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2017 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #12

March 25, 2017 - 1:53pm

A chronological listing of the news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week.

Editor's Picks

Record-breaking climate change pushes world into ‘uncharted territory’


A boat lies in the dry Cedro reservoir in Quixadá, Brazil. Climate change increases the risk of extreme weather events like drought. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise.

Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows.

Record-breaking climate change pushes world into ‘uncharted territory’ by Damian Carrington, Guardian, Mar 20, 2017

Fighting Ocean Pollution and Climate Change Is a Two-Front War

Speaking to Pacific island leaders and diplomats in Suva last week, the incoming President of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn in November (COP23), Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, said his most important goal was to preserve the multilateral consensus for decisive action on climate change that was reached in the Paris Climate Change Agreement at the end of 2015.

“We cannot afford to have any government renege on the commitments that were made. Many countries face short-term domestic pressures, and there is no doubt that changing the behaviors that led us to this crisis will not be easy, but the rewards will be great. And besides, we have no choice,” he said.

The Fijian Prime Minister was speaking at a preparatory meeting for the UN Ocean Conference in June. The conference is designed to help reverse the decline in the health of world’s oceans, currently under threat from growing pollution and the impacts of climate change.

“In a very real sense, we are fighting a two-front war. One front is the fight to keep the oceans clean and to sustain the marine plant and animal life on which we depend for our livelihoods and that keep the earth in proper balance,” the Fijian leader said. “The other front is the fight to slow the growth of global warming and, unfortunately, also to adapt to the changes we know are coming - to rising seas, encroaching sea water, violent storms and periods of drought.”

Fighting Ocean Pollution and Climate Change Is a Two-Front War. by Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, UNFCCC/COP-23, Mar 20, 2017

Business leaders urge G20 to put climate change back on agenda

Children play amid icebergs on the beach in Nuuk, Greenland, June 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alister Doyle

Business executives and scientists on Tuesday urged the world's leading economies to put global warming back on the G20 agenda after finance ministers and central bankers failed to reaffirm their readiness to finance measures against climate change.

The G20's outreach organizations for business (B20), think tanks (T20) and civil society groups (C20) urged the Group of 20 leading economies in a joint statement to take fast and fundamental action to counter rising temperatures.

"Climate change represents one of the largest risks to sustainable development, inclusiveness, equitable economic growth and financial stability," the statement said.

"We need to be sure that (G20 leaders) will fulfill existing international climate-related commitments, foremost the Paris Agreement," it said.

The statement was signed by B20 chair Kurt Bock, who is also CEO of chemicals group BASF BASF.DE, and several leading scientists, including Ottmar Edenhofer from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change.

Business leaders urge G20 to put climate change back on agenda by Gernot Heller & Michael Nienaber, Reuters, Mar 21, 2017

Arctic Sea Ice Sets Record-Low Peak for Third Year

Constant warmth punctuated by repeated winter heat waves stymied Arctic sea ice growth this winter, leaving the winter sea ice cover missing an area the size of California and Texas combined and setting a record-low maximum for the third year in a row.

Even in the context of the decades of greenhouse gas-driven warming, and subsequent ice loss in the Arctic, this winter’s weather stood out.

“I have been looking at Arctic weather patterns for 35 years and have never seen anything close to what we’ve experienced these past two winters,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which keeps track of sea ice levels, said in a statement.

Arctic Sea Ice Sets Record-Low Peak for Third Year by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Mar 22, 2017

El Niño's Odds to Return By Late Summer or Fall Increasing

The odds of El Niño's development by the late summer or early fall have increased, according to the latest output from forecast model guidance.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) officially declared La Niña's end in early February as sea temperatures have steadily warmed in the equatorial region of the central and eastern Pacific, and we're now in the neutral phase of the oscillation. Neutral means that neither La Niña or El Niño conditions exist.

As shown below, models currently suggest we'll be in the neutral category through the spring and into the early summer months (April-May-June, or AMJ), but after that, sea temperatures could be warm enough for El Niño conditions to take over.

The chance for various phases of El Niño, according to IRI's mid-March model-based probabilistic forecast. Red bars show the probability of El Niño's development during each three-month period. (International Research Institute for Climate and Society)

El Niño's Odds to Return By Late Summer or Fall Increasing by Jonathan Belles & Brian Donegan, WunderBlog, Weather Undergound, Mar 23, 2017 

Sun Mar 19, 2017

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Sat Mar 26, 2017

Elevator Pitches - Chapter 02 - Radiative Gases

March 24, 2017 - 11:29am

This is another excerpt from my book 28 Climate Change Elevator Pitches. I'll be publishing one chapter here on SkS each month.

[Click here for larger image]

Chapter 02

Radiative Gases

A Musical Basis for Scattering Heat

The scientific basis for understanding climate goes back to the 1820’s when brilliant French mathematician Joseph Fourier first proposed the idea that our planet’s atmosphere had heat-trapping properties. Fourier was trying to calculate what should be the temperature of a planet at our distance from the sun. He derived a figure about 33°C (59°F) colder than the actual average temperature of the Earth. For his figures to be correct, he thought gases in our atmosphere must have “radiative properties” with the capacity to absorb and re-emit heat energy. When visible sunlight passes through our atmosphere it warms the surface of the Earth. The heat that is emitted upward we refer to as infrared radiation, or IR. Infrared radiation is just another wavelength of energy which is invisible to the human eye, but we can feel that energy as heat. It’s this heat energy that is scattered by radiative gases in the atmosphere.

In the 1850’s a British scientist, John Tyndall, devised an apparatus enabling him to measure the heat absorbing properties of various gases. Earth’s atmosphere is composed primarily of nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%). The remaining 1 percent of gases are known as “trace gases.” Tyndall discovered that the radiative properties of nitrogen and oxygen are insignificant and transparent to infrared radiation (heat). But, he further discovered that some trace gases do efficiently block heat. 

But, how does this work? Why would one gas be transparent to heat and another gas block it? 

The most common radiative gases in our atmosphere are water (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and to a lesser extent, methane (CH4), so let’s look at how these molecules are constructed. The first two have a single core atom with two other atoms attached to it. With H2O, there is a central oxygen atom with two hydrogen atoms attached. With CO2, there is a central carbon atom and two oxygen atoms attached. You can picture these being something like soap bubbles joined together, but imagine if you can, that these soap bubbles have an electromagnetic field incorporated into them. This electromagnetic field gently locks the molecule into a specific configuration. That magnetic field also allows the atoms to wobble around a bit as the molecule is floating about in the atmosphere. Methane is somewhat similarly constructed as CO2, but with a central carbon atom surrounded on four sides by hydrogen atoms making it a far more potent radiative gas than the others. 

Infrared radiation is a wavelength of light. In a way, it’s analogous to sound waves traveling through the air. If you tap an A note tuning fork on your knee and then hold it against the soundboard of a guitar the A-string of the guitar will vibrate sympathetically. Infrared radiation also has a frequency range, so when visible sunlight (higher frequency energy) comes in and hits the surface of the planet, that energy warms the surface. The surface then emits lower frequency energy as heat (IR) back up through the atmosphere. 

The capacity of these molecules to vibrate (the “wobbling”) is “tuned” like the guitar string and when infrared radiation in the right frequency interacts with these gases, the molecule vibrates sympathetically. What they’re doing is absorbing and re-emitting that IR heat energy. The difference with the dominant molecules, like oxygen (O2) and nitrogen (N2), is they can’t vibrate in this same manner nor at the same frequency ranges, thus they are invisible to IR. 

That is the fundamental physics of climate change: the vibrational modes of greenhouse gases acting to absorb and scatter heat energy in the atmosphere. This was a cutting-edge discovery of the mid-19th century but now an indisputable fact of science. Scientists have empirically measured, modeled, and applied these facts in numerous ways for well over a century.

