Friday, 30 March 2012

Stop Blogging and Emailing - you're killing us!

Tempo has an important message for all who use email, edit blogs or forums, or who comment online.

Earth Hour dilemma: When the ‘Like’ button harms the planet 
Green groups around the world are turning to social networking to drive their campaign for Earth Hour tomorow, when lights are turned off for an hour to signal concern about global warming.
But here’s the irony. With every email, every tweet, every appeal watched on YouTube or “liked“ on Facebook, environmentalists are stoking the very problem they want to resolve.
Each time we network, we emit carbon dioxide through the fossil fuels that are burned to power our computers and the servers and databanks that store or relay our message. That poses a small dilemma for the Australian-led campaign for Saturday’s switch-off.
In 130 countries around the world, people are being urged to turn off the lights for one hour at 8:30 p.m. local time as a show of concern about climate change. In emails alone, the typical office worker is responsible for 13.6 tons of CO2 or its equivalent per year, a French government agency for energy efficiency, ADEME, calculated last year.
That figure is based on a French company of 100 people who work 220 days a year and each receive 58 mails a day and send 33 per day, with an average mail size of one megabyte.
That's 91 emails a day for 220 days =  20020 emails a year per person, and it's apparently responsible for a staggering 13.6 tons of CO2, or 679 grams of CO2 per email.

That seemed a lot of CO2 to send or receive a few dozen lines of text. 1 megabyte also seemed rather large for an average email, as I've rarely sent or received one larger than 100kb in size, but we'll let that pass, perhaps French office workers send lots of pictures as attachments.

How much electricity does 679 grams of CO2 represent? The EPA says that a gas-powered station produces 1135 lbs CO2 per MWh (megawatt-hour). One pound is 453.6  grams, so 1 MWh produces 514826.92 grams, therefore I calculate 0.758 KWh per email. That's around 3 desktop computers running for an hour, the equivalent of a one-bar electric fire for 45.5 minutes, to send or receive a one megabyte email?

Every time I come across this type of claim, the maths doesn't support the claim, not just a little bit out, but often whole orders of magnitude.

Feel free to comment, safe in the knowledge you're not fuelling irreversible climate change (but stop breathing out CO2, just in case).

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Where's the acceleration, dude?

We're constantly bombarded with portents of doom and gloom, and apparently, by extension "the end of civilisation as we know it". "Climate change" is accelerating, "global warming" is accelerating, sea level rise is accelerating, and (could, or may) threaten millions if not billions of people, "extreme weather events" are increasing in frequency and intensity. Of course, there's no actual evidence that these terrible events are occurring or that they will happen. They're all from model-based "projections", unjustified predictions, or just pure conjecture and general alarmism.

There's no doubt the Earth's been getting warmer in fits and starts, since the end of the last ice age. However, there's the flaw in the alarmists theories right there in that sentence - "fits and starts". The increase hasn't been on a relatively smooth upward trajectory; there's an irregular cycle built in, and no-one can explain the reasons behind the variability. Paleo-climatology has a stab at it, and there are some plausible theories, some "best-guesses", and some downright manipulation and cherry-picking of data, like Mann et. al.'s "hockey-stick". But there's no proof as to what caused the variations - there cannot be. Climatologists are looking back through a murky and distorting lens, and one which might be pointing in the wrong direction, or looking at the wrong data.

Let's look at some real data then, and see how the "x is accelerating" claims stack up. First temperature data, because most or at least may think this is the main indicator of things to come.

Latest Global Temps - UAH Satellite data to February 2012
HADCRUTt3 variance-adjusted global mean, 1979-present (Source: Wood for Trees)
I don't see much of an acceleration in either, rather a stasis, or a even a recent decline in the HADCRUT thermometer record, yet we are told "global warming has continued unabated, ar that it has accelerated. Where's the evidence for these assertions? "Habeus corpus" - "produce the body".

Variations in global mean sea level from a combination of TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, and Jason-2 altimeter measurements, using 60-day and annual smoothing of 10-day average values. A glacial isostatic adjustment correction of 0.3 mm/year has been applied.
Source: Woodworth, P.L., W.R. Gehrels, and R.S. Nerem. 2011. Nineteenth and twentieth century changes in sea level. Oceanography 24(2):80–93, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2011.29

Where's the acceleration, dude?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Disconnects in Logic (6) - 34 "Is not nearly as much" as 502

Earthsky blogger Daniel Tennant relays some good news and some not-so-good news (but which does he think is "good"?)
Most sea level rise due to melting polar ice, study confirms   
Researchers report that Earth’s polar regions are losing 502 billion tons of water annually out of the total amount 536 billion tons lost annually worldwide.
Scientists published results in a February 2012 issue of Nature that reveal a detailed picture of how Earth’s glacier regions have changed over the last eight years. In previous publications, GRACE satellite data confirmed that Earth’s polar regions are the major contributors to rising sea levels. The recent publication focuses on the high mountain areas, such as the Himalayas and Andes, and shows that these ecosystems are remarkably robust: they are not losing nearly as much water to the ocean as the polar regions.
That's good news, I'd say, and an E grade for all the glaciologists and others who've been predicting the imminent demise of glaciers in "high mountain areas" for years. A little later, we're shown this graphic

Map showing the September ice extent in the Arctic in 1980, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The magenta line indicates the median September ice extent for the period 1979-2000. Image Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice Index:
From simple visual evidence, if nothing else, it is clear that our polar glacier regions are depleting due to melting ice. 
Arctic report card for 2011
The "polar glacier regions", aren't shown, just the Arctic, and this is graphic data for sea ice, and has nothing to do with sea level. Sea ice has no net effect on sea level, freezing or melting. No glaciers are shown. It's certainly not clear from that graphic that "our polar glacier regions are depleting due to melting ice". Why were we given this irrelevant information and erroneous conclusion?

After this slip, band some details of how the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites work, we get the "bottom line" (my bold)
Bottom line: A publication in Nature in February 2012 presents the results of an analysis of GRACE satellite data, showing that high mountain areas, such as the Himalayas and Andes, are not losing nearly as much water to the ocean as Earth's polar regions.
Shhuurely he means ice not water? If "the polar regions are losing 502 billion tons of water annually out of the total amount 536 billion tons lost annually worldwide" then how can the 32 billion tons from mountain glaciers be termed "not nearly as much" as 502 billion tons? The 32 is 6.8% of 502, or about one-fifteenth. Did he write this piece before he saw the figures? Was he disappointed when he saw them? Does his brain work logarithmically? Why did he spoil a perfectly good article with a superfluous add-on, an unsubstantiated claim, and a flawed sense of proportion (in the true sense)? Why do I get worked up about this kind of thing?

If you have any of the answers, please let him know, I'm past caring.

