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Fun with correlations!

Filed under: — gavin @ 9 May 2007 - (Türkçe)

We are forever being bombarded with apparently incredible correlations of various solar indices and climate. A number of them came up in the excoriable TGGWS mockumentary last month where they were mysteriously ‘improved’ in a number of underhand ways. But even without those improvements (which variously involved changing the axes, drawing in non-existent data, taking out data that would contradict the point etc.), the as-published correlations were superficially quite impressive. Why then are we not impressed?

To give you an idea, I’m going to go through the motions of constructing a new theory of political change using techniques that have been pioneered by a small subset of solar-climate researchers (references will of course be given). And to make it even more relevant, I’m going to take as my starting point research that Richard Lindzen has highlighted on his office door for many years:

That’s right. Forget the economy or the war(s), the fortunes of the Republican party in the US Senate are instead tied closely to the sunspot cycle.

“Oh yes”, the sceptics might say “but that’s just a couple of cycles and doesn’t use up-to-date numbers. What happens after 1986?”

Well, that is a little problematic, however, the good early correlation is obviously still important (r=0.52! 1960-1986) and so we should be able to refer to it over and over again without noting that it breaks down subsequently (cf. Svensmark, 2007 referring to Marsh and Svensmark (2000)). But more importantly, it just demonstrates that the theory needs a little adjustment.

Let’s look at the second half of the record. Well, there’s another strong correlation for that period as well (r=-0.63, 1988-2006). Only this time the correlation is inverted, but that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone – solar-senator effects are complicated!

If we now put it all together, we can see that there is a reasonable match over the whole period…. well, except that break in the period 1984 and 1988 and, unfortunately, last year’s elections didn’t fit the pattern either. But 1984-1988 was Ronald Reagan’s second term and clearly no theory of Republican senators can ignore that. We therefore propose that the ‘Ronald Reagan second term phase shift’ combined with the change of sign of the Hale solar magnetic cycle in 1986, obviously changed the dynamics. This kind of phase shift is frequently seen in solar studies (cf. Landscheidt and many others), where it is rarely taken as a sign that two time series with decadal spectral power are in fact completely independent. Finally, it is permissible to leave off the more recent data points (cf. TGGWS) for “graphical convenience”. So after just a little work, we have managed to rescue the original theory to match a much longer amount of data:

Some readers may scoff and suggest that in the absence of any mechanism, these powerful correlations are numerological artifacts arrived at using post hoc fallacious reasoning that have no predictive capability. That might appear to be a valid argument. However the ultimate test will of course be experimental. On the basis of these intriguing results, we propose exposing Republican senators to varying levels of cosmic rays in a basement and monitoring their electability. Any refusal by the funding agencies or ethical review panels to support this would simply be confirmation that the political science establishment are scared of what this research would imply for their so-called “consensus”.

Convincing, eh?

The data for sunspots and senators can, I’m sure, be manipulated even more effectively than I’ve done here. I’ve made no use of various lags or filters (which can be altered as you go along cf. Friis-Christensen and Lassen (1991)), or of partial detrending (cf. Marsh and Svensmark (2003)), or of splicing of unconnected data sets (cf. Svensmark and Friis-Christensen 1997, Nir Shaviv). More ideas could be taken from “New evidence for the Theory of the Stork” (Höfer et al, 2004)”. A special RealClimate commendation for anyone who can do better!

356 Responses to “Fun with correlations!”

  1. 151
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 145 Michael “…an entomologist who naturally looks for genetic relationships among insects…Let’s stop pretending we know more than we really know.”
    At the risk of moving off-topic, what was his point? Know about what? Evolution?

  2. 152
    Timothy Chase says:

    Michael (#144):

    I will assume that you are both honest and of good will, but granting this, I believe you are mistaken.

    For many people, all that they see are the costs associated with trying to do something about climate change, and given this, they will go out of their way to deny that it is occuring or that we are causing it. As long as they can cast some doubt some how, no matter how unreasonable it may be, they will do so. However, while there are costs associated with trying to do something about climate change, there are far greater costs associated with climate change itself.

    Moreover, we understand the basics, and the models are demonstrating an increasing degree of accuracy. They are powerful – and they are telling us that we are in for a world of hurt if we don’t do something about this. Not a runaway greenhouse effect, and probably not the extinction of our species, but nevertheless, there is a great deal at stake.

    It is not a mathematical exercise. It is not a game.

    The arctic icecap will be gone soon, the oceans are heating up, the plants are losing their ability to metabolize carbon dioxide, the coral reefs are dying, and the droughts are spreading. Various forms of positive feedback are just kicking in, but our governments are looking for reasons to postpone action, to wait until others act, to do nothing.

    We can’t afford this anymore.

  3. 153
    ChrisC says:

    Doc Martyn

    “I had always though that Billions were being thrown at climate science, so I wondered why the guys and gals never bother to conduct any actual experiments.”

    Opening a first year meteorology textbook “An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology” J. Holton 4th Ed. 2004 Elsevier Press to page 354, we find the heading:

    “Laboratory Simulation of the General Circulation”

    Which includes a discussion of a myriad of laboratory experiments that have been conducted on the general circulation of atmospheric motion and heat transfer. It includes photos, graphs, a bit of maths and a fair bit of analysis. Bear in mind this is not a climatology research text. It is a book aimed at meteorology undergraduates and applied mathematicians (such as myself) with an interst in meteorology and climate. It’s the tip of the iceberg. Many, many other experiments are performed in the fields of climatology and meteorology.

    Also, climatology and meteorology are interdisiplinary subjects. As such, experiments conducted in other fields (such as heat, mass and vapour transport and radiative transfer) feed into climatology. There is alot of cross over.

    Have a look at MIT’s geophysical fluid laboratory:

    as an example of a facility that undertakes laboratory studies in climate related displines.

    To suggest that climatologist do not perform laboratory experiments is rather dismisive and bizarre. I think that before making such claims, you should do a little more research.

  4. 154
    James says:

    Re #141: [But what if someone denies that we know that mammals descended from reptiles, or reptiles from fish? The evidence is overwhelming.]