Global warming is increasing rainfall rates

March 22, 2017 - 1:36am

he world is warming because humans are emitting heat-trapping greenhouse gases. We know this for certain; the science on this question is settled. Humans emit greenhouse gases, those gases should warm the planet, and we know the planet is warming. All of those statements are settled science.

Okay so what? Well, we would like to know what the implications are. Should we do something about it or not? How should we respond? How fast will changes occur? What are the costs of action compared to inaction? These are all areas of active research.

Part of answering these questions requires knowing how weather will change as the Earth warms. One weather phenomenon that directly affects humans is the pattern, amount, and intensity of rainfall and the availability of water. Water is essential wherever humans live, for agriculture, drinking, industry, etc. Too little water and drought increases risk of wild fires and can debilitate societies. Too much water and flooding can occur, washing away infrastructure and lives.

It’s a well-known scientific principle that warmer air holds more water vapor. In fact, the amount of moisture that can be held in air grows very rapidly as temperatures increase. So, it’s expected that in general, air will get moister as the Earth warms – provided there is a moisture source. This may cause more intense rainfalls and snow events, which lead to increased risk of flooding. 

But warmer air can also more quickly evaporate water from surfaces. This means that areas where it’s not precipitating dry out more quickly. In fact, it’s likely that some regions will experience both more drought and more flooding in the future (just not at the same time!). The dry spells are longer and with faster evaporation causing dryness in soils. But, when the rains fall, they come in heavy downpours potentially leading to more floods. The recent flooding in California – which followed a very intense and prolonged drought – provides a great example.

Okay so what have we observed? It turns out our expectations were correct. Observations reveal more intense rainfalls and flooding in some areas. But in other regions there’s more evaporation and drying with increased drought. Some areas experience both.

Some questions remain. When temperatures get too high, there’s no continued increase in intense rain events. In fact, heavy precipitation events decrease at the highest temperatures. There are some clear reasons for this but for brevity, regardless of where measurements are made on Earth, there appears to be an increase of precipitation with temperature up until a peak and thereafter, more warming coincides with decreased precipitation. 

A new clever study by Dr. Guiling Wang from the University of Connecticut and her colleagues has looked into this and they’ve made a surprising discovery. Their work was just published in Nature Climate Change. They report that the peak temperature (the temperature where maximum precipitation occurs) is not fixed in space or time. It is increasing in a warming world. 

The idea is shown in the sketch below. Details vary with location but, as the world warms, there is a shift from one curve to the next, from left to right. The result is a shift such that more intense precipitation occurs at higher temperatures in future, while the drop-off moves to even higher temperatures. 

An idealized example of increasing precipitation curves as the world warms for the Midwest. Illustration: John Abraham

The authors also looked at how we characterize the temperature/precipitation relationship. Traditionally, we have related precipitation events to the local average temperature. However, it’s clear that there’s a strong relationship between the peak temperature and the precipitation rates. In fact, relations reveal that precipitation rates are increasing between 5 and 10% for every degree C increase. The expected rate of increase, just based on thermodynamics is 7%.

The authors find that in some parts of the globe, the relationship is even stronger. For instance, in the tropics, there’s more than a 10% increase in precipitation for a degree Celsius increase in temperature. This is not unexpected because precipitation releases latent heat, which can in turn invigorate storms. 

From a practical standpoint, this helps us plan for climate change (it is already occurring) including planning resiliency. In the United States, there has been a marked increase in the most intense rainfall events across the country. This has resulted in more severe flooding throughout the country. 

In my state, we have had four 1000-year floods since the year 2000! Two years ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota had such flooding that people were literally fishing in the streets as lakes and streams overflowed and fish escaped the banks. No joke, I actually observed fish swimming past me as I waded up a street. This occurrence is being observed elsewhere in my country and around the world. 

It falls upon city planners and engineers to design infrastructure that is more able to accommodate heavy rains and manage water. This means designing river containment areas or flood plains, reinforcing buildings and houses, and increasing the capacity of storm drainage in urban areas, just to name a few. These modifications present costs but not preparing for increased flooding poses even greater financial and social costs. Moreover, storing water from times when there is too much for the inevitable times when we have too little (drought), results in better water management and multiple benefits.

This shows why climate science is so important. The US government is in the process of decimating our climate science infrastructure. The current US congress and our president have lost the battle of science – they have no reputable scientists to hide behind in their climate change denial. But, what they are doing instead is decapitating our ability to predict and plan for the future. By defunding organizations like NASA, the EPA, and NOAA, they are making us fly blind into a future.

Click here to read the rest

2017 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #11

March 18, 2017 - 1:02pm

A chronological listing of the news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week.

Sun Mar 12, 2017

Mon Mar 13, 2017

Tue Mar 14, 2017

Wed Mar 15, 2017

Thu Mar 16, 2017

Fri Mar 17, 2017

Sat Mar 18, 2017

A Perfect (Twitter) Storm

March 14, 2017 - 3:05am

Last week an entertaining barrage of tweets erupted from Dr. Gavin Schmidt's account in response to a blog piece written by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Being that Adams' original tweet promoting his blog post makes the presumptuous claim of "saving the world" by teaching climate scientists how to communicate science, you can only imagine how this would raise the ire of more than a few actual real-life experts.


Aside from the ludicrous notion that saving the world somehow pivots on convincing "skeptics", Adams' fundamental fallacy is the notion that it's the job of climate scientists to convince "skeptics" that climate change is real. What we know from research is, when someone has taken a specific position as a "skeptic" of man-made climate change, adding more information generally produces a backfire effect. They actually reject the science more in response to more information. It doesn't matter how persuasive you are. Most anyone who has already made this choice is not going to be persuaded, regardless of how the science is packaged.

Schmidt's initial response suggests that he fully understands this, saying upfront that his comment would be unlikely to change Adams' thinking. And subsequent tweets from Adams confirm his expectation. But, for those who follow climate science and the public debate, Schmidt's tweets serve as an entertaining take down of Adams' untethered world-view.

Down the Rabbit Hole, then a Hard Right

For anyone who's spent time following Scott Adam's blog, you will know this is an utterly bizarre world of anti-logic where "persuasion" is the dog whistle of choice. I would describe his blog as an authoritarian version of Lewis Carol meets the Beatles on acid. The rhetoric is hard and absolute, not to be challenged, whilst the logic is non-linear, rejecting basic ideas like the existence of reality.

None of Adams' concepts are supported in any manner. He produces no research tied to it. There is no rigorous method applied to rationalize it. It's little more than cultish ramblings validated by a small loyal following acquired through his previous success as a cartoonist. 

Exit the 140 Character Limit

Gavin does a great job of explaining Scott's errors within the limitations of a Twitter thread. Other bloggers have also taken up the exchange at Greg Laden's Blog and at And Then There's Physics. But we can also take a little more time and look at these points individually.

Adams opens with this passage...

I don’t know much about science, and even less about climate science. So as a practical matter, I like to side with the majority of scientists until they change their collective minds. They might be wrong, but their guess is probably better than mine.

That said, it is mind-boggling to me that the scientific community can’t make a case for climate science that sounds convincing, even to some of the people on their side, such as me. In other words, I think scientists are right (because I play the odds), but I am puzzled by why they can’t put together a convincing argument, whereas the skeptics can, and easily do. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

As a public service, and to save the planet, obviously, I will tell you what it would take to convince skeptics that climate science is a problem that we must fix. Please avoid the following persuasion mistakes.

One might reasonably assume that the points that followed would make a serious attempt to demonstrate where the scientific community doesn't make convincing arguments, and one might assume examples of strong "skeptic" points. As you'll see, neither are delivered. Instead we're left with the sense Adams is not only far out of his depth relative to climate science, but he's also far removed from what actual cognitive research finds. 