Disconnects in Logic (5) - Correlation & Causation

Steve Rissing writes in the Columbus Dispatch (my comments in italics)
Any one still doubt climate change?
Are we there yet?
If we haven’t entered a period of human-caused climate change yet, what will it take for us to agree that we have? Maybe events such as the following:
• Almost 1,500 U.S. high-temperature records fell in one week.
So? Did citizens complain and stay indoors to avoid the deadly heat?
• Health-care specialists warn that Chagas’ disease, spread among humans by blood-sucking insects in tropical regions, might spread as temperatures rise in the United States.
• Biologists identify mechanisms by which earlier snow melts decrease populations of a rare Rocky Mountain butterfly.
Clearly devastating for mankind. Did biologists actually identify "earlier snow melts"?
• Agricultural specialists attribute global changes in crop maturation, for example early ripening of grapes, to increased global temperatures.
Good-oh, we get the vintage earlier, and growers can take an early holiday.
• NASA releases maps showing a reduction in snow cover for North America in 2012 compared with 2011.
So North America has been seeing increases in snow cover until 2012?
• Studies suggest that the houses where 4 million Americans live on the coasts confront increased risk of storm-surge flooding by midcentury because of warming oceans.
Suggest. Not predict, project, but suggest. Is a suggested "increased risk by midcentury" proof of anything whatsoever?
• News reports say the iconic cherry trees in Washington, D.C., were in full bloom a week before the month-long National Cherry Blossom Festival started. All of these things occurred over just two days this month. No one seriously doubts that carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising. Over the past 30 years, they have increased by 15 percent - a rate that continues to grow with no sign of stopping. No one seriously doubts that the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a result of burning fossil fuels and cutting and burning forests. And no one seriously doubts that global mean temperatures are rising. In the past 30 years, the global mean temperature has increased by about a half a degree Celsius. 
You're absolutely right - still waiting for your conclusion. No one would organise a Cherry Blossom Festival to start on a day when there was no blossom in sight, so the "week before" cannot be unprecedented, or likely even a full "week before". Cherry trees lead naturally to cherry-picking, like picking one warm winter as "proof".
This is the usual stuff we see touted as "evidence" - a mixture of cherry-picked "proof" and irrelevancies, and the implication that all such things are "bad". Is "earlier crop maturation" bad? Is one instance of early blooming (by a week!) of cherry-trees in Washington "bad", or proof or indication of anything? Now we come to the central argument:
Almost all scientists and related professionals who collect and analyze data about climate change or its effect on biological systems agree that the increased carbon dioxide levels cause much of the climate change and warming. The remaining climate skeptics tend to be policymakers who would rather not make policy.
No evidence as to who "almost all" are, and if "increased carbon dioxide levels" caused "much of the climate change and warming" what caused the remainder. Is "much"  the same as "most", or is it "some"? What business have "related professionals" got pronouncing on science and causation?
So how do the hold-out skeptics propose to test their hypothesis that no link exists between carbon-dioxide increases and climate-change effects? Good science demands explanations and hypotheses that can be tested.
It's not an hypothesis, it's a fact-based objection to an hypothesis that CO2 alone will cause catastrophic warming and climate change. It's your hypothesis, not ours.
An explanation that can’t be tested isn’t an explanation — it’s a dream, a belief, a political position. It might make for good campaign rhetoric, but it makes for poor public planning.
You said it brother, not me "An explanation that can’t be tested isn’t an explanation - it's a dream, a belief, a political position." Catastrophic global warming and climate change can't be tested, can't be falsified, and is therefore not an hypothesis at all, but "a dream, a belief, a political position". Great guys these catastrophists, they do all the work for you, and the best part is they don't know when they've done it.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Disconnects in Logic (4) - We don't do Physics

Ever come across the "space mirror"? If not (where were you, on Mars?), let me provide a little illumination. The mirror concept comes in several flavours, from the sublime to the ridiculous single large "sunshade" to trillions (I kid you not) of small sunshades, between the Earth and the life-giving deadly solar rays from our Sun. The intention is to reflect or filter or diffract a portion of the incoming insolation to offset "global warming" caused by life-giving deadly CO2 and other "pollutants" in Earth's atmosphere. Before I continue, I suggest you put down any drink, fragile artefact or large heavy object you might be holding, and swallow anything in your mouth - gum, toothbrushes, pens, thumbs and similar objects excepted - these should be removed. I fear for your safety, dear reader, should you laugh, chortle, guffaw or splutter while reading on.

One of the earliest ideas was for sunshades in orbit around Gaia, a simple and relatively inexpensive concept, one which could be phased over decades, and involve all those countries capable of putting such objects in orbit. International co-operation involving spending large sums is so easy to organise, as we all know. This would cost tens of billions of dollars per year over the coming decades. If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that I referred to this as "relatively inexpensive", which should give you a clue as to the cost of the other schemes. A major disadvantage is of course that roughly half of the orbiting parasols would be on the shady side of Earth at any given time, performing no useful function, and also spoiling things for astronomers beneath. Somewhat disconcertingly (and rather alarmingly) none of the articles I've read mention this problem. Logic disconnect number 1.

Because of the 50% redundancy and consequent additional cost involved, those engineers and scientists who had a well-thumbed copy of "101 things you didn't know about the Solar System" came up with a cunning wheeze to exploit something called a "Lagrange Point". Any object orbiting between the Earth and Sun would have a shorter orbit and greater speed, so would rapidly move away from the Earth, re-visiting in less than a year, if orbiting in contra-rotation (going the other way round) relative to Earth. Johannes Kepler (God rest his soul) discovered this and published his law  in 1619. If the orbiting object is not-too-far from Earth, gravity pulls it back a little, and if the distance is "just right" reduces the orbital speed to keep it stationary relative to the Earth.

Lagrange Points - Source: Montana State University, Department of Physics
L1 is the obviously useful one, the others being most useful if you want to remain a long way from your mother-in-law, though L3 is best to hide from the forces of loranorder. One concept is for a single, large (obviously) "wire mesh" disc at L1, to deflect 1% of the incoming sunlight. Lowell Wood and others have calculated that a screen made of one-millionth of an inch diameter aluminium wire forming a mesh of 1 thousandth spacing would act as a diffraction grating, and "bend" infra-red light away from Earth.

The flies in the ointment are that it must have an area of 1,600,000 sq. km (more than twice the area of Texas) with a diameter of 1427 km, and even with the too-thin-to see wire, with an estimated average mass of 1 gram/sq. metre including "ribs", weigh 1.6 million tons (I'll use the imperial ton,  tonnes are much the same). It's been estimated that using US launch vehicles, the cost of putting anything into Earth orbit is currently $44,000 per kilogram, or $440,000 per ton, and that doesn't include the cost of boosting mirror (parasol or sunshade) parts to the Lagrange point 1.5 m km. further out. Using the space shuttle would cost $175,000 per kilo just to Earth orbit. The mirror would weigh some 1,600,000,000 kilos. Assume the deployment costs reduce tenfold over time and do the sums yourself - I don't think my calculator display is big enough.

Don't employ these guys as fly-swatters because they've missed a few already, as I will show. First, all the diagrams I've seen show the parasol at 90° to the Sun-Earth axis, and the designers and most proponents seem to think it'll stay that way. I have news for them - without giving it a "twist" of one rotation per annum, the parasol would be parallel to the axis in 3 months, having no effect whatever. How it's possible to impart a rotation of exactly 360° per annum to a thinner-than a hair parasol 1427 km across I don't know. Someone suggested a steerable "hub", but hasn't heard of inertia. The parasol might have zero weight but it would have a mass of 1.6 million tons, and it would take some hefty steering jets to shift it. The "ribs" would have to be stiff enough not to flex unduly, adding considerably to the total weight to be lofted from Earth, perhaps doubling it. Brilliant idea, shame about the (lack of) physics. That faint sound is Newton turning in his grave.

There's more (of course there's more!) - the Lagrange points move. The system is not just Sun-Earth, but Sun-Earth-Moon. Objects in space orbit around their centre of mass, not their geometric centres. The centre of mass Sun-Earth is relatively very close to the centre of the sun, but the centre of mass of Earth-Moon (barycentre) is inside the Earth about 1,700 km. below the surface The Earth wobbles slightly therefore, changing the Sun-Earth distance, and also the Moon is either closer to, or further from the Lagrange point as the lunar month progresses. The important L1 and irrelevant L2 are most affected, oscillating by several km a month. In addition, the Earth's orbit ain't a circle but an ellipse, moving closer to, then further away from the parasol, compounding the problem. Our parasol now needs to be moved this way and that constantly to stay close to the elusive Lagrange point L1 and avoid us having to wave goodbye to it, and the trillions of dollars spent getting it up there. Then there's all the inevitable millions of tons of space junk orbiting the Earth at various distances, and the effect of all the CO2 and other gasses emitted during the construction of the parasol, the rockets or shuttles, their fuel, and the burning of that fuel in the atmosphere, none of the aforementioned even hinted at by the rose-tinted spectacle brigade. Unintended consequences, anyone?

The other scheme by astronomer Roger Angel involves 16,000,000,000,000 (16 trillion) pierced transparent 0.6 sq. metre 1-gram discs, forming a cylindrical cloud some 60,000 miles long orbiting in what he calls "L1 orbit". I see several difficulties, quite apart from the obvious, which you should be able to identify for yourselves. First, there's strictly no such thing as "L1 orbit", and even if there was, a 60,000-mile long cylinder oriented towards Earth would leave most of his "flyers" away from that orbit, meaning they'd drift Sunwards or Earthwards, speeding up or slowing down in orbit, and so spreading in all directions. At least he though of the effect of "radiation pressure" which would push the discs earthwards, and introduced a compensating mechanism. The "big parasol" team overlooked this, and also the Solar Wind of atomic particles, which Roger Angel seems to have ignored. Secondly he (Angel) says a 2% reduction in insolation over the entire surface would be "enough to balance the heating of a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere". A reduction of 2% averaged over the surface is around 7 W/m², or twice the IPCC AR4 estimate for a doubling of CO2. That 7 W/m² would be, from what I've absorbed from several years of surfing the net and absorbing concepts of radiative forcing like a solar parasol absorbs sunlight, enough to take the Earth into the next ice-age. Oops. Strong on ideas, short on physics and celestial mechanics, and should read more.

