Nobody has any business working for, contributing to, or voting for any candidate of this Republican Party in any general election. Nobody. Nobody at a all:
Arctic ice levels hit historic low, researchers say – This Just In - CNN.com Blogs: "The amount of Arctic sea ice has melted to a historic low, with the area of land covered by ice at the smallest level since scientists began observing it with satellites in 1972, researchers from the University of Bremen in Germany report…. Researchers, including those from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, had predicted earlier this summer that Arctic sea ice levels could reach extreme lows. But the University of Bremen physicists said there was uncertainty in July about whether the ice melt would surpass the previous record.
They said their studies indicated that continuing ice decline was related to man-made global warming. "It seems to be clear that this is a further consequence of the man-made global warming with global consequences," researchers said in their report. "Directly, the livehood of small animals, algae, fishes and mammals like polar bears and seals is more and more reduced." As Arctic sea ice has continued to decline, it also has become drastically thinner overall, the report said….
The National Snow and Ice Data Center did not have updated data to confirm the German report but said it expected the historic low to be hit based on the past few weeks' data. Its site is only up to date to September 6. The historic levels were reached two days later. The center said it would "make a preliminary announcement when ice extent has stopped declining and has increased for several days in a row" and said it would release monthly data for September early next month…
Me? I had always thought that the "hockey stick" was more a measure of our ignorance of the pre-1800 climate--when you don't know much, your best estimate is going to be close to your sample mean and is not going to move around very much, while when you do know what is going on your estimates will track a quite possibly changing reality.
But since Mann and company first started their reconstructions, the evidence that we have now substantially exceeded past historic climate variability on a global scale has been piling up.
And now Joe Romm reports:
Climate Secret: NSF Quietly Closes Out Inspector General Investigation with Complete Vindication of Michael Mann: NSF Inspector General: “Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.”
Two things we know with extremely high confidence:
- Recent warming is unprecedented in magnitude and speed and cause (so the temperature history looks like a Hockey Stick).
- Michael Mann, the lead author on the original Hockey Stick paper, is one of the nation’s top climatologists and a source of first-rate analysis.
We know these things because both the Hockey Stick and Mann have been independently investigated and vindicated more times than any other facet of climate science or any other climate scientist…. While the anti-science extremists who rule the Tea Party and the right-wing bunkosphere keep shouting lies about the Hockey Stick and Mann — and urging their followers to “shout down” science-based commenters on independent websites — the vindications of the science and the man are reported as quietly as if they came from the Whos of Whoville. And so after countless investigations — 3 in the U.K., 2 by Penn State, the EPA, the NOAA IG — that have all unanimously found the allegations against climate scientists and their research conclusions based on the hacked “ClimateGate” emails to be wholly unsubstantiated, a top GOP presidential candidate backed by the fossil fuel industry still gives voice to the Texas-sized lie (see “Denier Rick Perry Takes $11 Million from Big Oil, Then Claims Climate Scientists ‘Manipulated Data’ For Money“).
And so while Mann and the Hockey Stick were getting yet another full vindication (from Penn State) earlier this year, Fox News was trumpeting one final investigation:
But the final say will be in the hands of a skeptical inspector general at the National Science Foundation, the primary funder of the research into global warming. According to published documents obtained by FoxNews.com, the IG must determine whether Penn State’s investigation was adequate. The Office of Inspector General confirmed that it will review the misconduct charges. A spokeswoman told FoxNews.com that “in accordance with our research misconduct regulation, (45 C.F.R. part 689), when the OIG is provided with an institution’s investigation report, we review it for fairness, accuracy and completeness” — issues the investigation has already been faulted for….
The IG analyzed all of the charges “de novo” and concluded:
Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.
I have uploaded the full report here, but you can also go the NSF IG website here and insert “A09120086.”
Let me end with some key findings of the Penn State investigation:
“An Investigatory Committee of faculty members with impeccable credentials” has unanimously “determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities.”
His work “clearly places Dr. Mann among the most respected scientists in his field…. Dr. Mann’s work, from the beginning of his career, has been recognized as outstanding.“
So Mann isn’t merely a competent researcher. He is one of the leading climate scientists in this country, which of course is precisely why the anti-science crowd has gone after him, much as they have with other leading climate scientists, including Hansen and Santer.
And that’s one more reason why the major media outlets who smeared and defamed him owe him an apology and a retraction — loud ones!
Recent Studies Vindicating the Hockey Stick:
- Temperatures of North Atlantic “are unprecedented over the past 2000 years and are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming” — Science (2011)
- GRL (2010): “We conclude that the 20th century warming of the incoming intermediate North Atlantic water has had no equivalent during the last thousand years.“
- JGR (2010): “The last decades of the past millennium are characterized again by warm temperatures that seem to be unprecedented in the context of the last 1600 years.”
- Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds (2009)
- Unprecedented warming in Lake Tanganyika and its impact on humanity (2010)"
Henry Hudson, eat your heart out:
Rebutted by Peter Gleick:
Forbes, which regularly publishes biased, misleading, and distorted opinion pieces on climate issues, has just published a remarkable one by Patrick Michaels. Michaels is well known for his regular misleading statements about climate. And while his statements are mostly worth ignoring, this one contains a particularly remarkable combination of errors and falsehoods.... In this case, his misstatements are easily checked (though not, apparently, by Forbes fact-checkers) by actually looking up the real data on world food production. Here are Michaels’ most grossly misleading or simply false statements:
False Statement #1. Michaels says: Gillis claims that “[t]he rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed” because of global warming. His own figures show this is wrong. The increasing trend in world crop yields from 1960 to 1980 is exactly the same as from 1980 to 2010. [Emphasis added.]
Did Michaels think no one would actually look at the data? Gillis is right and Michaels is wrong. Crop yields are certainly increasing, on average, as we do better and better with technology. But the trends are in the wrong direction. Very simply, from 1960 to the present, yield increases have been slowing (exactly as Gillis notes), even accounting for year-to-year variation....
False Statement #2. Michaels states: “And per capita grain production is rising, not falling.”
In this case, Michaels does not provide any year. Rising between when and when? In fact, per-capita grain production has been flat for decades as increases in production have been countered by increases in population. Indeed, in 2008, per-capita grain production was around 374 kilograms per person (and it dropped a bit in 2009, the last year for which global data are available). But the peak in per-capita grain production was 1984 and 1985 — more than a quarter century ago....
Finally, the heart of Michaels’ Forbes piece seems to be that climate change will be good for food production, not bad. In his op-ed, under the title “Facts,” Michaels says the following:
Facts: Global surface temperature rose about three-fourths of a degree Celsius in the 20th century. U.S. corn yields quintupled. Life expectancy doubled. People got fat. Global warming didn’t cause all of this, but increased atmospheric carbon dioxide directly stimulated plant growth. Further, greenhouse warming takes place more in the winter, which lengthens growing seasons. With adequate water, plants then fix and yield more carbohydrate. [Emphasis added.]
Here, Michaels is saying that the warming of the past century was largely responsible (even if it “didn’t cause all”) for increases in U.S. corn yields, life expectancy, and people’s well-being (which is presumably what he means when he says “People got fat.”). This isn’t “fact.” It is... in contradiction to actual science on food and agriculture....
Truthful statement, but not in the way Michaels means it: “I continue to be amazed at how little the facts are checked on global warming, even when writing for the so-called newspapers of record.”
Well, this statement is certainly true. Alas, it applies to Michaels and Forbes.
Rebuttals to talking-points misinformation that I want to have at the forefront of my brain--for when I am surprised, as I will be, by an unexpected question from an unexpected direction while talking to reporters, phone callers, passers-by, radio interviewers, cable TV interviewers, etc....
Jon Huntsman: Elect Me Leader of the Free World Because I Succumbed To Peer Pressure on Climate Change: For some reason, the media and the pundits have been treating Jon Huntsman as if he is the “serious GOP candidate” for president. I suppose if one is grading on a curve, then he may be the most serious. Hmmm. Did you know Moe is the most serious of the Stooges? I digress.
Huntsman’s idea of demonstrating his serious leadership qualifications is to blame his previous support for climate action on peer pressure. As The Hill reported yesterday in its piece, “Huntsman on past cap-and-trade support: Everyone was doing it”: Huntsman backed cap-and-trade last decade as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but distanced himself from it in an interview Wednesday, casting it as a policy solution from another era. “Every governor was talking about dealing with emissions back many, many years ago only to find that with the economic implosion, we can’t afford anything that is going to put any kind of hamper on economic growth. So cap-and-trade is not something that is viable today,” Huntsman told Fox News. “Everybody talked about it. At least a lot of people did, consulting with CEOs, consulting with all the experts. Everyone took it seriously,” he said...
Radioactive turd, meet punchbowl: If this report is true, then: a) Reactor 1 at Fukushima Daiichi melted down within sixteen hours of the quake (about eight hours after all active cooling was lost), b) TEPCO management knew about it, c) The press were systematically nobbled (an early report of the meltdown was withdrawn), d) Going by his rather extraordinary remarks during the subsequent weeks, the Prime Minister, and presumably the rest of the Japanese government, were systematically misled by TEPCO.
BBC News - Setbacks at Japan nuclear plant: A reactor at Japan's crippled nuclear plant has been more badly damaged than originally thought, operator Tepco has said. Water is leaking from the pressure vessel surrounding reactor 1 - probably because of damage caused by exposed fuel rods melting, a spokesman said.... Work to restore cooling systems had been most advanced at reactor 1, the smallest and oldest at the site. But a spokesman for the power giant said when a faulty gauge had been repaired, it showed water levels in the pressure vessel 5m (16ft) below the level needed to cover fuel rods.
Polar Explorer Who Worked With Pawlenty ‘Baffled’ By His ‘Reckless’ Flip-Flop On Climate Threat: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) was once a champion of policies like cap-and-trade to combat global warming pollution, but he now calls his past climate leadership “stupid” and a “disaster.” The polar explorer who worked with Pawlenty to “convince the skeptics” and find solutions to greenhouse pollution from oil and coal, Will Steger, is now “baffled” by Pawlenty’s reversal. In an interview with Mother Jones, Steger says that he believed “morally we were on the same level” when they met in 2006, and praised the governor’s acts of leadership in 2007 to build “unity in this community” around a clean energy economy. Now, however, Steger — who has conquered both the North Pole and Antarctica — feels defeated by Pawlenty’s “reckless” abandonment of our children’s future: “I’m baffled by that—did he actually say that?” says Steger, when asked about Pawlenty’s recent statements. “I’m baffled by that. But I think he’s getting information from the wrong source and it’s really too bad for our children. It’s reckless.”
