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October 30, 2012

HOW COULD WE POSSIBLY HAVE FORESEEN
Posted by Patrick at 10:44 PM * 131 comments

We are ruled by fools.

Comments on HOW COULD WE POSSIBLY HAVE FORESEEN:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2012, 11:26 PM:

I can't write anything on this topic without ranting.

And I'd be tempted to link to posts on hobby boards I frequent, where cranks still dispense fifteen year old talking points about global warming.

#2 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2012, 11:48 PM:

A system of levees and storm surge barriers? Does this mean God sent Hurricane Sandy to encourage the construction of a durable Manhattan eruv?

#3 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2012, 11:55 PM:

Even the experts didn't expect the storm surge to be that height.

#4 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 12:01 AM:

London's had the Thames Barrier since the mid-80s.

In the 1980s there were four closures, 35 closures in the 1990s, and 75 closures in the first decade of this century
There's a hint there about increasing surges over time

#5 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 12:25 AM:

While exactly when we knew that Sandy's storm surge was going to be record-breaking may be disputed, we've known for years that New York is particularly vulnerable to storm surge. We've known that the oceans are rising. We've known that there's more and more heat-energy in the atmosphere and the oceans. The question wasn't if, the question was when ... and now the question is, next time, how much worse?

Here's video of the Hudson overflowing its banks.

We still have a major party, which is probably going to get just under half the popular vote, taking as a matter of faith that there's no such thing as global climate change, and if there is, we certainly didn't cause it, and if we caused it, there's nothing that can be done. In North Carolina, a bill was considered that would make planning based on sea-level rise illegal. In a semi-triumph for sanity, the bill was revised before it went to the governor so that now the state is merely forbidden to consider sea-level change in its planning until 2016.

How high do we want to build the levees? I promise you that they will all be overtopped. Maybe not this time, maybe not next time, but one day.

We do know the solution, but every day we spend delaying implementing that solution makes solving the problem more difficult, more expensive, more damaging ... until the day when there isn't a solution any more. It's hard to put on the brakes after you've gone off the cliff.

#6 ::: Ginny P. ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 12:38 AM:

Climate Central's Josh Friedman had a nice storm wrap-up here: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/hurricane-sandy-paralyzes-new-york-new-jersey-15188

Now the subways have partially flooded -- a much bigger landmark psychologically than climatologically; last year's storm came close -- perhaps Something Will Be Done.

One really does hope this disaster will prove just big enough to spur some real disaster planning and preparation. The current state of preparedness wasn't adequate to the last century, much less this one.

Still ... humans are so bad at this sort of thing, I almost wish the storm had hit at full force, with a surge at or above the top end of the pre-landfall forecasts, instead of weakening somewhat first. It might have saved lives and other damage in the long run.

I have this dreadful suspicion -- based on, oh, every government "preparedness" action I have ever observed -- that whatever actions eventually are taken will be based on outdated and never-adequate analyses.

(Please, prove me wrong!)

#7 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 01:30 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ 5:

If Bill McKibben is right, the solution is drastic, and we have perhaps 10 or 15 years to implement it before we're off the cliff. And even if he's off by a few years, we really don't have time to re-educate the entire US electorate. I guess we just have to hope that enough people understand the 2x4 that Sandy just hit us with, and the 4x6 we're going to get between the eyes in the next couple of years.

#8 ::: Steve Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 01:31 AM:

Also keep in mind that any engineering solution is going to take a long time, both to plan and to build. (How long has that new water tunnel been under construction?) I'd say a minimum of ten years to accomplish anything useful. This ain't a space opera, where Our Hero welds together some busbars and comes up with a solution that will be implemented before the next commercial.

This is the problem with any of the climate change stuff -- in order to have any hope of averting disaster, we have to start *now* (or, preferably, 35 years ago when we first started realizing the problem.) By the time we have obvious threats, it will be too late.

#9 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 01:50 AM:

Any suggestions for less obvious big infrastructure that people should be working on?

#10 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 02:48 AM:

The history of the Thames Barrier is instructive. Inspired by a deadly flood in 1953, it was built between 1974 and 1982. So yes, start now.

#11 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 02:59 AM:

So it's Katrina all over again. I don't think NYC took the amount of damage that New Orleans did, but the response is the same -- a lot of talk for a while, and then probably nothing much.

#12 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 03:02 AM:

From the NYT article: "Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery since 1900 happened in the last two and a half years. If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don’t know what is."

Ya think? I'd forward that to Inhofe and the rest of the US Senate climate-change denier caucus, but they'd ignore it.

#13 ::: Brad Hicks (@jbradhicks) ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:45 AM:

I have said that I'm uncomfortably close to going up a bell tower with a high powered rifle because of the phrase, "Nobody could possibly have known that ..." when, in fact, every expert on the subject knew, and was trying desperately to tell everyone else. I swear by the god, in today's world "nobody could have known" means "everybody was trying to tell me, but I found one completely unqualified person willing to contradict them if I waved enough money at them to get them to do so." And we're supposed to be okay with that, we're supposed to call that a legitimate excuse.

#14 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 06:52 AM:

So, unless we get those storm surge barriers built, New York stands a high probability of becoming the next Drowned Ys?

#15 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 06:59 AM:

Time to stop thinking about preventing climate change and start thinking about dealing with it?

#16 ::: Brad Hicks (@jbradhicks) ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 07:11 AM:

#14 Rikibeth: Those are the two choices, basically: Really New Amsterdam, or Bangladesh on the Hudson.

#17 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 08:03 AM:

So, unless we get those storm surge barriers built, New York stands a high probability of becoming the next Drowned Ys?

"...to see Lake Los Angeles, for example, or New York behind its great seawall." -- 26th century tourism, from Brothers in Arms

Off topic, but I think this might be appreciated here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGTEOrX_I08

#18 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 08:14 AM:

The Thames Barrier isn't going to be sufficient indefinitely. Several years ago I heard about discussions regarding large low-lying areas to be set aside, that could be used for recreational purposes - dog walking etc. - normally, but which could be used for controlled flooding when necessary (as in: flooding is going to happen, but if we let it happen here, where it won't cause then hopefully if won't happen over there, where it would cause much more damage).

There's an interesting document from the UK's Environment Agency: Thames Catchment Flood Management Plan in which it says (amongst other things "In the very longterm we need to adapt the urban environment to make space for water where possible and make it more resilient to flooding where it is not possible."

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 08:16 AM:

6
The pre-landfall forecast I saw was 11 feet at the Battery, so the actual surge was more than forecast.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 09:06 AM:

dcb @18:
In the very longterm we need to adapt the urban environment to make space for water where possible and make it more resilient to flooding where it is not possible.

That sounds a lot like one of the things the Dutch Room for the River initiative is pursuing: identifying land that will serve as emergency floodplain and de-poldering it. (That will, by the mechanisms discussed here, cause it to dry and contract, lowering its level and permitting it to hold more floodwater.) Most of the time, it'll be unbuilt farmland or pastureland (or, in some cases, nature reserves). But in flood-time, it's someplace to put the water that won't damage homes or kill people.

Room for the River is also moving dikes away from riverbanks, deepening side channels, and removing obstacles to river flow. It's a complex endeavor aimed at undoing the centuries-old tendency toward increasing control of the rivers, instead acknowledging that floods in over-engineered areas are more catastrophic than in ones which work with the natural flow of the water. (See also, John McPhee's essay on the Atchafalaya Capture.)

#21 ::: John Dallman ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 09:22 AM:

@18: "discussions regarding large low-lying areas to be set aside ... which could be used for controlled flooding when necessary

Oddly enough, we have those here in Cambridge, England. The River Cam floods when there is severe rain, but there are "water-meadows" upstream of the town center that are used as overflow and soakaway. Since they are fairly close to the town center, developers keep wanting to build houses on them. They have trouble with the idea that the answer from the local government is "no", because they're used to the idea that development justifies anything.

However, even if they could get past the local government, the land belongs to the ancient colleges, which are on the river. They are remarkably uninterested in being flooded, and think on timescales of centuries rather "until I sell these houses". It's kind of strange that profoundly conservative, but reality-based, organisations are so much better at dealing with climate change than our national government. They are rapidly heading into the land of "US conservatives have lots of money and they deny climate change, so denying it must be the right thing to do."

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 09:49 AM:

John Dallman @21:

So what we're both saying, basically, is that it's time for more places in the world to start thinking (and building, or not) like low-lying areas have been for some time. If the Netherlands and the fenlands are in agreement, we're talking centuries and hectares of practical experience.

This is one reason that I'm less anxious than one might think about living in the Netherlands (and below sea level at that) in times of rising waters. These people already know what to do.

