Tuesday, January 10


Glowball Worming

So I've been having a...  Discussion...  With some conservative types about global warming over at Townhall.

First thing to note: Disqus comments are horrible.

Second thing to note: Some conservatives are sensible, dubious about the extent of the problem that global warming presents, but ready to accept evidence and discuss solutions.

Third thing to note: Some conservatives are nuts.

Fourth thing: I really mean it about Disqus comments.

I don't know that, strictly speaking, I'm a conservative myself.  Maybe an anarcho-monarchist, or a techno-feudalist, or moe-constructionist.

One of the trends I find worrying in US politics is the widespread denial among conservatives of global warming, which is nearly universally accepted among scientists.

Certainly most of what is written about it in the mainstream news media is garbage, because the mainstream news media is terrible at science reporting, and indeed, terrible at reporting generally.

Certainly too there have been cases of climate scientists behaving poorly, like Michael Mann's lawsuit against Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg, or the University of East Anglia's fight against FOIA requests.*  Sorry, but when you take public money for your work, your work belongs to the public.

But if you simultaneously believe that global warming is a large and pressing problem, and have a realistic estimation of the ability of left-wing governments to address it - that is, that there is no problem so severe that with enough money, time, and effort, they can't make it a hundred times worse - the denial by large portions of the right that the problem even exists is more than a little depressing.

Better, though, than Disqus comments.

* My belief is that the document dump released in the Climategate hack was assembled to respond to the FOIA request before the University decided to stonewall.  Which explains why that particular collection of documents was sitting on a server waiting to be scooped up.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 04:24 PM | Comments (11) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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1 Global warming is one of those issues with large numbers of nested components:

-The data quality is poor. Modern temperature data is pretty good though still not great, but a lot of the observations are of the level "sailor with a mercury thermometer in the dark" or "derived from tree rings". There's a limitation to how many significant digits that kind of data is -good- for.

-Averaging out the temperature for a given area is difficult. Pournelle points out that even with perfect instrumentation, you could definitely get different values for the average temperature of your backyard, depending on how you sited your thermometers; none would be wrong, but they could affect what you're putting into your model.

-It's not unreasonable to be skeptical of complicated computer modeling, especially when the model is of a macro-level process where we have poor understanding of the micro-level actions. Lots of computer models told people that mortgage-backed securities were impossible to lose money on until they all turned out to be incorrect. There's a lot of "statistical modeling" going on, which is a nice way of saying "we don't understand how to actually model this part but we've got an approximate number that we're plugging in here." That doesn't mean that the model MUST be wrong, but it does limit its utility as a predictive tool.

-There's genuine controversy over exactly what the forcing mechanisms are and how they react, largely because we're talking about future climates which don't correspond to anything we've been able to study in the modern era. The responsiveness of the computer models to the various positive and negative forcing is -massively- influential to their observed results and it's also not really an area which we can scientifically observe except in retrospect. Most of the climate models include some pretty heavy positive forcing effects that "kick in" at higher CO2 levels and temperatures, but we don't actually know if this is how the climate will react. At the same time, since we're not really -modeling- the weather, it's difficult to predict how weather-related albedo changes would push things one way or the other.

-Leaving the realm of scientific matters, the actual policy questions get ugly right quick. Exactly what effects should we expect from climate change? What kind of damages are we looking at? What kind of costs are related to various types of amelioration efforts? This is one good reason to be skeptical of the international agreements that have been proposed so far, because proponents are very careful to make sure that they're talking in terms of "framework" and not actually promising that adhering to those agreements will be sufficient. If someone is fitting you out for a choke collar, it's not unreasonable to assume that at some point, they wanna choke ya.

-The insistence that global warming is a concern of unparalleled seriousness, coupled with the knee-jerk rejection of expansion of nuclear power programs, tends to land advocates of climate change policy into the mental box I reserve for "people who are really bad at math and who probably shouldn't be considered when setting policy". If it was seriously that much of an emergency, surely accepting some amount of risk is not merely advisable, but laudable?

-A lot of the "solutions" that amount to "don't do things which emit carbon" sound a lot like people who are living in the Bay Area advising Texans that nobody really needs air conditioning.

Of course there are a lot of skeptics who are skeptical but don't actually have a really good grasp of the issues; one of Niven's Laws was that there's no position so pure that you can't find a bloody idiot advocating it.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Wednesday, January 11 2017 02:31 PM (/lg1c)

2 Yep.

I find nuclear power is useful as a litmus test.  If someone claims to be worried about global warming but won't even consider expanded use of nuclear power, that person is an idiot and I'm wasting my time.  (Had a conversation with one person who insisted that the only safe approach to nuclear waste was launching it into space.  I stopped talking to them after that....)

I have no problem with people who are skeptical of some of the proposed solutions.  That's entirely right and appropriate.  I just have a problem with the scale of outright denial by otherwise intelligent individuals.

Speaking of air conditioning, it just passed 40C (104F) here in Sydney.  Anyone trying to take my air conditioner better be heavily armed.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, January 11 2017 03:30 PM (PiXy!)


My take: assume it is happening.  What can be done to fix it?

We tried "Kyoto"; take 15 years to reduce emissions by 5%.  Some countries hit the target (including the great satan, the USA, who didn't actually sign on to Kyoto... we just got lucky with a lot of conversion to natural gas from dirtier hydrocarbons, and an economy that tanked.)  Over those 15 years, though, global CO2 output increased by 50%.

So how many divisions has Michael Mann to enforce a real reduction?  And how much real reduction do we need?

Depending on who you ask, the problem starts with land-use changes in the 1800s, or maybe the big ramp-up of CO2 emissions starting in the 1950s. Getting back to the former is a 95% reduction in CO2, and a restoration of a lot of farm- and pasture-land to a wild state.  Getting back to the latter is "only" an 80% reduction in CO2.  That's one extinction-level event, and one probably-extinction-level event.  You can't feed 7+ billion of us with 1890's farming techniques.

