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Solar

Filed under: — stefan @ 4 May 2010

The new novel Solar by Ian McEwan, Britain’s “national author” (as many call him) tackles the issue of climate change. I should perhaps start my review with a disclosure: I’m a long-standing fan of McEwan and have read all of his novels, and I am also mentioned in the acknowledgements of Solar. I met McEwan in Potsdam and we had some correspondence while he wrote his novel. Our recent book The Climate Crisis quotes a page of McEwan as its Epilogue. And of course I’m not a literature critic but a scientist. So don’t expect a detached professional review.

In interviews McEwan describes his difficulties in approaching the topic of climate change: “I couldn’t quite see how a novel would work without falling flat with moral intent.”

One solution is that he makes his protagonist who tries to “save the world”, the Nobel laureate physicist Michael Beard, thoroughly pathetic and unlikeable. (Actually quite unlike any scientist I know, but certainly less boring than us at Realclimate.) The only redeeming feature of Beard is his sarcastic humor. When his business partner is worried that claims of global warming having stopped will ruin their grand solar energy scheme, Beard (after expertly refuting the “no warming since 1998″ myth) retorts:

Here’s the good news. The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Even as we speak, the inhabitants of the island of Carteret in the South Pacific are being evacuated because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. Malarial mosquitoes are advancing northwards across Europe… Toby, listen. It’s a catastrophe. Relax!

This is McEwan’s funniest book. The humour in it is another way around the moral gravity of the subject. In an interview he said:

The thing that would have killed the book for me, I’m sure, is if I’d taken up any sort of moral position, I needed a get-out clause. And the get-out clause is, this is an investigation of human nature, with some of the latitude thrown in by comedy.

Half-way through the novel Beard gives a riveting speech on climate change to an auditorium full of pension-fund managers (representing 400 billion dollars of investments) – a speech that I’d be almost tempted to steal and use verbatim myself at some occasion. But what could have been tedious – a whole lecture embedded in a novel – is turned into a hilarious scene where Beard is engaged in a losing battle with his bowels, trying to continue speaking while swallowing down “a fishy reflux rising from his gorge, like salted anchovies, with a dash of bile”.

McEwan showing off that he can write such a speech better than a scientist is reminiscent of his novel Enduring Love, to which he appended an entire scientific paper about a psychological disorder (De Clerambault’s Syndrome) that allegedly inspired the book. Later he admitted this “paper” was part of the fiction. He’d even submitted it to a journal, but one of the reviewers smelled a rat.

McEwan’s deep (and often playful) affinity to science is one of the hallmarks of his writing and of course one reason why I like his novels. The other is his stunning power of observation; he seems to be reading people’s minds, cutting right through their delusions to get to the deeper truths. In that, his analytic work as a writer resembles that of a scientist.

McEwan is a forceful rationalist and well-versed in science culture, and his witty observations on that are a big part of the fun of his books. In Solar, for example, he pokes some hilarious fun at the social constructivists. Beard chairs a government committee to bring more women into physics, and a social scientist on his committee introduces herself with a speech on how a particular gene is not discovered by scientists, but is rather a social construct.

Beard had heard rumours that strange ideas were commonplace among liberal arts departments. It was said that humanities students were routinely taught that science was just one more belief system, no more or less truthful than religion or astrology. He had always thought that this must be a slur against his colleagues on the arts side. The results surely spoke for themselves. Who was going to submit to a vaccine designed by a priest?

This develops into my favourite subplot. At a press conference of his committee, the journalists are “slumped over their recorders and notebooks” and “depressed by the seriousness of their assignment, its scandalous lack of controversy”, as “the whole project was lamentably worthy”. Beard makes some fairly harmless remarks about the efforts of bringing more women into physics perhaps reaching a ceiling one day, because they may have a preference for other branches of science. The social constructivist explodes (“Before I go outside to be sick, and I mean violently sick because of what I’ve just heard, I wish to announce my resignation from Professor Beard’s committee.”) Predictably, that makes the predatory journalists spring to life, and in the following McEwan spins a completely credible story how Beard’s remarks turn into a media storm where Beard’s love life is dragged into the tabloids and his “genetic determinist” views are linked to Third Reich race theories. One journalist, “more in the spirit of playful diary-page spite”, calls him a neo-Nazi.

No one took the charge seriously for a moment, but it became possible for other papers to take up the term even as they dismissed it, carefully bracketing and legalising the insult with quotation marks. Beard became the ‘neo-Nazi’ professor.

McEwan knows what he is writing about: he became subject to a media storm about his Islam-critical views a few years ago. I read Solar in February (thanks to an advance copy that the author had sent me), in parallel with the unfolding surreal, but real-world media campaign against IPCC, and found that McEwan dissects the mechanisms beautifully.