#23 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 10:23 AM:

abi @ 20 and 22: These people already know what to do.

In fact, when I read your #20, my first thought was "Yup, another thing the Netherlands has figured out while the U.S. flails, just like bicycle-friendliness."

Your posts (including the meditation posted just before all the storm posts) really make me want to move to the Netherlands.

#24 ::: Caroline is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 10:23 AM:

A reply to abi @ 20 and 22 is gnomed.

#25 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 10:45 AM:

Abi @22
Your country of residence has has centuries accustom itself to the realities of dealing with nature and managing desired outcomes.

Here in the US... when it comes to long-range management of nature and nature-driven extremes, not so much. There is still a mindset of We Can Master Nature/Nature Doesn't Have Much Impact going head to head with sticker shock at how much it costs to be safe in the face of no obvious threat. Right now, it's all about money and "the it will cost millions now" is drowning out the "it will cost multiple billions in the long run."

In short, the US policy makers lack experience and imagination when it comes to What Mother Nature Can Do When She Gets Nasty. Examples like New Orleans/Katrina are considered exceptions to successful rule instead of advanced symptoms. Since the changes to things like global weather patterns and sea-level height are gradual and insistent, the policy makers are like the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly heating water.

#26 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 11:06 AM:

Nothing personal to anyone (because it's a distressingly common trope), and off topic, but I find "going up a bell tower with a high powered rifle" or words to that effect to be not at all funny or appropriate in any circumstances.

I only wish that the first one to use the phrase had gotten appropriate help when he first expressed his plans a month before the event.

As someone who knows exactly what high-powered rifles do to humans, and as someone who has to clean up the mess when that kind of thing goes down, just don't.

#27 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 11:54 AM:

Our barrier is made of steel, but also one of the world's biggest concentrations of AWESOME.

The concept of the rotating gates was devised by (Reginald) Charles Draper. In the 1950s, from his parents house in Pellatt Grove, Wood Green, London, he constructed a working model. The novel rotating cylinders were based on a small household appliance — a brass gas tap which could be found in most post war houses in the UK

So yes, London is safe thanks to It's a Long Shot...But It Might Work! tinkering.

Also, it cost about £1.3bn, which I think counts as cheap.

#29 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 12:16 PM:

Ezra Klein has an article about Sandy, climate change, and infrastructure at the WaPo. The comments to it are profoundly dispiriting.

Our leaders are fools, and so are the folks who elected them. We're doomed.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 12:21 PM:

Alex @28:

On this side of the strip of water, the 1953 North Sea flood (the Watersnoodramp, literally, the water-disaster[=flood]-disaster) is one of the landmarks of modern Dutch culture. It was the wake-up call that nature was not nearly as tamed as everyone had hoped. In many ways, it was the Katrina of the Netherlands, though the reasons the dikes failed were less a complete neglect of water engineering than a post-famine focus on farmland above sea defenses. (I did a bit of research on it a while ago, and wrote about it here.)

The Deltaworks (including the Thames Barrier's even larger—though less shiny—older brother, the Oosterscheldekering) was in many ways the child of the Watersnoodramp. The Dutch learned a lot doing them, and Room for the River is the product of that.

I think it will be a long time before the 1953 flood is forgotten here. I'm already sketching out the 60th anniversary blog post for next January. I am...not short of reference material.

#31 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 12:44 PM:

Here's the link to Ezra Klein's article referenced in Lizzy's #29.

The comments are full of the same old anti-global-warming talking points. The reality-based world is losing.

#32 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 12:46 PM:

Part of my family was in south Essex that night, a night to remember even though they were just above the flood line. Canvey Island got the worst.

Meanwhile, the effects of peat shrinkage - Mullicourt aqueduct, where the first canal has sunk and the second crosses it on a bridge.

#33 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 01:15 PM:

Ajay @17

"...to see Lake Los Angeles, for example, or New York behind its great seawall." -- 26th century tourism, from Brothers in Arms

And yet, the Thames Barrier is still functioning . . .

#34 ::: Kelley Wegeng ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 01:20 PM:

The only solution I can think of is for a bunch of scientists to step up and run for congress and make climate change and other highly measurable and predictable issues (such as early childhood education) the backbone of their platforms. In debates they will be able to say to their opponents "I'm sorry, but why do you think you are qualified to have an opinion on this subject?" when their opponents naysay their statements of fact, and if the scientific community rises up to overwhelmingly support these folks only then will middle-America get it.

It will have be a concerted effort in the next election cycle for it to happen in time. It will also be hard, even for the good guys, because for it to really work they will have to challenge (and win) against incumbent Democrats in primaries. The noblest of them would realize the stakes and bow out before it came to that.

#35 ::: Kelley Wegeng ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 01:22 PM:

Hmm. I've been gnomed. That's never happened before. Not that I post a lot, but I do sometimes. Perhaps I capitalized "congress" or the word "scientist" happens to be a Word of Power....

#36 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 02:05 PM:

33: well, if you want to set your novel in 26th century London then the Thames Barrier more or less has to still be functioning, because otherwise London wouldn't be there.

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 02:33 PM:

At least in the US (the country whose political system I know relatively well), our political system is bad at dealing with anything much longer term than the next couple elections, and extremely bad at dealing with stuff that deals with either low-probability disasters or stuff past the expected remaining length of the careers of the politicians in powerful positions right now. There are all kinds of long-running trends that almost everyone acknowledges are seriously bad news, unsustainable long-term, but which are too complicated or politically painful to address--a bigger fraction of our population behind bars every year, unsustainable deficits that get bigger even in years where the economy is booming, health-care inflation that will eventually make Medicare unaffordable and has already made private health insurance very hard to pay for, etc. AGW is just one more in the list.

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 02:46 PM:

Kelley:

What would be necessary for mainstream political debate and discussion to be reality-based and suitable for informed, intelligent adults? My strong suspicion is that if mainstream debate fit that description, we would find political leaders who could lead movements that would benefit from it. That could even be Obama and Romney--both very smart, accomplished people, who certainly could lead political movements that appealed to the informed instead of the ignorant. They don't lead such movements because it doesn't pay--it's better to appeal to low-information voters, at least at the margins.

Until it pays to appeal to smart, informed, adult voters who care enough to try to know what they're talking about, neither party will do that, and we will continue to get the kind of leadership we have now.

#39 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 03:27 PM:

Kelley at 34:

Remember Al Gore? The asset-holding crowd who would be endangered by admitting, much less doing anything about the climate change stomped him hard and flat - and he got up and they did it again.

#40 ::: David Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 03:41 PM:

One of the problems with Doing Something about climate change is you'd have to admit that it existed. And after you admit that, you have to admit that there's a place for the government to get things done.

I think certain people (especially people on the side of the political spectrum that rhymes with "blight") would rather eat their own lungs than admit that.

#41 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 03:52 PM:

David Weingart @ 40

And after you admit that, you have to admit that there's a place for the government to get things done.

And after THAT, you'd have to figure out how to have a government that gets things done, rather than taking 90 years to not build the 2nd Avenue subway. We've decided (non-partisanly) that we don't really want infrastructure built like Moses and Hausmann did it--and that seems to be the only model for rapid, transformative infrastructuure in cities.

#42 ::: Kelley Wegeng ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 04:20 PM:

See, that's the thing... the people who make noise about this thing politically aren't scientists, they're politicians. Al Gore was right, but he wasn't a scientist. When he or anyone else stands up there across from another politician the American public sees exactly what they're seeing - two politicians each standing up there saying "I'm right." I don't even think they listen to the one who is louder - I think they listen to the one whose message is ultimately easier.

Now, if one of them were a scientist, and the same thing happened in district after congressional district during the same election cycle, the public would hopefully finally get it. This is something that is a problem across the board. Lots of lawyers run for office. So do plenty with business backgrounds. We have a few teachers and a few doctors and now finally a nurse. Where are the scientists and engineers? This is Today's Engineer's look at the still-current House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. It's really bad.

If we want congress to start to make some sense on these issues we have to elect some people with authority on these issues. Well-read politicians can help form the coalition but they cannot be the backbone of it - we already know that the public can't tell the signal from the noise in a politician vs. politician discussion. Our only hope is to try science.

I could be wrong. Maybe I have managed to get solid information about science from whatever I've heard politicians say. Maybe I read the right newspapers and listen to the right broadcasts. I don't think so though. I think there is one place where I get most of my really solid information: my dad. My dad is a scientist. If I want to know about the validity of something, my dad is a phone call away, and even if he doesn't know the answer he can get it from a colleague or friend. I'm not sure much of the rest of the American public has a scientist on call whom they can trust on such things, which is why it is so important that we elect some. I don't think this system of electing lawyers and businessmen and trusting them to gather and digest information from scientists and engineers is working.