Here's my own "Cool It" plan

I reckon it'd be easier and cheaper just to deposit all that dosh in orbit. A dollar bill has an area of 103.4 sq. cm., and weighs a bit less than a gram, so a trillion of them would cover roughly 10,000,000,000 sq.metres or 10,000 sq. km. and weigh a million tons. Assuming each is oriented at 45° to the Sun on average, the effective area would be around 7071 sq. km. They wouldn't need complicated and expensive rockets, but could be blasted there in "super guns" - quite technically feasible (I know my history). The other advantage is that it doesn't actually cost 1$ to print a 1$ bill. Banknotes are paper and ink, and in some cases include a thin thread of metal (about as thin as the thread of logic in the other schemes). Banks wouldn't have to actually issue the notes as currency.

Each country could contribute a special "Cool It" note, with a picture of the incumbent political leader imprinted thereon. Just think - The US would have "Drill, baby, drill!" Obama waving his birth certificate, the UK would have "The NHS is safe with me" Cameron, Australia could have "No carbon tax" Gillard with a long nose, and Russia would have "It's me again!" Putin. I'm certain both democrats and republicans (though maybe not in equal numbers) would like to see Obama blasted into orbit, and citizens of other countries would be happy to contribute to see their beloved leaders actually doing something useful for a change. A side-advantage is that as the notes drift out of orbit they'd never fall fast enough to burn up, would float to the surface, and still be reflecting sunlight, increasing the albedo. Polar explorers would never run short of toilet paper... the list just goes on. Just think of all the thousands of "green-back" jobs Obama could point to as the election draws nigh. The Pentagon would be allocated funds to develop a "super gun" for the army, and the other services would be green with envy.

There's a Nobel Prize, or at least "Climate Crusader of the Year" in this for me, I'm sure. I may even get my handsome visage (He lies - Ed.) on a special edition banknote and join the political elite in orbit. I've changed my mind - geo-engineering is FUN!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Disconnects in Logic (3) - We don't do Climate

More geo-engineering, I'm afraid, and the inevitable intrusion of the Law of Unintended Consequences (also known as the Law of Human Stupidity and Ignorance, appendix 1). Before it's filed in the "We don't do Climate" garbage bin of history, from the pages of the Toronto Star yesterday (21st Feb):
Global warming: Researchers develop technology to reduce methane gas emissions from oceans
For Stephen Salter and John Latham, there is nothing more deadly than the creation and emission of methane gas.
“It’s 200 times worse than CO2 (carbon dioxide),” Salter, who is emeritus professor of engineering at the University of Edinburgh, said in an interview with the Star.
“It has a quick and serious effect,” Salter said, likening methane to a kind of “crack cocaine” for the atmosphere.
Salter, who works out of the Engineering Design Institute for Energy Systems at the university, was recently in front of a British House of Commons committee on climate change, pleading his case against methane gas. He described its highly destructive impact as it is released from the ocean into the atmosphere, significantly contributing to global warming and the melting of Arctic ice.
"200 times worse than CO2" - just where did he get that from? And their ingenious (if costly) solution?
Salter and his colleague, Latham, who is an atmospheric sciences researcher at University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Co., have come up with what they believe is a solution to the impact of methane on the earth’s environment. They envisage a kind of vessel or land station that sprays salt water into the atmosphere, ultimately affecting the makeup of clouds. The idea is that the clouds could reflect back into space more of the sunlight hitting the ocean.
“We would cool down (the planet),” Salter said.
“We would cool down (the planet)” - indeed? By spraying water vapour, the most powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere? Despite the low temperatures there, a large proportion of the drops would evaporate. A strong dose of reality for messrs. (or is it messers?) Salter and Latham, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado.
A case of the vapors 
When it comes to climate change in the Arctic, melting sea ice and warming oceans often get the most attention. Yet in the atmosphere, another watery component is changing as well: water vapor. As sea ice extent and duration decrease and air temperatures rise, the increasingly open Arctic Ocean is subject to even more evaporation, pumping more water vapor into the atmosphere, making it more humid. In addition, warmer air is capable of holding more water, so increasing humidity over the Arctic may be yet another signal that air temperatures in the region are rising, producing yet another feedback mechanism throwing the Arctic climate off-kilter.
More from the article:
Latham worked out that if you increase the number of water drops in a cloud by increasing the condensation nuclei, the cloud will reflect more of the sun’s incoming energy back into the atmosphere, Salter explained. The ocean won’t heat up and won’t release more methane.
There's a very fine balance between "whitening" cloud and triggering precipitation, which not surprisingly reduces cloud, transferring the water to the surface as rain or snow. "Increasing the condensation nuclei" is employed in cloud seeding to induce precipitation. They also have utterly missed the point that increasing snow precipitation would "whiten" the Arctic far better than (possibly) increased cloud would. It might turn out all right in the end, but for the wrong reasons. They've even included a rather bold prediction (make a note in your 10-year diary - it's already in mine)
Without any action on the global warming front, it is predicted that there is a 50 per cent chance that Arctic sea ice will be non-existent in September 2014. If the forecasts are correct, the oceans will heat up even more and the already high levels of methane in the Arctic Ocean will rise even more, Salter said.
If the methane is "in the ocean" how could it possibly increase greenhouse gas warming? Warmer water will hold less methane in solution, not more. Oh - sorry, that quote is from the "loose terminology" department, employed when talking to reporters and dumb amateurs like me. Based on their woolly thinking and focussing on a tiny part of the Arctic climate system, I'd say there's a 100 per cent chance they're off-target by 180 degrees. These "spraying vessels" would be unmanned apparently, and sailing in Arctic waters for months. I can recommend a film for them to view. It's not "An Inconvenient Truth" but "Titanic".

Salter is emeritus professor of engineering at the University of Edinburgh, also known as the "We don't do Climate" department. Latham however, is an "atmospheric sciences" researcher at University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Co. That must be the "CO2 is the most powerful greenhouse gas" department. I was going to add "You couldn't make it up", but they've done all the work for me.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Disconnects in Logic (2) - Can't do the Chemistry

From the wayback machine 21 February, 2003, though he's still "at it" -
Dr Klaus Lackner has the hots for "synthetic trees" to "purify air" as the Beeb has it.
A scientist has invented an artificial tree designed to do the job of plants.
But the synthetic tree proposed by Dr Klaus Lackner does not much resemble the leafy variety.
"It looks like a goal post with Venetian blinds," said the Columbia University physicist, referring to his sketch at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver, Colorado.
But the synthetic tree would do the job of a real tree, he said. It would draw carbon dioxide out of the air, as plants do during photosynthesis, but retain the carbon and not release oxygen.
Sounds good - we all need the air "purified" of the nasty CO2 we breathe out, but I'm not so sure about that "not release oxygen", so let's get the details
If built to scale, according to Dr Lackner, synthetic trees could help clean up an atmosphere grown heavy with carbon dioxide, the most abundant gas produced by humans and implicated in climate warming.
He predicts that one synthetic tree could remove 90,000 tonnes of CO2 in a year - the emissions equivalent of 15,000 cars.
"You can be a thousand times better than a living tree," he said.
Good-o - I want to be a thousand times better than a living tree, much better than being a thousand times better than a dead one in my opinion (I don't think he meant it that way - Ed.).
For now, the synthetic tree is still a paper idea. But Dr Lackner is serious about developing a working model. His efforts suggest the wide net of ideas cast by scientists as they face the challenge of mitigating climate change.
A "paper idea" - is that anything like a "half-baked" one? Let's hear him out before we jump to conclusions.
The technology calls for two things: seizing carbon and then storing it. Direct capture of CO2, from power plants for example, is the simplest, according to Dr Lackner. But this doesn't work for all polluters. A car can't capture and store its carbon dioxide on-board; the storage tank would be too large.
"It's simply a question of weight," he said. "For every 14 grams of gasoline you use, you are going to have 44 grams of CO2."
The alternative is to capture emissions from the wind. In this case, a synthetic tree would act like a filter. An absorbent coating, such as limewater, on its slats or "leaves" would seize carbon dioxide and retain the carbon.
Dr Lackner predicts that the biggest expense would be in recycling the absorber material.
"We have to keep the absorbent surfaces refreshed because they will very rapidly fill up with carbon dioxide," he said. If an alkaline solution such as limewater were used, the resulting coat of limestone would need to be removed."
My word - the man's a genius - it would take someone with a good knowledge of chemistry and maths to really appreciate this simple but brilliant idea. Luckily I have one I prepared earlier, several decades earlier in fact, and it's me. I've no idea why he picked 14 grams of octane (gasoline), the molecular weight is 114, but neverrmind, 114 grams produces 252 grams, and so 14 grams produces 43.2 grams of CO2. Good enough for a physicist, I suppose, and if the hydrocarbon mix is taken into account I may have to give him credit for accuracy. May, could and might are the three magic words in climate "science" - the universal cop-out. I digress, something I have a perverse liking for, but bear with me, dear reader.

