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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. 301

    FG 263: China isn’t going to really reduce anything, nor is India, because we tell them to. And we have a large enough trade inbalance with China that handing over large pallets of money isn’t really going to impress them.

    BPL: They’ll pay attention if we put a massive carbon tariffs on their exports to the US.

  2. 302

    RS 276: Motl is a Harvard Ph.D. in Physics. Are you telling me that he is incapable of understanding climate physics?

    BPL: Not incapable. Unwilling.

  3. 303

    Chris Colose: Congratulations! Well done and good show! We need more like you.

  4. 304
    Dallas Dunlap says:

    Re the discussion on solar hot water: Over the years I have known numerous people here in Central Florida who have installed homemade solar water heaters. They were simply fifty gallon drums painted black and piped to the house with insulated copper tubing. By all accounts, they were able to meet their hot water needs year round. In climates like this, high dollar systems aren’t necessary. OTOH, I have an insulated electric water hearer with an on off switch on the wall. It’s only on about 1 hr. per day, and if I forget to turn it on, the water stays hot for at least one day.

  5. 305

    Actually Thoughtful #150: I’m suprised solar hot water is so expensive in the US. Here are some prices in Australia. Multiply by 0.9 to get approximate US prices (and prices here include 10% tax so you should take that out too – factoring all that in, you can buy a 250 litre electric boosted evacuated tube system for under $4k). We also get various government rebates to make prices more affordable. I have a heat pump that with a combination of rebates and stimulus spending by the government cost me nothing. $0.00. Without the stimulus spending it would have cost me about $700. (I bought a heat pump because the air is warm enough here all year for that to work, and my roof area is limited.)

  6. 306
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis, you have fallen for the logical fallacy that an appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. It ain’t. Arguing that the source one appeals to is infallible is a fallacy. I am not saying that. I am saying that if one is actively publishing in a field, one is more likely to understand it. AND if nearly all the folks publishing in the field agree on a proposition AND there is strong empirical evidence to support it, that proposition is very likely to be true. THAT is common sense.

    And you, sir, are relying on Motl’s authority and that of [snicker] Steve Goddard. Hell, you even appeal to the authority of the institution that granted Motl his PhD. Got a pot I’d like to introduce you to sometime.

    I see no evidence that Motl has ever even cracked a book on atmospheric physics. He has certainly never published a word on the subject in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Steckis, there is a really, really big difference between a “preconceived idea” of how a system works and “the body of established scientific facts” about how a system works. It is simply flat stupid to argue that there is no greenhouse effect. It is equally stupid to argue that the greenhouse effect is not operant on Venus.

    Now, Steckis, I do not think you are a stupid man, so I have to ask myself why it is that you leap on any stupid idea that comes along that goes against the established theory of climate (not just Earth’s but the other planets as well). There are certain things we KNOW, Richard, and we know them because the evidence tells us that they are true and that the theory we have is key to understanding the evidence.

  7. 307
    David Griffiths says:

    flxible says (#235): too bad nobody wants to wrestle with the real problem in need of a solution, unsustainable population.

    I agree. Obviously to tackle AGW we need to start with reducing those populations which contribute most to it – USA first, then Europe . . .

  8. 308
    Cormac says:

    Super review. Enjoyed the book no end and your review captures it perfectly. Re climate change itself, perhaps the time has come for the ordinary decent scientists(ODS) to speak out. We are getting tired of seeing the careful work of our climate colleagues dismissed by vested interests, idealogoues and journalists. It seems to me that those who seek to undermine climate science also seek to undermine science itself!

    P.S. Enjoying The Climate Crisis no end, well done

  9. 309
    flxible says:

    BPL: No, the dominant system “underlying” the historical ills of the world is arrogance, prejudice and belligerence like that you just demonstrated.

    arrogance: “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner …”
    prejudice: “unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature …”
    belligerence: “A hostile or warlike attitude, nature, or inclination”

    If there’s anyone here who regularly demonstrates the meanings of those terms it’s yerself Bart, one can only assume you were gazing in the mirror as you typed. Lighten up.

    Yes, the ills of human society are a result of the psyche of the beast. And the ailing planet suffers the consequences.

  10. 310
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Gavin et al.: the WUWT thing about Venusian pressure may be gibberish, but it’s a recurrent meme. ”

    No, it’s been out there for at least three years.

  11. 311
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “I agree. Obviously to tackle AGW we need to start with reducing those populations which contribute most to it – USA first, then Europe . . .”

    The most bang for the buck…!