His list of points follow:

"1. Stop telling me the “models” (plural) are good. If you told me one specific model was good, that might sound convincing. But if climate scientists have multiple models, and they all point in the same general direction, something sounds fishy. If climate science is relatively “settled,” wouldn’t we all use the same models and assumptions?"

Here Adams show us his severely limited understanding of what climate models actually are. He fails to grasp the idea that climate models are a boundary conditions experiment rather than an initial conditions one. You can't create one really good computer model and ever expect that it will be representative of the planetary climate system when what's being modeled is a chaotic system. Even reality wouldn't operate this way!

Think of it like this. If you could instantly replicate the Earth (solar system and all) and start both Earth(a) and Earth(b) in precisely the same states, within a short time the two climate systems would diverge, even though they would continue to operate within the limits of the forcings imposed on them. This is what models also do. What models and model runs are telling us is, what are the boundary conditions within which the climate system will progress given known forcings.

2. Stop telling me the climate models are excellent at hindcasting, meaning they work when you look at history. That is also true of financial models, and we know financial models can NOT predict the future. We also know that investment advisors like to show you their pure-luck past performance to scam you into thinking they can do it in the future. To put it bluntly, climate science is using the most well-known scam method (predicting the past) to gain credibility.

Again, Adams does not grasp what climate models are. There is a functional difference between financial/economic models and climate models in that climate models are bound by physics (link). Financial models are statistical rather than physics based. Conflating the two is essentially a way to avoid making the effort to understand the value proposition climate modeling presents to the body of science.

3. Tell me what percentage of warming is caused by humans versus natural causes. If humans are 10% of the cause, I am not so worried. If we are 90%, you have my attention. And if you leave out the percentage caused by humans, I have to assume the omission is intentional. And why would you leave out the most important number if you were being straight with people? Sounds fishy.

Anyone who follows climate science – even peripherally – will understand Adams is ignorant of human attribution research.  The only thing fishy here is that Scott doesn't even attempt to research this before making an assumption and expounding on the subject in a blog post.

The single most discussed part of the IPCC reports is the attribution statement! They state that most or all of the warming of the past 50 years is very likely due to human contributions of greenhouse gases. Gavin demonstrates that the likely contribution is 110%. It's not like this is hidden information. It's not like it hasn't been discussed ad nauseam on almost every climate blog around, for years. Scott merely hasn't read it yet, and has the audacity to presume he has something of value to offer to the scientific community on how to communicate this matter.

4. Stop attacking some of the messengers for believing that our reality holds evidence of Intelligent Design. Climate science alarmists need to update their thinking to the “simulated universe” idea that makes a convincing case that we are a trillion times more likely to be a simulation than we are likely to be the first creatures who can create one. No God is required in that theory, and it is entirely compatible with accepted science. (Even if it is wrong.)

Gavin waved this one off, for good reason, but this touches on the untethered aspect of Adams' world view that I mentioned above. It's a big non sequitur dropped into this topic, for what reason, we don't know.

Personally, I have no problem admitting that I do not understand quantum mechanics. I've read a number of popular books about it. I think it's a fascinating subject which I'm always eager to try to understand more. But QM is a world that is far outside of what we experience in our everyday lives. There is also an incredible void of experimental evidence that can validate what scientists say about the quantum realm. With QM there are many highly trained physicists poring through the math. They're checking the concepts. They're publishing research and arguing with each other to validate the concepts. Ultimately it all has to be testable to a level to convince the broader scientific community that there are realistic claims being made.

In this, even as a non-scientist, I can simultaneously not fully understand the subject but have a strong sense that, however strange the quantum world is, the subject is scientifically valid and important. I know this is a broadly accepted theory and has been so since the early part of the 20th century. As a non-scientists I know I'm not on thin ice to discuss quantum theory.

This is a complete contrast to Adams' "simulated universe."  This idea has a basis in cognitive research in the work of Berkeley professor, Donald Hoffman. There's a good TED talk where he describes his research related to how our brains interpret reality. The challenge is, as with climate science, Adams is unequipped to analyze and interpret this cognitive research. Dr. Hoffman's work looks interesting. It's an area worth exploring. There were a number of logical leaps in his TED talk that I would want to know more about. But this research is definitely not established. It's a fairly new area Hoffman is exploring, and it may prove to reveal some interesting things about reality, but it also might not. 

What Scott has done is spin it into, as he says, "[T]rillions of times more likely..." that reality is a simulation. (In his TED talk, Hoffman specifically suggests this is unlikely.) And out of that Adams flings off into a realm of dogmatic, non-linear, anti-logic untethered to anything rational, on par with 1960's pop guru's explaining "chakras" and "planes of enlightenment."

5. Skeptics produce charts of the earth’s temperature going up and down for ages before humans were industrialized. If you can’t explain-away that chart, I can’t hear anything else you say. I believe the climate alarmists are talking about the rate of increase, not the actual temperatures. But why do I never see their chart overlayed on the skeptics’ chart so we can see the difference? That seems like the obvious thing to do. In fact, climate alarmists should throw out everything but that one chart. 

This one is particularly irksome to me because I've repeatedly done the work to show where "skeptics" are erroneously using temperature charts. I can only imagine that Scott is discussing the numerous misrepresentations of GISP2 data as global temperature data, where, in fact it's a local measure of temperature at the Greenland summit. Those charts have been "explained away" so many times that it's beyond absurdity. 

It's unclear what "one chart" Scott thinks he's describing here. One of the basic tenets of science is, you can't make stuff up to support your preferred conclusions. There are many charts showing the rise in industrial era temperature, millennial temperature, holocene temperature and even temperature extending back over many millions of years. This information is easily accessible to anyone interested in reading the actual published research, or even taking the time to read the IPCC reports.

6. Stop telling me the arctic ice on one pole is decreasing if you are ignoring the increase on the other pole. Or tell me why the experts observing the ice increase are wrong. When you ignore the claim, it feels fishy.

What smells fishy is that Adams hasn't taken the time to read what scientists say about NH vs SH sea ice. It's easily available. The National Snow and Ice Data Center has a very clear description of what is happening. And ironically, Scott makes this claim during a season when we've just witnessed an extreme decrease in Antarctic sea ice.

7. When skeptics point out that the Earth has not warmed as predicted, don’t change the subject to sea levels. That sounds fishy. 

I'm not sure what Scott's preoccupation with fish is, but what is abundantly obvious about this comment is... No one does this. He certainly doesn't bother to offer a citation or example of where this has happened. My experience has been that, when "skeptics" talk about this topic, scientists address it. Repeatedly. This particular stinking zombie myth has had its head removed from its body more times than there are pages in all of George R. R. Martin's novels combined.

8. Don’t let the skeptics talk last. The typical arc I see online is that Climate Scientists point out that temperatures are rising, then skeptics produce a chart saying the temperatures are always fluctuating, and have for as far as we can measure. If the real argument is about rate of change, stop telling me about record high temperatures as if they are proof of something.

Again, Scott presumes that adding more information is going to change a "skeptic's" position. If we just keep giving them the information that scientists 'should' be giving them, that would fix it. Research shows that Adams is deeply misinformed. Scientists are not ever going to change the minds of confirmed "skeptics" any more than Martin Luther King caused any racist to change their position. MLK was effective because he confronted the facts of a critical issue in ways that made people uncomfortable. Dr. King forced us to face reality.

9. Stop pointing to record warmth in one place when we’re also having record cold in others. How is one relevant and the other is not?

Because there are more of the former than the latter, Scott. This is the shifting temperature distribution predicted by climate scientists many decades ago. Fewer low temperature extremes and more high temperature extremes. To even have a chance of understanding climate science would require familiarizing one's self with what a distribution curve represents.

10. Don’t tell me how well your models predict the past. Tell me how many climate models have ever been created, since we started doing this sort of thing, and tell me how many have now been discarded because they didn’t predict correctly. If the answer is “All of the old ones failed and we were totally surprised because they were good at hindcasting,” then why would I trust the new ones? 