Let's assume that the limewater, a solution of Ca(OH)2 (calcium hydroxide) in water is used as an absorbent. How is this magic CO2 guzzler manufactured? CaO is a constituent of cement for building mortar, and is made by roasting limestone at a very high temperature. Just a mo. - didn't he mention limestone in his last sentence? Indeed he did, so here's a summary of the process. Limestone is burnt in gas-fired rotary kilns, and the resulting calcium oxide is allowed to cool. Water is added (slaking), creating Ca(OH)2 (calcium hydroxide) in solution and releasing some of the heat absorbed in the roasting. Here it is in formulae, and this is the killer:

CaCO3 (limestone) + heat -> CaO (calcium oxide) + CO2

CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2

And the "magic tree" CO2 absorbing process:

Ca(OH)2 + CO2 -> CaCO3 + H2O

The net process is therefore:

burn methane (CH4, natural gas) + 3O2 (oxygen) -> heat + CO2

limestone + heat + water -> (less) heat + water + limestone + CO2 (from natural gas)

The only sufficiently large source of calcium on the planet is in the form of limestone or chalk. The growth of plankton with calcium-carbonate based shells or internal skeletons locks up CO2 for millions of years, and our physicist wants to release it to use the rest of the molecule to absorb the same amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, consuming vast amounts of otherwise useful natural gas in the process, and also oxygen from the air to burn the gas, which process itself generates CO2. The outcome is more CO2 than at the start of the entire cycle, and vast quantities of "limestone" sludge. Where to dispose of it - there's always the limestone quarries, which unfortunately won't be big enough, as the limestone now contains a lot of water. He could always dump it in the sea, which is part of the natural limestone/chalk process anyway. Then there's transport costs for CO2-belching trucks, construction costs, environmental damage..... You couldn't make it up.

BTW - if you have any suggestions for Dr Klaus for a "better tree" than his, one that isn't expensive to manufacture, doesn't consume large amounts of valuable energy resource, requires little or no maintenance, is cheap or even free to manufacture, actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere, doesn't spoil the view, and as an added bonus generates oxygen and may even have valuable by-products, please leave a comment, and I'll see if I can let him know about it. I'm still working on it.

Disconnects in Logic (1) - Can't do the Maths

Environmental Technologies News Magazine has a short piece on "smart" approaches to solving a non-problem.
Experts from Japan and the UK will meet at Loughborough University next month to discuss the use of “smart” approaches to make our cities greener.
Cities use 80% of global energy, and contribute over half our greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing city energy consumption is therefore vital and “smart” approaches to reducing energy demands, as well as ‘’smart’’ supply and distribution techniques, could provide the solution.
Just a minute - if cities use 80% of global energy, but contribute just over half of GHG emissions, then other energy consumers must use just 20% of global energy and contribute almost half of GHG emissions. If 80% of city dwellers contributed just over half of a city's street litter, and the other 20% contributed almost half, which of the two groups should city authorities target in a "stop litter" campaign? I leave the maths to you, it's clearly too difficult for both me and the "experts".

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Could Air Pollution Be Making Us Fat? - more "scientific" nonsense

Discovery News asks breathlessly (how appropriate!), and in all seriousness "Could Air Pollution Be Making Us Fat?" - read the original, it's hilarious.
A hypothesis proposes that rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere may be contributing to obesity.
Breathing in extra carbon dioxide makes our blood more acidic.
Lowered pH in the brain makes appetite-related neurons fire more frequently.
Obesity is not as simple as many people think.
If you think that's enough for a chuckle, read this
Steadily rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be affecting brain chemistry, increasing appetite and contributing to the obesity epidemic, according to a new hypothesis, which still awaits rigorous testing and inevitable debate.
The idea proposes that breathing in extra CO2 makes blood more acidic, which in turn causes neurons that regulate appetite, sleep and metabolism to fire more frequently. As a result, we might be eating more, sleeping less and gaining more weight, partly as a result of the air we breathe.
So "breathing in extra CO2 makes blood more acidic" does it? How does blood become "more acidic" when it's alkaline, with a typical pH of 7.41 for arterial blood (7.0 is "neutral, lower values are "acidic")? That "extra CO2" is of course included in the 0.039% or 390 parts-per-million of CO2 that's in the air we breathe.

Reality check: an adult male's lung capacity is between 4 and 6 litres, the greater the bigger and fitter the individual is. When breathing normally, that is when sitting or standing still, the amount of air left in the lungs, and not exhaled is between 1.8 and 3.4 litres, roughly a third to half of lung capacity. That remaining air contains about 4% CO2, or 100 times the concentration breathed in. We're being asked to accept that the tiny annual increment in the 0.039% of atmospheric CO2 is going to make blood more acidic, when each intake of breath starts with residual air in the lungs containing 4%? I have a mental list of adjectives for this kind of "research", but I'll keep them to myself, and stick with the moderate "bullshit". The Discovery News author wonders (as she might well do) -
It's still far from clear whether the amount of CO2 we are currently exposed to is enough to make a difference, or whether exposure at specific times in development make more or less of a difference.
No, it's definitely not "far from clear" - simple maths, a scientific education (or an inquiring and sceptical mind), and Google is all you need to show that it can't "make a difference". It's as valid an hypothesis as claiming that wearing wet socks will increase your chance of drowning, due to the "additional water" increasing the level of water in the swimming pool (or the ocean - even more ridiculous).

I might be "eating more, sleeping less and gaining more weight", partly as a result of the utter and total crap I find daily on the 'net. I do find I'm reading Discovery News less, and drinking more though, so there is an upside. Can someone develop a "bullshit filter" for the 'net? They'd make more money than Bill Gates made in his lifetime. I don't know of an app. for that, though I may be wrong, which is an acknowledgement of possible error many scientists won't make.

I refuse to even begin to skewer the nonsense about higher blood acidity making people eat more. I have my standards, you know. I also have a question of my own - could "rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere" be making some of us stupid? Please note, Dear Reader, I don't include you and I in that "us" of course, but you get the idea.

Must remember to add "CO2 makes you fat" to the list.

Hansen et. al. 2008 - are they all mad?