“A lot of environmentalists think I want to dump on the governor because he changed around,” Steger told Mother Jones. “No, I respect the governor and I’m thankful that he did what he did do. It’s too bad that he couldn’t carry the flag, but in that party, you don’t carry that flag.”
Indeed. The moment I first read global warming denier Richard Lindzen's claim that "there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995" my first reaction was: "does he really not understand how to do statistical power calculations?" And, indeed, the answer was no: he did not know enough statistics to even know that he did not know enough statistics to understand what he was trying to do. And somebody who speaks with such authority about things he demonstrably fails to understand raises red flags: how much of the rest of what he says with such authority is really not so at all? The answer is: quite a lot.
John Quiggin » Lindzen, Davidson and statistical significance: Among the many anti-science talking points, a striking one is the widely repeated claim (originating with Richard Lindzen) that there has been no significant warming since 1995. In his original statement, Lindzen was careful to refer to “statistically significant” warming.... [A]ll Lindzen’s claim means is that, given the noise in the data, you need more than the 14 annual observations from 1995 to 2008 (when he made the claim) to get statistical significance. Of course, we had the additional observations, namely those before 1995, so Lindzen’s statement was trivial. It was also safe to predict that, given a few years more data, the trend for the period since 1995 would be significant, and so it has proved.
Sinclair Davidson... introduce[s] a new wrinkle.
Davidson wants to use monthly data, with a first-order autoregressive error structure... [a model] with two estimated parameters... instead of one. That means... the statistical significance of the parameters will be slightly lower.... And, sure enough, he gets a p-value just above 0.05, so, for this model, he can still just claim that the trend is not statistically significant. But this is just another version of Lindzen’s original cheat. There’s no reason to start with 1995, except that it’s the latest date that will fail to give a statistically significant trend....
It’s safe to predict though, that the next El Nino will confirm the upward trend, even with the arbitrary starting point of 1995. At one level, I’m sure Davidson is aware of this (and absolutely sure Lindzen is aware of it). But this isn’t about objective truth. By the time the post-95 trend is confirmed as statistically significant beyond any possibility of a fiddle, they will have moved on to a new talking point.
A final observation is that this bogus controversy illustrates how unhelpful is the classical statistical apparatus of “significance” and hypothesis testing. I’d prefer a Bayesian approach which would work as follows. Start at 1990, when we had a fair bit of evidence and theory supporting global warming, but it was still possible to argue that the observed warming was a natural cycle.... [I]f the observed warming were a natural cycle it would be highly likely to stop or reverse (say 90 per cent), but there would be a small probability of it continuing by chance. Now suppose that Lindzen initially thought the natural cycle hypothesis was likely to be true with a probability of 80 per cent, while Hansen thought the same for the AGW hypothesis. What has actually been observed since 1990... is warming consistent with the AGW hypothesis. We can now update the conditional probabilities using Bayes theorem. For Hansen, the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW true) is 0.8*0.9= 0.72, while the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW false) is 0.2*0.1= 0.02, so his revised probability for AGW is 0.72/0.74 = 0.97.... For Lindzen, the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW true) is 0.2*0.9= 0.18, while the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW false) is 0.8*0.1= 0.08, so his revised probability for AGW is 0.18/0.26 = 0.69.
That is, if Lindzen was an honest seeker after truth, he would concede that the observed outcome is radically different from what he would have predicted in 1990 based on his preferred model and therefore that his model was most probably wrong. But of course Lindzen isn’t an honest seeker after truth. He’s an irresponsible contrarian who made a wrong call twenty years ago, and is willing to tell any lie necessary rather than admit the fact.
My last post on albedo, I promise: After seeing my recent blogs on Nathan Myhrvold, a friend told me that, in the tech world, the albedo-obsessed genius is known as a patent troll. Really? Yup. My friend writes:
It's perhaps indicative that Myhrvold comes up in the top-ten hits on Google for [patent troll]. These blog posts lay it out pretty clearly: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100217/1853298215.shtmlhttp://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2010/12/giant_patent_troll_awakens_as.phphttp://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/08/intellectual-ventures-goes-to-court
Just about anyone's that's been in the tech game thinks patents are ridiculous. The lab where I used to work wanted us to create an "intellectual mine field" in our field so the companycould block anyone from entering the space. Yes, we made stuff, but the patents were for totally obvious ideas that anyone would have. Even Google's PageRank was just a simple application of standard social network analysis models of authorities in networks. Who knew? I'm used to seeing Myhrvold's "Intellectual Ventures" company described adoringly by reporters from the New Yorker etc as being a place where brilliant minds create the ideas of the future. Then on the other side is this patent stuff. I know nothing about patents and so am in no position to judge this one. So let me say clearly that I'm not describing his work as patent trolling; I'm merely noting that this perception exists....
I Googled Myrhvold.... Wikipedia... describes Intellectual Ventures as In 2000 Myhrvold co-founded Intellectual Ventures, a patent portfolio developer and broker," which sounds about right, descriptive rather than pejorative. Later down on the first page of the Google search are a Wall Street Journal article referring to Myhrvold as "the king of patent aggregating" and a TechCrunch article referring to his "patent extortion fund."... [T]his shouldn't really have anything to do with the albedo fiasco, but it provides a bit more perspective, in that Myhrvold has a lot going on. Really the problem was not so much the hasty statements about albedo, so much as the tendency of various journalists from Levitt to Lanchester to just accept them without checking with a physicist. (As a physics graduate myself, I can assure you that a degree in physics does not immunize a person from making physics mistakes.)
Physics is hard - : Readers of this bizarre story (in which a dubious claim about reflectivity of food in cooking transmuted into a flat-out wrong claim about the relevance of reflectivity of solar panels) might wonder how genius Nathan Myhrvold (Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Princeton at age 24, postdoc with Stephen Hawking for chrissake) could make such a basic mistake.... Phil is surprised I didn't take a stronger stance on the albedo issue after reading Pierrehumbert's explanation. Phil asks: Why did I write "experts seem to think the albedo effect is a red herring" instead of something stronger such as, "as Pierrehumbert shows in detail, the albedo effect is a red herring"? I didn't do this because my physics credentials are no better than Myhrvold's. And, given that Myhrvold got it wrong, I don't completely trust myself to get it right!
I majored in physics in college and could've gone to grad school in physics--I actually almost did so, switching to statistics at the last minute. I could be a Ph.D. in physics too. But I've never had a great physical intuition. I could definitely get confused by a slick physics argument. And I suspect Myhrvold is the same way. Given what he's written on albedo, I doubt his physics intuition is anywhere near as good as Phil's. My guess is that Myhrvold, like me, got good grades and was able to solve physics problems but made a wise choice in leaving physics to do something else.
Now, it's true, I don't think I would've made Myhrvold's particular mistake, because I would've checked...
A possible resolution of the albedo mystery!: Remember that bizarre episode in Freakonomics 2, where Levitt and Dubner went to the Batcave-like lair of a genius billionaire who told them that "the problem with solar panels is that they're black." I'm not the only one who wondered at the time: of all the issues to bring up about solar power, why that one?
Well, I think I've found the answer in this article by John Lanchester:
In 2004, Nathan Myhrvold, who had, five years earlier, at the advanced age of forty, retired from his job as Microsoft's chief technology officer, began to contribute to the culinary discussion board egullet.org.... "Modernist Cuisine" contains hundreds of pages of original, firsthand, surprising information about traditional cooking. Some of the physics is quite basic: it had never occurred to me that the reason many foods go from uncooked to burned at such speed is that light-colored foods reflect heat better than dark: "As browning reactions begin, the darkening surface rapidly soaks up more and more of the heat rays. The increase in temperature accelerates dramatically."
Aha! Now, I'm just guessing here, but my conjecture is that after studying this albedo effect in the kitchen, Myhrvold was primed to see it everywhere. Of course, maybe it went the other way: he was thinking about solar panels first and then applied his ideas to the kitchen. But, given that the experts seem to think the albedo effect is a red herring (so to speak) regarding solar panels, I wouldn't be surprised if Myhrvold just started talking about reflectivity because it was on his mind from the cooking project. My own research ideas often leak from one project to another, so I wouldn't be surprised if this happens to others too.
RealClimate: An open letter to Steve Levitt: Dear Mr. Levitt,
The problem of global warming is so big that solving it will require creative thinking from many disciplines. Economists have much to contribute to this effort....
By now there have been many detailed dissections of everything that is wrong with the treatment of climate in Superfreakonomics, but what has been lost amidst all that extensive discussion is how really simple it would have been to get this stuff right. The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them....
I will take Nathan Myhrvold’s claim about solar cells, which you quoted prominently in your book, as an example. As quoted by you, Mr. Myhrvold claimed, in effect, that it was pointless to try to solve global warming by building solar cells, because they are black and absorb all the solar energy that hits them, but convert only some 12% to electricity while radiating the rest as heat, warming the planet. Now, maybe you were dazzled by Mr Myhrvold’s brilliance, but don’t we try to teach our students to think for themselves? Let’s go through the arithmetic step by step and see how it comes out. It’s not hard.
Nathan Myhrvold and the Freakonomists:
Freakonomics » Are Solar Panels Really Black? And What Does That Have to Do With the Climate Debate?: The Internet provides the ultimate extremist platform. Every blogger can reach millions, and given the lack of scrutiny or review over content, there is little accountability. Indeed, the more over-the-top the discourse is the better — because it is entertaining. Ancient Romans watched gladiators in much the same way that we read angry bloggers.
That seems to be the case with Joe Romm, a blogger with strong views about global warming and what he calls “climate progress.” In a recent series of blog posts, Romm levels one baseless, bald charge after another. What provoked this? The best summary I’ve seen comes from a comment by DaveyNC to the Freakonomics blog which says:
No, no, no, no — you have committed apostasy; heresy! You are not allowed to speak of warming except in the most emotional, alarmist tones!
You are not allowed to follow an objective, skeptical line of reasoning in this matter. You are not allowed to consider whether or not it is cost-efficient or even possible to cease all carbon emissions; you simply must do it.
That pretty much sums it up, as far as I can tell.... As an example, he goes on and on about a comment that I made about how solar photovoltaic cells have a problem because they are black. Romm attacks me as if I think that this means that solar cells are bad. Yet that wasn’t the point in SuperFreakonomics at all. I am quoted in the book as follows:
As an example he points to solar power. “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12 percent gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributes to global warming. Although a widespread conversion to solar power might seem appealing, the reality is tricky. The energy consumed by building the thousands of new solar plants necessary to replace coal-burning and other power plants would create a huge long-term “warming debt,” as Myhrvold calls it. “Eventually, we’d have a great carbon-free energy infrastructure, but only after making emissions and global warming worse every year until we’re done building out the solar plants, which could take 30 to 50 years.”...