Reprise #2. It's not clear how Adams concludes this would have any affect on persuading anyone since his understanding of models is essentially non-existent, nor is it clear how he even gets to "If the answer is..." Adams should trust what experts say about their models, but that involves actually taking the time to listen to what climate modelers are saying about their work.

11. When you claim the oceans have risen dramatically, you need to explain why insurance companies are ignoring this risk and why my local beaches look exactly the same to me. Also, when I Google this question, why are half of the top search results debunking the rise? How can I tell who is right? They all sound credible to me.

Here we get a double barreled straw man argument. It's not clear how he concludes that anyone is saying that sea level has risen dramatically. Certainly sea level is rising. It's rising faster than in the past. SLR is accelerating. But I'm not sure that could be properly stated as "oceans have risen dramatically." And where is Scott's data coming from suggesting that insurance companies are ignoring SLR? I find that insurance companies are highly cognitive of the inherent risks.

It is certainly reasonable to ask why Google delivers inaccurate information on sea level rise. If I had any Google exec standing in front of me right now, I'd be forcefully asking the exact same question. It definitely takes a certain level of skill to validate what is a reliable source of information and what isn't (I frequently have this discussion with my own teenaged kids). I have to admit, though. I'm more than a little suspicious that Scott actually does have the capacity to know a reliable source when he sees it. I think he actually prefers being confused for his own particular purposes of being (faux) incensed about climate communication.

And, yes Scott, with 1 meter of SLR in 2100, your local beach will look significantly different.

12. If you want me to believe warmer temperatures are bad, you need to produce a chart telling me how humankind thrived during various warmer and colder eras. Was warming usually good or usually bad?

Again here, I have my doubts that this is a genuine question, but rather just a randomly crafted point without any substance. Humans, in our current form, have only been around for perhaps 200,000 years. The last interglacial (the Eemian; 120kya) global temperature reached only, perhaps, 1°C higher than today. There were precious few of us and we nearly went extinct  along the way. Our early survival can easily be ascribed to luck as much as our capacity as an adaptive species.

The challenge we face is that we have 7 billion people alive today. We will likely be pushing past 9 billion this century, while we're potentially going to warm the planet some 4°C over the stable preindustrial temperature range that gave rise to modern human civilization. It would take an extreme level of deliberate ignorance to avoid the obvious conclusions that this implies.

13. Stop conflating the basic science and the measurements with the models. Each has its own credibility. The basic science and even the measurements are credible. The models are less so. If you don’t make that distinction, I see the message as manipulation, not an honest transfer of knowledge.

Reprise #2, again. We've already established that Adams is nearly clueless about what models are or what they do. 

14. If skeptics make you retreat to Pascal’s Wager as your main argument for aggressively responding the climate change, please understand that you lost the debate. The world is full of risks that might happen. We don’t treat all of them as real. And we can’t rank any of these risks to know how to allocate our capital to the best path. Should we put a trillion dollars into climate remediation or use that money for a missile defense system to better protect us from North Korea?

We have no way to conclude what Scott is talking about when he doesn't offer any reference here. We all know Pascal's Wager is the idea that you should believe in God because, if God is real then you go to heaven, and if he's not it doesn't matter anyway, assuming an omnipotent being wouldn't see through such a thin ruse.

The problem is, no one in the climate science community makes this argument. Literally, no one. What scientists do is present the available scientific understanding. The research acts to constrain the range of what is reasonable and rational. Within the constrained range of understanding we have the opportunity to make specific and hopefully effective decisions on how to best respond to threats.

Adams puts forth classic false equivalences. Usually people frame this as, should we spend money to eliminate hunger or invest in climate mitigation. That's a false choice since no one is suggesting that we address climate instead of other issues. Climate change is a threat multiplier. We can't ignore any of the many other critical human issues we face. But addressing climate change will help to ensure those other issues don't become much more critical along the way. 

Scott ends with this...

Anyway, to me it seems brutally wrong to call skeptics on climate science “anti-science” when all they want is for science to make its case in a way that doesn’t look exactly like a financial scam.* Is that asking a lot?

People ask me why I keep writing on this topic. My interest is the psychology around it, and the persuasion game on both sides. And it seems to me that climate scientists are the Hillary Clinton of scientists. They think facts and reason will persuade the public. Even though science knows that doesn’t generally work.

Ironically, Scott ends saying that scientists know that facts and reason won't persuade anyone, after he's ranted on about 14 points of why the facts and reason sound "fishy" to him. Like a large number of "skeptics", Adams has amply demonstrated that he has no interest in (or is too lazy to) even starting to understand climate science topics. He demonstrates a fundamental level of ignorance related to each and every topic discussed. And somehow he believes conveying that ignorance will help to inform climate scientists how to persuade "skeptics." 

Throughout this piece I've used scare quotes on the term "skeptic" for the very reason that Scott Adams has embodied here. He is not – in any way, shape or form – skeptical, nor are any of those whom he purports to be speaking for. Skepticism requires the humility and self-awareness to know when you don't have a sufficient grasp of a topic to substantively discuss it. Skepticism requires that you take the time to fully inform yourself before attempting any of the kinds of conclusions he puts forth. As has been stated over and over again, this is not skepticism. This is "white walker" level denial. 

Scott claims that his interest here is the psychology, but there is an ample body of cognitive science that is specifically directed to the climate science issue which (a) Adams does not refer to nor intimates that he even understands exists, and (b) most certainly has not contributed to in any substantial (or even glancing) manner.

Facts and reason are what scientists do regardless of what people choose to believe. That has been true since the earliest application of science. Facts and reason are what gave us modern society. What is most exciting about science is that it can tell us things that we don't know, and sometimes science tells us things we don't want to believe. It's not the scientists' job to repackage reality based on what people will be persuaded by. It is the job of individuals to have the humility to stop and listen when the scientific community is in broad agreement on critical scientific issues like climate change, and from that take appropriate informed actions.

By the same right, science does need effective communication in order for more people to understand what scientific research is telling us. There is a long list of very effective communicators out there already. But these are people who actually understand the science they're communicating, or people who are working in conjunction with scientifically trained advisors. Any potential value that Scott Adams might bring to the table is significantly undermined by his lack of knowledge on the topics of climate science and cognitive science, which is further compounded by his peculiar brand of sociopathy.

And... No, I don't expect Scott Adams to be "persuaded" by any of this.

The fossil fuel industry's invisible colonization of academia

March 13, 2017 - 1:42am

On February 16, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center hosted a film screening of the “Rational Middle Energy Series.” The university promoted the event as “Finding Energy’s Rational Middle” and described the film’s motivation as “a need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues.” 

Who can argue with balance and rationality? And with Harvard’s stamp of approval, surely the information presented to students and the public would be credible and reliable. Right? 


The event’s sponsor was Shell Oil Company. The producer of the film series was Shell. The film’s director is Vice President of a family-owned oil and gas company, and has taken approximately $300,000 from Shell. The host, Harvard Kennedy School, has received at least $3.75 million from Shell. And the event’s panel included a Shell Executive Vice President. 

The film “The Great Transition” says natural gas is “clean” (in terms of carbon emissions, it is not) and that low-carbon, renewable energy is a “very long time off” (which is a political judgment, not a fact). Amy Myers Jaffe, identified in the film as the Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California, Davis, says, “We need to be realistic that we’re gonna use fossil fuels now, because in the end, we are.” We are not told that she is a member of the US National Petroleum Council

The film also features Richard Newell, who is identified as a Former Administrator at the US Energy Information Administration. “You can get 50% reductions in your emissions relative to coal through natural gas,” he says, ignoring the methane leaks that undermine such claims. The film neglects to mention that the Energy Initiative Newell founded and directed at Duke University was given $4 million by an Executive Vice President of a natural gas company. 