McEwan says that the idea to make a Nobel laureate the main character of his new book came to him in Potsdam, when attending the Nobel Cause Symposium organised by our institute in October 2007 (and on page 179 his hero Beard returns from a conference in Potsdam). At the time I discussed with him whether this wouldn’t be a good topic for a novel: humanity facing an existential threat that is well-understood by its scientists, but largely ignored by a population who prefers to delude itself in creative ways about the gradually unfolding disaster. McEwan responded: everything there is to say about this situation has already been said by Thomas Mann in his novel Death in Venice.

I’m glad he tackled the topic of climate change nevertheless. It’s McEwan at his best. Intelligent, funny, and full of insights. Read for yourself!

Link: Here is McEwan speaking about Solar (and about his views on climate change) in a TV interview.


726 Responses to “Solar”

  1. 201
    Jimmy Haigh says:

    So it’s the sun then?

  2. 202
    Edward Greisch says:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100506141551.htm
    255 Members of the National Academy of Sciences Defend Climate Science Integrity

  3. 203
    SecularAnimist says:

    Frank Giger wrote: “It’s not about climate change, it’s about social justice and rethinking our values …”

    Fine. If you don’t like the solutions to the AGW crisis that others are advocating, then come up with solutions that you do like.

    Let’s hear how YOU would address this urgent problem in a way that is in accord with YOUR values.

    All you seem to offer is (1) denial of the seriousness and urgency of the problem and (2) advocacy of doing nothing.

  4. 204
    CM says:

    Buddhist teachings and their putative results are surely off-topic here. So I won’t ask for citations to back up SA’s claim that “They work. They get results” in the context of Western psychology and neuroscience (#113). Nor for BPL’s causal attribution of numerous Far Eastern atrocities to Buddhist teachings (#175). Let’s take that somewhere else.

  5. 205
    SecularAnimist says:

    BPL, please demonstrate with appropriate historical data that the specific problems that you referenced in comment currently numbered 175 are the “results” of Buddhist teachings.

    For example, you mention racism in Japan. Please demonstrate that this racism is a “result of Buddhist teachings” and not a “result” of any of the other myriad factors that have influenced Japanese culture for millennia.

    It would also be interesting if you would compare and contrast your comments with the similarly structured “argument” that the horrors of the Inquisition are a “result” of Jesus’s teachings rather than a betrayal of them.

    BPL wrote: “Being a Buddhist doesn’t guarantee good behavior or even sanity.”

    I don’t know what “being a Buddhist” is. I know what practicing Buddhist teachings is. And in my personal experience and observation, the practice of Buddhist teachings does incline the practitioner towards good behavior and sanity.

    With regard to Zen, one reason that scientists might “take it seriously” would be the results of neuroscientific investigation of the effects of Zen meditation on the human brain.

    In fact, Zen is neither “anti-intellectual” nor is it a “philosophy”. It is a set of practices intended to cultivate a certain way of experiencing reality.

    (An “anti-intellectual philosophy” seems like something of an oxymoron anyway, since “philosophizing” is an intellectual activity.)

    BPL wrote: “An argument is rational if it proceeds validly from its premises.”

    Please define “validly”.

    And however you define “validly”, do you consider an argument to be “rational” if it proceeds “validly” from “invalid” premises?

    For example, premises that are based on strongly-held, emotionally-charged, but ill-informed opinions?

    [Response: Way off topic. Each has now had his say. No more on this please.--Jim]

  6. 206
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “As the atmosphere expands, what is the relationship between boundaries? ”

    Science question: what boundaries? Surface of the planet isn’t higher because there’s more atmosphere.

    Science question: what boundaries are effective (as in they have an effect on the greenhouse effect of GHG like CO2)?

    “If true, I’m guessing that while heat would radiate into space faster from the top layers, the transfer would actually be a next reduction over all.”

    Science question: how did you arrive at that calculation?

    NOTE: radiation leaves at a rate proportional to T^4. Higher layers would need to be hotter to radiate more. Show this is the case.

  7. 207
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Please define “validly”.”

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Validly

    1. Well grounded; just: a valid objection.
    2. Producing the desired results; efficacious: valid methods.
    3. Having legal force; effective or binding: a valid title.
    4. Logic
    a. Containing premises from which the conclusion may logically be derived: a valid argument.
    b. Correctly inferred or deduced from a premise: a valid conclusion.
    5. Archaic Of sound health; robust.

  8. 208
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “And however you define “validly”, do you consider an argument to be “rational” if it proceeds “validly” from “invalid” premises?”

    Define invalid.

    If invalid means merely “wrong”, then they are still rational if the invalidity is not known. If invalid means “with no logical basis of assertion”, then no, an argument based on invalid premises (e.g. a logical fallacy) is not rational.

  9. 209
    t_p_hamilton says:

    Steckis said:”the concept of greenhouse is negated as the theory requires that solar radiation is reflected from the surface and impeded from reaching space by the GHGs in the atmosphere.”

    So the greenhouse effect doesn’t work at night? You may want to rethink your disproof of the greenhouse effect on Venus.