Since this is at least partly a technical point, I will go to the trouble of explaining it further.
The point I was making to Dubner and Levitt is the following: when you build a solar plant it costs you energy.... Solar cells pretty much have to be “black” in the energetic side of the solar spectrum because they absorb sunlight! Of course no material is a perfect absorber, so when I say “black,” what I mean is very high absorption of light — 90 percent or more. Solar cells often have a bluish tint to them because they reflect a tiny bit more blue light than other colors, but that is small enough that it doesn’t matter for our purposes here....
It’s well known in climate circles that the Earth’s albedo (how much light the surface reflects from the surface) is very important. It’s one of the reasons climate scientists are worried about Arctic sea ice melting; you go from a white surface that reflects 90 percent of the light (albedo 0.9) to ocean which is almost black and reflects 10 percent or less (for an albedo of 0.1). Climate studies published in peer-reviewed journals have shown that making roofs white would potentially be a great help against global warming. Other studies have looked at the impact of forests and logging on albedo. It is well known that albedo matters; this isn’t my private theory — it is mainstream climate science...
UPDATE April 2, 2011: Rich Muller emails:
In the olden days, you would have checked with me before publishing something about me. It is interesting how the time pressure of blogging has changed the standards. You might consider writing an article about that.
Here is a guideline that I strive to maintain: I am often mistaken, but I never lie.
It would be good to discuss the facts of "An Inconvenient Truth" sometimes. In my book, "Physics for Future Presidents", I go into some details about the misleading statements former VP Al Gore makes. I'd be happy to send you a paperback copy.
Original Post March 29, 1011: Joe Romm:
Climate Progress: Muller launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study.... [A]s Muller revealed in a public talk last week, BEST’s results to date show “We are seeing substantial global warming” and “None of the effects raised by the [skeptics] is going to have anything more than a marginal effect on the amount of global warming.” Muller, clearly, isn’t a denier like Koch. But he does share one thing in common with Koch — Gore Derangement Syndrome.... Brad Johnson has the story of just how far Muller will go to smear Gore:
Unlike Koch, Muller recognizes that fossil fuel pollution is threatening civilization, Muller argues that existing climate policy is corrupt and misguided, and that many leading climate scientists are guilty of academic fraud — just as Koch argues.... As with Koch, a particular target of Muller’s righteous scorn is Vice President Al Gore, whom he calls an “extremist” and “alarmist.” In a recent lecture at the University of California at Berkeley.... Muller claimed that Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was lambasted by esteemed climate scientist Dr. Ralph Cicerone, the head of the National Academy of Sciences:
Al Gore, when he talks about the polar bears being killed by the receding glaciers, no basis for that. In fact, let me jump ahead and tell a little story. Ralph Cicerone, head of the National Academy, said there are lots of things wrong in his movie, and Al Gore asked him to come and explain this to him, and he did come. And he said, “Well, what’s wrong with my movie?”
“Well, lots of things, like the polar bears. We track polar bears. Not a single polar bear has died because of retreating ice.”
And Al Gore turned to his movie producer and said, “So, why did we put that in?” The movie producer said, “Well, it really gets people emotionally involved.”
See, this is what politicians do. They put in things that they consider a real danger that represents what they consider to be reality. Doesn’t matter if it’s technically true or not. So, there’s so much misinformation on this field. Global warming is real. I am deeply concerned about it. I am leading a major study on global warming. But most of what made the newspaper headlines is either wrong, or backward, or simply exaggerated.
Muller’s story is not “technically true.” In fact, it’s false. The meeting between Gore and Cicerone that Muller describes is apocryphal.... Bill Skane, the Executive Director of News & Public Information for the National Academy of Sciences explained in an email that the supposed conversation never took place:
There was no meeting or conversation between Dr. Cicerone and Vice President Gore or his film producer regarding An Inconvenient Truth and thus no comment about polar bears. We’ve contacted Dr. Muller today about his speech and are hoping to hear back from him.... Dr. Muller’s remarks regarding Dr. Cicerone were in error....
Not only did the conversation not take place, Muller’s depiction of An Inconvenient Truth was false as well. Here’s the transcript of what Gore actually said about polar bears in his documentary, which was released in 2006:
Right now, the Arctic ice cap acts like a giant mirror, all the sun’s rays bounce off, more than 90%. It keeps the Earth cooler, but as it melts, and the open ocean receives that sun’s energy instead, more than 90% is absorbed, so there is a faster buildup of heat here, at the North Pole, in the Arctic Ocean, and the Arctic generally than anywhere else on the planet. That’s not good for creatures like polar bears, who depend on the ice. They’re now, actually, looking for other ecological niches. It is sad what’s going on in the Arctic ecosystem.
Unsurprisingly, Cicerone said essentially the same thing a year before Gore’s documentary came out, in testimony before the U.S. Senate:
The Arctic has warmed at a faster rate than the Northern Hemisphere over the past century. A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (2004) reports that this warming is associated with a number of impacts including: melting of sea ice, which has important impacts on biological systems such as polar bears, ice-dependent seals and local people for whom these animals are a source of food; increased rain and snow, leading to changes in river discharge and tundra vegetation; and degradation of the permafrost...
My view is that "An Inconvenient Truth" is not perfect--for example, the "hockey stick" is much more a demonstration of our ignorance of pre-1800 climate than convincing proof of low climate variability in previous centuries relative to the twentieth century--but is on balance quite good on the issues...
The paperback edition of Levitt and Dubner, SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance is coming out on May 24, 2011...
Anybody know if they made any corrections to the "global cooling" chapter?
As I said, if I were Levitt and Dubner, I would:
pp. 165-6: Change to no longer put "global cooling" in the 1970s and "global warming" today in parallel: The scientists in the 1970s who were worried about global cooling had neither the quantative evidence, the climate models, the understanding of forcing processes, or the peer-reviewed consensus that analysis of global warming has today. Placing the two in parallel is simply wrong.
pp. 165-6: Change to remove false claim that the quotes from Newsweek were the words of "scientists."
pp. 165-6: Change to remove false claim that Newsweek was accurately citing the 1975 NAS Study--which says not that the globe is likely to cool but instead that we don't know enough about climate to forecast trends, and tht we need to do more research.
p. 167: Change to make explicit the claim that switching to an all-vegetarian diet reduces your carbon footprint by about the same order of magnitude as does switching to a hybrid car. But do not say that cars and trucks do not "contribute an ungodly share of greenhouse gases." They do--it's just that human meat-intensive agriculture contributes and ungodly share as well.
p. 168: Change to make the point that the fact that our estimates of climate effects are imprecise is not an argument for doing less or waiting to offset global warming--it is an argument for doing more and doing more now. Uncertainty is not our friend at all
p. 169: Change. Currently massively confused about Marty Weitzman's work. Marty focuses on the chance and valuation of catastrophe. He concludes that a version of the precautionary principle is appropriate: when distributions have fatter tails than log normal--which Marty thinks they do--the right policies are those that minimize the possibiliity of catastrophe. Which means starting to act now.
p. 170: Change to no longer imply that James Lovelock has some special role or authority in climate analysis or climate policy.
p. 170: Change to debunk rather than approve of British conservative Boris Johnson's claim. Johnson's statement is simply wrong. It is not the case that "the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful." We can measure greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, solar radiative forcings, and temperatures. We can tell whether acts of propitiation and atonement are working.
p. 171: Change the highly misleading: "When Al Gore urges the citizenry to sacrifice... the agnostics grumble that human activity accounts for just 2 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions, with the remainder generated by natural processes like plant decay..." that 98% of carbon emissions are part of an ongoing biological cycle is not an argument supporting an "agnostic" position. And Levitt and Dubner should not hve claimed that it is.
p. 171: Change highly misleading paragraph to stress that what is relevant is not the stock but the flow: not that human activity accounts for 2% of the flow but rather that but for industrial emissions one-third (and growing) of the stock of greenhouse gases would simply not be there today.
p. 173: Change to no longer dismiss out-of-hand global agreement on climate policy. Dubner and Levitt currently write: "when it comes to actually solving climate change externalities through taxes, all we can say is good luck.... [G]reenhouse gases do not adhere to national boundaries.... Nor does one nation have the right to tell another what to do." But if the big four--U.S., EU, China, and India--of 2050 do agree, they then have the cultural, economic, and diplomatic power to coerce the rest of the world. Reaching global agreement is a very reasonable prospect.
pp. 177-181: Change to tone down the puff piece on Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures--the subsequent pages contain a lot of clues that Myhrvold and company really don't know very much about what they are talking about.
p. 182: Change to debunk rather than approve of quote from Wood: "Everybody turns their knobs... so they aren't the outlier, because the outlying model is going to have difficulty getting funded..." Alternatively, back this claim up with some real evidence that it is so. (The climate modelers who I talk to say that it is not.)
p. 182: Change to debunk rather than approve of quote from Wood: "current climate models 'do not know how to handle water vapor and various types of clouds'..." Current climate models may not handle water vapor and clouds especially well, but they do handle them.
p. 182: Change to reinforce point that uncertainty in climate models is not an argument for doing less now but rather an argument to do more.
p. 183: Change to debunk rather than approve of quote from Myhrvold: "most of the global warming over the past few decades... might actually be due to good environmental stewardship." It's not.
p. 183: Change to remove false claim that worldwide particulate pollution is shrinking rather than growing. It is still growing rather than shrinking, and so still cooling the earth more with each passing year--it's only in the clean North Atlantic that heavy particulates been shrinking.
p. 183: Change to rephrase: "Nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth"--other things equal, it certainly does.
p. 184: Change to remove false claim: "Yet [Ken Caldeira's] research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight."
p. 186: Change to debunk rather than approve of false quote from Wood: "most authoritative literature on the subject suggests a [sea level] rise of about one and a half feet by 2100."
p. 186: Remove false claim: "a most surprising environmental scourge: trees." Distinguish between (a) tropical trees, (b) temperate trees, and (c) boreal trees in regions where there is a great deal of snow cover.
p. 186: Remove false claim that the earth has been cooling "over the past several years."
p. 187: Claim that "coal is so cheap that trying to generate electricity without it would be economic suicide" needs much, much more backing-up: I can't see how it could possibly be true.
p. 187: Change to remove false claim: "A lot of things that people say would be a good thing probably aren't.... As an example he points to solar cells..."
p. 187: Remove claim that "The energy consumed by building the thousands of new solar plants necessary to replace coal-buring and other power plants would create a huge long-term 'warming debt'"--I cannot see how this could possibly be true. The overwhelming majority of power plants that are going to be in operation in 2050 have not been built yet, and building closed-carbon-cycle or non-carbon plants is not much more expensive than building open-carbon-cycle ones.
p. 188: Remove claim that "Myhrvold... has probably thought about such [ecological disaster] scenarios in greater scientific detail than any climate doomsayer."