[borked link.—Idumea Cowper, Duty Gnome]

#43 ::: Kelley Wegeng is gnomed again ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 04:23 PM:

Wow, I don't know what I'm doing wrong - I've been gnomed again.

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 04:25 PM:

And after THAT, you'd have to figure out how to have a government that gets things done, rather than taking 90 years to not build the 2nd Avenue subway.

It tends to work better when officials are not elected on the premise that the government they seek to run is inherently ineffective and wasteful. That kind of...cuts against any interest in creating effective, efficient institutions. Even when it's not deliberate...a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest. Everything from staff selection to policy creation can be distorted by that kind of deep, pervasive bias.

That's what we call leadership, after all.

#45 ::: VCarlson ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:05 PM:

I saw the $10 billion price tag in the article, and thought "so, slightly more than the $8.8 billion the Provisional Authority flat-out lost in Iraq," and that money's going to be the sticking point for many. Priorities.

#46 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:05 PM:

Kelly Wegeng #42 - it is a perfectly reasonable response to say we need more scientists in the legislature (here in the UK as well). And to say that:
"Now, if one of them were a scientist, and the same thing happened in district after congressional district during the same election cycle, the public would hopefully finally get it."

I feel ignores the last 15 years and more of damage to science, scientist and evidence based policy making. Even now the attacks on Michael Mann and others are continuing online, and the way the media works the lies get more traction than the boring truth. Even when Al Gore wasn't saying too much more than the scientists, he was getting stomped. The simple introduction of scientists into being politicians runs the risk of politicising the science further than the wingnuts, market worshippers and others have done so. Or at least makes it easier for them and their ilk to dismiss what is being said.

And yet the majority of the population do think climate change is real and would like to do something about it. But on top of the immediate risks to their lives from economic hardship and ill health, it is hard to get everyone organised to fight back, especially when the rich folk have been winning the class war for 30 years now.
Hmm, I seem to have wandered a bit.

#47 ::: VCarlson ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:31 PM:

While I'm all in favor of having politicians who are better informed about science, I'm not sure getting more scientists into politics is the way to go. I used to work with chemists, a shocking number of whom believed global warming was a hoax.

#48 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:52 PM:

Kelley, #42: You've got one freakin' huge obstacle in the way of scientists running for office on the strength of their expertise: 30 years of scientific expertise having been systematically downgraded, made suspicious, and occasionally flat-out labeled unAmerican. This is backed up by paid flacks who are happy to provide "scientific counter-evidence" whenever called on, and by the equally systematic gutting of both science education and critical thinking in the public school systems.

Right now, it would be very difficult for any scientist (real scientist, as opposed to a Creationist or other woo-woo loony) to be elected to any office; and if large numbers of them started getting up and making a fuss, the (right-wing-controlled) media response would be either to start shouting about a Conspiracy of Scientists -- which, in the current social climate, isn't that different from McCarthy shouting about a Conspiracy of Communists -- or to simply not cover the stories.

There's a lot of stuff being swept under the rug right now that by rights should be all over the leads of every major newspaper and TV news show, such as the number of flat-out lies coming from the Romney campaign (who have stated in so many words that "we refuse to let our campaign be defined by fact-checkers"). When all the major news sources are controlled by Republican backers, you only hear the Republican side of any given issue -- and that's exactly what's happening now, and what would happen to your hypothetical wave of scientist candidates.

#49 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:55 PM:

I know it's hard to believe, but The Onion started out as a humorous newspaper full of made-up satirical stuff!

Nation Suddenly Realizes This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On

#50 ::: Shane ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:57 PM:

Jim #31. Nossir. If you'll forgive me misappropriating your metaphor, the reality-based world may be suffering a reverse, experiencing setbacks or advancing to the rear, but it does not lose. Ultimately, it holds doomsday weapons in reserve that we do not want to see deployed.

We in the reality-based community are not its ally, nor its Quisling. We know our foe, and would really like some of our fellow mortals to stop taunting that enemy while we marshal our strength and prepare for the clash.

It has been argued that the metaphor one uses to describe a thing constrains the ways you can respond, and we may better handle poverty and drug use, frex, if we think in terms of illnesses rather than wars. But per VCarlson #45, one advantage of framing climate change as a war is that at least we could get Westerners to fund opposition measures.

#51 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 06:33 PM:

I'd hate to be in charge of the advertising campaign for the War On Nature.

#52 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 08:16 PM:

Jim Macdonald @51: It's not the War on Nature, it's the War on Natural Disaster.

The one downside of the war framing is that it encourages solutions which emphasize control, when, per abi, what's needed are solutions which emphasize coexistence. (Emphasizing coexistence might be a better strategy for fighting actual wars, as well, for all I know.)

I think the time to reverse global warming is past, and requires Big Engineering of the kind which has unexpected side effects of equal or greater magnitude to its intended effects. Much more interesting, I think, is figuring out how to live in a warmer world, and what local grassroots efforts like Room for the River can do to move in that direction.

The first step there, I think, is to stop despairing of our fellow citizens and to start figuring out what things we both care about that will be affected, the better to make common cause with them.

#53 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 09:39 PM:

@29, 31: Not that the state of public opinion isn't really depressing, but... if you start judging our hopelessness by online newspaper comments, you may as well just go insane right now and call it a day. I've never seen a newspaper site where the comments weren't a stunning cesspool, and I can easily believe that that's what printed letters to the editor would be like-- now and in the past-- if they weren't edited.

#54 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 09:54 PM:

@49: There's this one throwaway line in Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather that made more of an impression on me than any of the high-tech shenanigans in the novel. I can't find it right now, but it's something like "The weather was crazy, and they knew it was going to be crazy for the rest of their lives."

#55 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 10:41 PM:

It's time for some thoughtful anthologist or site manager to reprint this story: "We Ate The Whole Thing", by Harry Harrison

#56 ::: Kayla Rudbek ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 11:39 PM:

Maybe it's also time to start digging through some old technology and see if there's a way to decrease the CO2, e.g. this patent to Matilda Brooks on turning carbon dioxide and water into sugar (with light and magnesium ion catalyst) US 3,573,184

#57 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 12:06 AM:

56
I understand some of the research scientists at Stanford have figured out how to make photoelectric films with carbon and not much else. That might help, too.

#58 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 02:10 AM:

P.J @57, Kayla @56, et al: That's not actually the hard part; there are a number of fairly well-understood things to do with CO2 once you take it out of the atmosphere (or the power-plant exhaust). Cement is one of the more common ones -- combine the exhaust gas with calcium to make calcium carbonate -- and it's certainly possible to use a lot of it, which is good because you get over three tons of CO2 for every ton of coal that gets burned (and that will make six tons of cement!).

The hard part is that this uses energy to get the CO2 out of the exhaust gas and convert it to something else. And, because there's a lot of CO2, it's a lot of energy -- the numbers I remember seeing for a typical coal plant were 20-30% of the plant output, but even 5% of a plant's output is quite a lot of energy. And you have to pay for the equipment, so the electricity prices go up, and economics becomes an issue. That's the real unsolved problem.

(Getting CO2 out of the atmosphere once it's already mixed out requires even more energy, plus there's not the handy source of energy next to where you're trying to extract it. And it's sort of a bucket-in-the-ocean scale of things....)

#59 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 02:14 AM:

More generally, all the problems come down to economics. If we're willing to make energy cost about two or three times as much, then bunches of alternative energy sources and ways of powering cars (which is not just energy source; it can be storage like batteries or electrolyzed hydrogen or other synfuels) that are already proven or near-proven technology start becoming viable.

But cheap energy is the foundation under our economy (at least as much as cheap overseas labor), so that's a trivial thing to change.

#60 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 04:12 AM:

Er, when I wrote "trivial", I meant "non-trivial"!

#61 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 07:08 AM:

Evidence of Romney's incompetence at disaster management: former FEMA head Brown is still talking.

#62 ::: C. Wingate's remark sleeps with the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 07:10 AM:

Probably because spammers like to format URLS and periods a certain way, or perhaps the gnomes need to catch up on the Daily News.

#63 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 07:45 AM:

I agree with Kevin Riggle #52 regarding not phrasing it as a war.
However I do disagree about:
"the time to reverse global warming is past, and requires Big Engineering of the kind which has unexpected side effects of equal or greater magnitude to its intended effects."

