bruce Derocher:

Plenty of the same talking heads, at least, are all too happy to employ the ticking time bomb, Nuke in Manhattan, version of Pascal's Wager.

#195 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 10:16 AM:

guthrie:

The more I think of it, the more it seems like the threat of terrorism from extremist Muslims and AGW have some parallels in how they're used rhetorically. (It seems like these are generic "how you use a complicated potentially scary impending danger to rally the troops and gain power" constructions, not specific to AGW or WOT concerns.)

A distinctive feature of the War On Terror (WOT) is that all sorts of stuff, sensible, neutral, and nutty, is justified by reference to the same set of threats.

#196 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 10:21 AM:

A few months ago, the SFWA Bulletin had an article where Robert Metzger proposed an interesting solution to the problem of ocean levels rising because of global warming - pump to water out of the ocean to the middle of the South Pole.

#197 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 10:33 AM:

Oh great, warm up / flood the city of the Elder Things. That'll help.

#198 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 11:16 AM:

albatross #195: A distinctive feature of the War On Terror (WOT) is that all sorts of stuff, sensible, neutral, and nutty, is justified by reference to the same set of threats.

"Finish your beets or Mommy will tell the Taliban where you hide your Tickle Me Elmo."

#199 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 11:57 AM:

albatross @ 195: "The more I think of it, the more it seems like the threat of terrorism from extremist Muslims and AGW have some parallels in how they're used rhetorically."

Forgive me if I'm stating the implicit, but there's a real difference between the War on Terror and global warming--global warming really IS an existential threat to our entire way of life. Not to mention that if global warming had been half as effective at spurring government action we'd all be driving around in 60 mpg hybrids and complaining about how the windfarm lobby is exerting too damn much influence in the political process.

#200 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 12:09 PM:

Serge @ 196:
... an interesting solution to the problem of ocean levels rising because of global warming - pump to water out of the ocean to the middle of the South Pole.

I assume this was meant as a joke, yes?

#201 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 12:12 PM:

Peter Erwin @ 200... Actually, no. It's a quite interesting bit of engineering.

#202 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 12:13 PM:

heresiarch:

Fair enough. My point is, any impending crisis that's still mostly in the dark clouds on the horizon stage, but which looks potentially threatening and scary, tends to be used in politics in the same basic ways. ISTM that the threat from Radical Islam in general is massively overblown in US politics, while the threat from AGW is underblown[1], because defense contractors and oil companies have a lot of power over politics, including political rhetoric, in the US. But in both cases, the amoral actors pushing some political agenda will use the impending crisis and fear for good and bad things.

The nuclear industry will happily use AGW to steamroller opposition to new nuclear plants[2], agribusiness will justify subsidies for (stupidly inefficient) corn ethanol, people who have always wanted more public transit or less immigration or lower population growth will similarly justify those things on the basis of today's threat.

This is independent of the validity and seriousness of the threat.

[1] If that's not a word, it should be.

[2] As best I can tell, safety and waste disposal problems for nuclear power are way overblown--many countries seem to do quite well with them. But that's not what's going on here.

#203 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 01:00 PM:

[Some hope, in a general sort of way](http://www.ted.com/talks/r_a_mashelkar_breakthrough_designs_for_ultra_low_cost_products.html)-- astonishingly cheap high-quality inventions from India: $2000 car, $28 artificial lower leg (price not a typo), psoriasis meds.

Ok, how can it make sense to pump enough water onto Antarctica to lower sea levels?

#204 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 01:21 PM:

albatross (202): underblown [...] If that's not a word, it should be.

It's a word now.

#205 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 01:53 PM:

Pumping water to Antarctica was done in Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain trilogy, either in the second or third book.
Elder Things were not invoked :-)

#206 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 01:56 PM:

Nancy - Unlike Iceberg and polar ice, which don't help sea levels, Greenland and Antarctica are solid land above sea level (in Antarctica's case, up to 10k feet), so piling up ice on them does change sea level. That's also why melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica can raise sea level significantly.

#207 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 02:37 PM:

albatross @ 202: "My point is, any impending crisis that's still mostly in the dark clouds on the horizon stage, but which looks potentially threatening and scary, tends to be used in politics in the same basic ways."

I think that's basically true: Big Scary Threats offer similar rhetorical opportunities. It seems to me, though, that the really interesting thing in comparing the War on Terror and global warming is in the differences in how they've played out rhetorically and politically, not their similarities.

Bill Stewart @ 206: "Unlike Iceberg and polar ice, which don't help sea levels, Greenland and Antarctica are solid land above sea level (in Antarctica's case, up to 10k feet), so piling up ice on them does change sea level."