Can anybody tell me why and how making fun of Al Gore on polar bears became a wingnut talking point? Seems to me that what The Inconvenient Truth says about polar bears is correct, and unexceptionable...
Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth http://www.admc.hct.ac.ae/hd1/blog/gw/An%20Inconvient%20Truth%20Transcript.pdf:
I went up to the North Pole. I went under that ice cap in a nuclear submarine that surfaced through the ice like this. This thing started patrolling in 1957. They have gone under the ice and measured with their radar looking upward to measure how thick it is because they can only surface where the thickness of the ice is 3 and half feet thick or less. So they have kept a meticulous record and they wouldn’t release because it was national security. I went up there in order to persuade them to release them, and they did. And here’s what that record showed. Starting in 1970 there was a precipitous drop off in the amount and extent and thickness of the arctic ice cap. It has diminished by 40 percent in 40 years. There are two studies showing that in the next 50 or 70 years in summertime it will be completely gone. Now you might say, “Why is that a problem? How could the arctic ice cap actually melt so quickly?” When the sun’s rays hit the ice, more than 90 percent of it bounces off right back into space like a mirror. But when it hits the open ocean more than 90 percent is absorbed.
As the surrounding water gets warmer, it speeds up the melting of the ice. Right now the arctic ice cap acts like a giant mirror. All the sun’s rays bounce off, more than 90 percent, to keep the earth cooler. But as it melts and the open ocean receives that sun’s energy instead more than 90 percent is absorbed. So there is a faster build up of heat here at the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic generally than any where else on the planet. That’s not good for creatures like polar bears that depend on the ice. A new scientific study shows that for the first time they’re finding polar bears that have actually drowned, swimming long distances up to 60 miles to find the ice. They did not find that before. What does it mean to us to look at vast expanse of open water at the top of our world that used to be covered by ice? We ought to care a lot because it has planetary effects.
Monnett and Gleason:
SpringerLink - Polar Biology, Volume 29, Number 8: Charles Monnett and Jeffrey S. Gleason: "Observations of mortality associated with extended open-water swimming by polar bears in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea": Abstract: During aerial surveys in September 1987–2003, a total of 315 live polar bears were observed with 12 (3.8%) animals in open water, defined for purposes of this analysis as marine waters >2 km north of the Alaska Beaufort Sea coastline or associated barrier islands. No polar bear carcasses were observed. During aerial surveys in early September, 2004, 55 polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were seen, 51 were alive and of those 10 (19.9%) were in open water. In addition, four polar bear carcasses were seen floating in open water and had, presumably, drowned. Average distance from land and pack ice edge for live polar bears swimming in open water in 2004 (n=10) were 8.3±3.0 and 177.4±5.1 km, respectively. We speculate that mortalities due to offshore swimming during late-ice (or mild ice) years may be an important and unaccounted source of natural mortality given energetic demands placed on individual bears engaged in long-distance swimming. We further suggest that drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.
The Monkey Cage: Epistemic closure - climate change edition: Via via Serendipity and Ethan Zuckerman, an article suggesting that partisanship and level of education have the same kind of interaction effect on beliefs about climate change that Bartels finds for economic inequality. Drawing on surveys of New Hampshire and Michigan Upper Peninsula residents, Lawrence Hamilton finds that:
The probability of perceiving global warming as a threat increases with education among Democrats, but decreases with education among Republicans. Only two respondents out of a thousand described themselves as "strong Democrats" or "strong Republicans" with less than an 8th grade education, so the crossover at far left in Fig. 3 should not be over-interpreted. Setting aside this extreme, threat perceptions are roughly similar among Republicans and Democrats with lower education. They are most divergent among those with higher educations. ... Earlier researchers found education (along with age) to be the most consistent predictor of citizen concern about the environment, and about climate in particular. ... The inconsistency marks a social shift away from patterns seen in older research. It reflects the efficacy of media campaigns that provide scientific-sounding arguments against taking climate change seriously, which disproportionately reach educated but ideologically receptive audiences. Among many educated, conservative citizens, it appears that that such arguments have overshadowed the scientific consensus presented by the IPCC reports and other core science sources.
The relationship is, to put it mildly, stark - the predicted probability that a strong Republican with postgraduate education will think that climate change is a threat is rather less than 10%. The article argues that this is a result of selective media consumption via the Internet.
The Internet and cable television news make it easier for us not only to process information selectively ourselves, but to selectively acquire information that has been processed already, when we only tune in to ideologically compatible Web sites, cable news shows and so forth .... The bias or selectivity of our sources can be higher than the newspapers, magazines or broadcast news that formerly supplied most current- events information. Narrowcast media, including many Web sites devoted to dis- crediting climate-change concerns, provide ideal conduits for channeling politically inspired but scientific sounding arguments to an audience predisposed to retain and repeat them. The power to repeat favored arguments has been vastly expanded as well, through forwarding emails or posting links and content online, in a process that can become "viral" as it motivates new readers to do the same.
This seems a plausible surmise, but it is unlikely to be the only mechanism involved. If Gentzkow and Shapiro are right, then there is less ideological segregation in consumption of Internet information sources than one might imagine e.g. from looking at blogs alone. It is possible, for example, that highly educated strong Republicans may be exposed to both contrarian and conventional sources of information on climate change, but trust the former much more than the latter because of partisan cues.
dr2blog: This looks bad: When people say they think the IPCC Climate predictions are too conservative, they’re talking about stuff like this.
From The Copenhagen Diagnosis, via Skeptical Science.
Temperatures of North Atlantic “are unprecedented over the past 2000 years and are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming” : Study after study finds recent warming is unprecedented in magnitude and speed and cause. The anti-science crowd keeps trying to debunk one or two old Hockey Sticks, but new ones crop up faster than a speeding puck. Science just published a new one, “Enhanced Modern Heat Transfer to the Arctic by Warm Atlantic Water” (subs. req’d), news release here, “Warming North Atlantic water tied to heating Arctic, according to new study.” I have pulled out the key graph — and it is one heck of a Hockey Stick.... derived from “planktic foraminifers in a sediment core.... This astonishing warming in the past century is clearly not, as the anti-science crowd likes to say, some sort of recovery from the so-called Little Ice Age (see “A detailed look at the Little Ice Age“), which, in any case, is barely noticeable in this data. The lead author, Robert Spielhagen of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences said, “Such a warming of the Atlantic water in the Fram Strait is significantly different from all climate variations in the last 2,000 years.” The fact is, over 90% of human-caused warming is going into the oceans — and it is melting ice whereever it goes (see “Deep ocean heat is rapidly melting Antarctic ice“).
Air temperatures in Greenland have risen roughly 7 degrees F in the past several decades, thought to be due primarily to an increase in Earth’s greenhouse gases, according to CU-Boulder scientists. “We must assume that the accelerated decrease of the Arctic sea ice cover and the warming of the ocean and atmosphere of the Arctic measured in recent decades are in part related to an increased heat transfer from the Atlantic,” said Spielhagen.
Here are the abstract and conclusion:
The Arctic is responding more rapidly to global warming than most other areas on our planet. Northward-flowing Atlantic Water [AW] is the major means of heat advection toward the Arctic and strongly affects the sea ice distribution. Records of its natural variability are critical for the understanding of feedback mechanisms and the future of the Arctic climate system, but continuous historical records reach back only ~150 years. Here, we present a multidecadal-scale record of ocean temperature variations during the past 2000 years, derived from marine sediments off Western Svalbard (79°N). We find that early–21st-century temperatures of Atlantic Water entering the Arctic Ocean are unprecedented over the past 2000 years and are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming….
Although we cannot quantify from our data the variability of previous AW inflow to the Arctic by volume, our temperature data series and the above observational link suggest that the modern warm AW inflow (averaged over two to three decades) is anomalous and unique in the past 2000 years and not just the latest in a series of natural multidecadal oscillations. Both effects—a temperature rise as well as a volume transport increase—introduce a larger heat input into the Arctic Ocean. Although there is no direct contact of the AAWL [Arctic Atlantic Water Layer] with the ocean surface in the Arctic, such an increased heat input has far-reaching consequences. The strong AW warming event in the Arctic Ocean in the 1990s caused a shoaling of the AW core and an enhanced heat flux to the surface , concurrent with decreasing sea ice. Recent oceanographic data from the Laptev Sea continental margin indicate the impact of warm AW-related water masses on the shallow (<50 m) shelf, a feature not observed before in a >80-year time series. The data also provide evidence for a significant heat flux to the overlying shelf waters. Even without any modification of the vertical heat transfer processes, the enhanced temperature contrast between the AW and the surface sea water freezing point (increased from ~5 to 7 K as identified here) leads to an increase in the vertical heat flux of ~40%. Any positive-feedback mechanism will magnify the effect of this flux increase on the ice cover. Complementing the strong feedback between ice and atmospheric temperatures, warming of the AW layer, unprecedented in the past 2000 years, is most likely another key element in the transition toward a future ice-free Arctic Ocean.
For the Atlantic Energy Efficiency Conference, Boalt Hall, February 11, 2011
Carol Ness reports on an earlier talk by David Roland-Holst:
Climate change: David Roland-Holst uses bubbles, big and small, on a chart to demonstrate a fundamental truth.... [E]nergy use against per capita income; the bubbles represent countries by population. Floating high on both axes are the medium-to-small bubbles of the United States and the rest of the industrialized world, rich countries that use a lot of energy. Hanging near the bottom are two giant bubbles, China and India, where both energy use and income are low — and rising. ARE economist David Roland-Holst's chart — which one of his graduate students calls his 'demonic bubble bath' — shows the tight relationship between energy use and prosperity, a key climate change issue. Based on World Bank and International Energy Agency data, the vertical axis plots per capita energy use in terajoules/year; the horizontal is per capita income as measured by the GDP. Bubble sizes represent population.
The relationship between income and energy use is no coincidence, and recognizing that simple fact is an essential part of getting past the current stalemate and finding answers to climate change.... Roland-Holst’s slides illuminated — from an economist’s point of view — China’s stand against limits on greenhouse-gas emission.... “[E]nergy is prosperity,” and economic growth is China’s top priority, asserted Roland-Holst. To maintain full employment, he said, China needs to generate 30 to 40 million new jobs every year. China’s power use will triple in the coming decades, mainly from coal-fired plants. And as China grows wealthier, car ownership will rise exponentially, from just 18 per 1,000 people today (in the U.S. the number is 800). The environment is a less immediate concern, he said. “We have to recognize it, we have to understand it, we need more experience in trying to devise cooperative solutions among very discordant interest groups, multinationally,” Roland-Holst said. “Until we do that, there will be deaf ears in the negotiations”...