We have never been in a position to reverse the warming. The question has always been exactly how bad we are willing to let things get, i.e. do we take action so that things don't get that much worse, or do we burn as much as possible and let things get really bad?
The second part of your sentence I'm not sure about. It reads as if a couple of words are missing; surely you wouldn't actually be endorsing big projects with massive unintended side effects? Certainly every idea suggested so far is merely a stop gap and doesn't deal with oceanic acidification which will have a major effect on oceanic ecosystems. Moreover such ideas are usually suggested as a means of simply preventing things getting any worse, rather than magically reversing the warming.
(Maybe someone has been claiming that ocean fertilisation will suck all the excess CO2 out of the atmosphere, which would be a pretty stupid claim)

We have been doomed to both mitigation of effects and prevention of further warming for decades now. If we manage to decarbonise we won't need as much mitigation as if we don't decarbonise. It's as simple as that. We've already programmed in several feet of sea level rise due to melting ice and warmer water, which will need mitigating. But at the same time, if we can stop emitting CO2 we can stop that turning into many metres in the longer term.

Discussion of this is hampered by the sheer difficulty of working out what things could be like in 100 years time, let alone changes to the weather that will occur.
But it now seems pretty clear that some of the weird weather we've been having in the last few years in Europe and the North Atlantic is due to changes in the jet stream and atmospheric circulation which in turn are caused by the increased area of open water in the Arctic which is due to ice melting because of global warming. From what I have read it was not expected that weird weather effects of global warming would show up so soon.
Therefore, mitigation starts now, but it makes sense to also stop things getting any worse by greatly reducing CO2 (and other greenhouse gas) emissions.

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 08:32 AM:

Brooks, one of the interesting things I've learned about CO2 recently is that too much of it in the air makes people stupid.
(Link is to a Science News article from 16 October.)

#65 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 08:58 AM:

It isn't so much that the people who lead the United States are fools (there are quite a few people in positions of leadership who are not fools, starting with the incumbent president), it is that there are an amazing number of knaves in office. When we have congressslugs like Dr Paul Broun of Georgia who tell us, pokerfacedly, that science is a lie from the pit of hell, because that sort of statement plays well in the Southern Baptist Church and among certain kinds of businessfolk, we face a problem.

The problem is not one that will confront a generation yet unborn a century or so down the road. It will hit us in a decade or so. Katrina, Sandy, and the next set of superstorms within 4-5 years are an earnest of that.

#66 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 09:00 AM:

C. Wingate #61: Does anyone take "Heckuva Job Brownie" seriously?

#67 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 10:28 AM:

Fragano, #66: He's being taken seriously enough to get interviews in the major media, which should not be happening because of his past record. That's going to cause a certain percentage of individuals to take him seriously, no matter what.

#68 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 10:59 AM:

Lee #67: I'm in Canada today and in this morning's Globe and Mail one letter writer wondered, anent Brownie, if there would be an article from Nero during fire prevention week.

#69 ::: Kelley Wegeng ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 11:09 AM:

guthrie #46 and Lee #48 - I don't actually think that the most of the US public thinks climate change is real. If that's how it is in Europe that's fantastic, but we have a long way to go before we can make that a reality.

To quote Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication, as reported in a 2011 NPR story, with regard to a public poll "Only 13 percent of Americans got the correct answer, which is that in fact about 97 percent of American scientists say that climate change is happening, and about a third of Americans just simply say they don't know."

You're right that science has been stomped on for sure - one of you said for the past 15 years and the other for the past 30. Well, 30 years ago I was 3, and 15 years ago the college students I work with were in preschool or kindergarten. We're voters, and we can't be blamed for that stomping. We are a generation of folks who trust scientists to speak on scientific matters (and economists to speak on economics, and teachers to speak on education, etc.).

The young - even my husband who is 4 years younger than I - are tired of politicians - tired of people who lack the expertise to have an opinion on a wide range of subjects having opinions, loud ones, on whatever the poorly-researched fad of the day is. It's gotten so bad I have whole armies of friends completely ambivalent to voting. There's a famous quote I can't find about how those who are most equipped to govern are least likely to want to do it. We could use a few unlikely and perhaps reluctant heroes.

You're right that it might not work. But I don't think there's any other spaghetti laying about which we could throw at this wall.

#70 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 11:38 AM:

The political negotiations about climate engineering, if such happens, will be intense.

#71 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 11:45 AM:

When humanity is reduced to 5,000 hunter/gatherers wandering around the pestilential swamps of Antarctica, the clan chiefs will still be denying climate change.

(Those clan chiefs will also be called some name that ultimately derives from "Caesar.")

#72 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 12:02 PM:

There is at least one portion of the U.S. population who knows climate change is happening -- anyone who maintains a garden, and anyone who farms.

I have watched my hardiness zone creep from 5a when I was in school, to 5b during my working career, and now we're pushing for 6. I may be able to raise camellias here in another 5 to 10 years.

But I know that's a problem, and it leaves me feeling very uneasy...

#73 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 12:23 PM:

As usual, the information regarding climate change is out there and can be found without too much looking. There's websites such as real climate, (where I have seen people who didn't know anything about it be educated) to one or two whose names I can't recall which are devoted to explaining the science for people who don't know any science.
Here in the UK I believe climate change is actuall on the school curriculum somewhere, although we still have major newspapers giving space to denialist know nothings (liars, even) such as Delingpole and Lawson.

The point I was objecting to was getting scientists to be putting themselves forwards politically. What there is surely room for is series of events/ tours involving actual scientists and people who aren't scientists but are good at breaking things down for normal people to understand and who have some experience in dealing with obstructive and argumentative people. The ability to educate the public in public and deal with difficult people is not the same as the ability to be a good scientist. Some people have both, and blogging allows them to communicate the science.
The other problem is of course the media in general. At least in the UK the BBC is pretty much 'on message' and the last channel to do anything denialist was IIRC channel 4 with some documentary by Martin Durkin that lied to the viewers. It didn't go down that well.
Whereas in the USA, what have you got?

As Lori Coulson says, part of the population can clearly see the earth is warming, and I'm sure they can be reached in subtle ways. Of course it's tricky, insofar as lots of denialists will still deny it is our fault.
But ultimately it seems to be connected to the widespread feeling that your political system is fucked. Until your political system is more reality based and responsive to actual public opinion rather than what the media reflect back to the politicians, nothing will change.

(We have the same feeling over here too)

#74 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 12:38 PM:

Kayla Rudbek @56: Maybe it's also time to start digging through some old technology and see if there's a way to decrease the CO2

I keep fantasizing about building some of these in the Maldives.

The freshwater would actually be a waste-product. What you're really after is the [calcium carbonate?] solids that the process produces. Solar-powered landfill generation, wot? (I'm quietly ignoring issues of scale, here.)

Plant a few of these around coastal cities, and you have a source of freshwater (that is not the Colorado River, ahem).

#75 ::: Kelley Wegeng ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 02:38 PM:

I'm not sure that climate change is covered in all of our schools. There are exceptions, but my understanding is that there are still wide swaths of public schools that do not teach about climate change, the big bang, or evolution, and we here in Illinois cannot even get a bill passed requiring that all sexual education be evidence-based. A 2008 study of the state found that 2/3 of public schools still do not have comprehensive sexual education programs.

It would be really nice if we could have tours and events that educated the public, but there are over 3,000 counties and county-equivalents in this country, of size averaging over 1,000 square miles. Most people wouldn't travel outside of their county for such an event, so we'd have to hold a lot of them. My county has an alarming number of creationist climate change naysayers - I find them in strange places - at churches, the supermarket, schools. I even had a friend of a friend with a BS in geology tell me that we are actually headed for a mini Ice Age in a recent discussion. My county might need a hundred such events.

I don't know how to change the political environment such that this noise gets quieted, not when I care so much about things like health care and Roe v. Wade and family leave insurance that I daren't vote for anybody but a Democrat. My only thought is that it would be great to have some reasonable candidates out there who don't have to shout to be heard.

#76 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 02:52 PM:

The cover story of Businessweek:

It's Global Warming, Stupid

The cover is wonderful.

#77 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 03:50 PM:

Evidently Mayor Bloomberg has announced his support for President Obama, in an endorsement that specifically mentions climate change and the President's response to it.

#78 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 04:08 PM:

Great quote from that BusinessWeek article:

Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek), offers a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”
#79 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 04:45 PM:

This Pew Center report asked a sample of scientists and a random sample of the population about global warming. (The whole survey report is well worth reading.)

Some details from the report (done in 2009):

Among scientists, 94% think the earth is warming, and 84% think the warming is substantially human-caused. (The alternative is that the changes are natural variation of some kind.)