Every now and then you have one of those "just a minute..." moments. I've just had one, while reading "Climate target is not radical enough - study", in where else but the UK Guardian. They quote from James "75 metres" Hansen and also his co-authored 2008 paper "Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim?".
One of the world's leading climate scientists warns today that the EU and its international partners must urgently rethink targets for cutting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because of fears they have grossly underestimated the scale of the problem.
In a startling reappraisal of the threat, James Hansen, head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, calls for a sharp reduction in C02 limits.
Hansen says the EU target of 550 parts per million of C02 - the most stringent in the world - should be slashed to 350ppm. He argues the cut is needed if "humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed". A final version of the paper Hansen co-authored with eight other climate scientists, is posted today on the website. Instead of using theoretical models to estimate the sensitivity of the climate, his team turned to evidence from the Earth's history, which they say gives a much more accurate picture.
As an aside, I corrected the link in the quote myself. The article didn't give the report title, nor a specific link to it; you'd have to search on the archive site for it. I've never yet found a link to a journal paper in a Guardian article. One might think they don't want you to read the originals. One might be right....
Clearly, this is the origin of the campaign, the so-called "safe limit". Hold onto that "much more accurate picture" while you read on.....
The team studied core samples taken from the bottom of the ocean, which allow C02 levels to be tracked millions of years ago. They show that when the world began to glaciate at the start of the Ice age about 35m years ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere stood at about 450ppm.
"If you leave us at 450ppm for long enough it will probably melt all the ice - that's a sea rise of 75 metres. What we have found is that the target we have all been aiming for is a disaster - a guaranteed disaster," Hansen told the Guardian.
So the "much more accurate picture" tells us that the Earth began to glaciate at a CO2 level of 450 ppm, and Hansen et. al. want to ensure levels stay well below that figure, in fact no higher than 78% of it? Surely the Grauniad's got it wrong? Apparently not - this is the abstract to the supporting material for the paper (My bold):
Abstract: Paleoclimate data show that climate sensitivity is ~3°C for doubled CO2,
including only fast feedback processes. Equilibrium sensitivity, including slower surface albedo feedbacks, is ~6°C for doubled CO2 for the range of climate states between glacial conditions and ice-free Antarctica. Decreasing CO2 was the main cause of a cooling trend that began 50 million years ago, large scale glaciation occurring when CO2 fell to 450 ± 100 ppm, a level that will be exceeded within decades, barring prompt policy changes. If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm
The largest uncertainty in the target arises from possible changes of non-CO2 forcings. An initial 350 ppm CO2 target may be achievable by phasing out coal use except where CO2 is captured and adopting agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon. If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects
When I read this stuff, and I regard it as stuff, rather than reasoned analysis, I though "I must be missing something here, surely?". It seems it's Hansen his co-authors, the Guardian journalist, 350,org and all its shrill "born again" followers, especially "Weepy Bill" McKibben who're missing something. Their brains can't be firing on all synapses.

BTW, the journalist Ed Pilkington is the Guardian's New York correspondent, a political correspondent at that, so just the guy to report on a scientific paper about the world's climate. Mind you, it makes a welcome change from failed sports reporters doing the job.

IMHO the "seeding irreversible catastrophic effects" bit is right - onward to the next ice-age. Those wind turbines won't be much good - no convection on an ice-planet to drive the winds. Still, we'll all have a "low-carbon footprint" then - no footprint at all. We'll be dead, gone to meet our maker, (not) pushing up the daisies (no daisies) .

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Australia's CSIRO - manufacturing sea level hockeysticks?

The CSIRO's "State of the Climate" report was published today (14th March 2010). Missing a link to the report in the newspaper article summarising the dire consequences of climate change in store for Diggers Down Under, I did a Google News search, and came up with a rather interesting ABC page on the release of the report, titled "Sea Levels are Rising", which is not exactly news, but never mind that. Below the obligatory (and of course irrelevant) statement
It notes that the long-term warming trend has not changed, with each decade having been warmer than the previous decade since the 1950s.
... is an "interactive data visualisation" which "explores sea level rise patterns across Australia using data sets provided to the ABC by CSIRO". What struck me immediately was the uptick in sea level at three of the 62 tide gauge stations on the superimposed charts below the interactive map. I've selected Wyndham (WA) on the map - which shows the largest 2010 uptick. I've almost completed an interactive map for Australia myself (similar to the "South Pacific Seal Level 2011" in the reference pages, top-right sidebar), so I'm familiar with the chart for Wyndham. That uptick is definitely not kosher, not kosher at all. here it is:

Source: ABC
... and the RHS embiggened:
Source: ABC
By reading the data points from the ABC chart, I've established that all the preceding annual data points are correct, but 2010 stands out like a sore thumb Here's the corresponding chart for Wyndham, over the same time period, 1993-2010, with the last two points from the ABC chart added in red:

Data Source: NTC

The lower pair of points are Darwin (346) and Carnarvon (322). If the offsets from the real data for all three stations are added, they total 526, which averaged over all 62 stations comes to 526/62 = 8 mm rounded down. If that's deducted from the all-station average for 2010 (dark green line), it brings it down from 120 mm to 112, which means that the three outliers have increased that 112 figure by almost 11%.

I considered whether this might not be deliberate fiddling (generous and understanding to a fault!), but possibly a result of using incomplete data for 2010, for example January-June, but that doesn't explain it - any average with January as a start point is much lower than the ABC/CSIRO figures. Not only that, but 2009/10 were El Niño years, and there's usually a drop in sea level during one of these events; it shows up (though much less pronounced than 1997/8) at most stations except some in the far south. One such rogue plot might be a genuine error, but three? Here are my plots for Darwin and Carnarvon:

Data Source: NTC
Data Source: NTC
I've checked a random sample of the other stations on that rather clever (I'm green with envy - don't take that as weakness) interactive page, and can detect no further excursions from NTC data whatsoever, even for Hobart, home of the CSIRO. Currently, this is a mystery within an enigma, to paraphrase Churchill's description of Russia at the beginning of WW2.

UPDATE 15th March 2012

I've tracked down the source of two of the "adjustments". The CSIRO (funded by the Australian taxpayer) doesn't obtain its sea level data from the National Tidal Centre (funded by the Australian taxpayer, and where you'd expect them to get it as I do), but from an independent archiver, the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level, based in Liverpool, UK. It's one which I use regularly for data unobtainable elsewhere, but I'm surprised that the CSIRO uses it. The PSMSL relies on data submission from national or other bodies which collect it, and it's rarely up-to-date, often months or even years of the latest data are missing. This explains why CSIRO web pages and publications quote sea level statistics up to Dec. 2010 for the NTC SEAFRAME stations, even though the NTC publish the data monthly.

Anyway, PSMSL has, apparently arbitrarily, adjusted 2010 monthly data for Carnarvon and Wyndham upwards by 140 mm and 260 mm respectively, with no acknowledgement (as is customary) on the station pages. here's a chart for Wyndham for 2009-10 illustrating what's been done:

Data Sources: PSMSL & NTC
That 260 mm is larger by 63 mm than the change in sea level at Wyndham since the gauge was installed in 1966, and larger than estimates of global sea level rise since 1900, so it's no small matter. What are they playing at? The Darwin data (to 2010) at PSMSL appears to be identical to the NTC data (except measured from a different baseline, which is irrelevant), so where did that 128 mm adjustment come from? Sherlock is on the case, with his (t)rusty magnifying glass at the ready. No violin though. On second thoughts, perhaps I'll just ask them. Watch this space for exciting developments.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

"Entire nation of Kiribati to be relocated over rising sea level threat" - more nonsense

UPDATE 12/3/2012 - Media hype and something akin to senile dementia appear to have blown this out of all proportion - details at the the end of this post. Message ends.

Here we go again, if it's not birds/pika/trees/polar bears/ice-hockey at risk from global warming or climate change, or both, it's Pacific islands slipping quietly beneath rising waves. The Daily Telegraph - where circulation wins over facts, cannot recognise a naked ploy to attract foreign aid and sympathy when it sees one:

Entire nation of Kiribati to be relocated over rising sea level threat 
The low-lying Pacific nation of Kiribati is negotiating to buy land in Fiji so it can relocate islanders under threat from rising sea levels.
In what could be the world's first climate-induced migration of modern times, Anote Tong, the Kiribati president, said he was in talks with Fiji's military government to buy up to 5,000 acres of freehold land on which his countrymen could be housed. 
Some of Kiribati's 32 pancake-flat coral atolls, which straddle the equator over 1,350,000 square miles of ocean, are already disappearing beneath the waves.

Most of its 113,000 people are crammed on to Tarawa, the administrative centre, a chain of islets which curve in a horseshoe shape around a lagoon.

"This is the last resort, there's no way out of this one," Mr Tong said.
 "which straddle the equator" - at least that bit's right. "Most of its 113,000 people are crammed on to Tarawa" - if rather less than half is "most" then that's true also. Why am I cynical about this "cry for help"? Mr Tong tells us
"What we need is the international community to come up with an urgent funding package to deal with that ambition, and the needs of countries like Kiribati."
From the horse's mouth, the reason for my cynicism. There's plenty more material to scan with a fact-meter in this relatively short piece, but suffice to cut to Mr. Tong's "last resort"

Kiribati, Island: Tarawa. Location: Betio    Source Data: NTC 2012

Short-term rate since 2002 is -4.7 mm/year. He was right - "there's no way out of this one".