And consider that India right now has twice and China four times the energy intensity of GDP of the United States...
RealClimate: Water vapour: feedback or forcing?: While water vapour is indeed the most important greenhouse gas, the issue that makes it a feedback (rather than a forcing) is the relatively short residence time for water in the atmosphere (around 10 days).... I did a GCM experiment where I removed all the water in the atmosphere.... At Day 0 there is zero water, but after only 14 days, the water is back to 90% of its normal value, and after 50 days it’s back to within 1%. That’s less than 3 months. Compared to the residence time for perturbations to CO2 (decades to centuries) or CH4 (a decade), this is a really short time.
Only the stratosphere is dry enough and with a long enough residence time (a few years) for the small anthropogenic inputs [to water vapor] to be important. In this case (and in this case only) those additions can be considered a forcing....
When surface temperatures change (whether from CO2 or solar forcing or volcanos etc.), you can therefore expect water vapour to adjust quickly to reflect that. To first approximation, the water vapour adjusts to maintain constant relative humidity.... [T]he total amount of water vapour will increase adding to the greenhouse trapping of long-wave radiation. This is the famed ‘water vapour feedback’....
How do we know that the magnitude of this feedback is correctly simulated? A good test case is the response to the Pinatubo eruption. This caused cooling for up to 3 years after the eruption – plenty of time for water vapour to equilibriate to the cooler sea surface temperatures. Thus if models can simulate the observed decrease of water vapour at this time, it would be a good sign that they are basically correct. A good paper that demonstrated this was Soden et al (2002) (and the accompanying comment by Tony DelGenio). They found that using the observed volcanic aerosols as forcing the model produced very similar cooling to that observed. Moreover, the water vapour in the total column and in the upper troposphere decreased in line with satellite observations, and helped to increase the cooling by about 60% – in line with projections for increasing greenhouse gases.
To be sure there are still some lingering uncertainties.... However, given the Pinatubo results, the models are probably getting the broader picture reasonably correct.
Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis: Arctic sea ice extent averaged over January 2011 was 13.55 million square kilometers (5.23 million square miles). This was the lowest January ice extent recorded since satellite records began in 1979. It was 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles) below the record low of 13.60 million square kilometers (5.25 million square miles), set in 2006, and 1.27 million square kilometers (490,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.
Ice extent in January 2011 remained unusually low in Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait (between southern Baffin Island and Labrador), and Davis Strait (between Baffin Island and Greenland). Normally, these areas freeze over by late November, but this year Hudson Bay did not completely freeze over until mid-January. The Labrador Sea remains largely ice-free.
Another terrific ABC News story — on the role global warming is playing in extreme winter weather « Climate Progress: Earlier this month, ABC ran one of the best climate change stories ever to appear on a major network’s evening news show: “Raging Waters In Australia and Brazil Product of Global Warming.” On Friday they aired another very good piece — and now we know the secret of their accurate reporting. As they explain:
ABC news contacted 10 climate scientists to ask their take, if the extreme winter like the one we’re having is the way of the future. The consensus: global warming is playing a role by shifting weather patterns in unpredictable ways. Many say the forecast for the future calls for record-breaking precipitation and extreme temperatures year-round — and that means winter with more snow....
The dividing line between good climate reporting and bad climate reporting is almost always whether the reporter talked to real climate scientists. Typically, the more a reporter talks to, the better the story. It is very hard to get the story wrong if you talk to several of the leading climate scientists in any specific subfield...
Now that's a positive temperature anomaly!
Cold comfort: Canada's record-smashing mildness: Some fascinating weather has unfolded across the Northern Hemisphere over the last month... heavy snow that battered the mid-Atlantic and New England states in late December... the United Kingdom’s coldest December in at least the last century. Meanwhile, the sparsely populated Canadian Arctic basked in near-unprecedented mildness.
It’s the second chapter of a tale that began a year ago, when Canada as a whole saw the warmest and driest winter in its history. Much of the blame went to El Niño, which typically produces warmer-than-average weather across Canada. So far, so good—but similar things are happening this winter, even with a La Niña now at the helm.
Just how mild has it been? The map at right shows departures from average surface temperatures for the period from 17 December 2010 to 15 January 2011, as calculated by NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory. The blue blip along the southeast U.S. coast indicates readings between 3°C and 6°C (5.4–10.8°F) below average for the 30-day period as a whole. That’s noteworthy—and in fact, it was the coldest December in more than a century of record-keeping across south Florida.... Blue also shows up across the UK, where December averaged 5.2°C (9.4°F) below normal.
What really jumps out, though, is a blob of green, yellow, orange, and red covering a major swath of northern and eastern Canada. The largest anomalies here exceed 21°C (37.8°F) above average, which are very large values to be sustained for an entire month.
To put this picture into even sharper focus, let’s take a look at Coral Harbour, located at the northwest corner of Hudson Bay in the province of Nunavut. On a typical mid-January day, the town drops to a low of –34°C (–29.2°F) and reaches a high of just -26°C (–14.8°F). Compare that to what Coral Harbour actually experienced in the first twelve days of January 2011.... After New Year’s Day, the town went 11 days without getting down to its average daily high. On the 6th of the month, the low temperature was –3.7°C (25.3°F). That’s a remarkable 30°C (54°F) above average. On both the 5th and 6th, Coral Harbor inched above the freezing mark. Before this year, temperatures above 0°C (32°F) had never been recorded in the entire three months of January, February, and March....
In mid-December, a vast bubble of high pressure formed in the vicinity of Greenland. At the center of this high, the 500-mb surface rose to more than 5.8 kilometers, a sign of remarkably mild air below. Stu Ostro (The Weather Channel) found that this was the most extreme 500-mb anomaly anywhere on the planet in weather analyses dating back to 1948.... Farther west, a separate monster high developed over Alaska last week....
Why so freakishly mild? One factor that both feeds and is fed by the warmth is the highly unusual amount of open water across seas that are normally frozen by late November. On the winter solstice (December 21), Hudson Bay was little more than half frozen... the Baffin/Newfoundland Sea fell weeks behind schedule in freezing up. As evident in the charts at bottom, these bodies of water remain in catch-up mode....
The extraordinary Arctic warmth and the midlatitude chill and snow bear the fingerprints of a negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), the pattern that prevailed for much of last winter as well. As opposed to a positive NAO, where the jet stream whisks mild air across the Atlantic, a negative NAO—which has predominated since October—features a blocked-up jet stream that allows cold air to plunge more easily southward and mild air to take hold in the Arctic. It seems plausible that the open water between Greenland and Canada has played a role in the record warmth observed at the surface and aloft and the associated negative NAO. However, the NAO’s causes remain mysterious, and its future is impossible to predict...
Joshua Green writes:
Bad Climate for Global Warming: Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies announced that 2010 had registered as the hottest year on record. Nothing new here: nine of the last 10 years have been among the warmest ever.
The news highlighted one of Washington's biggest failures over the last two years: its inability to advance climate legislation...
Now let's stop right now. The inability to advance climate legislation wasn't "Washington's" failure: it was a failure of Republican legislators, their tame hacks and propagandists, the carbon-energy lobby, and coal-state Democratic legislators.
Joshua Green knows who the culprits are as well as I do. But for some reason he does not believe he can say so in his lead.
Why not, Joshua? Why not?
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
Here is the full piece:
Bad Climate for Global Warming - Joshua Green - Politics - The Atlantic: Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies announced that 2010 had registered as the hottest year on record. Nothing new here: nine of the last 10 years have been among the warmest ever.
The news highlighted one of Washington's biggest failures over the last two years: its inability to advance climate legislation. It was also a grim reminder that things could get worse. Some crucial policy areas have always been neglected and some initiatives stalled. But rarely has a first-order concern like the nation's climate and energy policy actually regressed -- and so dramatically as we've seen since the last presidential election.
Not long ago, it appeared likely that the United States would take meaningful action to mitigate climate change. In the 2008 presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain touted plans to limit carbon emissions under a cap-and-trade scheme. Even Sarah Palin supported the idea. Much of the business community did, too. Adding momentum was the recent Supreme Court ruling, in Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency, that required the EPA, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Lawmakers, it was presumed, would take the matter into their own hands rather than cede that authority.
Of course, this didn't happen. Over the strenuous objections of Republicans and coal-state Democrats, the House of Representatives passed a cap-and trade bill in 2009 that met an ignominious death in the Senate. Along the way, cap-and-trade -- originally a conservative idea -- came to be vilified as "cap and tax'' and regarded by a substantial part of the conservative base as a form of fascist oppression. Today, fewer Americans believe in the reality of global warming than did so two years ago, and many took out their wrath last November on Democrats who'd supported a climate bill.
But this doesn't capture the full scale of the setback. Since that debacle, momentum in Congress has shifted strongly against climate-change legislation. If you want to frighten one of the remaining Democrats, suggest that he or she take another shot at passing cap-and-trade.
There's still the EPA. When both parties favored cap-and-trade, this option was viewed as the less desirable one. The agency could limit greenhouse gas emissions, but not through a system as flexible and efficient as cap-and-trade, which included simple improvements like building-efficiency standards that lay beyond the agency's remit. EPA regulations would thus be less effective.
The cap-and-trade bill that passed the House aimed to reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020 from their 2005 levels. A World Resources Institute study found that the most aggressive implementation of EPA regulations would only reduce emissions by 12 percent in that time frame. Scientists say reductions of 36-48 percent would be necessary to halt global warming. "Having EPA set carbon-pollution reductions was everyone's second choice for slowing global warming,'' said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "It was like 'In Case of Congressional Gridlock Break Glass.' ''
Now, the backup plan is the only plan, and "aggressive'' regulations are off the table. Last year, the EPA issued a "tailoring rule'' signaling how it intended to proceed. The results in no way resembled the fears expressed by many detractors that a burdensome new system of regulations would be imposed on small businesses. Instead, the EPA will confine its attentions strictly to the largest polluters, such as power plants, oil refineries, and chemical manufacturers.
These modest steps won't do nearly as much to slow global warming as the other, broader plans. But because the battle has shifted from the legislative to the regulatory front, the EPA nonetheless finds itself under attack from the newly empowered Republicans. One of the first things they will do is try to block EPA from establishing pollution standards, possibly by denying funds or refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless the process is slowed or halted.