I haven't read the article in question (a quick google didn't turn it up), but the problem that leaps out to me is catastrophic destabilization of the entire Antarctic icesheet. One of the reasons that the Antarctic icesheet can mound up as high as it does is that its base is firmly frozen to the underlying bedrock. Pouring millions of gallons of saltwater onto it seems like it has a real possibility of melting the ice enough to allow slippage: at that point the ice's own weight would force its margins into the ocean (the same way a glacier moves, but faster), calving ice off at an alarming rate. This would needless to say cause sea levels to rise drastically, rather defeating the purpose.

This is how icesheets have collapsed in the past: a gradual accumulation, followed by a rapid, catastrophic delamination (see the CO2 chart on the NASA site, and how fast it jumps up at the end of each ice age). Maybe he's done the math and he's sure it can't be a problem, but I'd be very, very cautious about it.

#208 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 03:06 PM:

At this moment, Garrison Keillor is on the radio talking about why winter is a good thing. While jokey, it's actually not a bad list.

#209 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 03:30 PM:

Earl @ 198: Thanks for mentioning Powerfilm, I'd heard about them but forgotten to look them up. And now I'm wondering whether some clever engineer is working on making a practical roofing material out of the stuff - it's already waterproof, moderately durable, and probably has roughly equivalent insulation value to asphalt tiles. Even if doing the whole south slope of one's roof wouldn't take one off the grid entirely, it would be a substantial reduction in load.

#210 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 06:30 PM:

Bill Stewart @ 206:
... Greenland and Antarctica are solid land above sea level (in Antarctica's case, up to 10k feet), so piling up ice on them does change sea level. That's also why melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica can raise sea level significantly.

True; but note that we're talking about trying to pump geographically significant amounts of water hundreds of miles inland and almost two miles up in altitude (Antarctica has a higher average altitude than any other continent). That's a gargantuan engineering project requiring enormous amounts of power. Compared to that, trying to extract and store CO2 underground seems much more feasible...

I wouldn't be that worried about sea water melting the ice cap directly; once you've got the water up to the South Pole, the trick would be keeping it from freezing in the pipes before you could spray it out in some kind of giant snowmaking apparatus. But adding to the mass of the ice sheet would presumably cause the various streams that feed ice into the ocean to speed up. (The fact that you're creating a mixture of ice and salt may have some odd large-scale effects, though I don't know what they might be. All the ice currently in Antarctica is freshwater.)

And of course it doesn't do anything to address the other global-warming related problems, not to mention the increasingly acidifying oceans.

#211 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 07:09 PM:

Albatros #195 - indeed, there are rhetorical similarities. However, in the Islamic extremist case they've invaded 2 countries, directly killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people, and let over a million more die in internecine fighting and disease etc; destroyed many of the rights that Americans fought hard for, lowered even further its already low international standing, and probably helped destroy the economy by spending money on the military rather than say infrastructure.
In the other hand, we get a bunch of governments saying they'll do something some time but don't make it compulsory.

Part of the issues people have with green issues is simply the operation of the wonderful capitalist free market* whereby every opportunity to make money is to be permitted and thus a plethora of people trying to sell you small rooftop wind turbines and solar panels here in the UK, despite the fact (Ok, other peoples research but it seems solid enough) that neither are worth buying, what you actually should do is insulate your house better and put solar hot water on the roof. And of course we have lots of ideas being touted which nobody really knows what effect they will have, but everyone acts as if they will.


*Yes you do detect some sarcasm

#212 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 07:27 PM:

Possibly I missed it, but there's one thing about Matt Freedman's initial comment that I don't think anyone pointed out. He wasn't hinting at the possibility that global warming was unrelated to human action, but at something even more radical and unlikely: the possibility that increasing atmospheric CO₂ levels might be unrelated to human action.

It's important to realize the distinction. You can argue, after all, that climate models are complicated and that we don't know everything. But the amount of CO₂ we've put into the atmosphere is really just a matter of accounting. We've burned a bunch of carbon, which means we've turned it into carbon dioxide, and the carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere. We know roughly how much carbon we've burned. It's almost a truism that the amount of CO₂ we've put into the atmosphere is equal to the increase in atmospheric CO₂ levels. Wondering whether this has to do with human action is sort of like turning on the tap in your bathroom, noticing an hour later that your bathtub is full and the floor is wet, and wondering whether it had anything to do with your turning the tap on.