Michelle Michot Foss, who offers skepticism about battery production for renewables, is identified as the Chief Energy Economist at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. What’s not said is that the Energy Institute she founded at UT Austin is funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel interests including the Koch Foundation, or that she’s a partner in a natural gas company.

You may notice a pattern. The very experts we assume to be objective, and the very centers of research we assume to be independent, are connected with the very industry the public believes they are objectively studying. Moreover, these connections are often kept hidden. 

To say that these experts and research centers have conflicts of interest is an understatement: many of them exist as they do only because of the fossil fuel industry. They are industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.

After years conducting energy-related research at Harvard and MIT, we have come to discover firsthand that this pattern is systemic. Funding from Shell, Chevron, BP, and other oil and gas companies dominates Harvard’s energy and climate policy research, and Harvard research directors consult for the industry. These are the experts tasked with formulating policies for countering climate change, policies that threaten the profits – indeed the existence – of the fossil fuel industry.

Down the street at MIT, the Institute’s Energy Initiative is almost entirely fundedby fossil fuel companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron. MIT has taken $185 million from oil billionaire and climate denial financier David Koch, who is a Life Member of the university’s board.

The trend continues at Stanford, where one of us now works. The university’s Global Science and Energy Project is funded by ExxonMobil and Schlumberger. The Project’s founding and current directors are both petroleum engineers. Its current director also co-directs Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, which is named after (and was co-founded by) the CEO of a natural gas company (now owned by Shell). Across the bay, UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute is the product of a $500 million deal with BP – one that gives the company power over which research projects get funded and which don’t.

Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors - have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge.

For comparison, imagine if public health research were funded predominantly by the tobacco industry. It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to understand the folly of making policy or science research financially dependent on the very industry it may regulate or negatively affect. Harvard’s school of public health no longer takes funding from the tobacco industry for that very reason. Yet such conflicts of interest are not only rife in energy and climate research, they are the norm. 

This norm is no accident: it is the product of a public relations strategy to neutralize science and target those whom ExxonMobil dubbed “Informed Influentials,” and it comes straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook. The myriad benefits of this strategy to the fossil fuel industry (and its effects on academic research) range from benign to insidious to unconscionable, but the big picture is simple: academia has a problem.

As scientists and policy experts rush to find solutions to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, our institutions are embroiled in a nationwide conflict of interest with the industry that has the most to lose. Our message to universities is: stop ignoring it.

Click here to read the rest

Dr. Benjamin Franta is a PhD student in the Department of History at Stanford University, an Associate at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a former Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He has a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University. 

Dr. Geoffrey Supran is a Post Doctoral Associate in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Post Doctoral Fellow in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. He has a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from MIT. 

2017 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #10

March 11, 2017 - 12:40pm

A chronological listing of the news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week.

Sun Mar 5, 2017

Mon Mar 6, 2017

Tue Mar 7, 2017

Wed Mar 8, 2017

Thu Mar 9, 2017

Fri Mar 10, 2017

Sat Mar 11, 2017

How Green is My EV?

March 9, 2017 - 7:45am

One of the largest sources of CO2 pollution from the average American consumer is the family car. The EPA states that 26% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from all forms of transportation (2014 figures). The largest source of GHG emissions, at 30%, is the electric power sector. However, just recently the Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that transportation emissions have now surpassed those from electric power generation. Whatever the exact numbers, it's clear that if we want to reduce our GHG emissions we need to work to reduce them from these two sectors.

As individuals we can make choices which help decrease our electricity usage: LEDs over incandescent light bulbs, smart thermostats, etc. If we can afford it, and if we have the right house orientation, we can take an even bigger bite out of our CO2 emissions by installing solar PV panels to produce some or all of our electricity. But to get the biggest bang for our buck, perhaps the single best thing we can do to decrease our emissions is to switch from a normal car (internal combustion engine, or ICE, vehicle) to an all-electric vehicle (EV).

About two years ago my wife and I needed a second car and we decided to buy a 2013 Nissan Leaf. But because we live in Missouri, where most of the electric power is generated by coal, I was concerned that I would just be switching from ICE CO2 emissions to coal-electric emissions. Would we really be making any difference?

To answer that question (and others about how to compare MPG, fuel costs, etc. between a typical ICE and an EV) I kept track of data and made some calculations over a year-long period from September 2015 until August 2016. We bought the Leaf in June 2015 but it took me a few months to come up with a system and get a handle on what information I needed and where to find it.

Gasoline vs. Kilowatt-hours

We have a good grasp of what a gallon of gas means in terms of how much it costs and probably how many miles it will take us in our ICE cars. The "fuel" for an EV is kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. Comprehending something as amorphous as a kWh stored in my Leaf's battery took a bit of a mental leap for me. The Leaf has a gauge on the instrument panel which displays the battery's amount of charge in 2 kWh increments, which isn't a very fine gauge. But the Leaf also records and uploads information on every trip made: kWh consumed, miles driven, etc. I can access this finer-detailed information from a Nissan website (figure 1). Now that I knew how many miles and how many kWh I used each month, I could look at my monthly electricity bills to see how much the EV "fuel" cost.

Figure 1. Portion of a screenshot of the Nissan Leaf website showing data for August 1, 2016. I travelled 25.1 miles and used 6.2 kWh. The "CO2 Savings" is not very accurate because it doesn't take into consideration the CO2 emissions from the electricity produced to power the car.

I also kept track of the average gasoline prices during each month and compared those to the electricity costs. Then I asked how would the Leaf compare to an ICE car traveling the same monthly miles. I used my ICE car, a 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, to make this comparison. The average fuel-economy for the Escape over the year was 30 MPG (range of 28-32 MPG). Table 1 and Figure 2 shows this comparison. For fuel, the cost savings of the Leaf over an ICE vehicle averaged 53%, with a range of 43% to 57% throughout the year. The cumulative savings for the whole year was $287.


Figure 2. Monthly fuel costs for EV (kWh) and an ICE vehicle (gasoline) if driven the same miles as the EV.

In terms of fuel costs, another question was, what MPG would an ICE car need to have to "break-even" with the EV? I calculated this for each month and came up with a range of 52 to 75 MPG, and an average of 62. The only ICE cars on the market which come close to such good gas mileage are hybrid vehicles.

Avoiding CO2 Emissions

Now I needed to find out the amount of CO2 emissions from each fuel source: gasoline and kWh. gives estimates for emissions from various fuel types (see Table 2). I also needed to find out the fuel mix used in Missouri for electric power generation, which I found in monthly reports from the EIA. Figure 3 below shows the fuel mix used by the larger electric utilities in Missouri throughout the year. Clearly, coal is still king in Missouri, followed by nuclear. However, there are some smaller utilities in Missouri which are beginning to introduce solar and wind to the mix.

Figure 3. Fuel mix used by large electric utilities in Missouri, Sept. 2016-Aug. 2017. Coal accounted for an average of 80% of the total fuel mix, Nuclear: 12%, Natural Gas: 6%, and Hydroelectric: 2%.

Putting this info together I was able to calculate how many pounds of CO2 my EV was responsible for, and how that would compare to my ICE car. On average, by driving the Leaf, I was able to avoid emitting 137 pounds of CO2 each month, for an average improvement over my ICE car of 32%. For the whole year my avoided CO2 was 1644 pounds, or about ¾ of a metric ton of CO2. See Table 3 and figure 4 for more information.

Figure 4. Monthly CO2 emissions for my EV and an ICE vehicle if driven the same miles as the EV.

Similar to the fuel cost break-even MPG, I also calculated an emissions break-even MPG for each month, in other words, what MPG would an ICE car need to have to break-even with the EV in terms of CO2 emissions. This worked out to a range of 39 to 51 MPG, and an average of 45 MPG. Not as good as the cost comparison but the EV still "emits" less CO2 than most cars on the road.