But wait, Mr. Tong wants to lead the entire population to refuge on Fiji, like Moses parting the waves (it's a long paddle though). Shouldn't a prudent president check where he's going to tread before taking an irreversible step which might, just might, be in the wrong direction?
The land Kiribati wants to buy is understood to be on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island.
The "promised land" of Vanua Levu doesn't have a tide gauge, but the larger Viti Levu, 64 km to the south has not one but two tide gauges, so Mr. Tong, who's so well acquainted with current sea level change around Tarawa, must have checked, surely? I'm not one to kick a man when he's down (Lies, all lies - Ed.), so I've checked for him, using two more charts I just happen to have lying around, as you do.

I just hope that the situation in the "promised land" is different - remember the rates shown are monthly, so multiply by 12 for annual. CGPS monitoring shows Lautoka on Viti Levu to be sinking at around 3 mm/year

Source: SONEL   

... while current homeland Tarawa is rising at a slightly higher rate. Oops.

Source: SONEL   

At least Vanua Levu is quite hilly, so all won't be lost if the situation there deteriorates. Looks like a terrible place to me (/sarc).

Vanua Levu, Fiji, the "promised land"
I'm sure they have frying pans and fires on Tarawa, so perhaps the metaphor won't be lost on Mr. "Moses" Tong.


Looks like Mr.Tong has been forced to take a reality pill. Now he says "... the land will be used to help prepare younger generations for a future working in Australia or New Zealand". He previously said, as reported above, that he was "in talks with Fiji's military government to buy up to 5,000 acres of freehold land on which his countrymen could be housed". One small problem for him - he has neither the authority nor the hard cash to do any such thing. A former President, Teburoro Tito has now said that "reports that the Cabinet has endorsed a plan to buy nearly 3,000 hectares on Fiji’s main island are ridiculous", and that "nothing of the sort has been discussed in parliament".

“People here are laughing about that, they think it’s a joke. That’s the initial reaction. And as I said earlier where did the President get the idea from? Which people - his own island, the island I’m representing or some other people in Kiribati.”

It's good to see that Kiribati, like the US, has a president who's in touch with reality and has his people and government behind him.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

“Peter Gleick’s great personal sacrifice”

From Junkscience - Susan C. Strong: “Peter Gleick’s great personal sacrifice”
Reframing Climate Change Now
Two big things have happened recently on the climate change front. The first, of course, is Peter Gleick’s great personal sacrifice–his desperate gamble taken to expose the Heartland Institute’s planned assault on climate science in our schools, funded by the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests.
I replied as follows:
Am I a lone voice in hoping that many more of Gleick's co-conspirators make such "great personal sacrifices"? In the mid-19th century, the British army organised bands of volunteers to storm the defences of besieged cities and towns. They were almost assured of death, but would achieve fame and reward if successful. They were known as the "forlorn hope", and carried weapons of choice.
The problem Mann, Trenberth, Hansen and others face is that there's no "city wall" to breach. They'll disappear into a jungle wilderness teeming with sceptic guerilla fighters, each armed with a brain and an internet connection. Let's not discourage them, but send them all invitations to "fair and open debate". Their heads will explode and they'll rush off brandishing their weapons of choice, be-it a hockey stick, a dubious correlation or even a scanner. Theirs is indeed "a forlorn hope", and time, like global temperature, is most definitely not on their side
"Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our junk science!". (apologies to the Bard)
Satire in the service of truth.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Dr. Richard Lindzen at the House of Commons

His simple eloquence encapsulates much of my own thinking, so instead of struggling to write my own summary of the thin and one-sided so-called arguments of the "team" and their fawning supporters, I've chosen to quote from his presentation to a public meeting at the House of Commons on 22nd. February. A pdf of his slides is available on Watts Up With That. Here's his well-crafted introduction to his talk.
I wish to thank the Campaign to Repeal the Climate Change Act for the opportunity to present my views on the issue of climate change – or as it was once referred to: global warming. Stated briefly, I will simply try to clarify what the debate over climate change is really about.
It most certainly is not about whether climate is changing: it always is.
It is not about whether CO2 is increasing: it clearly is.
It is not about whether the increase in CO2 , by itself, will lead to some warming: it should.
The debate is simply over the matter of how much warming the increase in CO2 can lead to, and the connection of such warming to the innumerable claimed catastrophes. The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal. The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.
Then he presents with devastating lucidity, point by point, the "warmist" case, and his rebuttal of those points, details some of the background science and finishes with
Perhaps we should stop accepting the term, ‘skeptic.’ Skepticism implies doubts about a plausible proposition. Current global warming alarm hardly represents a plausible proposition. Twenty years of repetition and escalation of claims does not make it more plausible. Quite the contrary, the failure to improve the case over 20 years makes the case even less plausible as does the evidence from climategate and other instances of overt cheating.
In the meantime, while I avoid making forecasts for tenths of a degree change in globally averaged temperature anomaly, I am quite willing to state that unprecedented climate catastrophes are not on the horizon though in several thousand years we may return to an ice age. 
A two-part video of his presentation is available on Climate Realists - well worth taking the time to see the whole thing.

"Children just aren't going to know what snow is"

"The wolf is not coming, he's enjoying winter sunshine!" paraphrases the now infamous article in the Independent in March, 2000 - "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past". Why reproduce it again? I confess I enjoy a good chuckle gloat, and confessing seems to be the fashion these days. I recommend you read the original if you need cheering up, or simply want to snigger.
According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event".
"Children just aren't going to know what snow is," he said.
Wait, there's more
David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes - or eventually "feel" virtual cold.
Heavy snow will return occasionally, says Dr Viner, but when it does we will be unprepared. "We're really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time," he said.
For the record, here's a chart of northern hemisphere snow extent, showing the "rare and exciting events".

Northern Hemisphere Snow Extent 1967-2011
And here's a satellite picture of a "rare and exciting event" in 2010.

It wasn't 20 years time, but 10 years time, and it wasn't occasionally, but a hat-trick of bum-freezers. Three "very rare and exciting events", the successive winters of 2009/10, 20010/11 and 2011/12 produced snow, lots of snow, cars abandoned in snowdrifts, and they were bloody cold. The BAA (who run Heathrow airport) had bought into the "winters are warmer, snow is a thing of the past" theme preached by these idiots, and failed miserably to clear the runways with their inadequate equipment (not only size, but numbers matter). Troops with shovels and brushes finished the job the experts had flunked.

Luckily each was, in the words of David Parker a "virtual experience of snow" with "virtual cold", so no one died, no cars were stuck in snowdrifts, no airports closed for three days, no motorways were closed, no local authorities ran out of road salt and grit, and no train and bus services were cancelled. UK citizens didn't need the internet to "wonder at polar scenes", they just had to look out of the window at the white mound that contained their car.

For some reason seemingly unknown to the BAA, Reykjavik and Helsinki airports remained open and didn't cancel a single flight while Britain "ground to a halt" (in the words of the newspapers who'd also bought the theme). At those airports, flights or landings are occasionally held up for as much as 30-40 minutes while they clear the runways of several times the depth of snow it took the Heathrow crews three full 24-hour days to clear. Heathrow ran out of de-icing fluid for aircraft. Reykjavik and Helsinki have large stockpiles, far more than they use even in a severe winter, "just in case". Staff and officials there laughed at Heathrow's plight. "It's just snow" they said.

Gatwick airport, not run by the British Airports Authority (BAA to them!). much smaller and less busy than Heathrow, with less money to invest and with fewer runways and taxiways, had twice the number of snowploughs and blowers than their larger cousin, and of course staff to use them, and suffered much shorter closure as a result. Perhaps the managers there are sceptics (in the true sense), or at least have a little common-sense and foresight. Perhaps, like blogger Harold Ambler, they are just prudent, and think, as he does "Don't Sell Your Coat" just yet.

A side order of fries with your words, messrs. Viner and Parker? Prediction is very difficult, especially when it involves the future.

Why CAGW theory is not “settled science” - Watts Up With That?

This guest post, elevated from a comment on Watts Up With That? is worthy of being reproduced in its entirety. Selected quotations would do both it and its author a disservice. I could not possibly improve on the reflections and analysis contained therein:

Guest post by Dr. Robert Brown, Duke University Physics Department

For the general public that does not have an objective scientific bent, how do you tell virtual reality from the real thing?