I'll write those two numbers together:

Scientists: 84/94
College Graduates: 58/96
Republicans: 30/73
Democrats: 64/93

A couple interesting points, to me:

a. First, the scientists' number looks about right w.r.t. my own experiences. I know a couple people in my field (we're scientists if you count computer science) who don't buy human-caused global warming (AGW), but the overwhelming majority do. Interestingly, I've heard much better reasons from skepticism from people who broadly buy the AGW idea[1], but worry about publication and funding feedback loops--the actual AGW skeptics I know seem to me to be entirely driven by political identity sorts of reasoning--they're strongly self-identified Republicans and this is one of the positions their side takes.

b. The split between Republicans and Democrats is depressing, because it's hard to believe that there's really a difference between Democrats and Republicans that would explain this difference in any way at all other than tribal identity determining their beliefs about reality. I mean, if you found that geologists or meteorologists or mathematicians had a very different view of something than everyone else, you might think this was due to a different understanding of the world or a different set of mental tools or experiences. But that doesn't work for Republicans vs Democrats.

The underlying problem there is more complicated than the lies from the lying liars at Fox News (though they surely don't help). I think when there is a tribal identity and an associated set of claims about reality, many people more-or-less look for an excuse to stop thinking once they get to those conclusions. I've long suspected that effective propaganda, at least in the US, is mainly focused at this--giving someone a reason to stop thinking about stuff that you don't want them thinking about. Convince your readers that AGW is all a scam from a bunch of socialist scientists, or that the critics of our drone assassination program want Al Qaida to win, and you can often get them to stop thinking before they start asking the wrong kind of questions.

[1] This set includes me. AGW is the way to bet, given the overwhelming agreement of almost everyone working in the area. But I can certainly see ways that this consensus might be wrong. For example, if you disagree fundamentally with the consensus of your field, it can be very hard to get published or funded by anyone that any scientist with integrity would accept. That can delay the rise of contradictory theories for a generation. That's not a reason to ignore the changes in climate and our best understanding of what needs to happen to address it (though it's hard to see how we can manage to do what's needed in any kind of reasonable time frame), but it is a reason to recognize that the consensus *could* be wrong, even though it's still the way to bet.

[2] If a journalist gets every major fact wrong in some important story, exclusively quotes anonymous sources who smear the other side, uncritically interviews people he knows are paid shills for one side or the other, and demonstrates on the air or in print that he doesn't actually know what he's talking about, that's not actually all that bad for his career. Journalists and pundits can demonstrably do all those things for years while maintaining succesful careers. On the other hand, pissing off important interest groups or advertisers, or straying too far outside the Overton window regardless of the reasons, can and do get journalists fired.

#80 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 05:45 PM:

I have a side comment to make about what albatross just said, and I'll do it over here.

#81 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 05:56 PM:

albatross #38:
What would be necessary for mainstream political debate and discussion to be reality-based and suitable for informed, intelligent adults? My strong suspicion is that if mainstream debate fit that description, we would find political leaders who could lead movements that would benefit from it. That could even be Obama and Romney--both very smart, accomplished people, who certainly could lead political movements that appealed to the informed instead of the ignorant. They don't lead such movements because it doesn't pay--it's better to appeal to low-information voters, at least at the margins.

This does not take into account that over the past few decades, public education (including science education) has been methodically attacked, producing a generation or two of voters who are lucky if they even know what science actually is, let alone why scientists should be trusted.

#82 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 06:43 PM:

guthrie @63: Indeed, I'm not endorsing Big Engineering. Possibly that sentence is missing a subordinating conjunction.

I wonder if by focusing on persuading people that global warming is real in order to convince them to take necessary steps we don't have this the wrong way 'round. I think we should instead focus on persuading them to take small, necessary steps to protect against the (increasingly concrete) effects of global warming, and in justifying their actions to themselves they will become convinced of the reality of global warming and invested in taking further steps.

#83 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 06:49 PM:

albatross @79 wrote:

"The split between Republicans and Democrats is depressing, because it's hard to believe that there's really a difference between Democrats and Republicans that would explain this difference in any way at all other than tribal identity determining their beliefs about reality."

I disagree with this very strongly.

I know hundreds of well-educated, extremely intelligent people of extremely diverse political allegiances.

I'd say that Democrats tend to believe in global warming more often because Democrats, in general, trust and value science more than Republicans. I'm talking exclusively about people who self-identify this way, not about anyone who identifies primarily with a third party. Of the college-graduate Republicans I know, I'd estimate 40-50% believe in climate change. I don't know a single college-graduate Democrat who disbelieves. In conversations I've had about this, the Republicans who are doubters always say the same things: "you can't trust these scientists," "you put too much faith in science," or "not all scientists agree," as if total consensus on an issue was required for any scientific conclusion to be valid.

These Democrats who all agree on global warming aren't, in general, party line Democrats. This group includes people who disagree with the party line about women's health, gun control, media, private education, even economic policy.

This might be a distressing idea to those who think that the two parties and the candidates they support are functionally identical, but I've just found Democrats to be... well... more personally invested in the idea of science.

I don't know why you find it so "hard to believe" that Democrats are just generally more scientifically savvy and evidence-motivated than Republicans. That's something I've encountered over and over again in my political life, and those numbers seem perfectly in synch with that idea. Maybe it's because you're used to painting both major parties with the same brush.

And on another note...

I've had a few conversations lately with people who believe that climate change is happening, but don't believe in AGW. I have some sympathy for this: as someone who is skeptical of a lot of modern nutritional science (an area where there is much less consensus), sometimes it's difficult to know who to trust.

But... if you truly believe that we aren't causing this warming, or that we don't know the causes of these changes, then you should be even more freaked out than those of us who think we know what's going on. You should be fighting on the blogs and in the streets for more science funding, to figure out what we can possibly do to save ourselves. If we don't know what's causing it and thus don't know how to stop it, it's a "meteor heading for the earth" situation, here: we have to all pull together and somehow beat this thing using science. We've got to slash our military budgets and put all that money towards saving the earth. We've got to raise taxes until we can solve the crisis of the unexplained doom!

Any time "we don't know what's causing this warming" isn't followed by "and we should really focus on finding out and fixing it as fast as possible to save us from this inexplicable global disaster," I seriously doubt the person in question's understanding of science... and their personal political priorities.

#84 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 07:01 PM:

Kevin, certainly that approach is possible, and I think it has been/ is being tried. Obviously it won't work on everyone but every little bit helps and all that. I recall seeing people arguing for electric cars and renewables because it makes America less reliant on imports of oil and on an antiquated bunch of refineries. I've seen mention of Religions groups saying "We were given stewardship over the earth, would you be happy with the state it's in now? Of course not, lets do something about it".
Here in the UK some positive things help like more insulation for houses, but because the government is in hock to business they won't do the sensible thing and make it illegal to build a new house that isn't insulated to or near to passivhaus standards. (And that still leaves 20 million or more older houses to be improved)

What sort of small necessary steps were you thinking? Having a bug out bag and appropriate preparations is all very well, but I am not sure that it would help draw people towards agreeing that climate change is happening and it's our fault so something must be done before it gets worse.

#85 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 07:16 PM:

#83 ::: Leah Miller

We've got to raise taxes until we can solve the crisis of the unexplained doom!

Except it isn't an unexplained doom. I live in a mostly-Republican area. I know a whole bunch of Climate-Change deniers. Here's the argument:

The earth is always heating up a little and cooling down a little. So it's heating up a little right now. Big deal. It heated up a lot more than that between the end of the last Ice Age and now. You're getting all worked up over eight-tenths of a degree. Wait around a hundred years and it'll cool down again. Won't all the Chicken Littles feel foolish then. We have a lot of real problems in this country; if we're going to spend money let's spend it on something real that we can actually do something about.

#86 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 07:45 PM:

Jim Macdonald @85

I have heard that particular justification, I just didn't know whether it was as endemic among the "I believe in global warming, I just don't necessarily believe that it is caused by humans" crowd - the people who claim that they aren't climate change deniers. In part, this is because I've never been able to get someone who believes that involved in a serious conversation about it.

If your assessment is correct... then we can't let them get away with the "I believe the rest of the science, just not the most frequently attributed cause" line.

If they argue that we're overreacting, they're really saying "I believe that the world is getting warmer, but I don't trust estimates of how much warmer, projections of future warming, predictions of the likely fallout, or evaluations of the most likely causes. I'm just playing lip service to the idea that I respect science, while really believing whatever is most convenient to my current political motivations."

Which is probably close to the truth. I was just hoping that it wasn't.

#87 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 07:54 PM:

Bah, typo: "just paying lip service," not "playing."

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 09:08 PM:

72
It's getting so frost is rare in LA - and it used to be much more likely in winter. Meanwhile, this summer nearly two months of 90-plus days, and one entire week where the highs were varying between 106 and 108.