  12. 312

    #275 Ray Ladbury

    “We simply cannot think only in terms only of our own nation. National sovereignty does not extend to the atmosphere. Yes, we must get our own house in order, but that doesn’t mean we can neglect the crackhouse across the street.”

    Extremely well put!

    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

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

  13. 313
    Jaime Frontero says:

    Patrick 027 @272 –

    Yes, I rather thought that was the case – although I hadn’t given any thought to the possibility of such effects in purely solid, non-gaseous materials. Fascinating.

    Thank you.

  14. 314
    Stephen Baines says:

    #291 CFU. But complaints of “stop calling us deniers” isn’t??? How about complaints of “we would be submitting papers but you’ll just refuse them”? Then again, the double standard is the standard for denialism.
    I agree that there seems to be a funny assymmetry in the thinking of those in the media about this problem. Monbiot talks about regaining “trust” and Revkin seems to think that somehow scientists are partly to blame for not communicating properly in some way – though I can’t ever quite get a concrete sense of what he means exactly. I think both of them are way behind the curve…The current efforts in denialism actually exploit the way science and media have interacted before. To pin the tail on the scientists for the failure seems simple minded…
    On one side, the typical dialogue among scientists is leaking into the blogosphere and getting misunderstood, twisted, reframed. It’s really easy to do so because scientific dialogue is always filled with jargon, conditional statements and caveats as well as complex reasoning that builds on received knowledge. That very language, which is critical for reasoned discourse, is being taken out of context, deliberately misinterpreted or exaggerated in ways that aren’t easily detected by those without training or experience. It is also possible to mimic the language of science easily creating a form of technobabble that confuses people like Steckis (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt regarding intent). We have fewer and fewer (there weren’t many to begin with) people capable of properly distilling true scientific discussion into something the mainstream media can handle – and able to distinguish between the fake thing and the real thing.
    If that isn’t bad enough, the typical way the science and journalism interact has been coopted as well. On another thread, someone mentioned the Allison paper in Nature Geosciences (I think) about effects of temp on enzymatic breakdown of soil organic C. They basically implied that it proved that there was no temp-CO2 feedback – I read the paper and that is a crazy leap given the all the work being done on this subject and complexity of the C cycle and what we know from paleorecords. But if you think about the cycle by which scientific papers get popularized — paper is published, press release produced with bulleted points circulated and subsequent amplification across various media sources that repeats bulleted points with more or less context — that leap to generalize from a single paper makes more sense. The process by which single results (or statements) are getting taken out of context is using the very mechanism we have used to publicize our science in the popular media, only executed in a more directed manner and with greater amplification. The thing is, this begins to affect the behavior and the communication among scientists – which of course generates more intrigue. I don’t think Monbiot and Revkin pay proper attention to how the traditional relationship between science and media has been compromised. The trust of scientists in the media is at an all time low, not that it matters much to them.
    Combined these things have undercut the trust of SOME of the public in scientists and the scientific endeavor (I hate the way pollsters attach phrases like lack of trust to percentages). But as the very mechanisms that we use to communicate to the public are involved in that it’s hard to see how to redress it (my gripe with Revkin). It’s all very unsettling. I think the clear statement of the 255 NAS members is important in that it suggests a wellspring of momentum among scientists to address this problem directly. Clearly the authors are motivated by a sense that the actual practice of science as a whole is potentially under fire now. I just wonder what we can do other than keep patiently shining the light and repeating the same mantra.

    Is there some structural change that can help restore trust and communicate real science more effectively? Is the answer at our finger tips. Is it simply that we have to try harder?

  15. 315

    Ray @ 306:

    All appeals to authority are fallacies. It doesn’t mean the conclusions are wrong, it just means that the argument is invalid. Likewise “Everyone agrees that …” is yet another logical fallacy. Doesn’t mean everyone is wrong, just that the argument is invalid.

    It’s a peeve of mine …

  16. 316
    Jaime Frontero says:

    Thomas @280 –

    Yes, I suppose it was an argument. Our Mr. Steckis makes no sense to me.

    Interestingly, thinking about it further, it appears that the process is not only material-, but gravity-independent as well.

    I wonder in what fashion the top-to-bottom vertical heat transfer that must therefore exist in the oceans (greater heat at the surface, transferring downwards as one descends through the thermalclines) has been worked into the SST models.

    Could this more active process account for any of our ‘missing heat’? The calculations I’ve seen (or at least those which I understand well enough) of deep-ocean warming have all been of the basic mass/temperature/time variety – not so much concerned with activity along these lines.

    It’s really an amazingly convoluted science, isn’t it?