    That’s a good illustration of the two different thought processes involved in belief. The religious type of believer knows that his/her deity of choice created all the animals, therefor any “evidence” for evolution must likewise have been created, either by the deity as a test of faith, or by Satan as a snare for the unwary. There’s no logical way to disprove this, either. Postulate the existence of a sufficiently powerful being, and of course that being could have faked all the evidence.

    The scientific thought process, by contrast, really isn’t interested in absolute truth, but in the fact that looking at life through the lens of evolution allows one to make useful predictions. Maybe it was all faked by some deity, but at least it appears to have been a consistent fake, and that’s good enough to be going on with :-)

  5. 155
    James says:

    Re #145: […and one questions whether or not we ought to be making decisions that will cost our society billions and trillions of dollars based on these “physical” models.]

    What would you suggest as an alternative, wishful thinking? Those decisions are going to be made – even a decision to do nothing is still a decision, and if wrong would certainly cost those billions and trillions of dollars, at the very least. Shouldn’t a rational person base such decisions on the best advice available?

    [Our technological growth has occurred because we have had access to inexpensive power, which in the U.S. means coal power.]

    It could equally well be argued that technological growth has been stifled by cheap energy, since it provides no incentive to replace crude & wasteful technology with more advanced alternatives.

    [And to think of all the CO2 that is dumped into our atmosphere running the supercomputing clusters that produce our global warming predictions!!!]

    Quite a trivial amount, really. A mere fraction of what is produced by – just to pick an example off the top of my head – playing computer games, and that’s only a small part of what’s generated just by unused outdoor lighting, or the people who’ll go “camping” in their RVs this summer.

  6. 156
    Michael says:

    we also have reached a point where renewable energy is cost-competitive with fossil based power

    If you are talking about hydro power then yes… it is cost competitive, however we can’t presently dam up any more rivers for other environmental reasons. When you start talking about wind and solar energy, they are not cost competitive with coal power. Solar is currently about three times as expensive as coal power. Wind is not consistent enough to provide base load power, nor is there enough potential energy available from wind to replace even the 50% of our power generation that comes from coal. The only inroads I see renewables making in replacing fossil fuels in the near-term is in the transportation sector, where due to the high price of oil, it has become cost effective. However, even there you run the risk of having the Saudis boost output to drop the price of oil and kill the competition. For base load power generation, we are far from having cost effective renewable power.

    The arctic icecap will be gone soon, the oceans are heating up, the plants are losing their ability to metabolize carbon dioxide, the coral reefs are dying, and the droughts are spreading. Various forms of positive feedback are just kicking in, but our governments are looking for reasons to postpone action, to wait until others act, to do nothing.

    This is an example of what I think is meant by “pretending to know more than we really know.” My point in bringing that up from evolution science was because I see similarities in both the GW and evolution debate. For some reason, a number of climate scientists want the debate to end. Why? Won’t that render your jobs obsolete? If it is a stone-cold, hard, proven fact that anthropogenic forcing is driving climate change, then let’s quit paying for climate science, and boost subsidies for renewable energy, so it can be affordable for the middle and lower classes in society.

    I would like us to wait 5 or 10 years to see if the model predictions hold up. That will hopefully be a long enough time for the popular press to get bored with the issue, so that scientists can work in peace and find real answers. In the meantime, we should certainly be responsible, conserve energy, and work on new technology. However, I don’t agree with spending 3% (seemed like a low estimate to me) of the GDP on CO2 reductions with such a commitment based largely on computer models.

  7. 157
    Regina says:

    “On the basis of these intriguing results, we propose exposing Republican senators to varying levels of cosmic rays in a basement…”

    When can we start?

  8. 158
    bobn says:

    Anyone care to explain why this claim by Reid Bryson is wrong:

    “Well let me give you one fact first. In the first 30 feet of the atmosphere, on the average, outward radiation from the Earth, which is what CO2 is supposed to affect, [80 percent]of the reflected energy is absorbed by water vapor. In the first 30 feet, 80 percent…

    ….And how much is absorbed by carbon dioxide? Eight hundredths of one percent. One one-thousandth as important as water vapor. You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide.”

    I can see the conclusion that spitting has the same effect as doubling co2 is false. It’s ignoring the negative water vapor feedback and it’s totally at odds with the direct radiative forcing from doubling co2 given in textbooks.

    But I wonder how valid his facts about the first 30 feet of atmosphere are. I tried to come up with my own reasoning why this was wrong, and I guess it’s probably because the greenhouse effect is dependant on the entire atmosphere, not just the first 30 feet. But I would be grateful for anyone who can explain this in more detail.

  9. 159

    Brian — I thought the video was basically very good. I have a few quibbles, though.

    1. “Use less energy” translates in many peoples’ minds to “suffer and go without stuff.” The main point is to get our energy from different sources. Using less obviously helps, but that shouldn’t necessarily be the political centerpiece of the response to global warming.

    2. Green Parties are endorsed at the end. This won’t sit well with Labor or Tory voters, who are most of the voters. And those parties are also concerned about global warming. Many people have reasons for disliking the Green Party. In the US, it helped George Bush win over Al Gore. In Germany, it supported a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. People affected by these things will not support the local Green Party under any circumstances.

  10. 160

    [[ The first describes the process by which the followers of e.g. religions and political systems hold the tenets of their particular belief system. There doesn’t seem to be any empiricism involved at all: if your leader or holy book says that Artesians are responsible for all the ills of society, the believers don’t ask for evidence, they just go massace Artesians. This sort of belief is absolutely certain, even when non-believers prove that it’s wrong.]]

    A belief is a belief is a belief. Beliefs can either be right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate. Categorizing all religious and political beliefs as per se wrong and all scientific beliefs as per se right is itself a wrong belief.

    [Response: I have deleted a number of comments on this subject on this thread because the science/religion issue is not an appropriate subject for this blog. There are plenty of other venues in which this is encouraged, but here it is just a distraction. To all commenters, please stick to the science. – gavin]

  11. 161

    [[For example, both young earth creationists and proponents of intelligent design will sometimes claim that mainstream science is founded on some form of atheistic materialism]]

    A lot of militant atheists claim this as well, including ones who understand evolution, but mistakenly think it implies atheism. Examples would be Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Victor Stenger.