One Less Ton

Missouri has a long way to go to clean-up its electric power generation. But even in such a coal-dependent state, driving an electric car is still "better for the planet" than driving the normal gas car. By shifting to my Leaf I was able to avoid emitting ¾ of a ton of CO2 and I saved $287 on my fuel bill for one year. The extra money is nice, but I'm more concerned about drawing down CO2 emissions. To do that our societies need to switch how we generate power from fossil fuels to renewables. As individuals we can help make that switch by moving from ICE vehicles to EVs. Eventually the electric grid will catch up to us.

To tweet or not to tweet at Donald Trump? That was the question!

March 8, 2017 - 3:34am

Knowing Twitter to be the prefered means of communication for the current POTUS and that he “may” have a thing or two to learn about climate science, John Mason recently set out to explain the carbon cycle in a series of 49 tweets in a language we hoped Donald Trump would be able to grasp.

As John explained: “I often wonder if a lot of climate change communication follows formats that may be unattractive to some people. Lengthy posts complete with explanatory graphics are appreciated by many, but others simply may not have the time to work through them for all sorts of reasons. Yet, this should not exclude them from accessing information. So regardless of whether Trump read the tweets or not, I wanted to proceed with this as an experiment in making climate communication available to a wider demographic. The simpler the framing of information, the more quickly it may be scanned and absorbed. I picked a fairly complex aspect of planetary science - Earth’s Carbon Cycle - and set out to simplify it whilst keeping it consistent with what the science says.

So, on February 28, the tweets started to go out on Twitter in a little tweet storm:

A good two hours later the final tweets were sent:

This little storm showed up in our Twitter stats almost immediately where it more than doubled the impressions compared to a typical day where we get around 12,000:

The peak is even more pronounced if we look at the past 28 days:

We of course don’t know if Donald Trump read - or even noticed - any of these tweets and if he did, whether he understood them. But, from some obviously not representative sample of comments we know that at least some people DID learn from this experimental blog post. Here are a few examples:

From Twitter:

On John Mason’s Facebook page:

AO - Yes! I like bite size information. Even though I've got a keen interest in the topic, I often feel overwhelmed by pages long worthy articles or I simply haven't got the time to read them.
AT - Same here.
I use social media on the whole to escape the news and the mundanity of life and to av a larf like innit.
So I also tend to avoid lengthy serious articles always intending to read them later and never do.
JS - Don't recall us being compared to a dinosaur killing volcano before...good work ! A few words have too many syllables for the intended recipient...but the language and tone is awesome :-) :-) :-) sharing with a few youngstars' teachers...maybe it will be more appealing than the usual offerings.
CD - Brilliant broken down like that for climate ignoramuses like me and Trumpton...though the comments from the must correct brigade left me cold nit picking over details...the fact that mans contribution to the destruction of our planet = a catastrophic planet destroying volcanic eruption was a visual image even I, a science idiot understood! I think Trump would have lost interest by the time the real info started to be explained though....he has the attention span of a squashed gnat by all accounts…

What about limestone?

The blog post hadn't been online for long, when a little discussion about some details regarding limestone (tweet2 23 & 24) did perhaps miss the point of the post and the tweets a little bit:

“23 & 24 so WRONG! Calcification a SOURCE not sink of CO2. See Equation 1 of OA not OK (link left side bar). COMPLEX - some buts and ifs.”

John Mason provided an explanation:

“In terms of total carbon though (which is the subject here), half the carbon from bicarbonate swishing around in the sea gets locked away as calcium carbonate. Hence the specific description of limestone as a CARBON sink, not a CO2 sink. Every description of the slow carbon cycle mentions the same. Carbon locked up in limestone is mostly out of the way, unless it gets cooked or weathered - and for a lot of limestone that's only a minor, localised process.”

John also notes: “according to the IPCC, the glossary definition of a "sink" is:

Any process, activity or mechanism that removes a greenhouse gas (GHG), an aerosol or a precursor of a GHG or aerosol from the atmosphere. {WGI, II, III}

The overall equation of the process of basalt weathering and carbonate precipitation is often expressed as follows:

CO2 + CaSiO3 = CaCO3 + SiO2

That satisfies the IPCC definition - even if integral parts of what is a multi-stage process do not! However the same definition is satisfied by photosynthesis, even though it is seasonal in nature and balanced out by other parts of the fast carbon cycle that return biogenic CO2 to the atmosphere.

However, it is important that people understand that limestone stores vast amounts of carbon out of harm’s way.  Perhaps a more Trumpish description of limestone would be a carbon TRAP. Stuck right in there. Loser.

This "limestone issue" also made it into a tweet:

Such teething troubles are in any case to be expected when attempting to distill complex processes into simple words and we intend to continue with this interesting experiment. We’ll be exploring some other aspects of the Earth-Sun-climate system, using the same format, in the coming weeks and any constructive feedback is very much appreciated.


Americans are confused on climate, but support cutting carbon pollution

March 6, 2017 - 2:01am

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication published the findings of its 2016 survey on American public opinion about climate change. The results are interesting – in some ways confusing – and yet they reveal surprisingly broad support for action to address climate change. The Yale team created a tool with which the results can be broken down by state, congressional district, or county to drill down into the geographic differences in Americans’ climate beliefs.

Acceptance of science despite confusion about expert consensus

The first survey questions asked about participants’ beliefs about whether climate change is happening, what’s causing it, what scientists think, and whether they trust climate scientists. Overall, 70% of Americans realize that global warming is happening, while just 12% said it’s not. A majority of Americans in every state answered the question correctly, ranging from 60% in West Virginia to 77% in New York and 84% in Washington DC. Drilling down to a more local level, majorities in every congressional district and nearly every county in America were aware of the reality of global warming.

But when asked whether most scientists think global warming is happening, Americans got a failing grade. Just 49% correctly answered ‘yes,’ while 28% believed there’s a lot of disagreement among scientists. In reality, even 95% of weathercasters – who are among the most doubtful groups of scientists about human-caused global warming – realize that climate change is happening. This shows that the campaign to cast doubt on the expert consensus on global warming has been remarkably successful in the US.

However, Americans trust climate scientists on the subject of global warming. Overall, 71% trust the scientific experts, while 26% distrust them. Majorities of Americans in every state, county, and congressional district trust climate scientists.

Regarding the cause of that global warming, only 53% of Americans correctly answered that it’s caused mostly by human activities, while 32% incorrectly said it’s mostly natural. By state, correct responses varied from 42% in Wyoming to 59% in California and 67% in Washington DC.

Strangely, more Americans accept that humans are causing global warming than believe scientists agree that the Earth is warming to begin with, even though they trust the scientific experts. This points to a high level of uncertainty among Americans about what scientific experts really think about climate change. Given that Americans don’t mind if climate scientists engage in general science advocacy, this suggests that perhaps more scientific experts should speak out about climate science realities and the expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

Americans view climate change as a distant problem

58% of the Americans surveyed said they’re worried about global warming, while 42% aren’t. By state, answers varied from 45% worry in West Virginia to 67% in New York and 74% in Washington DC. Interestingly, even in a coal-heavy state like West Virginia, nearly half of Americans are worried about climate change. 

However, only 40% of Americans think global warming is harming them today (with no state reaching 50%), and just 58% think global warming will harm Americans in the future. 63% of Americans think climate change will harm people in third world countries, 70% think it will harm future generations, and 69% think it will harm plants and animals.

In short, these survey results confirm that Americans tend to view climate change as a problem distant in time and space. They think it won’t harm them; rather, that it will mostly hurt people far away and/or in the future. This explains why - despite majority acceptance of the science - Americans view climate change as a low priority.