  10. 210
    Frank Giger says:

    JPL:

    “So if I cut my carbon usage as an individual, it would basically have no effect. Just as in the past, if I decided not to put my waste in the river while the rest of the city did would have no effect on those drinking water downstream.”

    I dunno, every little bit helps! We telecommute (fortuneately an option), went for high efficiency air and heat for the house, and are very careful about what we put on the lawn to ensure bad things don’t wind up in the ground water. They aren’t altruistic “greenie” practices; they have very self serving rewards. I’ve gotten my neighbors to adopt some of this thinking.

    Perhaps it’s a function of being raised functionally poor (relative to the USA – we were fantastically wealthy vs. the rest of the world), but frugality and buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff never appealed to us.

    On solutions, there are a number of them I’d like to see considered and debated (as unlike my liberal friends here, I don’t think I have the perfect solutions that should be accepted at face value and accepted whole without debate). And yes, they do involve government involvement – some of them quite sweeping.

    However, this isn’t a political blog – I doubt the owners of the site would appreciate a lengthy policy debate.

  11. 211
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “I have long been a proponent of the role of science in policy formulation but have also noted to my dismay that often it isn’t done professionally but instead becomes a forum for scientists to promote whatever it is they most believe in.”

    If they believe they have the best answer possible and haven’t told lies, why shouldn’t the scientist be promoting what they most believe in?

    Or should they only pander ideas they don’t believe in?

  12. 212
    Frank Giger says:

    CFU, boundaries as in shifts between layers in the atmosphere. While I realize that it’s not like oil on water, the atmosphere does have identified layers.

    [edit] If you don’t know the answer or don’t understand the question, just say so or keep quiet.

    This is a place to learn the science, right?

  13. 213
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “as unlike my liberal friends here, I don’t think I have the perfect solutions that should be accepted at face value and accepted whole without debate”

    Ah, isn’t Frank Merciful.

    Oh, hang on, forgot:

    “I will call my Congressman and Senator and ask that they vote against AGW legislation, and similarly pressure the White House to not cooperate with the UN over climate change. The scientists and their advocates are out of control.”

  14. 214
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis,
    That is the most pathetically WRONG account of the greenhouse effect I have ever seen. It has nothing to do with reflection. It has to do with thermal radiation. Look at the temperature profile of Venus! It will definitely have a greenhouse effect.

  15. 215
    Richard Steckis says:

    209
    t_p_hamilton says:
    7 May 2010 at 8:53 AM

    “So the greenhouse effect doesn’t work at night? You may want to rethink your disproof of the greenhouse effect on Venus.”

    It is the very fact that there is NO difference between night and day temperature on Venus that negates the greenhouse effect on that planet. The hot atmosphere of venus is not caused by GHGs preventing IR from reaching space because more than 60% of solar radiation is reflected back to space by the albedo of the Sulphuric layer in the atmosphere which is above the CO2 layer. Therefore most of the radiation never reaches the surface.

    The so-called greenhouse effect on Venus is caused by processes other than what we understand by the greenhouse effect on Earth.

  16. 216
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Frank Giger,
    Look, Gavin et al. have demonstrated a degree of tolerance for discussion of solutions that should be beyond doubt. Given that the political right has been regrettably silent when it comes to suggesting solutions, I think most people here would welcome truly constructive suggestions from you. Supply and demand–like it or not, your viewpoint is in short supply.

    I don’t think you will find many people here who are in love with cap and trade, carbon taxes or fee and dividend. Rather, these are a means to an end. The end is to make the consumer cost of fossil energy reflect its true cost, including environmental degradation and climate change. The solutions proposed to meet this goal are of course imperfect, but I think most here would favor an imperfect solution in the present tense than a perfect one promised in the future.

    The way I see the problem:

    1)It is potentially very severe.
    2)We cannot bound the risk with confidence
    3)It is global (in the sense that the atmosphere doesn’t care whether a CO2 molecule comes from China or the US.
    4)We don’t know how long we have to address the problem before natural sources of CO2 kick in and wrest what little control we have from our hands.
    5)Geoengineering ideas, while potentially viable, are unproven. In fact, they tend to utilize forcings that are much less well understood than CO2.

    I for one, would love to hear a constructive proposal from you–and if you are going to keep bashing those who are already trying to constructively address the problem, I would say it is only fair to take a stand of your own.

  17. 217
    Didactylos says:

    Frank Giger:

    Please don’t falsely accuse liberals of having “the perfect solutions that should be accepted at face value and accepted whole without debate”. That’s just silly, and presumably you know it is silly or you wouldn’t have ducked out of actually debating these issues.

    So far, you are the one who has steadfastly refused to engage in real debate about actual solutions. Rejecting all the proposed options is not debate.