It's not clear whether they'll succeed. But given the heightened importance of stronger restrictions, environmentalists can't feel good about recent developments. Earlier this week, the Obama administration said it would focus on eliminating regulations, rather than strengthening them. That's probably an accurate reading of the political climate. But for the planet's climate, it's yet another blow.
Joe Romm sends us to: NASA’s James Hansen, Reto Ruedy, Makiko Sato and Ken Lo, “2010 — Global Temperature and Europe’s Frigid Air”:
This is the warmest January-November in the GISS analysis, which covers 131 years. However, it is only a few hundredths of a degree warmer than 2005, so it is possible that the final GISS results for the full year will find 2010 and 2005 to have the same temperature within the margin of error.... November 2010 surface temperature anomalies based only on surface air measurements at meteorological stations and Antarctic research stations... to allow extreme temperature anomalies to be apparent. Northern Europe had negative anomalies of more than 4°C, while the Hudson Bay region of Canada had monthly mean anomalies greater than +10°C. The extreme warmth in Northeast Canada is undoubtedly related to the fact that Hudson Bay was practically ice free. In the past, including the GISS base period 1951-1980, Hudson Bay was largely ice-covered in November.... Sea ice insulates the atmosphere from ocean water warmth, allowing surface air to achieve temperatures much lower than that of the ocean. It is for this reason that some of the largest positive temperature anomalies on the planet occur in the Arctic Ocean as sea ice area has decreased in recent years.
The cold anomaly in Northern Europe in November has continued and strengthened in the first half of December.... [I]s it possible that reduced Arctic sea ice is affecting weather patterns?... The fixed location of the Hudson-Baffin heat source could plausibly affect weather patterns, in a deterministic way — Europe being half a Rossby wavelength downstream, thus producing a cold European anomaly in the trans-Atlantic seesaw. Several ideas about possible effects of the loss of Arctic sea ice on weather patterns are discussed in papers referenced by Overland, Wang and Walsh. However... the few years just prior to 2009-2010, with low Arctic sea ice, did not produce cold winters in Europe. The cold winter of 2009-2010 was associated with the most extreme Arctic Oscillation in the period of record.... 7 of the last 10 European winters were warmer than the 1951-1980 average winter, and 10 of the past 10 summers were warmer than climatology. The average warming of European winters is at least as large as the average warming of summers, but it is less noticeable because of the much greater variability in winter.
NASA: Hottest November on record, 2010 likely hottest year on record globally — despite deepest solar minimum in a century « Climate Progress: NASA released its monthly global temperature data, revealing November was easily the hottest in the temperature record. The “meteorological year” — December to November — was also the hottest on record. Calendar year 2010 appears poised to be the hottest on record. These records are especially impressive because we’re in the middle of a strong La Niña, which would normally cool off temperatures for a few months (relatively speaking), and we’ve been in “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.”
Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis: The Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route are largely free of ice, allowing the potential for a circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean. At least two expeditions are attempting this feat, the Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland and the Peter I yacht from Russia.
Another all-time temperature record:
Jeff Masters: Weather Underground: At 4pm local time today in Moscow, Russia, the temperature surpassed 100°F for the first time in recorded history. The high temperature of 100.8°F (37.8°C) recorded at the Moscow Observatory, the official weather location for Moscow, beat Moscow's previous record of 99.5°F (37.5°C), set just three days ago, on July 26. Prior to 2010, Moscow's hottest temperature of all-time was 36.6°C (98.2°F), set in August, 1920. Records in Moscow go back to 1879. Baltschug, another official downtown Moscow weather site, hit an astonishing 102.2°F (39.0°C) today. Finland also recorded its hottest temperature in its history today, when the mercury hit 99°F (37.2°C) at Joensuu. The old (undisputed) record was 95°F (35°C) at Jvaskyla on July 9, 1914. There is little relief in sight, as the latest forecast for Moscow predicts continued highs in the 90s for most of the coming week.
Given that the planet as a whole has seen record high temperatures the past four months in a row, it should not be a surprise to see unprecedented heat waves like the Russian heat wave. A record warm planet "loads the dice" in favor of regional heat waves more extreme than anything experienced in recorded history.... Fourteen extreme national high temperature records have been set in 2010. This year now ranks in second place for the most number of countries that have set extreme heat records, according to a list supplied to me today by Chris Burt.... Finland recorded its hottest temperature on July 29, 2010, when the mercury hit 99°F (37.2°C) at Joensuu. The old (undisputed) record was 95°F (35°C) at Jvaskyla on July 9, 1914. Qatar had its hottest temperature in history on July 14, 2010, when the mercury hit 50.4°C (122.7°F) at Doha Airport. Russia had its hottest temperature in history on July 11, when the mercury rose to 44.0°C (111.2°F) in Yashkul, Kalmykia Republic, in the European portion of Russia near the Kazakhstan border.... Sudan recorded its hottest temperature in its history on June 25 when the mercury rose to 49.6°C (121.3°F) at Dongola.... Niger tied its record for hottest day in history on June 22, 2010, when the temperature reached 47.1°C (116.8°F) at Bilma. That record stood for just one day, as Bilma broke the record again on June 23, when the mercury topped out at 48.2°C (118.8°F). The previous record was 47.1°C on May 24, 1998, also at Bilma. Saudi Arabia had its hottest temperature ever on June 22, 2010, with a reading of 52.0°C (125.6°F) in Jeddah.... Chad had its hottest day in history on June 22, 2010, when the temperature reached 47.6°C (117.7°F) at Faya.... Kuwait recorded its hottest temperature in history on June 15 in Abdaly, according to the Kuwait Met office. The mercury hit 52.6°C (126.7°F).... Iraq had its hottest day in history on June 14, 2010, when the mercury hit 52.0°C (125.6°F) in Basra.... Pakistan had its hottest temperature in history on May 26, when the mercury hit an astonishing 53.5°C (128.3°F) at the town of MohenjuDaro.... Myanmar (Burma) had its hottest temperature in its recorded history on May 12, when the mercury hit 47°C (116.6°F) in Myinmu.... Ascention Island (St. Helena, a U.K. Territory) had its hottest temperature in history on March 25, 2010, when the mercury hit 34.9°C (94.8°C) at Georgetown.... The Solomon Islands had their hottest temperature in history on February 1, 2010, when the mercury hit 36.1°C (97°F) at Lata Nendo (Ndeni).... Columbia had its hottest temperature in history on January 24, 2010, when Puerto Salgar hit 42.3°C (108°F)...
The Bellows » Innovation, and the Gas Tax: I’m not sure why anyone would argue that the imposition of a carbon price, even a relatively modest one, wouldn’t spur innovation. Price increases — the market’s signal for scarcity — lead to a range of human responses, among the most important of which is invention. The opinion that a price increase will likely lead to innovation is little more than a ratification of the idea that markets generally work. But Jim Manzi seems skeptical of this connection. And he cites variations in the gas tax rate as evidence:
Consider as an important example that most major Western European countries have had very high gas taxes – typically several dollars per gallon – for decades. But despite the efforts of lots of very smart engineers, the automobile has been a pretty stable technology for these same decades. Raising the price of gas does reduce consumption, and will of course induce some incremental innovation. But Western Europe seems to me to a big enough market so that if a low-carbon technology could be developed globally that was competitive with internal combustion in the face of a ~$5 per gallon gas tax, we already have a big enough end-use market to induce it. Why would increasing prices in America work when it hasn’t for Europe? There might be some carbon price that would radically accelerate innovation across the array of uses of fossil fuels (the limit case is simply outlawing coal and petroleum), but it has never, to my knowledge, been imposed anywhere at scale, presumably because it would impoverish any country that tried.
If you look closely, you’ll find that Manzi has gone and made the case for a carbon price in as compelling a fashion as you’re likely to find. Manzi thinks about automobiles and gas taxes and pictures a certain kind of innovation — new cars with new engines that don’t run on gas. And when he looks at Europe he doesn’t see it. But does that mean that there has been no innovation in response to the higher gas tax rates? Clearly that’s not the case. In general, Europeans do drive different automobiles, which tend to be smaller and more efficient. Some of these have been innovative enough in their design to generate raised eyebrows from American tourists (see: the Smart car). In Europe, the scooter is far more popular and differentiated (the scooter with roof is a common sight). Bicycles are also more common and differentiated, and the institutional supports for cyclists are more highly developed (cycle superhighways are old news in Europe).
And then there’s public transport....
And then, of course, there are innovations in the physical structure of the landscape....
And so on. The end result is that Europeans use a lot less gas, as Manzi acknowledges. But they don’t just reduce their consumption, as he intimates. They don’t lead lives exactly like ours, only they opt to sit at home while Americans go for Sunday drives. They have adapted and innovated their way around higher gas prices.
And the great breadth and variety of responses to higher rates is important to note. A country that sets its mind to innovating will approach problems with certain preconceived notions. They’ll say, “Well, we need to innovate our way around gasoline, so let’s see what new fuel we can find to replace it. Ethanol? Hydrogen? Electricity? We’re bound to hit on the right solution eventually.” But if you allow prices to do some of the work, you get many different solutions to the problem, many of which are far cheaper and more effective than the pre-conceived idea you had in mind. You get folks coming up with bike-sharing programs, car-sharing programs, and so on. You get effective innovation, which is exactly what we want. Manzi looks for the innovation he thinks he should see, and in the process he misses all the innovations that are actually there. And that’s precisely why the carbon price signal is so crucial.
They provide yet another set of reasons why it would be good for all of us if we were to dry it up and let it blow away right now:
Beware of Scorched-Earth Strategies in Climate Debates: [C]onservative Republicans... should resist demonizing market-based approaches to environmental protection and reverting to pre-1980s thinking that saddled business and consumers with needless costs.... [M]arket-based policies should be embraced, not condemned by Republicans.... Ronald Reagan’s Environmental Protection Agency successfully put in place a cap-and-trade system to phase out leaded gasoline... at a savings of some $250 million per year.... George H. W. Bush... a cap-and-trade system to cut by half sulfur dioxide emissions... has cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 50 percent, and has saved electricity companies... some $1 billion per year compared with a conventional, non-market approach.... If some conservatives oppose energy or climate policies because of disagreement about the threat of climate change or the costs of those policies, so be it. But in the process of debating risks and costs, there should be no tarnishing of market-based policy instruments....
Conventional approaches advanced as “painless alternatives’’ — a plethora of standards, special-interest technology subsidies, and tax breaks — won’t do the job, and will be unnecessarily expensive.... A price on carbon is the least costly way to provide meaningful incentives for technology innovation and diffusion, reduce emissions from fossil fuels, and drive energy efficiency.... Demonizing cap-and-trade in the short term will turn out to be a mistake with serious long-term consequences...