That’s a serious problem, actually. Hell, I have an objective scientific bent and I have plenty of trouble with it.

Ultimately, the stock answer is: We should believe the most what we can doubt the least, when we try to doubt very hard, using a mix of experience and consistent reason based on a network of experience-supported best (so far) beliefs.

That’s not very hopeful, but it is accurate. We believe Classical Non-Relativistic Mechanics after Newton invents it, not because it is true but because it works fairly consistently to describe Kepler’s purely observational laws, and (as it is tested) works damn well to describe a lot of quotidian experience as well on a scale less grand than planetary orbits. We encounter trouble with classical mechanics a few hundred years later when it fails to consistently describe blackbody radiation, the photoelectric effect (the one thing Einstein actually got the Nobel Prize for), the spectra of atoms, given Maxwell’s enormously successful addition to the equations of electricity and magnetism and the realization that light is an electromagnetic wave.

Planck, Lorentz, Einstein, Bohr, de Broglie, Schrodinger, Heisenberg and many others successively invent modifications that make space-time far more complex and interesting on the one hand — relativity theory — and mechanics itself far, far more complex than Newton could ever have dreamed. The changes were motivated, not by trying to be cool or win prizes, but by failures of the classical Euclidean theory to explain the data! Basically, Classical flat-space mechanics was doomed the day Maxwell first wrote out the correct-er equations of electrodynamics for the first time. We suddenly had the most amazing unified field theory, one that checked out empirically to phenomenal accuracy, and yet when we applied to cases where it almost had to work certain of its predictions failed spectacularly.

In fact, if Maxwell’s Equations and Newton’s Law were both true, the Universe itself should have existed for something far, far less than a second before collapsing in a massive heat death as stable atoms based on any sort of orbital model were impossible. Also, if Maxwell’s equations and flat spacetime with time an independent variable was correct, the laws of nature would not have had the invariance with respect to reference frame that Newtonian physics had up to that time enjoyed. In particular, moving a charged particle into a different inertial reference frame caused magnetic fields to appear, making it clear that the electric and magnetic fields were not actually vector forms! The entire geometry and tensor nature of space and time in Newtonian physics was all wrong.

This process continues today. Astronomer’s observe the rotational properties of distant galaxies to very high precision using the red shift and blue shift of the stars as they orbit the galactic center. The results don’t seem to agree with Newton’s Law of Gravitation (or for that matter, with Einstein’s equivalent theory of general relativity that views gravitation as curvature of spacetime. Careful studies of neutrinos lead to anomalies, places where theory isn’t consistent with observation. Precise measurements of the rates at which the Universe is expanding at very large length scales (and hence very long times ago, in succession as one looks farther away and back in time at distant galaxies) don’t quite add up to what the simplest theories predict and we expect. Quantum theory and general relativity are fundamentally inconsistent, but nobody knows quite how to make a theory that is “both” in the appropriate limits.

People then try to come up with bigger better theories, ones that explain everything that is well-explained with the old theories but that embrace the new observations and explain them as well. Ideally, the new theories predict new phenomena entirely and a careful search reveals it there where the theory predicts. And all along there are experiments — some of them fabulous and amazing — discovering high temperature superconductors, inventing lasers and masers, determining the properties of neutrinos (so elusive they are almost impossible to measure at all, yet a rather huge fraction of what is going on in the Universe). Some experiments yield results that are verified; others yield results — such as the several times that magnetic monopoles have been “observed” in experiments — that have not been reproducible and are probably spurious and incorrect. Neutrinos that might — even now — have gone faster than light, but again — probably not. A Higgs particle that seems to appear for a moment as a promising bump in an experimental curve and then fades away again, too elusive to be pinned down — so far. Dark matter and dark energy that might explain some of the unusual cosmological observations but a) are only one of several competing explanations; and b) that have yet to be directly observed. The “dark” bit basically means that they don’t interact at all with the electromagnetic field, making them nearly impossible to see — so far.

Physicists therefore usually know better than to believe the very stuff that they peddle. When I teach students introductory physics, I tell them up front — “Everything I’m going to teach you over the next two semesters is basically wrong — but it works, and works amazingly well, right up to where it doesn’t work and we have to find a better, broader explanation.” I also tell them not to believe anything I tell them because I’m telling them, and I’m the professor and therefore I know and its up to them to parrot me and believe it or else. I tell them quite the opposite. Believe me because what I teach you makes sense (is consistent), corresponds at least roughly with your own everyday experience, and because when you check it in the labs and by doing computations that can be compared to e.g. planetary observations, they seem to work. And believe me only with a grain of salt then — because further experiments and observations will eventually prove it all wrong.

That isn’t to say that we don’t believe some things very strongly. I’m a pretty firm believer in gravity, for example. Sure, it isn’t exactly right, or consistent with quantum theory at the smallest and perhaps largest of scales, but it works so very, very well in between and it is almost certainly at least approximately true, true enough in the right milieu. I’m very fond of Maxwell’s Equations and both classical and, in context, quantum theory, as they lead to this amazing description of things like atoms and molecules that is consistent and that works — up to a point — to describe nearly everything we see every day. And so on.

But if somebody were to argue that gravitation isn’t really a perfect force, and deviations at very long length scales are responsible for the observed anomalies in galactic rotation, I’d certainly listen. If the new theory still predicts the old results, explains the anomaly, I’d judge it to be quite possibly true. If it predicted something new and startling, something that was then observed (variations in near-Earth gravitation in the vicinity of Uranium mines, anomalies in the orbits of planets near black holes, unique dynamics in the galactic cores) then I might even promote it to more probably true than Newton’s Law of Gravitation, no matter how successful, simple, and appealing it is. In the end, it isn’t esthetics, it isn’t theoretic consistency, it isn’t empirical support, it is a sort of a blend of all three, something that relies heavily on common sense and human judgement and not so much on a formal rule that tells us truth.

Where does that leave one in the Great Climate Debate? Well, it damn well should leave you skeptical as all hell. I believe in the theory of relativity. Let me explain that — I really, really believe in the theory of relativity. I believe because it works; it explains all sorts of experimental stuff. I can run down a list of experimental observations that are explained by relativity that could scarcely be explained by anything else — factors of two in spin-orbit coupling constants, the tensor forms and invariants of electromagnetism, the observation of -mesons produced from cosmic ray collisions in the upper atmosphere far down near the surface of the Earth where they have no business being found given a lifetime of microseconds — and observation I personally have made — and of course all the particle accelerators in the known Universe would fail miserably in their engineering if relativity weren’t at least approximately correct. Once you believe in relativity (because it works) it makes some very profound statements about causality, time ordering, and so on — things that might well make all the physics I think that I know inconsistent if it were found to be untrue.

Yet I was — and continue to be — at least willing to entertain the possibility that I might have to chuck the whole damn thing, wrong from top to bottom — all because a silly neutrino in Europe seems to be moving faster than it should ever be aver to move. Violations of causality, messages from the future, who knows what carnage such an observation (verified) might wreak! I’m properly skeptical because what we have observed — so far — works so very consistently, and the result itself seems to be solidly excluded by supernova data already in hand, but you know, my beliefs don’t dictate reality — it is rather the other way around.

The sad thing about the Great Climate Debate is that so far, there hasn’t really been a debate. The result is presented, but no one ever takes questions from the podium and is capable of defending their answers against a knowledgeable and skeptical questioner.

I can do that for all of my beliefs in physics — or at least, most of them — explain particular experiments that seem to verify my beliefs (as I do above). I’m quite capable of demonstrating their consistency both theoretically (with other physical laws and beliefs) and with experiment. I’m up front about where those beliefs fail, where they break down, where we do not know how things really work. Good science admits its limits, and never claims to be “settled” even as it does lead to defensible practice and engineering where it seems to work — for now.

Good science accepts limits on experimental precision. Hell, in physics we have to accept a completely non-classical limitation on experimental precision, one so profound that it sounds like a violation of simple logic to the uninitiated when they first try to understand it. But quite aside from Heisenberg, all experimental apparatus and all measurements are of limited precision, and the most honest answer for many things we might try to measure is “damfino” (damned if I know).