  12. 162

    [[By the same token, we shouldn’t rule out theories of anthropogenic global warming based solely on solar activity observations.]]

    No. We should rule them out because the evidence doesn’t support them.

  13. 163
    ray ladbury says:

    Barton, my comment was not meant to be anti-religious, and I am sorry if I expressed it so sloppily that it could be interpreted as such. Certainly, atheism has its share of strident idiots as well. The problem you as a believer confront is that scientists are bombarded continually by attacks from people who proclaim themselves to be religious. I sympathasize and state my personal belief that there is no conflict between science and religion, only between science and stupidity.

  14. 164
    Dan Wentworth says:

    Scientists “believe”.

    Religionists “believe in”.

    One implies salvation.

  15. 165
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re #158: bobn, the problem with the statement you quote is that you are meant to assume that greenhouse gases are like a blanket that trap energy. But energy cannot be trapped, and radiation that is absorbed low in the atmosphere is re-radiated, and will be absorbed again higher up in the atmosphere.

    The greenhouse effect works by lowering the temperature at which the Earth radiates energy back to space. The only greenhouse gas molecule that matters is the one which radiates into space, which mainly occurs in the upper atmosphere, where it is cooler. While there is much more water vapor than carbon dioxide at the surface, water vapor decreases with altitude, so carbon dioxide levels are relatively higher in the upper part of the atmosphere that is actaully responsible for the greenhouse effect.

    You can try reading this web page on the greenhouse effect for more details. Let me know if it is helpful.

  16. 166
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re #156 [enough time for the popular press to get bored with the issue, so that scientists can work in peace and find real answers]

    I can’t imagine that newspaper stories are impeding the research of any scientists studying climate, or any other field of science, for that matter. If you believe what you wrote, you are totally ignorant about scientific research.
    And as for holding off on any action to mitigate global warming and waiting for more research to see if the models hold up: To paraphrase (poorly, I’ll admit) Derek Bok’s warning about the cost of education (, “If you think responding to global warming now is expensive, try ignoring it.”

  17. 167
    Hank Roberts says:

    >In the first 30 feet of the atmosphere,

    Look at the first entry under Science in the right hand column, for the AIP History; look for the discussion of how the very early science didn’t realize that at high elevation/low air pressure CO2 behaves differently than at ground level.

    Any attempt by me to paraphrase would be recreational typing; if you don’t find Dr. Weart’s history pages clear enough, he specifically points out therein that it’s one of the hardest areas and asks for people to let him know what needs clarification.

    If you could persuade Dr. Bryson …. nah.

  18. 168
    FurryCatHerder says:


    I beg to differ on the subject of solar being competitive. For individuals going completely off the grid, the cost recovery is on the order of 15 to 20 years, depending on load and configuration. That it is less than infinity means it is cost competitive.

    When larger groups of people share a single solar power system, payback becomes even shorter because of something called “load diversity”. “Load diversity” means that different people use their blowdryer, toaster oven, electric dryer, and other high-load appliances, at different instances. The inrush current to start my A/C happens at a different time as the inrush current to start yours, and the neighbors, and so on. Power requirements regress to the mean. In a nutshell, if the peak power requirements for 10 people are put together, it isn’t 10 times any one individual, it’s significantly lower — closer to the average requirements. If 100 people, even closer to average, and if 1,000 people closer still to the average. What makes power generation and distribution expensive is peak power.

    To give you a really quick (and less than 100% accurate …) set of examples, my house averages roughly 800 watts (more or less …) over a 24 hour day without A/C running. That’s lights, computers, TV, washer, dryer, etc. If all I had to worry about was that 800 watts, or 20kWH, I could be off the grid for about $20K, and the system would pay for itself in under 20 years. But because, as an individual, I don’t benefit from load diversity, going off the grid would be closer to $35K, and since that would include using A/C at this point, the payback would be a couple years longer. If I don’t go “off the grid”, but instead net my consumption out to zero, the price drops from $35K to about $29K, and the payback period becomes 15 years. Oh — and those prices? Getting cheaper every year for solar, but more expensive every year for fossil fuel power.

    For utility scale solar power, they derive all the benefits of load diversity, so peak power isn’t the number of customers time the peak instanteous requirements for each customer(for me, my peak instantaneous power requirement is about 19.2kW), it’s the number of customers times the peak average demand, which for me is about 2.5kW. Additionally, the pricing I gave is consumer system prices. A utility scale system would be far below what I’d pay, and technologies such as Stirling Engine solar, are significantly less expensive than PV.

  19. 169
    James says:

    Re #165: […you are meant to assume that greenhouse gases are like a blanket that trap energy. But energy cannot be trapped…]

    Huh? You mean I’ve wasted all that money I spent on insulating my house? And indeed, all the money that I’ve spent on blankets, sweaters, thermos bottles and other energy-trapping devices the over the years? All these are nothing but a gigantic hoax?

  20. 170
    Hank Roberts says:

    The climate scientists over at NERC, here, are dealing with many of the same statements of belief, and indeed from some of the same names (of course anyone can pretend to be someone on the Internet, only the hosts can see your IP number).

    But even with that undertainty, much of the disputation at NERC is going over the same ground (and gases) as here.

    Some time might be saved by noticing which are FAQs and which are FABs (frequently asserted beliefs).

  21. 171
    Timothy Chase says:

    bobn (#158) wrote:

    But I wonder how valid his facts about the first 30 feet of atmosphere are. I tried to come up with my own reasoning why this was wrong, and I guess it’s probably because the greenhouse effect is dependant on the entire atmosphere, not just the first 30 feet. But I would be grateful for anyone who can explain this in more detail.

    Well, it helps me at least to be able to summarize what I have found, so at the risk of recreational typing….

    There is a fairly complex interplay between carbon dioxide and water vapor. Their absorbtion obviously differs in terms of the spectra, and as such this strongly influences their effects upon one another. The primary absorbtion by carbon dioxide occurs in the upper atmosphere where it is especially dry, and as such the effects of water vapour is fairly negligible. Reradiation, with “half” of the radiation returning to ground level results in the forcing by carbon dioxide. By itself this would raise the temperature of the earth by approximately one degree. However, this results in additional water vapor, which is of course a stronger greenhouse gas.