    Or, after all this time, have you failed to distinguish between the result that must be achieved, and the particular policies and interventions required to achieve that result? Given that you are still attacking the process by which the consensus was reached, you have yet to accept the goals we have ahead of us – which explains why you are so reticent about how we should reach them.

    Reading all your recent comments, I get the impression that your own beliefs are not internally consistent. Maybe you want to take some time to work out how your beliefs and opinions fit together before you propose your “solutions” – and before you attack liberals again.

  18. 218
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis@215 says “The so-called greenhouse effect on Venus is caused by processes other than what we understand by the greenhouse effect on Earth.”

    Bullshit! First, there is a difference between day and night temperatures–just not at the surface:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/03/venus-unveiled/

    Got a peer-reviewed article to back up your assertion? Look at the temperature profile of the atmosphere of Venus. There will definitely be a greenhouse effect! Do you think that because the sunlight largely doesn’t make it to the surface that it isn’t absorbed? Where do you get these ideas–and more to the point, how the hell do you wind up being so sure you are right despite all the evidence?

  19. 219
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “So far, you are the one who has steadfastly refused to engage in real debate about actual solutions. Rejecting all the proposed options is not debate.”

    Unless you’re in a Monty Python sketch:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Argument_Sketch

  20. 220
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “CFU, boundaries as in shifts between layers in the atmosphere.”

    A shift of what?

    Science question: what boundaries are effective (as in they have an effect on the greenhouse effect of GHG like CO2)?

    Science question: how did you arrive at that calculation?

    Rather than say “if you don’t understand, ask” in response to me asking, why not answer the questions or ask if you don’t understand them?

  21. 221
    SecularAnimist says:

    BPL wrote: “An argument is rational if it proceeds validly from its premises.”

    If I may be permitted to further explore the concept of “rationality” using BPL’s comment on Buddhism (6 May 2010 at 6:56 PM currently numbered 176) as an example:

    As I understand the “argument” presented there, it goes as follows:

    1. List various atrocities committed by human beings in countries where Buddhism has, at various times in history, been an important cultural, spiritual, intellectual and institutional influence.

    2. Ignore any possible role of the multitude of other important cultural, spiritual, intellectual and institutional influences — not to mention the perennial natural capacity of human beings to engage in cruel and depraved acts towards their fellow humans — in causing those atrocities.

    3. Ignore the fact that those atrocities blatantly and egregiously violate the explicit, central teachings of the Buddha on ethical conduct (i.e. the Five Precepts, and the three elements of the Eightfold Path that relate to ethical conduct, namely Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood).

    4. Assert that those atrocities are the “result” of Buddhist teachings.

    In your view, does that exemplify a “rational” argument that “proceeds validly from its premises”?

  22. 222
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Gavin et al. have demonstrated a degree of tolerance for discussion of solutions that should be beyond doubt.”

    As a commenter I much appreciate that tolerance.

    Sometimes it seems that there is a tendency for comment threads on this site to veer into discussions of solutions, regardless of the original topic.

    I for one find that heartening. We all need to be thinking about solutions.
    I’m glad that so many are focused on that.

  23. 223

    FG: Mr. Levenson, no, not ANY plan. Just that plan, as far as I’m concerned.

    BPL: Not true. You dismissed fee-and-dividend AND carbon taxes AND cap-and-trade. That’s three plans–in fact, three general TYPES of plan–not one plan. Go back and reread what you wrote.

  24. 224
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by FurryCatHerder — 6 May 2010 @ 9:21 PM:

    You must live in a strange place. Your characterization of the solar crowd would have been accurate here 30+ years ago when hippies and back-to-the-landers pioneered off grid 12v direct systems, but now the majority are middle class folks with grid tied systems. There are also an increasing number of businesses putting up large arrays to defray peak hour costs. All of these folks are hedging against future increases in utility rates and getting very quick payback time.

    As for proper solar installers, there are many here. Locally there is one private and one non profit organization giving many week long workshops just for professional electricians who want to install PV systems. Many Californians take the courses, but there are many flying in from all over North America, and teaching teams travel to give the courses elsewhere. Perhaps you should contract for a team to come to your area.

    Steve

  25. 225

    BPL: Its surface temperature is 735 K because of the greenhouse effect. A static atmosphere generates no mechanical heat whatsoever.

    RS: Not true. There is no greenhouse effect on Venus since very little sunlight reaches the surface.

    BPL: According to in situ measurements by Russian landers, it average 16.8 watts per square meter. This is about a factor of 9 less than we get. But since Venus has a gray IR optical depth around 80 as opposed to our less than 2, that’s all it needs for an immensely strong greenhouse effect.

    RS: Most of the heat generated is above the surface.

    BPL: Well, sure. The sun is 0.723 AUs above the surface of Venus.

    RS: As there is almost no difference between night and day temperature on Venus’ surface, the concept of greenhouse is negated as the theory requires that solar radiation is reflected from the surface and impeded from reaching space by the GHGs in the atmosphere.