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
Is there any respect--any respect--any respect at all in which the New York Times would not be a better publication if Ross Douthat were removed, and replaced by David Leonhardt?
I cannot think of any.
Here's David Leonhardt explaining why what the New York Times prints from Ross Douthat on its op-ed page is worse than tripe:
Armageddon Wars: I — like many others, I imagine — would be thrilled if [global cooling] were what the future held. But I think there are two big reasons to doubt that... The first is basic economics. When the problem is resource scarcity, companies and individuals have a powerful incentive to become more efficient. It keeps their costs down. Mr. Simon understood this, and it’s the fundamental reason he won the [resource price trend] bet [with Ehrlich]. But global warming is different. The fact that carbon emissions are warming the planet doesn’t make it more expensive to produce those emissions. So companies do not have an ever-increasing incentive to emit less — the way they would if the problem were, say, a lack of oil. Global warming doesn’t solve itself the way that resource scarcity does.
The second reason is the accumulation of evidence. Almost as soon as Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Simon made their bet in 1980, Mr. Simon’s prediction started looking good.... In recent years, though, anyone who had bet against global warming would look as wrong as Mr. Ehrlich did. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking at an accelerating rate. Scientists have recently revised upwards their predictions of sea-level rises. The planet’s 10 hottest years on record, according to NASA, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008. This year is on pace to displace 2005 as No. 1.
The ultimate goal of climate legislation — be it the bill that the House passed last year or the bill that died in the Senate last week — is to align the incentives better, so human ingenuity can be harnessed to fight global warming. The bills would increase the cost of emitting carbon, thereby giving companies reason to emit less. Absent that, the best bet seems to be that emissions will keep rising and the planet will keep getting hotter.
State of the Climate | Global Analysis | June 2010: The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for June 2010 was the warmest on record at 16.2°C (61.1°F), which is 0.68°C (1.22°F) above the 20th century average of 15.5°C (59.9°F). The previous record for June was set in 2005. June 2010 was the fourth consecutive warmest month on record (March, April, and May 2010 were also the warmest on record). This was the 304th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below-average temperature was February 1985. The June worldwide averaged land surface temperature was 1.07°C (1.93°F) above the 20th century average of 13.3°C (55.9°F)—the warmest on record. It was the warmest April–June (three-month period) on record for the global land and ocean temperature and the land-only temperature. The three-month period was the second warmest for the world's oceans, behind 1998. It was the warmest June and April–June on record for the Northern Hemisphere as a whole and all land areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It was the warmest January–June on record for the global land and ocean temperature. The worldwide land on average had its second warmest January–June, behind 2007. The worldwide averaged ocean temperature was the second warmest January–June, behind 1998...
Economic Scene - Overcome by Heat and Inertia: This city just endured its hottest June since records began in 1872, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So did Miami. Atlanta suffered its second-hottest June, and Dallas had its third hottest. In New York, the weather was relatively pleasant: only the fourth-hottest June since 1872. Then again, New York is on pace for its hottest July on record. Yet when United States senators and their aides file into work on Wednesday, on yet another 90-degree day, they may be on the verge of deciding to do approximately nothing about global warming. The needed 60 votes don’t seem to be there, at least not at the moment.... [T]he odds of a major climate bill are not great. And if this White House and this Democratic Congress can’t pass one, you have to wonder what the future of climate policy looks like. All the while, the risks and costs of climate change grow. Sea levels are rising faster than scientists predicted just a few years ago. Himalayan glaciers are melting. In the American West, pine beetles (which struggle to survive the cold) are multiplying and killing trees.
According to NASA, 2010 is on course to be the planet’s hottest year since records started in 1880. The current top 10, in descending order, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008.
Hot is the new normal.
The most efficient way to begin attacking the global swelter is no mystery. It involves raising the price of carbon emissions, which are warming the planet, and then letting the private sector find innovative ways to use less dirty energy. Conservative economists, like Gregory Mankiw, support this approach. So do liberals, like Joseph Stiglitz. But taxing carbon has never had much of a political chance. It’s too honest. It acknowledges that the best way to reduce the use of a product is to increase its price. We would all prefer a free lunch. So Congress has been laboring to disguise a price increase in a more palatable package.... Republican leaders, though, were only too happy to cast cap and trade as “cap and tax.”... The sad paradox is that cap and trade — which trusts in the efficiency of markets — was originally a Republican policy, signed by the first President Bush to reduce acid rain....
[T]he fuel economy rules from the 1970s that required car companies to make fewer gas guzzlers. The newly imposed scarcity of guzzlers, in turn, increased their price. But the relationship wasn’t obvious. Americans do not think of fuel economy rules as a tax on large vehicles. This explains why the rule-based approach seems to be the best bet for winning Republican votes. Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, has proposed new rules not just for vehicles but also for appliances, building codes and power plants. If these regulations were tough enough, they could make a difference, as the fuel economy rules have. So some Democrats and environmentalists see this approach as their best remaining chance.... On the other hand, such rules would require government regulators to make all kinds of decisions — about which dishwashers qualified as efficient, about which alternative energies power plants had to use and the like.... The result would almost certainly be higher, albeit better disguised, costs than with a carbon cap or tax.... Thus the opposition among other Democrats and environmentalists to accepting the Lugar approach as a compromise — and Mr. Reid’s difficulty in finding 60 votes for it....
Robert Stavins, the Harvard economist, told me he would actually prefer a bill that cut emissions less in the short term but created a template for much bigger cuts in the future. “Success, to me, would be the beginning of political acceptance of carbon pricing,” he said. I’ll confess to being torn about these arguments. A utility-only cap, even a flawed one, really would represent a whole different kind of progress than a souped-up version of fuel economy rules. A cap — any decent cap — remains the best benchmark of success. Yet if the Lugar approach were the only one that could pass, should we be so confident that it would put off further action? It’s not clear to me how another failure on energy policy will somehow make success more likely in the future.
All of this will be decided in the next few weeks, before the Senate breaks for its August recess, or in September, before the midterm election campaign takes over. Meanwhile, the temperature in Washington this week is supposed to hit 99.
Menzie Chinn sends us to NOAA:
Econbrowser: May Global Surface Mean Temp Anomalies: Business Week on record temperatures on the East Coast; AOL on global climate change and the probabilities of record-setting temperature episodes. See also Christian Science Monitor:
Indeed, 2010 is set to be one of the worldâ€™s hottest years on record, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the first five months of the year was the warmest on record, and 1.22 degrees F warmer than the 20th century average, the NOAA states in its May 2010 State of the Climate Global Analysis.
I wonder whether the paperback edition of SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance will still claim that recently the globe has been cooling...
NASA: Easily the hottest spring — and Jan-May — in temperature record: Lmonth tied May 1998 as the hottest on record in the NASA dataset. More significantly, following fast on the heels of easily the hottest April — and hottest Jan-April — on record, it’s also the hottest Jan-May on record.... The record temperatures we’re seeing now are especially impressive because we’ve been in “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.” It’s just hard to stop the march of manmade global warming, well, other than by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that is....
Of course, there never was any global cooling — see Must-read AP story: Statisticians reject global cooling; Caldeira — “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.”... NASA’s recent draft paper reported: “We conclude that global temperature continued to rise rapidly in the past decade” and “that there has been no reduction in the global warming trend of 0.15-0.20°C/decade that began in the late 1970s.”
For the record, it was the second hottest April in both satellite records (UAH and RSS), which are more sensitive to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) than the land records and have biases of their own (as Hansen discusses here). Although I’m sure it’s just another coincidence, but just as NOAA noted “North American snow cover for April 2010 was the smallest on record,” Rutgers University’s Global Snow Lab again reports a record low snow cover in the entire northern hemisphere for the month of May...
Umm... This ain't rocket science. This really ain't rocket science at all...
Cass Sunstein Wants to Nudge Us: In OIRA’s cost-benefit calculations, the government’s willingness to spend depends on how expensive the damage will be — on what economists call the social cost of carbon. Sunstein and others in the government have spent several months trying to define this cost, and he talked me through the process. One of the most important issues is the discount rate — the depreciation of money over time. All else being equal, if given a choice between paying $1 million now and $1 million five years from now, economists will choose to pay later. After all, if money depreciates at say, 3 percent a year, then spending $1 million today is the equivalent of spending only about $860,000 of today’s dollars five years from now. Over very long periods, like those involved in climate change, the discount rates that are applied to short-term problems like budgets build toward absurdity: using one common method, spending $1 million today to forestall climate change would be the equivalent of spending $2,300 in 2100. Calculations like this seem to argue against doing anything now. The problem, Sunstein says, is that we might do irreversible damage to the planet while blithely waiting for the price of action to drop just enough.... As an academic, Sunstein seemed to side with economists like William Nordhaus at Yale, who set the discount rate at about 5 percent, which would counsel patience. “It’s not clear what direction the risk of error cuts in,” he told me. “If we err, 7 percent could be bad,” he said, but “if we err, 1 percent could be bad also.” A low a discount rate might protect the environment by spurring us to sacrifice now — while damaging the economy, increasing poverty and putting more people out of work. The difficulty is that the experts are lined up “out the door and down the block on both sides of this issue,” one economist told me...
Here we have yet another example of why law professors should simply not be allowed to practice law and economics or moral philosophy without a license--and of how Cass Sunstein has never bothered to do the work necessary to acquire a license to practice law and economics.
First, "irreversible damage": we are doing irreversible damage to the environment every day in that every day human activity brings more species closer to extinction, and natural or artificial selection would never be able to resurrect them no matter how much money we would spend trying to do so. The question that must be asked: is how much we care--how damaging is the "irreversible damage," and what other goods are we willing to forego in order to avoid it? What Sunstein implies--that "irreversible damage" is something that must be avoided and that trumps cost-benefit calculations--is simply incoherent, and does nothing other than perform the function of getting him onto Obama administration message without admitting that he does not understand why the cost-benefit analysis tools he loves so much are leading him to what is for an Obama administration official an off-message conclusion.
Second, the cost-benefit analysis tools Cass Sunstein loves so much are leading him to an off-message conclusion only because Sunstein does not understand how to use them. Nick Stern's Climate Change Report uses the same tools and leads to a very different conclusion than "argu[ing] against doing anything now." The shortcut way to understand why is that there are actually three discount rates to be used in cost-benefit analysis here--(i) a nominal interest discount rate to be used for money values, (ii) a real interest discount rate to be used for real values, and (iii) a human discount rate to be used for human lives and their quality. (Plus there are risk adjustments that I won't go into here.) We tend to read the money-discount and the real-discount rates off of the market yields on long-term Treasury bonds and on long-term TIPS. But neither is appropriate if what is at stake is human lives and their quality--then something more like the TIPS yield minus the expected rate of growth of labor productivity is appropriate.