Of course it's just slightly more complicated than that. You have to know a little bit of science to know that when you put CO₂ into the atmosphere it mostly just stays there. It doesn't spontaneously turn into raw carbon and oxygen, because that takes energy equal to what you got by burning it. It's not going to just fly off into space, because it's a heavier molecule than most of the other gases in the atmosphere. In principle it might be consumed by plants, but that would only be the case if there had been a net increase in vegetation, which there hasn't. It can dissolve in water to form carbonic acid, and in fact that has been happening, but (a) the ocean's capacity to absorb CO₂ is finite, and (b) when you think about the implications of increasing both carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and carbonic acid in the ocean you realize this makes things worse, not better.

It really doesn't make much sense to see that we're pumping lots of CO₂ into the atmosphere, and that the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere has increased commensurately, and to wonder whether those things are related.

#213 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 07:28 PM:

#210 ::: Peter Erwin :

Yes, I was concerned about the mere amounts of energy needed to move that much water.

#214 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 07:40 PM:

For microturbine stuff, I read on page 130-131 of "Heat" by George Monbiot (His website is monbiot.com, you should have a look) that for the turbines to work well they need unitnerrupted air flow, sommething a bit hard to get in urban areas (eg Edinburgh) and about 11 metres above nearby obstacles, which kind of makes them hard to install. Furthermore, a 1.75 metre diameter turbine with an average 4m/s wind speed will only produce around 5% of a houses electricity needs, ie bugger all.

#215 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 07:47 PM:

guthrie, #211: Nitpick: Islamic extremists haven't destroyed our rights. Our own government, with the eager connivance of a significant part of the American population, has done that.

Does anyone else look at our situation vis-a-vis Iraq and think, "Well, they certainly learned a lot from how we defeated the Soviet Union, didn't they?" We pushed the USSR to spend itself into economic collapse, and now Iraq is pretty much doing the same to us.


#216 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 08:55 PM:

I don't think Iraq (however you personify a country) is pushing us to spend ourselves into oblivion, I think bin Laden did it-- I believe American overreaction is part of what he was aiming for.

The bitter joke I see is that Afghanistan has a great big "Death of Empires" sign floating over it.

#217 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 09:13 PM:

Peter Erwin and others... Oh, Metzger does address all those issues. Heck, he is a scientist. His point was, if I remember correctly, that we won't fix the warming issue fast enough so he took a different approach. True, he didn't take into account how irritated the aforementionned Elder Things will be when they wake up and find the'r Hidden City's front door buried under a thick layer of ice.

#218 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2010, 01:46 AM:

Heresiarch, Peter Erwin, Nancy - Some technologies actually do work much better in science fiction than in the real world. This may be one of them :-) Also, it was one of several major things that were done in the "optimistic saving-the-world" part of the books, as opposed to the "impending and then actual catastrophe" parts. And Robinson does characters and moods well.

#219 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2010, 02:11 AM:

Lee @ 215: I believe that in guthrie's comment "they" refers to "the people pushing the War on Terror meme," not "Islamic extremists."

#220 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2010, 08:58 AM:

An overview of solar roofing, and other, related uses of different materials.

#221 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2010, 02:18 PM:

re thanking vets for service: I am of a very mixed mind. I have no doubt most people are sincere (I also have no doubt some are vicious and manipulative) when they do it.

And it usually makes me uncomfortable. I can barely tell myself why I did it (and I did it for me, not you, no offense). I understand the sense of being humbled when someone's memories of what she did/saw/knows is overwhelming. I know that this is often when I least want thanks.

Part of my reaction is bitter (so take the following as read, not as a personal comment on anyone here; if the shoe fits, wear it, if not, move along, in any case there isn't much anyone can say here to address the issue): Words are cheap, and actions speak louder. If you want to thank a vet, join IAVA, complain to congress about the travesty of how things like the GI Bill are built (a time-limited benefit, counted in whole months, and pro-rated when the school doesn't meet for the entire month. I got 6 months pay, for nine months of classes; but nine months are lost to my total eligibility, and there is more where that came from).

I, because I have a disability, can (just) afford what that did to my finances: there are people for whom the sudden shock of not being paid in January; because december was a short month on campus, had to defer (or perhaps give up) going back to college, because they had rent to pay, and needed the money.

It's lots of little things; promises which have little bits missing, things that aren't what they were when one enlisted (retirement benefits are determined by the date on the retirement orders, not the date of enlistment. I know guys who stayed in for 25, and lost benefits on the deal. People who enlisted four years later, and retired at 20 got a better deal: because congress reduced the benefits).

So yeah, thanking me is problematic.