    BPL: No, it does not require anything of the sort. Greenhouse theory involves sunlight heating the surface, the surface radiating in the infrared, and the IR being absorbed by the greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect operates even at night, which is why it doesn’t go to absolute zero every midnight.

    RS: This process does not occur on Venus.

    BPL: As far as I know, the process you describe does not occur anywhere.

  26. 226

    CM 204: Nor for BPL’s causal attribution of numerous Far Eastern atrocities to Buddhist teachings (#175)

    BPL: I did NOT attribute them to Buddhism. I merely pointed out that Buddhism did not guarantee “the right answers” as SA suggested. In general Buddhism is a world-denying religion (as in Hinduism, the word is regarded as maya, illusion), and that’s more a recipe for passivity than for actions.

  27. 227

    SA 205: BPL, please demonstrate with appropriate historical data that the specific problems that you referenced in comment currently numbered 175 are the “results” of Buddhist teachings.

    BPL: See above. That’s not what I said.

  28. 228

    RS 215: It is the very fact that there is NO difference between night and day temperature on Venus that negates the greenhouse effect on that planet. The hot atmosphere of venus is not caused by GHGs preventing IR from reaching space because more than 60% of solar radiation is reflected back to space by the albedo of the Sulphuric layer in the atmosphere which is above the CO2 layer. Therefore most of the radiation never reaches the surface.

    The so-called greenhouse effect on Venus is caused by processes other than what we understand by the greenhouse effect on Earth.

    BPL: Suffice to say your statement here is grossly wrong from beginning to end. The surface of Venus is not the “searing black calm” expected in the early 1960s; there is plenty of sunlight there, as the many Venera and Vega lander photos show. And the daytime-nighttime argument is just irrelevant. You don’t understand how the greenhouse effect works. I recommend reading either John Houghton’s “The Physics of Atmospheres” or Grant Petty’s “A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation.” Or try here:

    http://BartonPaulLevenson.com/Greenhouse101.html

  29. 229

    SA 221: If I may be permitted to further explore the concept of “rationality” using BPL’s comment on Buddhism (6 May 2010 at 6:56 PM currently numbered 176) as an example:

    As I understand the “argument” presented there, it goes as follows…

    BPL: No, you got it entirely wrong. Look again. I wasn’t saying any of that.

    YOU said that Buddhism causes people to get the right answers. I pointed out that, historically, it didn’t.

  30. 230
    Frank Giger says:

    Targeted cap and trade works. Generalized “everyone, here’s your limits and credits – GO!” doesn’t.

    There’s more to getting things done than fee-and-dividend and some fat generic tax. If those are two thirds of all options available, we are well and truly screwed.

    CFU:

    Let’s try again.

    As the atmosphere expands, is it a uniform expansion? My intuition, which has no formula attached to it but is based on understanding density variance in general, would suggest the answer would be no.

    Does that have an effect on radiation of heat out into space?

    If it’s not a constant, would an expanded atmosphere tend to retain heat better (with “better” being worse for us)?

  31. 231
    Septic Matthew says:

    182, Ray Ladbury: Now, we know that the theory with minimum AIC will tend to have the greatest predictive power, so we can see that this is precisely the goal of Occam’s razor. It is not arbitrary at all. It is in fact essential–you just have to remember that last word “unnecessarily”.

    I think that you are in over your head. Information criteria lead to the highest average information per parameter, not “greatest predictive power”, which is probably undefined, but could possibly denote smallest variance of prediction (where smallest mean square error of prediction would be more desirable and might be obtainable by model averaging.) “Entities”, “multiplied” and “beyond necessity” lack adequate definition, making Occam’s Razor vacuous; rote usage without careful definition, the usual kind of usage, does lead to reductionism in practice.

    Entities should always be multiplied up to sufficiency, and if information per parameter is deemed insufficient then more experiments should be performed. That basically is what is being done in AGW science: the models are being made more and more complicated and more and more data are being collected.

  32. 232
    Jaime Frontero says:

    Richard Steckis @ 200

    “There is no greenhouse effect on Venus since very little sunlight reaches the surface. Most of the heat generated is above the surface. As there is almost no difference between night and day temperature on Venus’ surface, the concept of greenhouse is negated as the theory requires that solar radiation is reflected from the surface and impeded from reaching space by the GHGs in the atmosphere. This process does not occur on Venus.”

    I’m unclear on this – in general, rather than pertaining strictly to Venus.

    Is an actual surface made of dirt-like material (with a clear boundary between gaseous atmosphere and solid) actually required?

    Or is a distinct boundary between two layers of gas adequate for the production of a Greenhouse Effect; with the ‘lower’, more dense layer satisfying the requirements for heat absorption and re-radiation?

    Just asking. And while I’ve probably done a poor job at the question, I *would* like to know.

  33. 233
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “YOU said that Buddhism causes people to get the right answers. I pointed out that, historically, it didn’t.”

