Category Archives: environment

Last generation

The cops have killed the man who took hostages at Discovery Channel, and the author of the book that “inspired” him has already denied his interpretation of the same. A psychiatrist has tried to explain the event in terms of mental illness, and recommends forced commitment before loonies commit crimes; keep the streets safe for “normal” people, you know-

Fighting mental illness that leads to violence requires resources to ferret out those who have lost the ability to reason and are incompetent. In these tough times, we will face increasing numbers of such people.
We had better deploy each in proper measure at the right times or we will suffer, needlessly.

My guess is that James Lee had become hostage to a psychiatric disorder long before he took hostages. He should have been under enforced psychiatric care—perhaps as an outpatient taking required anti-psychotic medications—right from the moment he stood trial in a court of law last year. His brother-in-law should have been (but I’m not so sure he was) in touch with a psychiatrist at a local E.R. and the local police to report his concerns that Lee could kill someone.

Classifying a non-mainstream political belief, or actions taken to bring it to fruition, as a mental illness is a dangerous game (you ought to read Szasz on this); I guess no one would call a bank robber mentally ill if he thought that taking hostages at a bank and forcing the safe open was an acceptable risk when it came to making money. But I am digressing.

If Lee had published his manifesto as a book, he would be Obama’s “science czar”; if he had written an article, it would have been an op-ed. If he had been a philosopher, NYT would have invited him to write on The Stone (Opinionator)

Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?

Call yourself a philosopher and you could write just about anything without being called insane (in a non-colloquial sense of course).

Talk about bad career choices.

A lot of CO2

A highly educated (why? because he believes in AGW, that’s why) columnist writes in The Sunday Times (not of India) about his experience dealing with “bubbas” of the British variety-

Whoever leaked that clutch of Climategate emails last month must be laughing his socks off. For he has unleashed upon the rest of us the phenomenon of the born-again climate sceptic, the kind of man (always a man, almost invariably wearing a tweed jacket) who now materialises beside me at parties and confides that he has been having second thoughts about climate change.

My first instinct is always to humour him. I say I would be absolutely overjoyed if in a few years’ time we were to find out that Richard Lindzen, the most distinguished sceptic among the academic meteorologists, has turned out to be right and that the early 21st century got itself into a hysterical panic on the basis of trends based on highly uncertain computer predictions. But, I add, there are reasonable odds that he is wrong. My follow-up question is this: “Do you know that climate change is not the only reason to be uneasy about carbon emissions?”

On each occasion I am met by a look of puzzlement, followed by a perplexed nod, and I realise the person in question hasn’t a clue what I am talking about. He hasn’t heard of the acidification of the sea, a phenomenon quite separate from global warming but just as alarming. The reason, I suspect, is that it does not rate a line in the bestselling sceptical books on global warming by Christopher Booker or Nigel Lawson — which seem to be all that my tweedy friends have read on the subject.

Ocean acidification has been quite scandalously left out of the reckoning in the past few weeks. I am not for a moment belittling the science behind man-made global warming. This still seems to me solid, despite the shenanigans at the University of East Anglia. That levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are rising is not disputed. We have known since the 19th century that carbon dioxide was a crucial greenhouse gas. Venus has a lot of it and is hot as hell. Mars has almost none and is cold as ice.

Okay, “bubba” is flabbergasted on hearing about acidification, and that’s a big word, plus an f-word. So he says—”me is surprised!”. And highly-educated-columnist knows that Venus is hot because it has “a lot” of carbon dioxide whereas Mars is freezing because it has “almost none.” Plus he will probably be willing to bet his AGW belief plus the use of the royal (and authoritative) “We have known…” on that statement of fact.

Okay, what does NASA have to say on the subject. Venus

Atmospheric composition (near surface, by volume):

Major:
96.5% Carbon Dioxide (CO2),
3.5% Nitrogen (N2)

Minor (ppm):
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) – 150;
Argon (Ar) – 70;
Water (H2O) – 20;
Carbon Monoxide (CO) – 17;
Helium (He) – 12;
Neon (Ne) – 7

and…Mars

Atmospheric composition (by volume):

Major:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – 95.32%;
Nitrogen (N2) – 2.7%
Argon (Ar) – 1.6%;
Oxygen (O2) – 0.13%;
Carbon Monoxide (CO) – 0.08%

Minor (ppm):
Water (H2O) – 210;
Nitrogen Oxide (NO) – 100;
Neon (Ne) – 2.5;
Hydrogen-Deuterium-Oxygen (HDO) – 0.85;
Krypton (Kr) – 0.3;
Xenon (Xe) – 0.08

Assuming these figures are comparable, me not being a planet-ologist (astronomer, astrophysicist, astro-something), I would say (from some ultralight readings on the subject) that the distance from the sun and the thickness of the atmosphere might be more relevant when dealing with the temperatures of planets, especially ones where humans aren’t driving 4x4s.

