Archive for the ‘musing’ Category

Open thread – Nov 2011

November 23, 2011

Another open thread for discussing climate related issues of the day. It’s a strange world where that includes private emails of scientists, but that’s the world we live in.

Try to be somewhat courteous to people you disagree with. No namecalling.


Climate Change: Wealth redistribution or making the poor even poorer?

August 17, 2011

In a previous thread, Andrew Adams made an insightful comment about how climate change impacts and mitigation mix in with economic development in poor countries:

Energy poverty in the developing world is a problem, along with food shortages and loss of arable land due to soil erosion and other factors, lack of clean water supplies, the prevalance of diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, the debt burden etc. And, of course, climate change, which both raises entirely new threats and exacerbates some of the problems mentioned above.


It is naïve to suggest that they can just go full steam ahead now and worry about the problem later once they have better developed economies. It always bears repeating that humanity doesn’t get to dictate the timescales for taking action to avert dangerous climate change – the planet does.

But of course, what they are going to do is only part of the problem; if we really care about the fate of people in developing countries we also have to ask what we are going to do about it. Unless we take action to reduce our own emissions we can hardly expect them to follow suit and in any case any action they do take will be futile, and if they are going to develop along low emission lines they are going to need our assistance in both practical and material terms. And of course it is our past (and present) actions which have brought humanity to the position it is now in so even if not everyone accepts the moral/ethical responsibility of those who are well off to assist those who are less fortunate, there is still the responsibility to deal with the consequences of our own actions. I see a lot of skeptics expressing concern for the effects that climate mitigation policies will have on developing countries but they reject the notion that the developed world should do anything to help bear the costs itself.


Woody Guthrie award for a thinking blogger

August 16, 2011

It’s been a while since I received the Woody Guthrie award from the hands of Nick Stokes. Time to pass it on…


The ‘Woody Guthrie award for a thinking blogger’ goes to John Nielsen-Gammon. A professional climatologist, he also writes a very readable and insightful blog entitled Climate Abyss.

He writes about different topics, often on scientific issues (e.g. extreme weather) and occasionally also on the science-policy interface or science as a process. He is scrupulous about distinguishing these different aspects though: The physics is what it is, irrespective of his or other people’s political viewpoints (about which he hardly ever writes, if at all). 

I admire his writing for its scientific honesty, the clarity of expositions and the insights that they provide. From his forays over to CE and CA he has also shown himself to be a skilled e-debater: He understands climate change and knows how to discuss both the big picture and quite a string of detailed issues. One other thing I’d like to mention is that he seems to be a good bridge builder: Probably because he studiously refrains from appearing political, doesn’t eschew working together with contrarians (e.g. he co-authored a paper withWatts), and is respectful in his communications, he seems to be respected by (at least the less fanatical of the) contrarians. He does so without giving up on his scientific integrity however (he will still call a spade a spade), so it doesn’t (afaik) go at the cost of being respected by fellow scientists and mainstream science-minded bloggers. Kudos to John!

Read this interview to get a feel for his scientific persona. He also has a wikipedia page. See Willard for a collection of memorable ‘John N-G’ quotes.


Judith Curry 2007: We should not ignore the risks of global warming

May 27, 2011

Good Curry quote:

There is no easy solution to this problem; the challenge is how best to develop options that are feasible, efficient, viable and scalable. It is correct to be concerned about the possibility of bad policy choices. But I have yet to see any option that is worse than ignoring the risk of global warming and doing nothing.


After I’d already posted this, Judith Curry amended the above comment (thanks Grypo for the heads up):

Note from JC: this post was NOT made by me. The words in this post were pulled from a 2007 op-ed I wrote for the WaPost
This was at the peak of my “warmist” phase, this is probably the strongest statement re policy that I made.

Bolding hers. Alas, apparently Curry is distancing herself from her more rational self a few years ago. The WaPo editorial she’s referring to is actually quite good. It’s peculiar though to see how she’s gotten in the limelight for becoming so vocally critical of the mainstream. That’s an indication for a dangerous dynamic in which extreme voices get amplified.

Title updated as well.

Thanks Nick Stokes for the ‘Woody Guthrie award for a thinking blogger’

May 17, 2011

Thank you Nick Stokes, for passing on the “Woody Guthrie award for a thinking blogger” to me!

Sometimes I feel that my problem is that I think too much before I write (hence I don’t write very much…), so I’m glad to hear that the thinking and the few words that it results in are appreciated.

Nick helpfully laid out the history of the Woody Guthrie award when he got it a while ago: ArchieArchive brought it into the world and it’s had an interesting life since then, at some point coming (and remaining) into the hands of scientifically minded climate bloggers such as Greenfyre, Dan Satterfield, SkepticalScience, Science of Doom, and Nick Stokes @Moyhu. Needless to say, I am honoured to join this fine list of recipients.