    Calculations based simply upon radiation would imply a runaway greenhouse effect – similar to that which has occured on Venus. In effect, the geometric series would have an r greater than one, and summing on successive powers of r would increase geometrically. The problem with such calculations is that they neglect the effects of convection which appear to be more than enough to avoid such a runaway catastrophe on earth. Nevertheless, once performs the calculations with all of these effects taken into account, one arrives at results which are roughly comparable with the numerical simulations, and as such, both provide independent verification for one another.

    What is interesting is that much of the more modern science was originally developed for military purposes as the military was particularly concerned with the absorbtion of infrared radiation by the atmosphere. Moreover, some of the more sophisticated mathematical methods were developed as part of astrophysics in studying the behavior of radiation and convection within stars. In a sense, our fairly developed understanding of the behavior of stars provides additional independent verification for our understanding of climate change.

    In epistemology, we might refer to this as coherentialist aspects of empirical science in which the justification which a given element receives is far greater as the result of its participation in a network of elements which are likewise receive some albeit limited justification.

    Empirical science is a unity because reality is a unity.


    Anyway, the information I have just summarized is fairly dispersed, but what I have just given is available at:

    The American Institute of Physics
    Climate Change: The Discovery of Global Warming

  22. 172
    Matt says:

    Chuck #166

    An obvious question…but if you were in charge of things your reason for investing big in mitigating the warming would be:

    1) Save lives?
    2) Ensure continued population growth?
    3) Ensure continued economic growth?
    4) Ensure our coast lines remain habitable?
    5) ?

    Are you certain that the investment in global warming is the most cost effective ways of achieving all those items? That’s where I really get tripped up in all this.

    If the cost to fix the warming was $1, there isn’t a person in the world that would be against fixing it. If the cost to fix it is $13T dollars/year (25% of world economic output), then I suspect that even some of most “convinced” scientists would say “Hummm. Let’s wait for another 10 years of research to come in on this subject.

    The biggest issue we face to date is that we have a bunch of people telling us this is going to cost, the longer we wait the more it will cost, and nobody knows the best way or right way to fix this. That’s kind of how a roofing salesmen operates, except he has a solution available.

    What do you think we should be spending on this?

  23. 173
    Matt says:

    #168 Michael

    If current home consumption is 12500 KWH per year (avg) in the US, and if electric cars are achieving around 0.1 KWH/mile, with 1.5 cars per home, and 12Kmi/car per year, we’re looking at a 13800 KWH/year.

    With yearly insolation at 5 KWH/sq m/day, and daily needs of 13800/365=38 KWH, that’s 7.6m2 of solar cells needed. But wait, because cells are 20% efficienct, and there’s no way to capture all the suns energy given placement and trackign limitations (assume we loose half) for a total efficiency of 0.10.

    A home with 1.4 electric cars needs 76m2 of solar cells, or an array roughly 25 feet per side that is aimed at the sun much of the day.

    Not very workable.

  24. 174
    Hank Roberts says:

    >> energy cannot be trapped,
    >>> blankets, sweaters, thermos bottles and other energy-trapping devices

    Blair, would you stipulate that radiative heat transfer is difficult, that “trapped” may not be a useful word to argue over, and that the description of the process is hard to put in fewer words than Spencer Weart’s chapter explaining it?

    James, would you stipulate that you know “convection, conduction, and radiation” — and that making comments that confuse them don’t help clarify an already difficult technical subject that takes a chapter of Weart’s book to describe in simple terms for the nonscientific reader?

    Can you get to the point of agreeing on the observed facts in the AIP history? Or is there some particular item in the physics you have reason to challenge?

  25. 175
    bobn says:

    thanks for the resources everyone! Blair Dowden that information you linked to is excellent. It will take me a while to read through all of the links everyone has provided. Thanks again!

  26. 176
    Timothy Chase says:

    Hank Roberts (#170) wrote:

    Some time might be saved by noticing which are FAQs and which are FABs (frequently asserted beliefs).

    I have certainly thought the same thing.

    Talk Origins has done that with creationism and its attack on evolutionary biology. They also have a wonderful resouce on all of the quotes from scientists that get “edited” or otherwise taken out of context by creationists in their attacks upon science. It isn’t quite as bad in climate science and I suspect it won’t get that way for various reasons, but things like that might be helpful – especially if put together by the non-experts (there are more of them and they might have the time to do some of it), but checked by experts if and when they have the time. However, I personally would like to see a little more context than what Talk Origins has when it comes to contrarian claims and correct responses.

    Another thing which might be valuable would be scanning in the older articles as part of an online library. Much of what is being denied is actually rather old science. The newer articles don’t deal with the issues so much because the points which are being denied are more a matter of science history than current research. AIP helps, but it is still in the manner of an overview. The old tech articles would give one a place to go after that. As a matter of my own personal standards, particularly in terms of understanding the science, I might find this more interesting.

    It is being done in other areas nowadays.

    For example, the work of Sol Spiegelman (1966, etc) and Manfred Eigen (1974, etc) on the test-tube evolution of the Q-beta phage can now be found online. In case this is unfamiliar stuff, the Q-beta is a bacterial virus which slimmed down from 10,000 nucleotides (about the size of HIV) to approximately 70 on the low end and still replicate once it was no longer required to infect the host but simply reproduce in nutrients. I know the 120 nucleotide version replicated like gangbusters: being so short, there was far less that needed to be replicated. However, I don’t know whether the 70 nt was as fast. In any case, his put it in range of the self-assembly of RNA, and as such is of interest to those concerned with the origin of life.

    But with regard to the claim/response and links to material which is more in-depth, the nonspecialists might look into a wiki, for example.