He goes on about how acidification is even more serious a threat as compared to AGW, and maybe it is. But will these people, and I have been reading comments from them filled with such vitriol (highly-educated-columnist seems positively benign in comparison) that one would hardly expect that they were written by humans, stop being so full of themselves and stop behaving as if there’s nothing wrong with what happened at CRU over the last decade and a half? If you want to play politics, do it. Don’t call it science. “Reparations” and “climate debt” are not part of the vocabulary of science (not that all warmists use that terminology). Policy prescriptions do not emanate from science. And just in case someone missed it, the last time a country was forced to pay reparations, the “beneficiaries” got screwed. Politics is a deadly game.

On the “Hockey Stick” and the carbon tax

A great article by Steven Hayward in the Weekly Standard on the history of the “hockey stick,” its influence and the problems surrounding the same. He also uncovers more emails that reveal infighting among the group, and attempts made at eliminating the MWP (“medieval warm period”) from the graphs-

One of Briffa’s concerns about Mann’s hockey stick is that some of the tree ring data–Briffa’s specialty–didn’t match up well with other records, so Mann either omitted them (in some versions of the hockey stick) or changed their statistical weighting in his overall synthesis to downplay the anomalous results of the raw data. This, by the way, is the origin of Phil Jones’s “hide the decline” email; after 1960 tree ring data suggest a decline in temperatures, while other datasets show an increase. (This is one of many sources of intense controversy about temperature reconstructions.) Jones’s and Mann’s treatment may be defensible, but is problematic to say the least.

Starting in 2003 two mild-mannered Canadians, retired engineer Stephen McIntyre and University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick, began making noises about serious problems with the by-then iconic hockey stick graph. The dispute between McIntyre, McKitrick (M/M as they became known in the shorthand of the climate science world) and the hockey team was highly technical, involving advanced methods of data selection and statistical analysis that are almost impossible for a layperson to follow. But one key point was access to the original raw data and complete computer codes that Mann and CRU had used, rather than the adjusted data reported in their final studies.

To extend the sports equipment simile, Mann and the hockey team responded with the scientific equivalent of high-sticking. It was McIntyre’s requests for raw data and computer codes that prompted the numerous emails from Jones and other CRU people about “hiding” behind technicalities to refuse freedom of information requests or even destroying data, codes, and emails to stymie McIntyre. Prior to this time, most of the complaints about outsiders in the leaked emails dealt with such well known skeptics as the University of Virginia’s Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer, MIT’s Richard Lindzen, and journal editors who didn’t toe the line. After 2003 the CRU crew became obsessed with McIntyre above all others. He appears in 105 of the emails by name (in some others, he’s referred to as “a certain Canadian”), usually with a tone of resentment and contempt.

McIntyre is not a climate-science insider, with peer-reviewed articles in journals that the hockey team firmly controlled. He’s an amateur with mathematical chops, with a serious track record for spotting statistical funny business. McIntyre, who spent decades in mineral exploration, was involved in exposing the Bre‑X fraud in Canada several years ago. Bre‑X was a gold mining company promising fat profits on a new proprietary technology for ore deposits in Borneo; McIntyre smelled a rat and demanded the raw data. Bre‑X collapsed shortly after. And McIntyre scored a major hit against NASA’s chief climate alarmist James Hansen, discovering significant errors of overestimation in Hansen’s temperature reconstruction of the 20th century. (NASA’s Goddard Institute website publicly thanked McIntyre, no doubt through gritted cyber teeth, for pointing out their error.) The hockey stickers’ obsession with McIntyre seems out of proportion if there was nothing amiss in their work.