#89 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 09:46 PM:

Leah:

From what the survey said, 88% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats said science has a mostly positive effect on the world. 6% of Republicans and 7% of Democrats said it has a mostly negative effect on the world. Similarly, scientists are regarded by most people as contributing a lot to society (70% overall, 74% for Democrats and 66% for Republicans). There are bigger differences across racial/ethnic groups and education levels, though not a lot of huge differences.

Part of the survey also included a set of very basic science questions. Republicans did better than Democrats, on average. I suspect this is largely explained by differences in party makeup--Republicans average richer, whiter, and more male than Democrats, and all three of those also get higher scores on the science quiz. Democrats were a little more enthusiastic about reading science news, but the difference wasn't all that big.

By contrast, 55% of scientists in the survey self-identified as Democrats, whereas only 6% self-identify as Republicans. (The rest self-identify as independent.). And Republicans in the general population are much less supportive of science funding than everyone else: 25% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats thought we should increase science funding. My guess is that this reflects a general belief that we should spend less, but maybe it represents some kind of hostility to science not seen in the other survey questions.

None of that looks very close to your description, to me. Now, maybe there's a problem with the survey, but my guess is that your circle of acquaintances is not representative of the population.

#90 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 10:42 PM:

albatross @89

That same study says that 68% of Republicans vs. 80% of democrats think government investment in science pays off, and more Democrats than Republicans think scientists "contribute a lot." Also note that the scientists themselves were more likely to identify as Democratic (55% Democratic, 6% Republican) and liberal (52% liberal, 9% conservative) than the general population.

I'd say these things align very closely with my observations.

I also don't think the parts of the study you choose to cite do anything to refute my theories. I'm not talking about whether or not someone believes science has been a net positive in human history, or if they know scientific facts. I'm saying I've noticed marked differences between the reaction to and trust of modern scientific findings... though I've come across another factor that may be influential.

Digging more deeply into that report, we see some stark numbers for the belief that government funding of science is essential, with only 44% of conservative republicans agreeing, while 75% of liberal democrats agree.

Maybe that's the difference. Republicans prefer corporate-funded science, while Democrats are more likely to believe government-funded science is important as well. This may be why the climate change science survey results fall the way they do: most of the consensus climate change research is done in government-funded studies, while most of the anti-climate-change research is paid for by corporations. The Republican tendency to believe and value corporate contribution over government participation may have skewed their ability to interpret research when studies from those two sources are in conflict. They might be more trusting of any scientific evidence produced by corporations, and skeptical of government-funded research. This would provide another plausible explanation beyond your "party line" assumption.

I'm not saying that's definitely the reason for the divide. But the tendency to trust corporations more than the government is a pretty solid Republican value, and could conceivably influence someone's ability to interpret research.

#91 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 10:52 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 85 said:
The earth is always heating up a little and cooling down a little. So it's heating up a little right now. Big deal. It heated up a lot more than that between the end of the last Ice Age and now. You're getting all worked up over eight-tenths of a degree. Wait around a hundred years and it'll cool down again. Won't all the Chicken Littles feel foolish then. We have a lot of real problems in this country; if we're going to spend money let's spend it on something real that we can actually do something about.

What about taking the why out of the equation? We know we have problems - a lack of jobs in manufacturing and construction, a fragile electric grid with a higher than comfortable reliance on imported fuel, a water system that is barely adequate for regular needs, much less growth. We need to fix these things anyway; if fixing them happens to improve our chances of surviving climate change, great. If climate change isn't happening, it's not like the benefits of accomplishing those big projects will just drain away. What in this argument am I missing?

#92 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 11:38 PM:

#91 ::: CZEdwards

What in this argument am I missing?

1) Those projects will take a lot of money. All you liberals want to do is tax and spend.

2) Its up to businesses to arrange their business. You want to dictate to companies how they run? Are you a communist?

3) You're planning to make gasoline more expensive? Hell, gasoline is too expensive right now.

4) Al Gore is fat.

#93 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 01:36 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ 92: You're doing a disturbingly accurate bit of channeling there.

#94 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 02:22 AM:

JM @ 92:

1) Sure, and fixing my roof took a lot of money, too, but it took a heckuva lot less to fix it before the leak caved in my ceiling and destroyed my wiring. Some bullets have to be bitten, some woodsheds must be visited, and some bitter ounces of prevention must be eaten. And more good jobs mean fewer people needing EBT, unemployment and Medicaid, and more people spending their delicious, Commie-flavored paychecks in your stores, making you richer.

2) Government uses contractors. Contractors voluntarily bid on projects. Contractors don't have to bid on government jobs; some make it a point not to do so. Nobody is forced to accept a delicious, Commie-flavored paycheck. (They taste like donuts, by the way.)

3) Imported gas makes oil-producing nations richer. Like Saudi Arabia and Iran and Canada! You don't want to support the terrorists, especially those Québécois, who have wanted Maine since at least 1812. Giving Canadians money now just makes them cross the border and buy all the cheap beer. Give 'em more and they'll have everything between Portsmouth and Fort Lauderdale. Keep Canada poor!*

4) So are Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich. We all have our crosses to bear.

* no offense offered or intended to veterans of Queen Anne's War, Canadians, Québécois, cheap beer lovers or contractors.

(interesting how the arguments vary by region. Our conservatives often have significant interests in grazing on federal land, or mineral extraction, or water rights. It's not the taxing and spending that's the problem, it's the spending's vector. And they like government contracts, in general - they're happy to bleed the beast. )

#95 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 08:59 AM:

I really think the climate change argument is off to the side of the problem (expanding on my #41).

Building a social infrastructure[1] that is resilient and robust is costly.

A hurricane hitting New Orleans and breaking the levees had been a genuine possibility that everyone knew would be disastrous for a century. I've been hearing about how disastrous a hurricane hittng NYC would be for 15 years, and it was common wisdom then. And hurricanes had hit NYC in 1815, and in 1938--neither the vulnerability nor the possibility are new. Gobal warming might make it more likely, but even with no global warming it would probably happen sometime.

So the question is--what would need to be the case to make a social infrastructure that is robust[2] and resilient[3] seem worthwhile? And that means that the costs would be widely shared, not (as Moses and Hausmann did) just pushed off onto the people who are in the way of the infrastructure.

1) Social infrastructure--the combination of structures and how they are used--for example, converting the housing in a frequently-flooded area of Richmond to nightclubs made the social infrastructure more tolerant of floods.
2) Robust--hard to damage; a buried powerline is more robust than an aboveground line.
3) Resilient--takes a lot of damage to break. The internet is resilient; highway networks are more resilient than trains.

#96 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 09:50 AM:

Sam #95: a key element you've overlooked is trust.

You can have all the storm shelters and hardened infrastructure and building regulations in the world and they won't help you if the public at large don't trust each other not to mug them when they use the shelters or not to cheat on their taxes or cheap on their building code compliance.

Social infrastructure is, first and foremost, social. The Netherlands are a good example of this. The USA, with its culture of individuality uber alles and the decades-long drum-beat of "I've got mine, fuck you" in the media and distrust of the mere idea of honest politicians is Not In A Good Place To Start From if your goal is to build social infrastructure.

(New Orleans was clearly in a much worse place than New York; there are lessons to be learned here. And, applying the lessons closer to home, I think instinctively-socialist Scotland is a lot better placed to ride out the global climate change permanent crisis than Tory England.)

#97 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 10:23 AM:

Trust is a funny thing. Partly, it's driven by experience. People who have been mugged in public shelters won't trust public shelters in the future, for example. But that means it's often a lagging indicator--experience happened in the past, often far in the past, and you may have people refusing to go to a public shelter now because of something that happened to their mom when they were a kid. If you have seen a lot of corruption in government your whole life, it's perfectly reasonable to assume that the next ten big government proposals will also be cesspools of corruption, even if things have been cleaned up since the last time you looked.

Partly, trust is driven by public images--media, propaganda, PR, movies, TV shows, etc. If the news is reporting widespread crime in public shelters (which may be accurate or not), then people won't want to go there. Similarly, if movies and TV shows have lots of images of public shelters being places where the weak are terrorized by the strong, many people may fear them. It's not so easy to keep track of what part of your worldview comes from good data and what part comes from sensationalized entertainment (some of which is labeled as news).

And I think there's an aspect of social cohesion and us/them thinking that goes into trust. If there are many different groups in your society that seldom mix and start out with a certain level of mistrust (justified or not), it will be much harder to get you to go to a public shelter where you'll have to mix with *them*. The more you have to count on members of various shades of "them" to see some collective thing done, the harder it is to trust that it will be done in a way that won't screw you over. (My intuition is that this is often subconscious, and that (for example) putting a uniform on one of "them" can subconsciously make him into one of "us" for purposes of trust. If you're caught in the middle of of a riot in a black ghetto, you're *relieved* to see a black policeman or national guardsman, or probably even a black bus driver.)