    Now the following is not a FAQ, “just” an article, but it is something you may find of interest…

    Lindzenâ??s Newsweek Op-ed: Misleadingly Rosy
    by Dr. Michael C. MacCracken
    Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs
    Climate Institute, Washington DC*
    Posted on Saturday, May 12, 2007

    Also, for daily climate news, you might check:

    ClimateWire Climate Change News and Information Service

    Incidently, here is one positive story from a few days ago:

    Scientists look high in the sky for power
    Jet stream could fill global energy needs, researchers say
    Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
    Monday, May 7, 2007

  27. 177
    Timothy Chase says:

    With regard to the “good news” story:

    Scientists look high in the sky for power
    Jet stream could fill global energy needs, researchers say
    Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
    Monday, May 7, 2007

    … one of the people involved was talking about the possibility (assuming research, etc) of jet stream turbines being online in fifteen years and being able to fill US needs for power. That may just be pie in the sky, but at least it is a heck of a lot closer than beginning construction on the prototype commercial nuclear fusion reactor late mid-century. Even once we finish the prototype reactor, we would still have to build the fleet to meet the energy needs.

    Anyway, I figure it helps to keep in mind that bit of British advice: “Chin-up.” The problems are big, but probably not insurmountable.


  28. 178
    Froblyx says:

    I have to cry on somebody’s shoulder; I just read the most outrageously stupid item over at “World Climate Report”. I’m sure that you fellows have already dispatched this blog to the lower realms of wingnutdom, but I just have to get this off my shoulders.

    They are proudly trumpeting an item on correlations between Neptune’s observed b-magnitude and earth’s temperature. Their suggestion is that Neptune is undergoing global warming just like the earth’s, because it’s all because of the sun, not CO2.

    I don’t know where to begin. Neptune is a gas giant; its atmosphere is thousands of kilometers thick and we can see only the topmost layers. We have no way of knowing what’s going on inside, much less whether it’s warming up.

    They note that the Neptune data lags the earth’s data by ten years. Why the lag? Well, it takes ten years for Neptune to warm up!

    They also don’t understand the first thing about blackbody radiation. They’re showing b-magnitudes, which represent blue light. If Neptune were emitting more blue light because it’s getting warmer, then it would be at a temperature of, oh, maybe 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Any measurable increase in brightness due to planetary warming would be in the far infrared.

    I could go on with other absurdities in this article, but it’s just too much to bear. To think that ANYBODY takes this nut seriously is just too much to contemplate.

  29. 179
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I’ve been plagued by a solar-theory guy & have told him repeatedly to check out RC, but here’s his latest from an e-letter he gets, including SUNSPOTS. Any comments (esp from hosts) would be appreciated so I could email them back to him. (Sorry for the long post):

    Earth Changes Newsletter
    By Mitch Battros – Earth Changes Media
    May 13th 2007

    *N.A.S.A. Scientists Fight for Funding of Space Weather Forecasting*
    by Mitch Battros – Earth Changes Media

    *The forthcoming “Super-Duper Doppler Weatherman” is fighting its way* through the US Congress for funding. It is a bitter-sweet current reality. The good news is the science community strongly supports the continued research and implementation of using the science of the Sun-Earth connection to forecast weather here on Earth. The challenging part of this, as with all scientific research is to obtain and maintain the funding needed through Congress.

    The ‘Super-Duper Doppler Weatherman’ if fully described in my book. ‘Solar Rain’ – The Earth Changes Have Begun*/ by Mitch Battros. I outline and describe the latest research which shows a much greater intimacy between solar activity and its ‘direct and immediate’ connection to weather here on Earth. This topic was the theme of the 2003 American Meteorological Society Conference of which N.A.S.A. Director; Sean O’Keefe was the keynote speaker. The theme was to discuss the future training of meteorologist to use space weather as part of their daily forecast.

    *The Equation:*
    Sunspots => Solar Flares => Magnetic Field Shift => Shifting Ocean and Jet Stream Currents => Extreme Weather and Human Disruption (mitch battros)

    *Today’s Fight to Implement the Super-Duper Doppler Weatherman*

    Below is the formal statement of Daniel N. Baker, Director, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Professor, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department, University of Colorado at Boulder, which was conducted before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics House Committee on Science and Technology.

    *Dr. Daniel Baker is Director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics* at the University of Colorado-Boulder and is Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences there. His primary research interest is the study of plasma physical and energetic particle phenomena in planetary magnetospheres and in the Earth’s vicinity. He conducts research in space instrument design, space physics data analysis, and magnetospheric modeling.

    *It is a major and lasting achievement of our nation* that it finds the means and the will to look beyond the pressure of present day concerns, to focus on questions about humanity’s place in the universe, our relationship to our Sun and the nearby planets, how the Earth and its environment have functioned in the past, and how they may change in the future. I believe – as do you, I suspect – that the United States has benefited greatly from investment in space research.

    *The National Research Council’s* (NRC’s) 2003 Solar and Space Physics SSP) Decadal Survey, “The Sun to the Earth – and Beyond: A Decadal Strategy for Solar and Space Physics,” laid out a clear, prudent, and effective program of basic and applied research.

    The envisioned program would address key science objectives such as: understanding magnetic reconnection – the physical process underlying much of space physics; discovering the mechanisms that drive the Sun’s activity and produce energetic particle storms in the heliosphere; determining the physical interactions of the Earth’s ionosphere with the
    atmosphere and magnetosphere; as well as addressing a host of other questions that are essential to understanding our local space environment.

    *The Decadal Plan would also *have allowed an end-to-end view of the connected Sun-Earth system through N.A.S.A.’s Living With a Star (L.W.S.) program, thereby enhancing greatly the ability to provide realistic
    specification and forecasts of space weather. Through both its basic research component and its applied component, the Heliophysics Program would therefore contribute substantially and directly to national needs and to the Vision for Space Exploration…..

    Mitch Battros produces *a bi-weekly radio show titled “Earth Changes Radio Hour”. He began in television in April 1995 and continued until August 2002 at which time he switched to radio and can be heard world wide. He is the author of “Solar Rain” (The Earth Changes Have Begun) addressing the Sun-Earth Connection and its effect on weather and humans. He is a licensed mental health therapist specializing in PTSD (trauma resolution). He is a member of the Red Cross Disaster Team
    mental health unit. Mitch works with the King Co. Emergency Management Office as a field trainer, and is a certified N.A.D.A. acupuncturist.

    Thanks for any pithy comments on any part of this….And who is Daniel Baker – any credibility? Mitch Battros?