Though it remains in climate spheres, it marks a bit of a change, in that SoD and Nick are both strongly technical bloggers, whereas I’m generally more focused on the broader context of climate issues (e.g. science communication). What I hopefully have in common with both of them is that I try to be constructive rather than argumentative.

Nick has really carved a nice niche with his blog, being skeptical in the original sense of the word: Investigating claims and issues that pique his interest (e.g. global temperature reconstructions). Investigative technical blogging may be a good word. Which of course gets me thinking about what my niche may be, if any. Non-violent contextual blogging? Wow, does that ever roll of the tongue!

What I’m trying to do with this blog is to provide context and reflection and to do so in as civilized a manner as possible, while not being afraid to call a spade a spade either. Especially the last part is a bit of a balancing act of course, and some may see me as a softie while to others I’m still a hardliner. So be it. You can’t please everyone (and I’m not trying to either). I’m trying to live and write by the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Of course I don’t always succeed and there are limits, but stretching them is an art form.

And while my ego is being boosted anyway, I stumbled upon Michael Cote’s blog when he wrote about his top-3 climate blogs, existing of RealClimate, ClimateProgress and …

Our Changing Climate. Bart Verheggen is a fantastic writer and climate insider. He covers the inner workings of the climate science and political fields like no other writer out there. He goes deep in his climate coverage, contextualizes the issues for his readers (rare), and provides high readability with intriguing stories. Best of all, no advertisements or book pitches. This makes OCC one of my top go to blogs.

Thanks Michael! Now let’s stop here before my feet get too big for my shoes. I’ll take some time to enjoy the WG award while thinking about a next recipient. Suggestions (esp hidden gems) welcome.

Cheers mate!

Different approaches to the climate problem

May 16, 2011

The approach people take to climate change varies widely. They can be distinguished e.g. by the importance they place on climate change (or trust placed in the science), and by the conditions they put on potential solutions or response strategies. This gives rise to four different response strategies to the problem, along two axes:

Some archetypical responses for each quadrant are laid out in this cartoon:

(*): To which the German Coastguard in need of English language training replies: “What are you sinking about?” Cartoon adapted from Jip Lenstra.

There are of course loads of varieties possible here. Some contrarians may say: The water looks pretty nice. Some scientists (and so called “merchants of doubt”) are in fact saying: We’re thinking (and are not sure what’s happening. Let’s wait and see). Libertarians may say that life boats commissioned by the government are not to be trusted. And some greens may dream up a world of mermaids.

There are some interesting dynamics between the different archetypes: Most arguments happen in the horizontal direction (belief vs disbelief in an impending climate catastrophe; trust vs distrust of climate science; liking vs disliking certain lifeboats), whereas most liaisons occur in the vertical (between people who share the same (dis-)belief in climate change, but differ in the restrictions they place on response strategies).

Arguments on the science occur between the two upper panels: Is the boat sinking? Arguments on the response strategy often occur in the realm of the lower two panels: What restrictions (if any) do we place on the lifeboats? Are other agenda’s playing a role (besides wanting to save our souls)? Sometimes, the lower two panels actually partner up, like in those cases where they share a dislike for a certain lifeboat (CCS for example). Naturally, if you’re on a sinking boat most people will let go of any restrictions. Perhaps we can turn that around: The more restrictions people place on the lifeboat, the less severe they apparently think the problem is (in comparison with other issues).

If you think the boat can’t sink (upper left), then it doesn’t make sense to invest in a life-boat (lower left). Unless you like the lifeboat for another reason, e.g. for energy independence or to avoid peak oil. That would be a typical lower left panel response: You want a specific boat, but you don’t care much about climate change. Burning coal is perfectly fine according to this mindset. If OTOH you think the boat is sinking (upper right), then it makes sense to get a life boat (lower right).

The reverse is also happening (much to the detriment of the discussion): Some people have such a strong dislike for the lifeboat (lower left), that they therefore deny that the boat is sinking (upper left). Others like green lifeboats so much (lower right), that they shout out loud that the boat is sinking (upper right) without actually understanding how or why or when. They are prone to exaggerating the problem.

These styles of argument (from bottom to top) basically argue the science as a proxy for what the disagreement is really about: Liking or disliking certain boats.

Gotta love analogies…

Sense of urgency is needed to get political action on climate change

May 4, 2011

What is needed for serious action to be taken on climate change? Looking back at other environmental issues (that admittedly were not as “wicked” as climate change), a few conditions can be identified that have to be met:

– Strong evidence of negative consequences

– Realistic solutions (technically, economically and socially)

– Political pull: Key figure(s) taking the lead

– Sense of urgency

There is widespread agreement amongst experts on the first condition, at least on long timescales. However, climate change doesn’t rank very high on conditions 2 to 4: Yes, we have the technology to produce zero carbon electricity, but it’s deemed too expensive by the powers that be. Plus what about space heating or transport? There are low carbon alternatives for those too, but they aren’t anywhere near full scale deployment.