Finally, there's one element I think is a rational basis for mistrust, but I'm not sure how important it is in practice. One way to trust that you will be safe in a public shelter is to trust that the people running the shelter will take responsibility for your safety--that if necessary, there will be policemen or national guardsmen or armed guards around to protect the vulnerable. And part of that comes down to believing that someone is watching--that the media will report violations of trust, that the courts and regulators will take violations of trust seriously and punish them, that the powerful will come down hard on violations of trust. That's something we've been eroding, as a society, for quite some time. If we try to do some big public work, and it turns out that half the budget is used to line the pockets of the politically connected people in charge, and the whole thing is a disaster, I have some limited faith that the media will report it (though often they won't, especially if the politically connected people in charge have the right kinds of connections). I have very little faith that courts or regulators or the mayor/governor/president will take any action--we've largely accepted the idea in our society that wrongdoing by really important people should only be punished by having to resign their post, at which point they will have suffered enough. There's a cost to that, but I suspect it's less in decreased trust short-term than in higher levels of corruption and malfeasance and incompetence society-wide, long-term.

#98 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 11:11 AM:

SamChevre #95: Aside from trust, there's also the question of choices and priorities (especially but not limited to short-term vs. long-term).

Replacing housing with nightclubs might help against flooding, but what about crime, or even noise issues? (And whose housing? What did they get in return for the loss of their housing? I have nasty suspicions about the answers.)

Below-ground power lines might be more resistant to storms, but certainly not to earthquakes -- and even their flood resistance will depend on maintenance.

And resilience can itself be fragile, especially against political opposition. You cite the highways as more resilient than the trains... but you know, that has a lot to do with the fact that for decades, the highways have a lot more political and material support than our train system. The one that has all the money they need for maintenance and multiple routes will naturally be more resilient. The one that has to beg for money or earn it themselves, is going to have more trouble.

#99 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 11:49 AM:

#94 ::: CZEdwards

1) Sure, and fixing my roof took a lot of money, too

When you fixed your roof, you didn't expect me to pay for it! America is broke thanks to the liberals' anti-business policies. What's holding businesses back from fixing their own roofs is needless government regulation. Deregulate and you'll get your wish, without costing the taxpayers a dime.

(Also, ask the kid who "must" "visit the woodshed" to vote in favor of woodshed-visiting. See how many votes you get.)

2) Government uses contractors.

Paid with tax money. That's my money, stolen out of my pocket! Tax and spend, that's all you liberals can think of. You never saw a government project you didn't like. We should cut taxes instead. That's what's good for America!

3) Imported gas makes oil-producing nations richer.

That's why we should drill in National Parks, wildlife refuges, off shore, and everywhere else. Drill, baby, drill! And don't forget to strip-mine. America would have all the energy it needs if you liberals would just stop hugging trees. Give the oil companies tax breaks for domestic drilling and repeal the federal gasoline taxes and we'll have $0.25/gallon gasoline.

4) So are Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich.

It snowed last week in Tennessee. What happened to that global warming? Al Gore doesn't look so smart now!

#100 ::: Moshe Feder ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 12:15 PM:

Over on Facebook, Catherine Crockett tells me that folks here are worried about Christopher Hatton.

I'm pleased to report that his friend and Hoboken neighbor Lenore Jean Jones has now posted on FB that she came through Sandy in good shape and so did Christopher.

Of course, they're still without power. Christopher isn't sitting home worrying about that. He's headed out to volunteer to help in the ongoing recovery effort.

#101 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 12:35 PM:

Moshe:

Thanks, that's a relief! I'm sure Xopher will be back around here when he has more electrical/internet service and fewer neighbors needing a hand.

#102 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 12:40 PM:

Along the lines of "different fact universes," James Fallows on the arguments about what the polls really say.

I've run into a fair bit of this on right-leaning sites--people who can come up with a dozen reasons to argue that all the polls are liberal lies and Romney is winning. The depressing thing is that I suspect this belief is more-or-less fact-proof: If Obama wins (as is likely but not certain given available information), few people will recognize they were sold a bill of goods at a level that helps them be less susceptible to such BS in the future. If Romney wins, of course, this will be ironclad proof of the liberal conspiracy that was lying about polls, and that their BS-sources are feeding them the unvarnished truth. Confirmation bias is a lovely thing, if you're a conman or propagandist.

#103 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 01:30 PM:

On the elections, what has happend about concerns with your electronic voting machines? They seemed prevalent 8 or more years ago.

#104 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 01:36 PM:

Moshe Feder @ 100:

Thank you.

#105 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 01:59 PM:

albatross #102: If Romney wins, of course, this will be ironclad proof of the liberal conspiracy that was lying about polls, and that their BS-sources are feeding them the unvarnished truth.

And of course, any reports of GOP election fraud are also coming from the liberal conspiracy. Speaking of which:

guthrie #103: I think we lost the fight on electronic voting machines. :-(

My big fear is that fraud angle: the Repubs don't have to fix every machine or suborn every count in the country, just enough in key districts. And they've already shown at every level that they're low enough to do it.

#106 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 02:28 PM:

CZEdwards @ 94, I agree with you, but I also think the people being asked to bite bullets in the woodshed right now regarding the budget -- those without health insurance, on welfare, collecting unemployment, otherwise in need -- are going to be the bullet-eaters in this scenario too.

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 04:16 PM:

Guthrie,

The decision about what voting machines to use is made state by state. A lot of states passed laws that require future voting machines to have paper trails, or have gone back to hand-marked paper ballots counted by machine. The electronic voting machines with paper trails (aka VVPATs) are an engineering atrocity, combining the operating costs and administrative overhead of paper ballots with the high up-front costs and occasional software/hardware failures of DREs. But they probably do make it somewhat harder for tampered software to change an election outcome.

#108 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 05:21 PM:

Persephone:

One problem with any kind of collective action is the suspicion that whatever sacrifices need to be made will be heaped on you or your side. That means that convincing lots of voters that they're going to get the bill for the collective action is an excellent strategy for blocking such action. On the other hand, in many societies, including this one, it is not the least bit unreasonable to expect that the costs will be shared out in ways that reflect who is politically powerful and connected, more than who properly should pay extra or who can afford to pay more. And on the gripping hand, there is never going to be a way to share a lot of pain around that will feel fair to many of the people getting clobbered by it, no matter how hard everyone tries to make it fair.

#109 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 07:15 PM:

#63 guthrie

Katrina and Sandy and there being so -many- named storms, don't surprise me. I heard prediction going back to more than 40 years ago that these sorts of things would be climate changes results.

#71 Lor

Butterfly clubs know it, too...
But objective nature observers and gardeners have to deal with -reality- ratherthan Credo....

#73 guthrie
Climate change was a serious issue in the USA until the faith-based Republican initiatives displaced any and all consideration of scientific approaches and outlooks as contributing to worldviews, in the US pop culture arbiters. US supermarket checkout counters have nary a science magazine or even a true news magazine to be seen, as opposed to an infinite supply of tabloids sliming Pres Obama, trumpeting the latest salacious rumors about Celebrities, inventing stories on dubious reports of whatever; housemaker-aimed magazines full of ads and recipes and "advice" which all recommend advertisers' products; fashion magazines full of ads and stupid cripplewear attire such as spike high heels promoting sales of sexploitive emotionally and physically disabling products (see "spike high heel shoes)...

#83 Leah
Ronald Reagan changed the course of the Republican Party to anti-science, and driving out those who value the scientific method,

#94 CZ

1 "I'll worry about that when it happens. Until then I don't care."


#105 Dave

Why can't [self-censored] be of redeeming social value and crack into the Ohio voing machine network and crash the damned thing Monday night and keep it offline...??!! If it;s crackable, cracking into in and crashing out and keeping it offline with prove that it's a compromised system with replacement mandated. Physical destruction would be preferable, but... Vote fraud with those machines in 2004 threw the election

#110 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 07:17 PM:

I've been gnomed...

#111 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 10:26 PM:

Resilient--takes a lot of damage to break. The internet is resilient; highway networks are more resilient than trains.

Are they actually? I recall being at a convention in Boston a few years back when a massive load of snow got dumped on the Northeast. The highways were impassible, but we booked tickets on Amtrak and got home without problems.

#112 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2012, 12:57 AM:

Avram: I expect that depends on what you're talking about resilience to.

Road vehicles are good about going around things, like washed-out roads or fallen trees or the like, and you can put in temporary roads reasonably easily.

Trains are good for ice and snow, which you generally can't go around, but which makes road vehicles difficult to control.