  30. 180
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Re #173


    The examples I gave are very workable and very real-world scenarios. They
    don’t include cars because I have no expectation that we’ll be driving solar
    powered cars any time soon. Rather, I’d expect liquid fuels would come from
    something like thermal depolymizeration or continued use of fossil fuels.
    Just stopping the use of fossil fuels for power would go a HUGE way to
    ending much of this nonsense.

    All prices and power amounts are based on 175w or 200w Kyocera modules and
    5kW string inverters. The biggest limitation I have to going off the grid,
    besides startup capital ;), is roof space, and not because I need some huge
    amount. Rather, I live in a small house with a roof that has multiple hips.

    “Insolation” already includes “not pointed directly at the sun”. It’s the
    answer to the question “If I put a panel up, what number do I multiply that
    panel’s power by to get the watt-hours produced?” The units are hours.
    Thus, a 200w Kyocera module in an area such as mine with an historical value
    of 5.3 hours insolation produces 1.06kWH / day, on average. 38kWH / day
    requirements from your figures using those panels is 38kWH/day / 1.06kWH per
    day per panel = 36 panels. 36 panels * 16ft^2 per panel (Kyocera specs) =
    576 ft^2.

    Cost would be circa $42K (36 * $900 per panel, plus 4 5kW string inverters @
    $2,500 per, plus odds and ends, probably less due to quantity — and those
    are retail prices, wholesale is less) and given your values provide all of
    the required electricity for an entire house, as well as transportation.
    Assuming a $0.13 / kWH present (and future) electricity cost, and 20MPG @
    $2.80 / gallon for 12,000 miles * 1.5 cars, current costs are $1,625 for
    electricity and $2,520 for gasoline, or a total of $4,145 annual fossil
    energy costs. $42K / $4,125 = 10.2 years to recover. An approximate
    amortization using current rates for 30 years is about $280 / month.
    Current costs of $4,145 are 4145 / 12 = $345 per month, or some $65 MORE
    using fossil fuels. Tax deductibility would return some $11,760, assuming a
    20% marginal rate, further reducing monthly costs to $250 / month. This
    excludes federal tax advantages and assumes utility net metering. Let me
    know if you find any math mistakes.

    That’s a real worked example using your figures — feel free to check the
    Kyocera spec sheets, prices and the historical insolation values for Central
    Texas. I disagree on your daily electricity for eletric cars, by the way,
    but that’s beside the point. I used your figures and it’s a net winner in
    current dollar costs, with mortgage interest included.

    It’s not just feasible, it’s profitable. Indeed, the more “all in” you go,
    the better it gets.

  31. 181
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re #169 (James) and #174 (Hank): I am guilty of a sloppy statement. Of course energy can be trapped, so you can rest assured that your sweater and attic insulation will still work. But as Hank correctly points out, greenhouse gas absorption of longwave radiation is different.

    Spencer Weart gives what I think are two contradictory explanations of the greenhouse effect. One is that energy is transferred from a CO2 molecule to the air, and the other is a radiation balance model. I used to think in terms of the first one, but it was raypierre in these pages who taught me about the radiation balance model.

    I have put my best understanding of this subject on this page than I mentioned before. It is an alternative to the historical approach taken by Weart. I am sure it would benefit from an expert review for errors. Anyone interested?

  32. 182
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 172 Matt

    Those are legitimate questions, ones that need to be asked about every policy issue of national importance. In fact, governments never have all the answers to such questions, but that doesn’t stop them from embarking on long range plans to build highways, fight poverty, fight illegal drug use, reform education, provide universal health care, reduce air and water pollution, and, dare I say it, wage a war on terrorism (how many billions of dollars have the U.S. and Britain spent on Iraq, with no end in sight?).

  33. 183
    grace w. says:

    I am a Communications student at the University of Washington writing a thesis paper on how newspaper media cover global warming & climate change, and also, public attitudes on global warming. RealClimate is included in my study and I wanted to ask what your readership count is, approximately? Thank you.

  34. 184
    tamino says:

    Re: #178 (Froblyx)

    In my opinion, the research they’re referring to is flawed in many ways. For one thing, the “suggestive correlations” aren’t correlations at all; the authors themselves admit that the correlations aren’t statistically significant. For another thing, they correlate Neptune’s brightness increase with total solar irradiance (TSI) data from Foukal (2002), but that estimate shows an increase in TSI from about 1982 to 1990 of around 2.3 W/m^2. This is contradicted by both the estimate of Lean (2000), which shows no real increase in TSI during that period, and — more importantly — by the satellite measurements, which likewise show no increase in TSI during that period (and which agree excellently with the estimates of Lean). I did a blog post on the topic.

  35. 185
    Timothy Chase says:

    Matt (#172) wrote:

    An obvious question…but if you were in charge of things your reason for investing big in mitigating the warming would be:

    1) Save lives?
    2) Ensure continued population growth?
    3) Ensure continued economic growth?
    4) Ensure our coast lines remain habitable?
    5) ?

    Are you certain that the investment in global warming is the most cost effective ways of achieving all those items? That’s where I really get tripped up in all this.

    Human lives, agriculture, economies, national security…

    For me, the first is enough, though.


    “In the last year alone, 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa have faced food crisis.

    “Global warming means that that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter. They are going to be caught between the devil of drought and the deep blue seas of floods.”

    Climate change ‘hitting Africa’
    Saturday, 28 October 2006


    “We’re essentially moving the desert further north,” says Mingfang Ting of Columbia University, co-author of a study released Thursday by the journal Science. By 2020, rain estimates show “very unusual” agreement among climate projections, with the Southwestern states facing permanent drought. That would worsen already arid conditions in Las Vegas, Phoenix and other locales dependent on the Colorado River, Ting says.

    Climate change threatens new dust bowl in Southwest
    April 5, 2007


    Written by former World Bank economist Sir Nicholas Stern at Blair’s request, the 700-page report was released on Monday.

    “Our actions over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century,” says the report.

    Blair calls for ‘bold’ action after stark climate change warning
    Monday, October 30, 2006


    Threats to national survival stemming from catastrophic change must be anticipated, evaluated, and neutralized to the greatest degree possible….Effective interagency action may require new legislation and better definition of Department of Homeland Security authority….Should global cooperative measures fail, the first impact will likely come from large numbers of displaced people who, by the very nature of their displacement, will become subject to malnutrition and disease; agricultural dislocation could aggravate or spark displacement and border security issues could arise as well.