McIntyre and McKitrick may have made mistakes in their critique of the hockey stick–the charges and countercharges are difficult for nonspecialists to sort out–but they were sufficiently persuasive that the National Academy of Sciences appointed an expert review panel to look into the dispute. The NAS reported its findings in 2006, and the language was sufficiently hedged in diplomatic equivocations that Mann and the media claimed the hockey stick had been vindicated. But a close reading shows that the NAS report devastated the hockey stick. While the NAS said the hockey stick reconstruction was a “plausible” depiction of 20th-century warming, the report went on to state clearly that

substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming. Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium.” [Emphasis added.]

One of the NAS committee members, physicist Kurt Cuffey of the University of California, was more direct in remarks to Science magazine: “The IPCC used [the hockey stick] as a visual prominently in the [2001] report. I think that sent a very misleading message about how resolved this part of the scientific research was.” Mann’s hockey stick, a centerpiece of the 2001 IPCC report, did not appear in the 2007 IPCC report.

Bhagwati and Panagariya have a piece in the TOI arguing against the carbon tax. Its a “thoughtless tax,” they write-

[M]any fear that our industries will go abroad to exploit lower carbon tax burdens. But many studies show that the investment decision, as to where to locate, reflects several factors such as infrastructure, availability of raw materials and political stability.

The administration of carbon tariffs is also a complex task that will raise hackles. For example, in today’s interdependent world economy, most production involves importation of components and raw materials from several sources. Calculating the carbon content of a product is therefore as arbitrary as calculating the “local content” and source of origin in implementing preferential trade agreements and eligibility for cheaper market access; and, because it involves imposing tariffs rather than exemptions from tariffs, it will be more contentious and productive of disharmony.

What are the better alternatives to carbon-tax-equalising tariffs? There are several. First, the use of such carbon tariffs must be effectively ruled out…

Depressing reading

The last two weeks, “Climategate,” left me with a sense of deja vu—it seemed as if the financial crisis and the pigheaded response to the same was being replayed all over again. It was depressing to see the same kind of cynical politics being used to take advantage of the sentiments of gullible people, and only strengthened my conviction that politics is the only thing that really matters. Caught between religious zealotry, socialist tendencies and the primitivism that is the fuel for the environmentalist movement, one doesn’t have much hope for the future.

Brendan O’Neill writes in Spiked

Time and again, the story of global warming – and, yes, I do mean story: that combination of scientific findings, political prejudice and hysterical future predictions – is pushed forward to promote some very contemporary values. It expresses, neatly and instinctively, an array of concerns to do with human agency, morality and the future. The idea of the ‘eco-footprint’ subtly demolishes the idea of human ownership of the Earth, which held from the Book of Genesis through to the Enlightenment, re-presenting us as guests in a ‘warehouse of resources’. The notion of ‘sustainable development’ speaks to our lack of vision for, or even comfort with, the future, so that the idea is that we ‘sustain’ the small-scale things that we have right now rather than seeking to overhaul them with big, mind-expanding breakthroughs. The notion of ‘The Science’, the authority most frequently cited in relation to the global warming story, speaks to the demise of political contestation, of politics itself, so that there becomes only one way of seeing the world and where anyone who questions it is a ‘denier’. Even the past is now interpreted through the prism of climate change and catastrophe, speaking to humanity’s alienation from its own gains and breakthroughs.

But most of all, the story of global warming has arisen to express uncertainty. Our world is fragile and unpredictable, apparently, to the extent that we don’t even know if our civilisation will be completely flooded or only a little bit flooded (them are the choices, apparently). Science might be exploited to deepen this story, and greens might be brought into international conferences to give it some youthful campaigning gloss; but fundamentally it comes from a society at sea (no pun intended) in which new forms of thinking and ideology have emerged to express deep self-doubt and even self-loathing. If climate change hadn’t provided the story, something else would have.

And Andrew Orlowski of The Register

From Climategate, we can now see why the most apparently authoritative rhetoric crawls with weasel words: coulds, maybes, balances of probabilities, and think-it-likelys abound. The Royal Society’s much-quoted position on climate change is a good example.

We can also begin to explain the increasing reliance on anecdote, and on computer modelling. The former suggests recent changes are anomalous, and substitutes for causation; the latter makes claims to predict the future, but only at the exclusion of other forcings. Critics of the theory were obliged to discard observations, and defer to the models.