/rant

#222 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2010, 01:05 AM:

abi @120: That's--Robert Frost should be flattered. Brava, indeed.

#223 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 05:35 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @151: if you ask someone "what color are your socks" and they answer "When I put them on this morning, they were brown," and you know that the speaker is prone neither to scientific precision nor smart-assery, there is an implication left hanging that the socks are no longer brown.

Or that "brown" is relative—which one discovers when one dresses in the dark.

I am persistently reminded of the Fair Witnesses in Stranger in a Strange Land: "Ann! What color is that house up on the hill?" "It's yellow on this side."

#224 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Steve C. @158: Some people are arguing seriously for geoengineering

Stefan Jones @159: Ah. Great. As though CO2's contribution to oceanic acidification wasn't bad enough.

My response to this is, "Yes, let's! Because our attempts at large-scale environmental alteration has worked out so well in the past...."

sheesh

#225 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 06:15 PM:

I have to say that I don't see my socks during most workdays. Thus, if somebody asks me what color they are, I'm immediately suspicious that maybe I messed things up this morning (hard to do when all my socks are black, but who knows what gremlins roam the morning?).

But then again I am a smart-ass at heart. And a Heinlein fan. So I'll probably say either "they were black this morning". Or "Well, I thought they were black when I put them on this morning; what color do they look to you?"

#226 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 06:35 PM:

And then again, there's the question: "Which black." I, also, am of the "all black" school, but portions of my supply came from different dye-lots. So you've got the brown-black socks vs. the green-black socks....

#227 ::: DensityDuck ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 06:52 PM:

My niece turned 4 this year. Next year she'll be 5, which is a 25% increase. Using that progression, I can confidently and with complete certainty predict that in 2025 she will be 113.69 years old. Don't you DARE try to DENY the REALITY of AGE PROGRESSION!

#228 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 07:08 PM:

I bet you spend all your spare time looking for comments threads where you can cut and paste that.

#229 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 11:42 PM:

Density Duck: Is that in reference to a particular post and/or a specific subtopic? Because from here it looks like I overlooked a comment on sock dye loss rate and you ran with it.

#230 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 11:55 PM:

Sandy, I think it was trying to speak against the historical/predictive model of climate change. While it's true that no model is accurate if the math supporting it is wrong, it's not like people from NASA could just use feet instead of meters all the world's climatologists could use the same stupidly-wrong math.

#231 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2010, 12:19 AM:

Automated astroturf, or just stupid astroturfer?

#232 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Density Duck has commented before. Just once though. Could still be a bot, though I don't think so.

#233 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2010, 12:25 AM:

Wow. Extrapolating with absolute certainty from a single measurement. That's like the scientistic version of inerrant scriptural interpretation, isn't it?

#234 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2010, 02:12 AM:

Every bell curve needs someone at the flat end of it.

#235 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2010, 11:24 AM:

I was taking it personally, I guess. Because sustainable power is full of extrapolations like that- wind power went up 50% this year, 30% last year. If we can keep that kind of growth up then by the year 2100 we will get more power from wind than the actual amount of power in the entire atmosphere. Or something. (we DO have those kinds of exponential growth numbers in wind and solar, but they're coming off really, really small installed bases. I think we're up to getting 1% of our electricity from wind in the US now, as of the end of 2009. Which is a good start.)

Although Moore's Law has been holding frighteningly well for at least 40 years, and Berkshire Hathaway also managed 20-30% growth for 30 or 40 years, so it's not impossible for an exponential curve to go a very long time before flattening.

#236 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2010, 11:34 AM:

I for one welcome belle curves.
BAM!!!
Ow.

#237 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2010, 12:16 PM:

To unpack my comment at 234: we welcome a wide variety of commenters here at Making Light. Inevitably, that means that some of them are going to be difficult to parse at best, and downright odd at worst.

You keep a wide door, people walk through it.

#238 ::: JM sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 11:46 AM:

Or maybe Red Movie Review thought this was the best place to find out about DVD players.

#239 ::: albatross sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 11:50 AM:

our abi, it's true, seldom tires
from tending community's fires
but moronic yammers
from DVD spammers
should be classified as outliers

#240 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 12:04 PM:

Compared to sexist
Spammers from earlier, this
Guy's light as photons.

#241 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 01:00 PM:

spammed information
disordering quiet thread
message turned to heat

#243 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 12:18 PM:

James D Macdonald @243--the ghosts of Henry Hudson, Sir James Franklin, and countless others become highly agitated, having been born and died much too soon to take advantage of this.

Not that it's great news for the rest of us.

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