    Colloquium Brief
    March 29-31, 2007
    U.S. Army War College and Triangle Institute for Security Studies

    Global climate change presents a serious national security threat that could affect Americans at home, impact U.S. military operations and heighten global tensions, according to a study released today by a blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals.

    Climate Change Poses Serious Threat To U.S. National Security
    Date: April 17, 2007

    Matt (#172) wrote:

    If the cost to fix it is $13T dollars/year (25% of world economic output), then I suspect that even some of most “convinced” scientists would say “Hummm. Let’s wait for another 10 years of research to come in on this subject.

    Where are you getting 25%, Matt?

    I (#152) wrote:

    For many people, all that they see are the costs associated with trying to do something about climate change, and given this, they will go out of their way to deny that it is occuring or that we are causing it. As long as they can cast some doubt some how, no matter how unreasonable it may be, they will do so. However, while there are costs associated with trying to do something about climate change, there are far greater costs associated with climate change itself.

  36. 186
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Spencer Weart gives what I think are two contradictory explanations …

    May I suggest you use the contact link at the bottom of the page
    and tell him how you understood what you read?
    He invites feedback, and clearly wants to know where people don’t find the text to read as consistent or easy to follow.

  37. 187
    Matt says:

    re: 180 FurryCatHerder

    I calc’d an array 25′ per side, you calc’d 23.9′ per side. We’re not too far off :) I just think that space requirement is unworkable, that’s all. Feeding the US (3.6T KWH/year) means 3.4 trillion of these panels. Sure, we coudl get 20% of the folks on these things in a massive effort, but at 5%/year energy growth, it takes just 4 years and we’re back where we started.

    I’d also agree figures on electric car I listed aren’t right. I was being very kind. A 2500 pound electric car will need about 220 wh/mile. Tesla Motor’s car is pretty close to that today.

    But a side thought is that it’s amazing to realize that a family could be completely free of gasoline by bumping electricty usage just 20%. Nuclear + LiIon batteries looks to be the most practical near-term recipe.

    Thanks for the pointer on the kyocera panels. I’ll definitely study.

  38. 188
    Matt says:

    #172 Chuck

    People that study this type of stuff already have a way to measure the benefits with respect to human life: it’s called “cost per life year”. Simply, it’s the cost incurred to extend a single person’s life by a year. Looking at it in these terms, a Harvard study looked at 587 activities, ranging from seat belts in school buses, smoke detectors in your house, heart transplants, etc. Things like mandatory seat belt laws cost about $69 per life year, since all cars already have them. Things like regulating benzene emissions at a tire plant cost $20B per life year. In between we have things like statin drug at around $50,000 per life year. Air bags are $120,000 per life year, etc.

    Where does global warming really fall into this? If (I’m making up numbers) the cost per year for global warming mitigation in the US is $1T/year, and it saves 100K lives per year (each life having 20 years left), then that’s $500K/life year. Front disk brakes, instead of drum brakes, were about $240,000 per life year in the Harvard study.

    Seat belts for school buses were about $2.8M per life year.

    If the cost to mitigate global warming is $20B/year and it saves 5M lives, then that’s $200 per life year which is around what we spend today for flu shots for old people.

    Personally, global warming is a LOT lower on the list of reasons why we want to do this. Energy independence, along with building a pool of talented engineers that understand how to build hyper-green products is the reason to do this.

  39. 189
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #179: Lynn, as you quoted them Baker’s remarks don’t support the Battros assertion about a substantial solar magnetic effect on weather. Battros himself sounds like a standard-issue solarphile. It’s hard to tell without perusing his site which specific angle he’s taking, but as you know all of that stuff has been refuted here before; i.e. I don’t see why forwarding those posts wouldn’t do the job.

    A little later… Against my better judgement I looked at the site and to all appearances one would have to spend $24.95 to find out which category of crazy Battros falls into.

    Even later… A little more can be gleaned fron his book’s endorsement page, in particular down at the bottom:

    “For those who are drawn to more spiritual, quantum physics, or metaphysical understandings, you wonâ??t be disappointed. You will find information direct from the Hopi and Mayan elders telling us what has been passed down through generations. Now is the time for purification, preparation, and contemplation. Our ancestors remind us all is not lost. There is still hopeâ?¦and we can make a difference. The famous Hopi Prophecy Rock photo is included in the book, as are photos of unique sacred Mayan sites never before produced publicly. Whether youâ??re a scientist, archeologist, or metaphysician, there is plenty in this book for you.”

    I would say you can’t make this stuff up, but clearly you can (although I must say the positive attitude is appealing). Lynn, the internet is filled with this sort of thing. Best to avoid spending too much time on someone who accepts it at face value, IMHO.

  40. 190
    Blair Dowden says:

    Two questions for an expert on the Greenhouse Effect:

    1) Is there any truth to the quote in #158: “[80 percent]of the reflected energy is absorbed by water vapor.” Let us assume he means only infrared radiation. I think it is still wrong, because the 8 to 15 micron gap in the water vapor absorption spectrum is wider than 20%. And I know this argument is irrelevant to the question of the relative contribution of carbon dioxide.

    2) I think the following explanation from Spencer Weart is misleading, similar to the glass greenhouse or the blanket analogies. He does follow it with a radiation balance model.

    Visible sunlight penetrates easily through the air and warms the Earth’s surface. When the surface emits invisible heat radiation, some of it is absorbed by CO2 in the middle levels of the atmosphere. Thus some energy transfers into the air itself, rather than escaping directly into space. Not only is the air thus warmed, but also some of the energy trapped there is radiated back to the surface, warming it further.

  41. 191

    [[If the cost to fix it is $13T dollars/year (25% of world economic output), then I suspect that even some of most “convinced” scientists would say “Hummm. Let’s wait for another 10 years of research to come in on this subject.]]

    This assumes there is no cost to doing nothing, which is very unlikely to be true. And we don’t need more research to know that global warming is happening, that we’re doing it, and that it’s a serious problem. Those issues are resolved.