[…]

Politicians have also outsourced their authority, finding in climate a risk-free way of restoring their moral superiority. Unable to articulate a political vision of their own, they ceded judgement and then policymaking to the scientists. Yet the politics is prior to the science – apocalyptic environmentalism posits a prior relationship with nature in which man is at best, a nuisance. The phony ‘urgency’ which gives rise to the precautionary principle arises not from science, but from the view of man as an unwelcome intrusion on the ‘natural’.

Imagine an approach to scientific enquiry which demanded that we know how much mankind effects the climate – through greenhouse gases and particulates – in sufficient detail that it could be handed to an engineer. The ability to manipulate our climate for the benefit of humanity will almost certainly come in useful. But the approach requires a positive view of humanity; the Climategate years show how little faith in our inventiveness and ability to organise our media and political elites have had in us.

Rand was one of the fiercest critics of environmentalism. She knew what it stood for, not love of nature, but hatred of man. What follows is the story—the concretization of the idea that environmentalism relies upon—which stands at the head of the title essay of her book “The Anti-Industrial Revolution”-

Suppose that you are a young man in the year 1975. You are married, have two children and own a modest home in the suburbs of a large city. Let us observe a normal, average day of your life.

You get up at five a.m., because you work in the city and must be at the office at nine. You always had a light breakfast, just toast and coffee. Your electric percolator is gone; electric percolators are not manufactured any longer, they are regarded as an item of self-indulgent luxury: they consume electric power, which contributes to the load of power stations, which contributes to air pollution. So you make your coffee in an old-fashioned pot on an electric—no, an oil-burning stove; you used to have an electric one, but they have been forbidden by law. Your electric toaster is gone; you make your toast in the oven; your attention wanders for a moment and you burn the toast. There is no time to make another batch.

When you had a car, it took you three-quarters of an hour to get to the office; but private automobiles have been outlawed and replaced by “mass transportation.” Now it takes you two hours and a half. The community bus can make the trip in a little over an hour, when it is on time; but you never know whether it will be on time, so you allow for half-an-hour’s delay. You trudge ten blocks through the bitter gusts of a cold morning wind to your community bus stop, and you stand waiting. You have no choice—there are no other means of transportation—and you know it; so does the bus company.

When you reach the city, you walk twelve blocks from the bus terminal to the office building. You make it on time. You work till noon, then eat, at your desk, the lunch you have brought from home. There used to be six restaurants in the two blocks around the building; but restaurants are notorious sources of pollution—they create garbage; now there is only one restaurant, and it is not too good, and you have to stand in line. Besides, you save money by packing your own lunch. You pack it in an old shoe-box; there are no metal boxes: the mining of metal has been severely curtailed; there are no plastic bags—a self-indulgent luxury; there are no Thermos bottles. Your sandwich is a little stale and your coffee is cold, but you are used to that.

In the later hours of the afternoon, you begin to watch the clock and to fight against the recurring attacks of your enemy: boredom. You have worked for the company for eight years; for the past three years, you have been office manager; there is no promotion to expect, no further place to go; business expansion has been arrested. You try to fight the boredom by telling yourself that you are an unusually lucky fellow, but it does not help much. You keep saying it because, under the boredom, there is a nagging fear which you don’t want to acknowledge: that the company might go out of business. You know that paper consumes trees, and trees are essential for the preservation of life on earth, and forests must not be sacrificed for the sake of self-indulgent luxuries. The company you work for manufactures paper containers.

By the time you reach the bus terminal again, on your way home, you reproach yourself for being exhausted; you see no reason for it. Your wife—you keep telling yourself—is the real victim. And she is.

Your wife gets up at six a.m.—you have insisted that she sleep until the coal furnace, which you lighted, has warmed the house a little. She has to cook breakfast for your son, aged 5; there are no breakfast cereals to give him, they have been prohibited as not sufficiently nutritious; there is no canned orange juice—cans pollute the countryside. There are no electric refrigerators.

She has to breast-feed your infant daughter, aged six months; there are no plastic bottles, no baby formulas. There are no products such as “Pampers”; your wife washes diapers for hours each day, by hand, as she washes all the family laundry, as she washes the dishes—there are no self-indulgent luxuries such as washing machines or automatic dishwashers or electric irons. There are no vacuum cleaners; she cleans the house by means of a broom.

There are no shopping centers—they despoil the beauty of the countryside. She walks two miles to the nearest grocery store and stands in line for an hour or so. The purchases she lugs home are a little heavy; but she does not complain—the lady columnist in the newspaper has said it is good for her figure.