The Great Climate Debate, however, is predicated from the beginning on one things. We know what the global average temperature has been like for the past N years, where N is nearly anything you like. A century. A thousand years. A hundred thousand years. A hundred million years. Four billion years.

We don’t, of course. Not even close. Thermometers have only been around in even moderately reliable form for a bit over 300 years — 250 would be a fairer number — and records of global temperatures measured with even the first, highly inaccurate devices are sparse indeed until maybe 200 years ago. Most of the records from over sixty or seventy years ago are accurate to no more than a degree or two F (a degree C), and some of them are far less accurate than that. As Anthony has explicitly demonstrated, one can confound even a digital electronic automatic recording weather station thermometer capable of at least 0.01 degree resolution by the simple act of setting it up in a stupid place, such as the southwest side of a house right above a concrete driveway where the afternoon sun turns its location into a large reflector oven. Or in the case of early sea temperatures, by virtue of measuring pails of water pulled up from over the side with crude instruments in a driving wind cooling the still wet bulb pulled out of the pail.

In truth, we have moderately accurate thermal records that aren’t really global, but are at least sample a lot of the globe’s surface exclusive of the bulk of the ocean for less than one century. We have accurate records — really accurate records — of the Earth’s surface temperatures on a truly global basis for less than forty years. We have accurate records that include for the first time a glimpse of the thermal profile, in depth, of the ocean, that is less than a decade old and counting, and is (as Willis is pointing out) still highly uncertain no matter what silly precision is being claimed by the early analysts of the data. Even the satellite data — precise as it is, global as it is — is far from free from controversy, as the instrumentation itself in the several satellites that are making the measurements do not agree on the measured temperatures terribly precisely.

In the end, nobody really knows the global average temperature of the Earth’s surface in 2011 within less than around 1K. If anybody claims to, they are full of shit. Perhaps — and a big perhaps it is — they know it more precisely than this relative to a scheme that is used to compute it from global data that is at least consistent and not crazy — but it isn’t even clear that we can define the global average temperature in a way that really makes sense and that different instruments will measure the same way. It is also absolutely incredibly unlikely that our current measurements would in any meaningful way correspond to what the instrumentation of the 18th and 19th century measured and that is turned into global average temperatures, not within more than a degree or two.

This complicates things, given that a degree or two (K) appears to be very close to the natural range of variation of the global average temperature when one does one’s best to compute it from proxy records. Things get more complicated still when all of the best proxy reconstructions in the world get turned over and turned out in favor of “tree ring reconstructions” based upon — if not biased by — a few species of tree from a tiny handful of sites around the world.

The argument there is that tree rings are accurate thermometers. Of course they aren’t — even people in the business have confessed (in climategate letters, IIRC) that if they go into their own back yards and cut down trees and try to reconstruct the temperature of their own back yard based on the rings, it doesn’t work. Trees grow one year because your dog fertilizes them, fail to grow another not because it is cold but because it is dry, grow poorly in a perfect year because a fungus attacks the leaves. If one actually plots tree ring thicknesses over hundreds of years, although there is a very weak signal that might be thermal in nature, there is a hell of a lot of noise — and many, many parts of the world simply don’t have trees that survived to be sampled. Such as the 70% of the Earth’s surface that is covered by the ocean…

But the complication isn’t done yet — the twentieth century perhaps was a period of global warming — at least the period from roughly 1975 to the present where we have reasonably accurate records appears to have warmed a bit — but there were lots of things that made the 20th century, especially the latter half, unique. Two world wars, the invention and widespread use and testing of nuclear bombs that scattered radioactive aerosols throughout the stratosphere, unprecedented deforestation and last but far from least a stretch where the sun appeared to be far more active than it had been at any point in the direct observational record, and (via various radiometric proxies) quite possibly for over 10,000 years. It isn’t clear what normal conditions are for the climate — something that historically appears to be nearly perpetually in a state of at least slow change, warming gradually or cooling gradually, punctuated with periods where the heating or cooling is more abrupt (to the extent the various proxy reconstructions can be trusted as representative of truly global temperature averages) — but it is very clear indeed that the latter 19th through the 20th centuries were far from normal by the standards of the previous ten or twenty centuries.

Yet on top of all of this confounding phenomena — with inaccurate and imprecise thermal records in the era of measurements, far less accurate extrapolations of the measurement era using proxies, with at most 30-40 years of actually accurate and somewhat reproducible global thermal measurements, most of it drawn from the period of a Grand Solar Maximum — climatologists have claimed to find a clear signal of anthropogenic global warming caused strictly by human-produced carbon dioxide. They are — it is claimed — certain that no other phenomena could be the proximate cause of the warming. They are certain when they predict that this warming will continue until a global catastrophe occurs that will kill billions of people unless we act in certain ways now to prevent it.

I’m not certain relativity is correct, but they are certain that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is a true hypothesis with precise predictions and conclusions. I have learned to doubt numerical simulations that I myself have written that are doing simple, easily understandable things that directly capture certain parts of physics. They are doing far, far more complex numerical simulations — the correct theoretical answer, recall, is a solution to a set of coupled non-Markovian Navier-Stokes equation with a variable external driver and still unknown feedbacks in a chaotic regime with known important variability on multiple decadal or longer timescales — and yet they are certain that their results are correct, given the thirty plus years of accurate global thermal data (plus all of the longer timescale reconstructions or estimates they can produce from the common pool of old data, with all of its uncertainties).

Look, here’s how you can tell — to get back to your question. You compare the predictions of their “catastrophic” theory five, ten, twenty years back to the actual data. If there is good agreement, it is at least possible that they are correct. The greater the deviation between observed reality and their predictions, the more likely it is that their result is at least incorrect if not actual bullshit. That’s all. Accurately predicting the future isn’t proof that they are right, but failing to predict it is pretty strong evidence that they are wrong.

Such a comparison fails. It actually fails way back in the twentieth century, where it fails to predict or explain the cooling from 1945 to roughly 1965-1970. It fails to predict the little ice age. It fails to predict the medieval climate optimum, or the other periods in the last 10,000 years where the proxy record seems to indicate that the world was as warm or warmer than it is today. But even ignoring that — which we can, because those proxy reconstructions are just as doubtful in their own way as the tree-ring reconstructions, with or without a side-serving of confirmation bias to go with your fries — even ignoring that, it fails to explain the 33 or so years of the satellite record, the only arguably reliable measure of actual global temperatures humans have ever made. For the last third of that period, there has been no statistically significant increase in temperature, and it may even be that the temperature has decreased a bit from a 1998 peak. January of 2012 was nearly 0.1C below the 33 year baseline.

This behavior is explainable and understandable, but not in terms of their models, which predicted that the temperature would be considerably warmer, on average, than it appears to be, back when they were predicting the future we are now living. This is evidence that those models are probably wrong, that some of the variables that they have ignored in their theories are important, that some of the equations they have used have incorrect parameters, incorrect feedbacks. How wrong remains to be seen — if global temperatures actually decline for a few years (and stretch out the period with no increase still further in the process) — it could be that their entire model is fundamentally wrong, badly wrong. Or it could be that their models are partially right but had some of the parameters or physics wrong. Or it could even be that the models are completely correct, but neglected confounding things are temporarily masking the ongoing warming that will soon come roaring back with a catastrophic vengeance.

The latter is the story that is being widely told, to keep people from losing faith in a theory that isn’t working — so far — the way that it should. And I have only one objection to that. Keep your hands off of my money while the theory is still unproven and not in terribly good agreement with reality!

Well, I have other objections as well — open up the debate, acknowledge the uncertainties, welcome contradictory theories, stop believing in a set of theoretical results as if climate science is some sort of religion… but we can start with shit-canning the IPCC and the entire complex arrangement of “remedies” to a problem that may well be completely ignorable and utterly destined to take care of itself long before it ever becomes a real problem.

No matter what, we will be producing far less CO_2 in 30 years than we are today. Sheer economics and the advance of physics and technology and engineering will make fossil-fuel burning electrical generators as obsolete as steam trains. Long before we reach any sort of catastrophe — assuming that CAGW is correct — the supposed proximate cause of the catastrophe will be reversing itself without anyone doing anything special to bring it about but make sensible economic choices.

In the meantime, it would be so lovely if we could lose one single phrase in the “debate”. The CAGW theory is not “settled science”. I’m not even sure there is any such thing.