  42. 192

    Blair — as far as a quick first look goes, your page looks okay to me. Some of the details are a bit off; e.g. the albedo and lapse rate figures for the different planets. NASA gives 0.75, 0.306 and 0.25 respectively for Venus, Earth and Mars, and the literature I’ve seen has mean tropospheric lapse rates of 7.7, 6.5 and 2.5 K/km for the three planets, respectively. (The Mars Standard Atmosphere of Barth et al. (1985) has an even shallower lapse rate for Mars, 0.8-1.2 K/km.) I’ll try and look at the page more a little later.

  43. 193

    Blair — I just went over your web page in more detail, and came up with 11 criticisms worth mentioning. Please don’t be put off by this. You’ve done a very good, conscientious job putting that page together, and the use of graphics is very good. But there are some little things that need to be cleaned up. E-mail me your e-mail address and I’ll send you the critique. Mine is already compromised, so I don’t mind listing it:

  44. 194
    Marian says:

    Wow, a simple question to Gavin ended up in a number of people debating the esoterics and the meaning of “certainty”.

    Great help!

    I already know what scientists think, thank you’s.

    I should reframe(:) Is there any doubt in your mind, Gavin, that human CO2-emission are the reason for global warming?

    Having spoken to many people in the know, the ones who still debate man is guilty, they are slowly drifting into statements like these: “We might as well sound the alarms, it “might” be right that CO2 from humans is to blame”
    Even politicians do that these last days, in case you haven’t noticed.

    Chill/ Marian

  45. 195
    Hugh says:

    #183 Grace

    The visitor count for the site is situated at the bottom right of the comments column of the home page. As I write it stands at 3,348,605 visits since December 10/2004.
    Now, what I think would be a really interesting question to ask is how many of these visits are multi-repeats, repeats, single research visits (one visit, several pages viewed) or just fly-bys?

    Speaking personnally, I remember fondly when a post was written to celebrate the 500,000 visitor…and I had already been an ‘addict’ for months by then.

    I’m just intrigued at how much the old-regulars (no offence meant Hank :)) keep that ticker moving upward and how much it is done by new readers.

    Good luck with your research!!

  46. 196
    MDC says:

    Re: #191. My rather more rambling post hasn’t hit the wire yet, so this is a slight repeat.

    If we are talking about immediate corrective actions saving money/environment, what is the impact of one ton of anthropogenic CO2 on the global temperature? At the end of the day, that’s the important AGW question and the one answer I don’t hear from those demanding immediate remedy (I allow that perhaps I’ve just missed it). Obviously stated in terms of kilo- or giga-tons/year or somesuch, but there must be SOME idea of the relationship between CO2 and temperature.

    All this debate would end if somebody could make a case, using scientific principles (you know, repeatability, falsifiable, measurable, etc.), that every time an SUV drives for 100 miles, it raises the global temperature by .000001C (or somesuch). If that information ISN’T available, I question what the sturm and drang is about.

  47. 197
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Re #187 —

    First, a minor nit. A meter is 39.37 inches, so a square meter is about 10.76 ft^2, making 76m^2 closer to 29×29 feet ;)

    PV is just one approach. Stirling cycle solar power is another, and the costs are lower and power densities higher.

    There’s no requirement, and I’m sure the guys here will correct me if I misspeak, that 100% of fossil fuel consumption be stopped tomorrow, or even in the next decade, or even over the next 100 years. It would make a lot of financial sense to do so (and I think you’ve got to agree the numbers are workable), but we’re not going to boil the oceans anytime soon if we cut fossil consumption by some huge amount and people drive their old gasoline powered cars until they wear out and buy new pluggable hybrids.

    And this gets to the “cost” issues — if we cut fossil consumption, and replace aging fossil fuel plants with renewable enery plants, there is no “cost”. There is a cost savings, because renewables are cost competitive today, and declining in costs, while non-renewables are rising in costs.

    I don’t disbelieve the IPCC scenarios because I doubt the physics. I disbelieve them because our current fossil-fuel based lifestyle is the road to bankrupcy. If we replace our fossil-fuel addiction with a renewable energy system, we’re looking at an era of cheap, clean, plentiful energy that will stimulate the global economy. Snobby people who hate fluorescent lights because they look ugly can get their incandescents back. People who want to drive fast cars can recharge their Tesla every day. Starving children in Africa can have more clean and cheap electricity than they know what to do with.

    “Cost” is just the next phase of denial.

  48. 198
    Nick Gotts says:

    RE #187 “People that study this type of stuff already have a way to measure the benefits with respect to human life: it’s called “cost per life year”. Simply, it’s the cost incurred to extend a single person’s life by a year.”

    These kind of calculations make sense when you’re talking about relatively small-scale policy changes having limited long-term implications, and limited interactions with things you don’t control – like the specific examples you give. It’s not clear they make sense for issues on the scale of climate change. If not acting means our civilisation will collapse in something between 50 and 200 years whereas acting allows this to be avoided, as many believe is likely to be true – how many life-years is that? If the effectiveness of action by any single actor depends crucially on what other actors do (as in this case it manifestly does, even if the actor considered is the USA), how is this taken into account?

  49. 199
    Ellis says:

    I seem to be confused by the language of the “debate” and hope somebody could clear things up for me. ARE the theories of AGW and the energy imbalance the same. Or, for instance, does AGW cause the energy imbalance. The reason I ask is that in response to a question about troposphere warming and stratosphere cooling being a zero sum, I was told
    “[Response:Perhaps to some extent but we live in the troposphere. David]”
    comment 66

    I don’t know if my question is clear so I’ll try it another way. If there were no energy imbalance could/would there still be AGW in the troposphere? Thank you

  50. 200
    Matt says:

    #198 Nick.

    Nick, I think you really made the point: If not acting means the collapse of civilization, then we should see an astounding benefit in terms of life years.

    But we see reports that state that an extra 20,000 people might die in Europe due to global warming. Not to be crass, but “that’s it?”

    That’s what gets me back to the original question: Why do folks want to mitigate this? Save lives? Preserve our status quo? Keep the coast lines habitable?

    I’m really struggling with this. Because again, a few degrees warming is really just the same as moving south a few hundred miles. And unfortunately, all the gloom and doom analysis I’ve seen to date assume we sit here like static bumps on a log while oceans rise and we drown.