At the moment the real TIPS yield is 1.79% per year. The expected labor productivity growth rate is something north of 1.6% per year. That calls for a human-lives-and-their-quality discount rate, to be applied to global warming expenditures now, of 0.19% per year AT MOST.
Wallace-Wells's and Sunstein's 3% per year discount rate would be the right one if the human, life, and welfare cost of a given tragedy were the same in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2100 as it is today--if the amount of real value we would wish to spend to avoid a chance of 10,000,000 Bengalis drowning in 2110 would be the same as the real value we would spend to avoid a chance of 10,000,000 Bengalis drowning in the next hurricane season. But it won't be: we expect technology to progress over the next ninety years, and thus for us to be capable of and want to and be willing to spend much more money to guard against human catastrophes a century hence. Today we have 6 billion people on the world with income per capita of $7,000 a year. In 2110 we expect to have 9 billion people on the world with income per capita of $56,000 per year. Thus we expect that inasmuch as they will be richer than we are that they will value human lives and high quality lives more highly in real values and be willing to spend more to preserve and enhance them than we are.
To argue that they will not be--that avoiding a 1% chance of 10,000,000 drowned Bangalis will be worth spending no more in real value on in 2110 than it is today--is to be a moral monster.
Or a cost-benefit analyst who does not understand how to use his tools.
And we are live at The Week:
Global Warming Panic Attack - The Week: Media personalities and Freakonomicists claim that the planet has recently experienced global cooling. But according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years.
If global temperatures continue rising at the rate they have risen for the past generation, then the world of 2100 will be 2.3 degrees Celsius – that’s 4.1 degrees Farenheit -- hotter than the world of the 1970s. If global warming accelerates, however, as industrializing China, India and other countries pour more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and as Indonesia, Brazil, and others cut and burn their forests, the world in 2100 will be 5 Celsius -- 9 Farenheit -- degrees hotter than the world of the 1970s.
In a more hopeful vein, if we are lucky, we might discover powerful carbon-sink processes that absorb carbon dioxide or reflective-cooling technology that reduces warming. Or we might discover magical new non-greenhouse-gas emitting technologies that can be deployed more cheaply than current carbon-based technologies. In any of these scenarios, we may wind up with a world in 2100 that is little warmer than the world of the 1970s. At least we can hope.
But hope is not a plan. The world was supposed to plan at Kyoto. It did not. Subsequently, it was supposed to plan at Copenhagen. Again it did not.
So right now I am panicking. And in my panicked state, I become shrill and unrealistic. So I am calling for four actions--at least one of which, in particular, is robustly unappealing.
Beg the rulers of China and India to properly understand their long-term interests;
Nationalize the energy industry in the United States;
Pour money into research on closed-carbon and non-carbon energy technologies in order to maximize the chance that we will get lucky on energy technologies if not on climate sensitivity.
Restrict future climate negotiations to a group of seven -- the U.S., the E.U., Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil -- and enforce agreement by substantial and painful trade sanctions on countries that do not accept the demands of the resulting negotiated system.
In a later column, I will address points (3) and (4). Meantime, let me just talk about (1) and (2).
First, I want us to beg the rulers of China and India to understand their own situation. Unless the North Atlantic Conveyor shuts down and Europe returns to the climate of the Younger Dryas Era (the big freeze of more than 10,000 years ago), global warming will not be hugely problematic for the North Atlantic economies -- at least not for a century. We’ll mourn the loss of our glaciers and snow packs. We’ll lament the extinction of polar bears, the coral reefs, and the giant sequoias. But we’ll welcome extra sunny days to go to the beach. We’ll move a few miles north, relocate economic activity to get out of the paths of hurricanes and droughts, turn down our heaters, turn up our air conditioners, and live our lives. It would be expensive for us to adapt to warming -- more expensive, I believe, than dealing with the problem -- but we could do so.
But China, India and their neighbors in the great river valleys of Asia will soon be home to three billion farming peasants. These farmers depend on the regular monsoon rains and the river flows of the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong, the Yangtze, and the Yellow Rivers. Global warming means their climate will change. There will either be much more precipitation in the valleys feeding the rivers, or much less. If there is much less, hundreds of millions will face drought and famine. If there is much more, millions will likely die in floods and the dwelling and working places of hundreds of millions will be washed away. Unlike North Americans, Asia’s peasant-farming populations are not rich enough simply to adapt.
So we need to beg the rulers of China and India to understand their long-term interests. The welfare of their countries over the next four generations depends on gaining rapid control of global warming. Their own personal survival — unless they want mobs descending on their homes, dragging them and their descendants into the streets — depends on it. And because either China or India is going to be the globe’s dominant superpower in a century, even if they are clobbered by climate change, pleasing that future superpower now is in every country’s interest. So we need to beg the rulers of China and India to recognize their own long-term interest, and to help us get this climate-control party started.
Allow me to make the first entreaty. Rulers of China and India: I beg you. Get on board. Please.
Second, I want us to nationalize the open-carbon-cycle energy industry in the United States.
In the 1960s it became clear that the price of oil in the United States should be higher. Because of powerful congestion and pollution externalities, we were over-investing in the automobile civilization. A larger tax on oil would have nudged the economy closer to the social optimum.
In the 1970s it became very clear that the price of oil in the United States needed to be even higher. Because of instability in the Middle East, our dependence on that region as a major source of energy created unacceptable geopolitical risks. A larger tax on oil would have nudged the economy into a new configuration, mitigating the danger.
At the start of the 1990s it became painfully clear that the price of carbon energy needed to be higher: the global warming threat was upon us. Yet the price increase never materialized. It never happened because of what the inner circle around my ex-boss, former Texas Senator and U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, used to call the “ullengaz” industry – “oil and gas.” This potent industry has blocked desirable public policy regulation for nearly fifty years now.
In general, I am opposed to state-run, nationalized industries: managing industry is without a doubt the private sector’s role, not the government’s. As a neoclassical economist, I risk having my union card revoked when I advocate government ownership of what otherwise could be a profit-making private enterprise.
But the interaction of rent-seeking industry with a flawed political system has made me willing to make an exception in the case of America’s carbon-based energy industry. True, government ownership will increase inefficiency and the misallocation of resources. But it will also increase political efficiency, since the energy industry will no longer be able to purchase Members of Congress and use them to strangle the policy innovations needed to advance the national interest. So nationalize the carbon energy sector -- not to expropriate wealth or to penalize shareholders, but to remove a selfish and destructive political force that threatens our future.
Radical proposals? Yes.
Indeed, you may think they are shrill, impractical, and utopian proposals. (I, also think they are shrill, impractical, and utopian proposals.) You may think we should instead continue down the energy and environmental policy path we have traveled so many times before, meeting the same legislative roadblocks. You may think that we should simply try again, and hope that this time it turns out differently.
We are live in the Los Angeles Times:
Global warming, new NASA data: It is about time to panic.
According to the NASA data, we have just experienced the hottest 12-month period in more than 100 years, which means that the past 12 months have been the hottest in at least the past 1,000 years.
What does this mean? Well, if global temperatures continue to rise at the rate that they have risen for the past generation, then the world of 2100 will see a world 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the world of the 1970s. New York will get the climate of Washington. Los Angeles will get the climate of Tijuana.
But global warming might accelerate, especially if China, India and other industrializing powers continue to increase the amount of carbon dioxide they pour out. Perhaps the world by 2100 will be 9 degrees hotter than the world of the 1970s. That would give Washington the climate of Miami and Los Angeles the climate of Cabo San Lucas.
And we might get lucky. We might learn that the climate is in fact immensely stable on the upside. Even though past ice ages have ended quickly with very rapid warming, perhaps there are factors in the Earth's biosphere that allow it to soak up excess carbon dioxide quickly, like a sponge, and perhaps the world of 2100 will not be much warmer than the world of today. Or perhaps we will discover magical new energy technologies that are actually cheaper than our current technologies and will be rapidly adopted without the governments of the world lifting a finger to take action.
But that is not the prudent way to bet. The prudent thing to do is to plan, and to hedge: to plan for the most likely case, and to hedge by taking precautions — insurance — against the worst case. The world was supposed to plan how to deal with our global warming future at Kyoto. And then the world was supposed to plan for how to deal with our global warming future at Copenhagen. It did not do so.
So what do we do now?
Let us start with our global institutions. It is a fact that global warming is not likely to be a total human catastrophe here in California during the next 100 years. We will mourn the losses of our glaciers and our snowpack. We will lament the extinction of the polar bear, the coral reefs and the giant sequoias. We will be distressed at the transformation of California's Central Valley into the north Mojave Desert. But many San Franciscans really won't mind having the climate of Los Angeles. And many Angelenos will not be greatly distressed to have the climate of Tijuana. We will probably move a few miles north and relocate economic activity to get out of the paths of hurricanes and droughts. We will turn down our heaters and turn up our air conditioners. We will live our lives. It will be expensive for us to simply adapt, and it would be cheaper over the next century to deal with the problem. But here in California, there's little question we will be able to adapt without immediate human catastrophe for the next century.
That's not the case for Asia. China, India and their neighbors will soon have 3 billion peasants farming in the great river valleys of Asia. They depend on regular monsoon rains in the valleys and water flows down the channels of the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers. Global climate change means that there will either be more precipitation in the valleys and feeding the rivers — or much less. If there is more, millions will die in floods, and the dwelling and working places of hundreds of millions will simply be washed away. The 3 billion are not rich enough to abandon their land and move away. They are also not rich enough to protect themselves. If there is much less water, hundreds of millions will die in famine and drought. Again, the peasant farming populations of Asia are not rich enough to abandon their land and move away. And they are also not rich enough to bring icebergs up from the Antarctic and pipe the water uphill from the sea to their farms.
The peasant farming populations are not rich enough to simply adapt. So the first thing we need to do is to beg the rulers of China and India to understand their nations' long-term interest.
But even if China and India understand and join the North Atlantic and the island nations of the Pacific in understanding the immensity of the long-run problem, that will not be enough. In the current international forum, China and India are simply two out of a 150 nations, and consensus is required. That is just too big a body with too many conflicting interests.
So the second thing we need to do is change the forum. We need a climate council made up of the seven governments that have the biggest power to influence the climate and the most at stake: the United States and the European Union, along with Japan, China, India, Indonesia and Brazil. Once the council has agreed to a treaty, it should be enorced by using aggressive and substantial trade sanctions against outsider countries that do not want to come up to the mark.
Utopian? Yes. Impractical? Probably. But what is the practical and realistic alternative that it would be better to push for?