    How about: people are good at getting the wrong answers.

  34. 234
    SecularAnimist says:

    BPL wrote: “I merely pointed out that Buddhism did not guarantee ‘the right answers’ as SA suggested … YOU said that Buddhism causes people to get the right answers.”

    I really hate it when discussions devolve into arguments about who said what.

    However, I would point out that you put the words “the right answers” in quotes and attribute them to me, when in fact I did not use those words in any comment on this thread … nor, as far as I can tell, have I suggested that anything is a “guarantee” of anything.

    You also object to my statement that you claimed that “the specific problems that you referenced [in comment #176] … are the ‘results’ of Buddhist teachings” (quoting myself there).

    You now assert that “That’s not what I said … Look again. I wasn’t saying any of that.”

    So please explain the meaning you ascribe to the phrase “Among those results are” which immediately preceded the list of problems in your comment #176.

  35. 235
    flxible says:

    SecularAnimist “Sometimes it seems that there is a tendency for comment threads on this site to veer into discussions of solutions, regardless of the original topic.

    I for one find that heartening. We all need to be thinking about solutions.
    I’m glad that so many are focused on that.”

    Ditto – but too bad nobody wants to wrestle with the real problem in need of a solution, unsustainable population.

  36. 236
    flxible says:

    BPL: No, you got it entirely wrong. Look again. I wasn’t saying any of that.

    YOU said that Buddhism causes people to get the right answers. I pointed out that, historically, it didn’t.

    By implying that it was the Buddhism that caused people to get the wrong answers. Works as well for Christianity, the much more dominant belief system “underlying” the historical ills of the world, especially overpopulation.

  37. 237
    SecularAnimist says:

    flxible wrote: “… too bad nobody wants to wrestle with the real problem in need of a solution, unsustainable population.”

    I agree that an unsustainable human population is a real problem in need of a solution — or perhaps, as is all too often the case, a real problem in need of implementation of solutions which are already known.

    On the other hand, I don’t think that dealing effectively with AGW necessarily requires immediate reductions in population — which is fortunate, since neither do I see how such reductions could plausibly be achieved (short of nuclear war, global plague or some comparable disaster) within the very short time frame that we have left to deal with AGW.

  38. 238
    Hugh Laue says:

    This is surely relevant: “A Buddhist Response to the Climate Change Emergency Ed John Stanley, David Loy and Gyurme Dorje – Wisdom Publications – is worth a read if you want to know what motivated us to do what we do – including acting in a manner that is causing climate change?
    Likewise, a response from the South African Council of Churches , is also relevant and the conclusions and recommended actions are much the same as the Buddhists. http://www.sacc.org.za/docs/climate.pdf

    #204 CM – Fully agree. Funny how we all tend to fall into “confirmation bias” when it suits our (unexplored) beliefs, but jump upon climate change denialists when they do exactly that.
    If you want something really solid as to the limitations of science, and its relationship to mysticism, then “Quantum Questions – mystical writings of the world’s greatest physicists” ed Ken Wilber (Shambhala Publications) – the physicists included are Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Einstein,De Broglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli and Eddington. I think many of the posters here who think they understand science, rationality and reason will be surprised.

    And of course Alastair’s original post #24, besides being quite banal from a philosophical point of view, is completely irrelevant to the scientific truth or otherwise of climate change theory and its projections of a high probability of catastrophic consequences if no mitigating actions are taken. Typical denialist tactic that succeeded in taking the discussion way OT.

    Gavin’s pithy response was all that was needed, probably more that it deserved.

    Thanks Gavin et al for your continuing patience, sane and pithily appropriate responses and above all your demonstration of what scientific integrity means. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount about climate science under the guidance of this blog since first coming by about 20 months ago – and about my own ego (full of pride) in battles with local (South African) denialists ever since.

  39. 239
    Frank Giger says:

    CFU, no way do I want the current round of climate legislation to pass. It isn’t debated and is strictly partisan – unless we use Pelosi’s measure of biparisanship (“they can vote against it when it hits the floor”). The UN proposals are largely shake down exercises for cash without any real benefits or simply do nothing for-show gimmicks.

    Republicans are largely silent because they’re simply shouted down or not invited into discussions to begin with by Democrats. Democrats have made climate change “their” policy bailiwick, and have made it closely wedded to their political brand. The effect has been that the moment a Republican steps into the arena he is pointed out by the Democrats as being “on their side” and “enlightened” which isn’t as positive as one might think. It works the other way, too.

    Not to say there isn’t a lot of dumb stuff on the Republican side – but let’s not cast Democrats as white knights of virtue and Republicans as purely evil.

    On policy, let’s take a look at some pretty straight forward things we can do about our largest emitter, coal fired plants:

    First, the regulations on plants is all-or-nothing. Update or upgrade one boiler and every other boiler in the plant loses its grandfathering for emission standards. On the face of it, that would seem like a good idea – it would force the whole plant to be upgraded. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect – plants aren’t being upgraded at all. We have plants going full tilt using 1950′s designs and technology for this very reason!