There clearly is no political pull to speak of; many had hoped that Obama would step up to the plate, but he hasn’t (admittedly his hands are tied behind his back by congress).

A sense of urgency is totally lacking. The problem is that it’s not our problem, but rather that of future generations. However, due to the long timescales in the climate system, the solution is in our hands; not theirs. Quoting mt:

Between recognizing the necessity for a policy, the replacement of the required infrastructure, and the net impact on the cumulative nature of the carbon dioxide forcing in particular means that the gap in time from the moment we decide to take the matter seriously to actually stopping its further deterioration is perhaps forty years. The problems we see now are, roughly speaking the ones we bought in 1970, not the ones we have acquired since. Nothing we do now will have much effect until 2050 or so. If catastrophes really start in 2050, we will be looking at things getting still worse until 2090 or so.

I.e. our actions -or inactions- only take effect decades into the future. That has at least two very different consequences:

  • Since we don’t bear the full consequences of our actions, our motivation to solve the problem becomes smaller: This decreases people’s sense of urgency.
  • The big delay between action and consequence means that we have to act on the problem sooner rather than later if it is to be mitigated: This increases the actual urgency.

Note the discrepancy between the actual urgency to deal with the slowly ensuing problem and the perceived urgency. That is why I agree with e.g. Homer-Dixon and Stavins that some sort of dramatic event is needed to increase people’s sense of urgency. This could be seen as a form of loss aversion: The strongest driver for behavioral change is a sudden or looming negative impact (as in the example of a long time smoker who stopped cold turkey after the doctor gave him an ultimatum along the lines of “your legs will have to be amputated unless you quit smoking right now!” – Ben Tiggelaar).

Of course, such a dramatic event by itself is not enough to spur action (there’s other conditions that are still to be met), as e.g. Gilligan points out over at Kloor’s ClimateCentral blog. But the required sense of urgency is hard to achieve without precipitating events.

Should we therefore hope for climate related misery to fall upon us? Of course not. We should hope for and if possible contribute towards people gaining enough understanding and awareness of the issues without such misery to occur.

Harry Potter theory of Boating

April 12, 2011

Update: For those coming here expecting to read the latest Harry Potter news, this a blog about climate change. Harry Potter is mentioned only to refer to all kinds of magical thinking that people try to come up with to explain the recent global warming.  Please read on how it’s merely basic physics that rules our climate…

Consider a boat at sea. It has both a sail (being dependent on the wind – i.e. natural variation) and an engine (i.e. radiative forcing).

The skipper puts the engine on full blast and steers the boat from, say, Holland to England.

Would anyone wonder whether it’s just the wind that’s pushing the boat over the Canal?

That would be the Harry Potter theory of boating.

Harry Potter theory of climate, part I, starring Mark Serreze, stating:

Climate doesn’t change all by itself. It’s not like the Harry Potter theory of climate, where he flicks his magic wand and the climate suddenly changes. Climate only changes for a reason.

Harry Potter theory of climate, part II, starring Judith Curry, saying the following in response to Serreze’s comments (including the one cited above):

Ouch.  On previous Climate Etc. threads on attribution of 20th century climate change, we have pretty much debunked each of these arguments.

Ouch. Debunked. Who would have guessed? Harry?

Harry Potter theory of climate, part III, starring Susan “shewonk”. She seems to be pulling a Start Wars trick though, since she apparently wrote this story over a year ago:

How did this escape the notice of scientists? Millions of dragons flying around, warming the atmosphere?

Luckily, the radiation energy balance provides a powerful constraint for the global average temperature of the planet (Ramanathan and Feng, 2009).

Commentary on US Committee hearing on climate change

March 31, 2011

There’s yet another congressional hearing on climate change today in the US, featuring

Dr. J. Scott Armstrong, Professor, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Richard Muller, Professor, University of California, Berkley and Faculty Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory

Dr. John Christy, Director, Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville

Mr. Peter Glaser, Partner, Troutman Sanders, LLP.

Dr. David Montgomery, Economist

Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Real time commentary will be provided by several mainstream climate scientists to put the expected spin in context (see e.g. this commentary on Christy’s previous testimony a few weeks ago):

Live commentary by Trenberth, Dessler and Yohe (more info on this here)

Live blogging by Gavin Schmidt, Jay Gulledge and Eli Kintisch

Since it’s been getting quite popular lately for politicians to debate and try to legislate scientific understanding (am I the only one who finds this weird? No, no), SkS set up a special page with climate myths from politicians to try and keep them accountable for spewing nonsense:

Climate Myths from Politicians


Gas prices: We’re number one!

March 26, 2011

Apparently Sarah Palin is worried that gas prices will reach $4/gallon. Doesn’t she have anything else to worry about?

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