Since there are no canned foods and no frozen foods, she starts cooking dinner three hours in advance, peeling and slicing by hand every slimy, recalcitrant bit of the vegetables. She does not get fruit very often—refrigerated freight cars have been discontinued.

When you get home, she is trying not to show that she is exhausted. It is pretty difficult to hide, particularly since there are no cosmetics—which are an extra-self-indulgent luxury. By the time you are through with dinner and dishwashing and putting the children to bed and a few other chores, you are both free. But what are you to do with your brief evening? There is no television, no radio, no electric phonograph, no recorded music. There are no drive-in movies. There is a movie theater in a town six miles away—if you catch the community bus in time. You don’t feel like rushing to catch it.

So you stay at home. You find nothing to say to your wife: you don’t want to depress her by discussing the kinds of things that crowd your mind. You know that she is keeping silent for the same reason. Junior did not eat much dinner: he has a sore throat; you remember vaguely that diphtheria had once been virtually eliminated, but epidemics of it have been recurring recently in schools around the country; seventy-three children died of it in a neighboring state. The last time you saw your father, he complained about pains in his chest; you hope desperately that it is not a heart ailment. Your mother died of a heart ailment at the age of fifty-five; the old doctor mentioned a device that could have saved her, but it was the product of a very, very advanced technology, which does not exist any longer: it was called a “pacemaker.”

You look at your wife; the light is dim—electricity is rationed and only one bulb per room is allowed—but you can see the slump of her shoulders and the lines at the corners of her mouth. She is only thirty-two; she was such a beautiful girl when you met her in college. She was studying to be a lawyer; she could have combined a career with the duties of a wife and a mother; but she could not combine it with the duties of heavy industry; so she gave it up. In the fifteen hours of this day, she has done the work of a dozen machines. She has had to do it—so that the brown pelican or the white polar bear might not vanish from this earth.

By ten o’clock, you feel a desperate longing for sleep—and cannot summon any other desire. Lying in bed, by the side of your wife who feels as you do, you wonder dimly what it was that the advocates of return to nature had been saying about the joys of an unrestrained sexuality; you cannot remember it any longer. As you fall asleep, the air is pure above the roof of your house, pure as arctic snow—only you wonder how much longer you will care to breathe it.

You now know, if you didn’t already, what Ice-cube Pachauri, and those who berate the “people’s polluter,” and those who speak condescendingly about “bubba” driving his gas-guzzler while worrying about the powers of the “federal gummint” and the ban on incandescent bulbs and big-screen tvs, are after.

A more-than-balanced account of “hide the decline”

From the Philadelphia Inquirer in a piece that actually covers the science, unlike many other stories by clueless folks writing for other clueless folks-

[Mann’s Nature] paper incorporated the tree rings, ice cores, corals, and a number of other “proxies” into a kind of formula that could approximate the world’s temperature as it fluctuated over the last 1,000 years.

Also included in the graph were real temperature measurements, starting in the mid-1800s and continuing to the present.

Others before Mann had reconstructed the historical Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age that gripped the world during the 1700s, but Mann’s paper was the most complete to date and revealed the influential graph that became known as the hockey stick.

Many scientists were sounding the alarm over human-generated climate change well before that graph appeared.

[…]

Critics also pointed to the phrase “hide the decline” in an e-mail written by Jones. That, said Mann, referred not to a decline in measured temperatures but to a decline reflected in a certain kind of tree-ring measurement that relies on wood density.

For reasons researchers still can’t explain, those wood measurements track neatly with temperatures from the late 1800s to the 1960s. After that, they show temperatures going down while the thermometers show the opposite.

Scientists have been discussing this “divergence” problem in the open for years.

Opinions differ among scientists as to the importance of the divergence problem, but most say there’s enough other evidence to support the hockey stick. One exception is MIT’s Richard Lindzen.

“Anyone familiar with these issues would say these [e-mails] explicitly refer to falsification and rigging of data.” Lindzen said the failure of the proxies to reflect temperature trends in the last few decades is a real problem. If the proxies don’t align with temperatures for the last 30 years, he said, how can we rely on them to tell us what the temperatures were for the last 1,000?

[…]

In the late 1990s, [North] said, “people were running up and down the halls of Congress waving these graphs and saying the Earth was about to burn.”