    Targeted cap and trade, on a per-boiler basis, might make better sense. The incentive would be to upgrade to more efficient boilers. And it should be regionalized by industry. That’s how mercury and sulfur cap and trade worked out so well.

    That’s small stuff – but (say) a five percent reduction across the industry is a huge amount of CO2.

    When we look at coal, energy generation distribution isn’t evenly dispersed across the nation; it’s actually clustered. The Northeast is a good fit for coal because of high demands that run nearly around the clock, requiring on-demand responsivenes, and a lack of hydroelectrical possibilities.

    Off shore wind farms aren’t a bad idea, but the needs are greater and require consistency that wind can’t guarantee.

    Enter nuclear. The primary concerns for nuke plants are ensuring safety standards are upheld, security, and waste for the public; for energy companies, it’s cost.

    Well, time for the Fed to step in. The proceeds from cap and trade credits (and yeah, I don’t think we should give them away, or that it will be enough to cover the costs) are going to be used to build plants. Once up and running, power will be sold to companies at a competitive price (making them brokers as much as producers), with a stakeholder hook. The plants will be independant from the government in much the same way as the Post Office (expected to turn a profit and support itself) and hopefully not like AMTRAC. The more power they buy, the more “shares” they have in the plant. Eventually the plant falls out of public ownership entirely, as the “corporation” of the concern has its stock purchased entirely.

    One could see four or five energy companies vying for the board of a plant based on stock, and revenue sharing from it split out.

    We could retain heightened Federal oversight of the operations with minimal legislative hoop jumping (by acting as a bond holder for the insurance, as we do for banks).

    Heck, we could expand the idea for big ticket renewable energy projects.

    There’s lots of holes in the idea, obviously, but the gist of the idea is that the Fed acts as the investment banker and startup company that then sells itself out.

    I’d also like to see less super grid stuff and more localized energy production in areas where it is suitable, particularly in rural areas. Next to the water treatment plant that services a town of 12K is the municipal power plant (solar/wind mix), either grub staked by the Fed for the power companies or in a local cooperative (like phone exchanges and even some power companies). They’ll have to be back stopped by more consistent electrical generation sources, of course, but we’re talking a portion of demand versus all of it.

    And I’d give a 100% tax deduction for home electrical solar panels that feed back into the grid, and a credit every year afterwards. It isn’t such a hot idea for the guys in North Dakota, but here in the Southeast would work out pretty good.

    They’re not sexy ideas, and they require regional and localized tailoring rather than the clean simplicity of CSPAN filler, but they could go a long way to reducing GHG’s and even assuring redundancy in the system.

    My ideas for how to get rid of the extra electrity is just for sport: giant Tesla coils that would look really cool, especially at night.

    Will it take time? Sure. But they said five to ten years to build a nuclear plant was too long five and ten years ago.

  40. 240
    Richard Steckis says:

    Hmmm. I will read BPLs recommended readings and ignore Ladbury’s rants. Perhaps Goddard’s analysis of the Venusian atmosphere puts it better than I can.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/06/hyperventilating-on-venus/

    [Response: This is complete nonsense. He is using properties from the Earth and extrapolating to a completely different situation on Venus. You certainly can't take the effect of CO2 doubling on Earth, with Earth pressure and Earth conditions (including the water vapour overlaps) and naively expect it to be valid far outside of that range where there is no water vapour to speak of. Pressure broadening anyone? - gavin]

  41. 241
    Richard Steckis says:

    The essential argument is that the heating of the Venusian atmosphere occurs through adiabatic processes and not through absorbance of IR by GHGs.

    [Response: Since 'adiabatic' means without input of energy it seems a little unlikely that it is a source of Venusian heating. - gavin]

  42. 242

    #230 Frank Giger

    One solution won’t cut it.

    1. Policy: Fee & Dividend
    2. Awareness: Consumption Reduction (Real Conservatism)
    3. Economy: Objectify the value base (remove transparencies so capitalism can function)

    Capitalism was slaughtered a long time ago. Adopting the Keynesian economic model fomented an acceleration of legislative changes that reduced objectivity in the market. Anti-trust violations further hammered capitalism. Political horse trading to split the kitty by doing each other favors have done serious damage to objective market potentials. America used to have a work ethic. That seems to have been pushed aside by the manipulation ethic.

    As you have pointed out, the politically reality is in the way. That just means we need to work harder to change it.


    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future – climatelobby.com
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  43. 243
    Richard Steckis says:

    225
    Barton Paul Levenson says:
    7 May 2010 at 10:22 AM

    “RS: Most of the heat generated is above the surface.

    BPL: Well, sure. The sun is 0.723 AUs above the surface of Venus.”