For both of these, you may have to clear some sort of path (if there's no detour available), and it's pretty much equal effort in both cases.

Planes are resilient against downed bridges and otherwise blockaded areas.

As with many things, the best way to get broad-spectrum resilience is to not to rely on a monoculture. A city with roads, trains, and planes will have far more resilient transportation than a city with any single one.

#113 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2012, 08:20 AM:

albatross @ 108... the bill for the collective action is an excellent strategy

...as long as we don't call it a tax.

#114 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2012, 11:48 AM:

SFGate has a story about how climate change will affect storms in California, and the comments are full of trolls. (Most of them are regular trolls there.) There seems to be a lack of understanding - or denial - of what happens when you keep dumping energy into the system.

#115 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2012, 05:34 PM:

Arguments are already starting in the climate blogosphere regarding how much Sandy and it's impact were due to climate change.
For instance:
http://tamino.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/catastrophes-how-many-more/
Tamino is the nom de plume of a statistician who has made a good reputation from slicing and dicing climate stats to prove denialists wrong.
Interestingly, Roger Pielke jr turns up in comments. His dad is a denialist of long standing, and he himself is if anything a lukewarmist, and has been getting himself a great deal of publicity out of standing against those who say that global warming is making more disasters that cost more money.
Him and people like him will be very busy over the next few weeks telling people that one storm doesn't prove anything, and that no scientist has tied the storms in with AGW. And so on. Exactly how much of Sandy was due to warming and how much to chance is not clear just now, but given the importance of warm waters for energising hurricanes, and of strange blocking patterns for guiding them onto NY, it seems likely to me that the answer is, a lot.

As an aside, it is interesting how the internet brings actual important people directly in touch with the public. I'm pretty sure this can help with education, but less so as to whether it helps policy.

#116 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2012, 06:27 PM:

For what it's worth, I heard someone on NPR saying that the link between climate change and changes in the amount of rainfall is solid, but hurricanes might be running on their own cycle.

Of course, if hurricanes are increasing for any reason, then preparing for them is a good idea.

#118 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2012, 11:34 PM:

#117 ::: Earl Cooley III

The comment thread there makes one despair for humanity.

#119 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2012, 02:38 AM:

On trains and resilience - I used to frequently commute between central New Jersey and DC for work projects. I'd occasionally fly, but usually take the train, depending on what time of day I had to be in DC and where in the District I was going. The train was typically about 15 minutes slower and made fewer trips a day, but was much more relaxing, without all the hurry-up-and-wait and the 80s/early90s versions of airport security theater. If I couldn't catch the 7pm Metroliner home I'd be on a later slow local train, while if I missed a plane there'd be another one in an hour.

Airplanes had frequent random delays due to weather, overbooking, equipment problems, crew issues, whatever. The train, on the other hand, might be 5 minutes late sometimes. But occasionally it was a lot worse; some of my coworkers were on a train that got stuck outside of Baltimore due to snow on the tracks, and took an extra 10 hours to get it cleared off and get moving again.

But that was the Northeast Corridor service, the only part of the US where long-haul passenger trains work really well. Most of Amtrack has lower priority for passenger trains than the freight trains that own the tracks they're sharing, so you really can't expect to get somewhere on a schedule that's more precise than half a day.

#120 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2012, 05:42 PM:

@111: I went to Boston from NYC on Amtrak during a snowstorm (I don't remember when, more accurately than "early 90s". )

We were stuck in Brooklyn while they cleared the lines, or something, for about eight hours. It occurs to me that for the last 15-20 years I've been drawing my graph through that one point.

#121 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2012, 06:30 PM:

Bill Stewart @118: Most of Amtrack has lower priority for passenger trains than the freight trains that own the tracks they're sharing, so you really can't expect to get somewhere on a schedule that's more precise than half a day.

When I took my thirty-day train trip around the US and Canada in 2005, that was a significant factor in my decision to minimize the number of connections. (Thirty days. More than thirteen thousand kilometers. An average of eight hours on the train per day. Three connections -- and half of them were Canadian so those were VIA rather than Amtrak.)

I wish they hadn't gotten rid of the North American Railpass.

#122 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2012, 02:42 AM:

Kelley Wegeng began a discussion about scientists in politics in #34 and it continued in 42, 46, 47, 48, 69, 73, 79, etc.

Allow me to point out the struggle in the newly-drawn House District 11 of Illinois. I was out today canvassing for Bill Foster, Democrat. He is a physicist who was twice elected to Congress.

In college he had started a company producing microprocessor-based controls for theatrical lighting. I knew Bill at Fermilab, where he was an experimenter on the CDF colliding-beam detector, then transitioned into accelerator physics. He co-designed the two-mile Recycler Ring that stored antiprotons and greatly enhanced the luminosity of the Tevatron complex.

He entered politics after expressing frustration with science policy in Washington, and recognizing that frustration as a symptom of larger problems. When Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert suddenly announced his resignation in 2007, Bill ran for his seat in the 14th District. He served from March 2008 onward, and won re-election in November of that year.

He lost in 2010 but is now running in the new 11th against Rep. Judy Biggert, who has served in the 13th District since 1999. The 11th District includes parts of Naperville, Aurora, and Joliet, containing about half of Biggert's former solidly-Republican district along with considerable Democratic-leaning territory. The campaigns, and outside organizations, have poured millions into a barrage of negative ads on TV.

The race appears to be a statistical tie at the moment. Which was a good reason for me to be knocking on doors this afternoon.

Not only do I want to elect a moderate Democrat to the house, but having one more guy on Capitol Hill who understands science and engineering couldn't hurt.

#123 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2012, 08:25 AM:

Bill Higgins @122, I'm not in the 11th but I'm near enough that I get some of ads on TV. Vitriolic is the word for that election. Almost as bad as the Duckworth/Walsh race (another district I'm glad not to be in.) We've just been redistricted into the liberal 5th which will no doubt give some of my conservative neighbors apoplexy...

#124 ::: Walter Hawn ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2012, 05:06 PM:

The simple, and perhaps cheaper solution in the long run: Move New York to Omaha.

#125 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2012, 05:56 PM:

Walter Hawn @124: but wouldn't their be a conflict then between MONY and Mutual of Omaha?

#126 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2012, 08:49 AM:

From Megan McArdle's blog, two very interesting/informative pieces on NYC infrastructure. First, key systems ; second, flooding and floodgates. Both are by her father, who knows NYC infrastructure very well.

#127 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 04:23 PM:

In his victory speech last night Mr. Obama listed climate change as one of the three highest priorities of his next term: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

Also, this: Climate change is back on the table

#128 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 04:52 PM:

A random observation about resilience of systems, prompted by this set of photos of the MTA trucking some trains over to the Rockaway Peninsula to get around washed-out rails and set up shuttle service:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtaphotos/8163028410/in/photostream/

One of the factors in resilience is how "hackable" the system is. How hard is it to reconfigure the system in ways that the designers didn't forsee or specifically account for?

(This idea also relates to the idea that resilience and efficiency are opposing goals. You get tremendous efficiency gains by building cars just-in-time, and our modern economy is dependent on that level of efficiency -- but lose one little plant in a just-in-time system and the whole thing falls over. Lose a supplier when you've got a month of parts warehoused, and you can keep going while you replace them -- but you pay for lots of warehouses and can't reconfigure designs quickly. There are no easy answers; if there were, we'd have done them already.)

#129 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 04:59 PM:

(Also, for people wondering what exactly is going on in those pictures, since they're a little out of sequence, here's what I can figure out: When you pick up a train car, the trucks -- the wheels and the carriage they're built into -- stay behind. And you can't safely set the train car back down unless you have a set of trucks to set it onto; there's stuff on the bottom that would get crushed. So, they had to bring in a spare set of trucks (on a normal-sized flatbed trailer), and transfer them to the long trailer that they use to carry the train cars. Then, once they'd done that, they can pick up a train car, from the bridge over the road, and set it down onto those spare trucks. That leaves its original trucks still on the rails, and they presumably will transfer those to the next long trailer for the next train car, and so on, leaving one leftover set of trucks at the end that they can put back on the original trailer.)

#130 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 05:39 PM:

re 129: That's partly it, but the other thing is that they need the trucks at the other end, after all, so they might as well just put the car back on them for transport. It's interesting that they have dedicated trailers for them; I've seen subway cars out on the interstate, but they were on regular odd-load trailers and off their wheels.

#131 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 06:15 PM:

C. Wingate: True, but if they could easily transport these cars without trucks, they wouldn't have needed to bring in the spare set of trucks to start the process. (That was the part of the sequence that was most confusing at first glance, as it wasn't immediately obvious that there was a spare set.)

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