But Americans want climate action

However, Americans displayed wide and broad support for climate solutions. 82% favor funding for renewable energy research; in fact, support was at least 78% in every state. 75% of Americans also support regulating carbon as a pollutant, ranging from 66% support in Wyoming to 81% in New York and 86% in Washington DC. This despite the fact eliminating EPA carbon pollution regulations is currently high on the agenda for House Republicans and the Trump Administration. 

Similarly, a majority of Americans in every state (even coal-heavy states) support setting strict carbon pollution regulations for coal power plants, and requiring utilities to produce 20% of their electricity from renewable sources. Simply put, Americans love clean energy and support taking action to curb carbon pollution. This even holds for Trump voters, 62% whom support carbon taxes, regulations, or both.

American support for climate action is broad but shallow

The two most important results from this survey are that a strong majority of Americans in every state, county, and congressional district support climate policies, but relatively few are worried about climate change ever hurting them personally. In short, because Americans view climate change as a problem distant in time and space, they don’t consider it an urgent problem or high priority, and thus they don’t penalize politicians who take actions to undermine the climate policies that American voters support.

Click here to read the rest

2017 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #9

March 4, 2017 - 12:31pm

A chronological listing of the news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week.

Sun Feb 26, 2017

Mon Feb 27, 2017

Tue Feb 28, 2017

Wed Mar 1, 2017

Thu Mar 2, 2017

Fri Mar 3, 2017

Sat Mar 4, 2017

Climate Bet for Charity, 2017 update

March 3, 2017 - 2:01am

In 2011 a bet was started up between "skeptics" of man-made climate change who follow Pierre Gosselin's "No Tricks Zone" blog, and myself and others here who follow SkS. It's a simple bet asking, "Will the next 2011-2020 decade be warmer than the previous 2001 – 2010 decade?" We're now over half way through this bet and here's where we stand.

[Click here for a larger image]

What this graph represents is, what the state of the bet would be if it had been initiated 10 years ago, and ended this month. So, the red line represents the running decadal average to date. The yellow line represents the the running decadal line for the previous decade. 

At no point in the past 7 years has the yellow line been above the red line, thus at no point during this bet has the previous decade been warmer than the current decade. In fact, at no point in the past 26 years has the decadal average been lower. The chosen data sets for the bet are an average of the UAH and RSS satellite data, which we now know have some challenges. But even with data that most benefits the cooler side of things, the decadal average temperature of every month of the entire past 6 years has been warmer than the previous decade. It was close 1-2 years ago, but still the current decade remained higher.

Even though there are four years left before this bet is completed I'm maintaining that the end result will be somewhere within that target range I've indicated on the far right. There's nothing technical behind that target. It's just the same amount of warming between the previous two decades (0.15°C) but with +/- 0.05°C included.

When I first went into this bet I had only been researching climate issues for a few years. At that time I was under the (mistaken) impression that satellite data was more reliable than the surface station data. I've learned a lot more since then. 

At that time I did not understand how complex the satellite data actually were. I did not realize the data come from a lot of different satellites over this time period. I had not seen the satellite raw data at that time.

But that's water under the bridge. The bet has been made and it must remain as we made it.

There are other issues about the satellite data that I also didn't understand 6 years ago. We chose the TLT data (Temperature, Lower Troposphere) from the two data sets, but there are issues with this channel in terms of what part of the atmosphere it's measuring.

[Click here for larger image.]

Here I've overlaid the TLT channel as shown on the RSS website with an IPCC figure representing the spatial patterns of warming and cooling in the atmosphere (AR4 WG1, chapter 9.2.2). What you see is that the TLT data primarily measures a region about 2-3km in altitude, and well below the area of primary warming in the atmosphere.

[Click here for larger image]

The TMT (Temperature, Middle Troposphere) does a little bit better job of picking up more of the troposphere and more of that warmer region in the mid-troposphere, but still doesn't fully pick up where the warmest region is supposed to occur. The TMT data also has a big challenge in that the tail end of the channel is picking up significant bleed from the cooling stratosphere above  60°N and below 60°S.

[Click here for larger image]

RSS has a different product that is an improvement over both TLT and TMT called TTT (Temperature, Total Troposphere). This channel manages to pick up most of the troposphere in proportions that are probably giving a better indication of the warming of the troposphere.

Measuring the atmosphere with satellites has a key challenge that most people might not think about. Satellites orbit at a fixed altitude from about 700km above the surface. The sensors are reading from a fixed region relative to altitude. But the atmosphere doesn't conform to those fixed altitudes. The tropopause ranges from about 10km at the poles to around 20km at the equator. 

I'm not a researcher, so potentially there's something I miss here, but it could be a novel idea to create a satellite product that mixes different channels for different latitudes. Say, TLT for polar regions, TTT for mid-latitudes and TMT for the tropics.

The RSS TTT data, with their latest update, now seems to fully support the data coming from the various surface station groups. There arguments between UAH and RSS about how to treat some of the data as to regards of the reliability. RSS chooses to drop the questionable data. UAH chooses to include it. The net result is UAH data is now an outlier with regards to their representation of global warming. They still show warming, but much less than anyone else.

But we're stuck with an average of UAH and RSS TLT data for the purposes of the bet. And that's fine. RSS TTT and TMT channels are operating on version 4, while TLT is still outputting with version 3.3. I've heard wind that there is an update to TLT data related to a paper that's currently under review. It will be curious to see how the resulting update changes the look of this bet.

While satellite data was probably not the best choice for a bet like this, due to a long list of issues, it's hardly going to matter in the end. The current running decade has been warmer than the previous one for the entire time during this bet. My expectation is that position will be held for the remaining 4 years. In order for the 2011 to 2020 decade to end up lower than the previous decade would require a truly massive amount of cooling for the remaining 4 years. The chances of that happening are extremely low.


There are two other methods of looking at the state of this bet. One is to run a cumulative average and the other is to look at a weighted or monthly apportioned cumulative average:


Electric Cars are the Missing Link to a Zero Carbon Energy Grid

March 2, 2017 - 9:14am

Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have released hundreds of billions of tons of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, acidifying oceans, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, raising sea levels with the worst effects yet to come.  The general consensus gleaned from the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 is that in order to halt the relentless march of climate change and its forecasted catastrophic consequences, one step we need to take is to transform our fossil fuel based economy to one powered by zero-emission renewable energy.

The good news is that investments in solar and wind generation have become competitive and in many cases cheaper and more profitable than similar investments in fossil fuels. The graphs below shows how solar and wind installations in the US have beaten fossil fuel installations for the past 3 years.


Globally, the conversation has shifted from “can renewables compete with fossil fuels?” to “how much intermittent renewable energy can our power grid handle?”  Currently power grids rely on a steady and predictable stream of power generation. They can handle only so much of the fluctuation that comes from solar (surges during the day) and wind (surges when it’s windy).

The investment required in energy storage facilities to fulfill the needs of a 100% renewable energy grid is typically believed to be very high. Essentially millions of large industrial-scale batteries or creative energy storage solutions are needed to smooth out the surges. But what is often forgotten is that a creative solution is currently being built at an accelerating rate, in the form of vehicle batteries from the budding electric transportation system. Electric vehicles will herald in a new age of clean air on busy city streets, but they can also serve a secondary purpose of solving the energy storage issue of renewables.  