    Come now BPL. I think that you are playing silly here. You know as well as I do that I am speaking of within the atmosphere of Venus and above the surface. Your appeal to ridicule is not worthy of you.

  44. 244
    Richard Steckis says:

    Gavin says:

    “Response: Since ‘adiabatic’ means without input of energy it seems a little unlikely that it is a source of Venusian heating. – gavin”

    Why? Is not heating of a dense gas through friction an adiabatic process particularly if it does not involve heat transfer with the environment?

    In the case of Venus, the major proportion of the extra heating is theoretically due to the adiabatic lapse rate.

  45. 245
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “CFU, no way do I want the current round of climate legislation to pass. It isn’t debated and is strictly partisan”

    Translation: it’s not what ***I*** want it to be.

    (course he doesn’t want it to change anyway, but there we go).

    Still waiting on your science and your working out.

    “Republicans are largely silent because they’re simply shouted down”

    Yah, course they are:

    http://www.cwa-legislative.org/news/republicans-break-all-time-filibusters-record.html

    Shouted down.

    Yup.

    “Off shore wind farms aren’t a bad idea, but the needs are greater and require consistency that wind can’t guarantee.”

    No they don’t.

    Rebunked again and again. Never listen, do they, the denialosaur.

    “Enter nuclear. The primary concerns for nuke plants are ensuring safety standards are upheld, security, and waste for the public”

    None of those reasons are why North Korea and Iran aren’t allowed nuclear processing facilities.

  46. 246
    Actually Thoughtful says:

    GFW, regarding effective solutions for low hot water usage.

    Your best non-solar solution, in your case, is likely a tankless water heater. You only make hot water when you need it.

    You might consider buying an electric tanked water heater with 3″ of insulation (very low standby losses). From a CO2 point of view it depends where your electricity comes from. Coal plant up the road? Bad idea. Nuke/Hydro/coal mix? Maybe. Backyard PV/wind – worth considering.

    I don’t normally suggest PV over thermal (due to the 4X efficiency advantage of solar thermal). But if your load is so light that you can’t justify the capital cost of solar thermal, properly sized PV can handle a (very) light water heating load and does have the advantage of reducing your other electric loads when not heating the water.

    As for an ICS and draindown design. There be dragons. Make sure it rates out well at SRCC and be VERY aware that one of the big learnings of solar hot water heating was “don’t do draindown.”

    It is built in to human programming to forget. It takes exactly one time (imagine your spouse/parent/child is in the hospital…) when you don’t drain it down, you hit the burst point of the pipe and the ensuing water damage costs more to repair than a lifetime of the gains (and it costs CO2 to make stuff also). If it NEVER freezes in your area – life is good and Doug Bostrom style cheap solar is a great idea.

  47. 247
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Let’s try again.

    As the atmosphere expands, is it a uniform expansion?”

    Where are there “boundaries” then? Where do they turn up?

    “My intuition, which has no formula attached to it but is based on understanding density variance in general, would suggest the answer would be no.”

    Nope, still nothing (PS pulling no numbers and calling it intuition buys you nothing).

    “Does that have an effect on radiation of heat out into space?”

    No.

    What affects this is the temperature at one optical depth of the atmosphere at a wavelength you’re measuring the outgoing radiation (TOA radiation).

    “If it’s not a constant, would an expanded atmosphere tend to retain heat better (with “better” being worse for us)?”

    The expansion of the atmosphere doesn’t make the difference.

    The level at which you get 1 optical depth and the temperature at that level makes the difference.

    As you add GHG you increase the height at which TOA radiation leaves the system.

    Therefore the radiative losses reduce.

    This causes the entire atmosphere to heat up.

    In heating up, more radiation is loss until equilibrium is reached.

    At that point, TOA radiation is now equal to incoming radiation.

    Your atmosphere and the planetary surface is now warmer.

    This is called “Global Warming”.

    Now

    1) Still nothing on what you mean by boundaries
    2) you have no calculation therefore your assertion is unreferenced.

    If you want to see someone who has done the calculation, check here:

    http://www.ipcc.ch

    They aren’t using intuition. They’re using science.

  48. 248
    Doug Bostrom says:

    The essential argument is that the heating of the Venusian atmosphere occurs through adiabatic processes and not through absorbance of IR by GHGs.

    Please, that’s not even remotely defensible, poor fare indeed. Has it come to this, then? A camp so bereft of ideas and talent that we’re to be fed assertions of this grade?

  49. 249
    CM says:

    Barton,
    thanks for making clear what you meant to say. I’ll second Ray (#199). Still OT though.

    John P. Reisman,
    now what on earth does “objectify the value base (remove transparencies so capitalism can function)” mean?? (Shades of C3PO: “The power coupling on the negative axis has been polarized. You’ll have to replace it.”)

  50. 250
    Hank Roberts says:

    > RS: … greenhouse … theory requires that solar radiation
    > is reflected from the surface

    Oy. You’ve confused albedo with the greenhouse effect.


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