And, again, we tried for 5%, and failed by a factor of... well, since we increased by 50%, "factor" doesn't even make sense.  What else have we tried?

The "carbon credits" solution.  Take money from people who make carbon, if they can't reduce carbon creation.  Give the money to people who don't make carbon.  ...and watch their standard of living increase, and watch them start to make carbon.  When your solution space ranges from "no change" to "massively worse", I may question your actual motives.

Anything else?  The loudest voices say to leave nukes off the table, too. Solar and wind are non-starters (see USS Clueless).  Maybe you can take a few percent off of power generation in the right parts of the world, but we're not going back to sails for container ships, and "transportation" is a solid 1/3 of the CO2 problem.

So, if it's a problem, there's no solution with current technology; we can't get 80-95% of current power generation, heat generation, farming, and transportation onto nukes or "renewables".  So I say we go balls-out until we find a way to control the weather, or to control solar input, or find some other solution.  Hamstringing the creative economies that might come up with those solutions is not the way to go.

Posted by: Mikeski at Wednesday, January 11 2017 06:08 PM (UzBQ4)

4 I like the two-question approach: 1) are you willing to build nuclear power plants? 2) when are you invading China?


Posted by: J Greely at Thursday, January 12 2017 03:31 AM (tgyIO)

5 Thank you sane people. smile

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Thursday, January 12 2017 06:14 AM (PiXy!)

6 That's another question - how do amelioration efforts affect the damage? If we're talking "10% reduction will remove 90% of the negative effects", that's very different from "90% reduction will only remove 10% of the negative effects".

Honestly, about all we can do is work on the technology. More efficient solar panels are good on their own, even apart from questions of global warming. Get 'em cheap enough and you don't have to worry so much about policy, people will install them on their own (especially in areas that don't have much infrastructure now, which is where a lot of the expected growth will be taking place anyway). But you have to get them cheap enough on their own; we can't put a massive subsidy on them and then expect that to scale up to world-spanning levels.

Likewise, actually-productive fusion power basically ends the conversation - at that point it's just a matter of converting infrastructure over.

But you can't just force it through policy, any more than you could have mandated electronic medical records in 1955 - the tools just aren't here yet, and we don't know exactly what tools we're actually going to manage to build.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Thursday, January 12 2017 06:26 AM (v29Tn)

7 One of the things that keeps me firmly on the skeptical side is how prevalent bad faith and incompetence are on the warmist side.  Some examples that I was able to check personally:
1. When Climategate happened, one of the things that leaked was a bunch of the model code.  As mentioned above, it looked like it was prepared for distribution, then they decided to resist.  But what they were going to release was completely unusable.  It only ran on a proprietary build of a Unix flavor that was uncommon to begin with.  The code was horribly written and buggy, and relied on one, undisclosed external module for forcing values, which was shown to generate about 90% of the hockey stick right there.  People demonstrated that you could put any input data at all into the model, and it would generate a hockey stick.  
2. The weather instrumentation is just awful.  Supposedly they cleaned this up recently, and the Berkely group that did it was supposed to be neutral.  But their choices on which sites were valid and which weren't were just indefensible.  And they go into complete stonewall mode any time they are questioned on a particular site.  One site in the Sierras I was able to visit personally, and it was sited such that it was exposed to channeled wind from one direction, radiated surface heat from another, and artificial heat (nearby generators) from another.  They insist that the site meets criteria and was moved to remove some issues, but you can go there easily and see that neither is true.  Another example that I haven't visited personally but have reliable reporting on; there are two major instruments in Iceland.  One is older, the other is new.  They are constantly in conflict, sometimes by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Again because it's near exhaust vents, sited to catch winds, etc. The local weather people consider the newer instrument to be garbage data and ignore it in their (usually accurate) forecasts, but the climate data uses that one and throws out the other one.  The "review" that was conducted to determine which one is accurate consisted of nothing more than deciding that the newer instrument had more data channels and was thus more useful for modeling, ignoring the fact that it's simply more channels of garbage data.  Again, they refuse to entertain discussion on this.
3. As mentioned above, we really have no scientific data on the forcing factors.  If we just go from what we know about CO2, Methane, etc, then our contribution to the atmospheric gasses amounts to about one degree of warming over a century, which would probably be a good thing all considered.  But the models put in a forcing value to say that x amount of CO2 derived warming produces Y amount of feedback and additional warming.  There is no actual data or even good theory on what this value should be, or if it's even positive.  In the big reports, they show model runs using various values.  But then they chose run values that are just absurd, that they know can't possibly be correct, that if they were correct, Earth would have gone the route of Venus ten times over before mankind evolved, and those get highlighted in the press.

I could go on and on and on, but I think I've written a big enough wall of text for the moment.

Posted by: David at Thursday, January 12 2017 09:15 AM (JMkaQ)

8 Avatar, most of the proposed "amelioration efforts" I've seen would have no benefit at all, either because they're assuming a spherical cow, or because they're just social engineering in drag. So, x% reduction for 0% gain at $$$ cost.


Posted by: J Greely at Thursday, January 12 2017 10:30 AM (CLiR9)

9 "which is nearly universally accepted among scientists." is also under contention, considering the well-documented incidents of social and economic pressure to conform to the dominant view.

Posted by: Mauser at Saturday, January 14 2017 11:45 AM (5Ktpu)

10 It is nearly universally accepted on its merits.  There is also a nasty case of groupthink and ostracism going on.  That's troubling because we need independent thought and criticism to find weaknesses in our models (and there are plenty of weaknesses!) and correct them.

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