Mass adoption of electric vehicles is coming.  Many of the drawbacks of electric vehicles are quickly being addressed: From inexpensive vehicles with  200-335 miles of range, to the rapid expansion of ultra fast charging stations that can charge vehicles to 80% in 15 minutes or less.  Several countries in Europe now see zero emission vehicles as the logical solution to addressing air pollution and are looking to implement bans on new fossil-fuel powered vehicles as early as 2025.  Some major cities are even going a step further and will be banning all diesel powered vehicles from their cities.  Clearly,  the age of the fossil fuelled powered vehicle is quickly coming to an end.   But, how big of an impact can an electrified transportation sector have in creating a green energy grid?  Well let’s look at the numbers:

On average, vehicles in America are driven 30 miles a day.  An average vehicle requires about 10 kWh of energy to cover this distance.  The battery pack in a current generation mass-market Chevy Bolt holds 60 kWh.  If we leave a 50% margin over normal daily usage, 75% (or 45 kWh) of battery capacity remains unused on an average day. If this available capacity were used to store cheap energy like solar during the day and sold back to the grid at night or during peak use, many problems in a 100% renewable energy grid would be solved.  This concept is known as Vehicle to Grid (V2G) and is already being tested in many cities.  If the 251 million cars and trucks on the road today all had batteries similar to that in the Chevy Bolt, 11,295 gWh of available unused storage capacity would be available to fill in gaps of intermittent renewable power.  But will this be enough to achieve a zero carbon energy grid?

Currently, the United States consumes 3.4 million gWh/year or 389 gWh/hour of electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear.  If we were to replace these with renewables, a 100% electric fleet with an average battery size found in the Chevy Bolt would have more than enough stored energy to keep the country powered until the sun rises again in the morning - 27.8 hours to be specific - and this isn’t touching the 15 kWh in each vehicle battery that is set aside for the average daily driving requirements. 

An Intensive peer reviewed study titled “Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time” evaluated billions of 100% renewable energy grid scenarios using 4 years of real weather and grid load data.  They concluded that with 15kWh set aside from each electric car for grid energy storage a 100% renewable energy grid could power 90%-99.9% of hours entirely on renewable electricity, at costs comparable to today’s prices.  Something to note is that the study was done in 2013 before the second generation of electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt, Tesla 3 and other large battery, mass market vehicles were introduced to the public.  Using 45 kWh for battery storage from a Chevy Bolt instead of 15kWh that was used in the study would increase total storage capacity by 300% making it a whole lot easier and cheaper to run America’s grid on renewables.

V2G integration into our zero carbon energy grid makes sense because it eliminates the needs for investing in expensive energy storage since the vehicles we will be driving could already provide that service.  It also allows a vehicle owner that participates in V2G services to generate revenue from their vehicle while they sleep.

The graph below compares estimates of the installed capacity of photovoltaic power cells made in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2007 by the International Energy Agency with the actual. Propelled by plunging costs and government policy the actual growth made mockery of the forecasts.  

As the same factors hold true for electric vehicles, don’t be surprised when you see a substantial reduction in total US greenhouse gas emissions from a zero carbon energy and transportation sector occurring sooner than you think.   You can help accelerate this transition by making a pledge that your next vehicle will be electric.

Republican hearing calls for a lower carbon pollution price. It should be much higher

March 1, 2017 - 1:30am

The ‘social cost of carbon’ is an estimate of how much carbon pollution costs society via climate damages, and can also be considered the optimal carbon tax price. The US federal estimate ($37 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution) underpins at least 150 regulations across various federal agencies, and has thus become a prime target in the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back Obama’s climate policies.

Yesterday, the House Subcommittees on Environment and Oversight held a hearing on the social cost of carbon. The Republican Congressmen and their witnesses argued the federal estimate is too high, but a majority of economists think it’s too low. Not surprisingly, the Republican witnesses have been heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry. They made two main arguments: 1) that the $37 estimate should be based on domestic, not global climate impacts, and 2) that the government should have used a higher discount rate, which would result in a lower estimate.

Both arguments are entirely backwards.

Carbon pollution causes expensive global climate damages

The first argument, articulated by Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ), is an immoral one:

It is simply not right for Americans to be bearing the brunt of costs when the majority of benefits will be conferred away from home.

The “benefits” other countries would reap are effects like reducing the decimation of their crops by climate-fueled droughts. An accurate rephrasing of this statement would read: ‘It is simply not right for Americans pay for their carbon pollution when the majority of the costs and damages will be borne by poor people in third world countries.’ When framed accurately, it’s a completely unethical argument.

Moreover, those long-term global climate damages make a clear case for a higher carbon pollution cost. According to a recent paper by William Nordhaus – one of the world’s foremost climate economists – if we want to stay below 2.5°C warming above pre-industrial temperatures (let alone 2°C), the social cost of carbon today is between $100 and $200 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution, and rises by about $10 per year. This conclusion is consistent with several recent studies estimating the carbon cost around $100 to $200 per ton or more.

Avoiding dangerous climate change will require a much higher carbon pollution price than the federal estimate, but Republicans think a lower price is better for the economy. Nordhaus’ recent paper also presented an “optimal” cost-benefit scenario that would put a carbon tax today around $30 per ton and result in over 3.5°C global warming above pre-industrial temperatures. So what’s going on there?

On climate and energy, determining what’s ‘optimal’ is impossible

I spoke with Jonathan Koomey, who’s published several papers on this subject, including a 2013 paper arguing that we should move beyond a cost-benefit approach on climate change toward a strategy he calls “working forward toward a goal.” As Koomey explained:

It’s impossible to calculate optimal outcomes decades hence, and that makes the benefit-cost approach problematic. One reason why it’s impossible is because we can’t predict the exact timing and consequences of pivotal events (like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor) or of technological breakthroughs. Another important reason is that economic and social systems do not exhibit structural constancy like physical systems do.

For example, the costs of wind turbines, solar panels, and other mass produced technologies have reliably dropped in price 10-20% for every doubling of production experience. Most economic models ignore these increasing returns because they imply that there is no optimal path; just many possible paths with similar costs. Economic modelers have recoiled in horror from this implication for decades.

One study published in 2000 looked at many possible scenarios regarding the evolution of our energy systems. Among those, about 10% were very close to “least-cost” scenario, but they varied widely in their mix of fossil fuels and low-carbon technologies and their consequent carbon pollution:

The underlying scenarios include futures that range from an increasing dependence on fossil energy sources to a complete transition to alternative energy sources and nuclear energy. Thus, one of the results of the analysis is that different structures of energy system emerge with similar overall costs … it is not possible to choose a priori “optimal” direction of energy systems development.

Then there’s the discount rate problem

Because savings accrue interest over time, $100 today is more valuable than $100 in the future. To account for this, economists use what’s known as the “discount rate.”

For example, using a fairly standard discount rate of 3%, it would only be worth spending $7 today to avoid $100 of climate damages in the year 2100. In his recent paper, Nordhaus used a discount rate of over 4% - hence his “optimal” economic scenario has a lot of global warming. The idea is to build up interest and use the money to pay for future climate damages.

In yesterday’s hearing, Republicans argued that the government should consider an even higher discount rate of 7%, based on Office of Management and Budget (OMB) policy. However, OMB says that if the policy will have “important intergenerational benefits or costs,” a lower discount rate should also be considered. That’s certainly the case for climate change – many economists and scientists argue the discount rate should be much lower - even zero - when dealing with risks big enough to imperil human civilization.

One problem is that climate change might disrupt the global economy and hamper economic growth, which would prevent future generations from actually being richer, as higher discount rates assume. For example, in the more than 3°C warming that would result in Nordhaus’ “optimal” scenario (and from Republican climate policies, and lower carbon prices), we would experience widespread coral mortality resulting in a collapse of many marine ecosystems, glacier retreats threatening water supplies for millions of people, sea level rise of over 1 meter by 2100 and much more thereafter, etc. It’s a potentially catastrophic scenario that would make it impossible to maintain the GDP growth implied in the typical business-as-usual economic modeling scenario.

There’s another problem the economic models and Republicans aren’t accounting for: money isn’t everything. For example, would you be happier if somebody handed you $500,000 in exchange for a hurricane destroying your house and its contents, valued at $490,000? You’ve lost your home and all your belongings, but you’re richer! Economic models can’t value things like suffering or biodiversity – what dollar value do we put on a species that’s gone extinct? How about mass extinctions? These are moral questions that economic models can’t account for, that the Republicans ignored in this congressional hearing.

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