  17. 317
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Completely Fed Up says: 8 May 2010 at 4:32 AM

    How about PV=nRT. It’s a complex problem of uncountable numbers of invisible particles acting unpredictably. Yet it is a predictive result.

    I’m pretty sure the ideal gas law will ultimately be “audited” and found wanting, CFU. It’s part of the Inconvenient Truth, after all, telling us among other things why Venus is not warmed by adiabatic heating.

  18. 318
    Doug Bostrom says:

    As for an ICS and draindown design. There be dragons…

    …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.

    Actually Thoughtful, we certainly agree that draindown (as opposed to drainback) is a poor idea, a disaster in complication and a disaster waiting to happen when that complication inevitably fails.

    Regarding the apparent absolute requirement that a solar DHW system needs to be absurdly expensive, can you tell me why the professional solar industry specifies (expensive) pressure vessels for drainback tanks when the drainback tank is never pressurized in normal operation and can in fact be provided with atmospheric relief to handle an exchange loop leak?

    For that matter, don’t you think that gratuitously adding $1000 to the cost of your systems for fancy and pointless remote displays is exactly the sort of thing I’m suggesting is retarding the adoption of solar DHW in the US? Do you explain to your customers that this controller is a useless financial boat anchor, and that a $135 piece would accomplish the same thing? That kind of behavior reminds me of low-iron glass and selective coatings; satisfying for industry junkies but a hindrance to deployment.

  19. 319
    Doug Bostrom says:

    That kind of behavior reminds me of low-iron glass and selective coatings; satisfying for industry junkies but a hindrance to deployment.

    Let me just qualify, by that remark I mean to convey that it’s easy to add cost to systems without reflecting on their true benefit. When combining material input costs and the objective of maximizing energy capture, engineering goals may not necessarily include either peak theoretical collector efficiency or for that matter producing data-rich feedback to consumers. In fact, I think the evidence we have says that engineering these systems for peak technical performance in terms of collector efficiency is an error in the face of financial limitations of the potential pool of customers.

  20. 320
    John E. Pearson says:

    Perhaps a Real Climate article on the Venusian atmosphere is in order?

  21. 321
    SecularAnimist says:

    With regard to solar hot water … and empiricism … if you are interested in solar hot water, try calling up a few local contractors, and get competitive price quotes. There are a lot of them around these days. And don’t forget to ask about applicable tax credits and rebates.

    Perhaps of interest to readers of RealClimate would be RealGoods, a company that sells turnkey solar hot water systems nationwide over the Internet. They also install solar PV and hot water systems in California and Colorado.

  22. 322
    Titus says:

    Ray Ladbury @306. You are saying:

    “….that if one is actively publishing in a field, one is more likely to understand it. AND if nearly all the folks publishing in the field agree on a proposition AND there is strong empirical evidence to support it, that proposition is very likely to be true. THAT is common sense.”

    This is most certainly not my experience in “common sense”. I’ve worked in a product development environment for over 20 years and I see problems like this all the time with the scientific R&D folks.

    Product managers can’t wait to get their product into the hands of engineers and leave the scientist to return to their (ivory) towers.

    Apology if I’m stepping on toes here but thought to add how it’s been in my world of experience.

  23. 323
    SecularAnimist says:

    flxible wrote: “Over population and over consumption are two sides of the same coin …”

    Actually, it is a three-sided coin, at least in the formulation of Paul Erlich:

    Population plus consumption plus the environmental impact of the means of production adds up to the overall environmental impact.

    For example, focus narrowly on GHG emissions from US electricity use.

    Suppose you have a US population of 300 million consuming X kilowatt-hours per capita per year, all of which is produced by coal-fired power plants, resulting in a certain amount of GHG emissions.

    Reduce the population, and the other two factors remaining equal, you will reduce emissions.

    Reduce per capita consumption, and the other two factors remaining equal, you will reduce emissions.

    Replace coal with zero-emissions technologies, and the other two factors remaining equal, you will reduce emissions.

    I tend to think that discussions focus more on the technology (e.g. wind or nuclear vs. coal) and less on the other two factors, than is good for us. Of course some attention is given to reducing consumption (usually by reducing waste and improving efficiency rather than cutting back on actual end-user goods and services); and typically less attention than that is given to the population factor.

    But that’s not to say that population is “THE” underlying factor that “nobody” wants to deal with.

  24. 324
    Hank Roberts says:

    Titus, can you give an example of something in physics that your scientific research and development people published on that they did not understand as well as your product development people? Something related to climate, if possible?

  25. 325
    dhogaza says:

    Product managers can’t wait to get their product into the hands of engineers and leave the scientist to return to their (ivory) towers.

    Apology if I’m stepping on toes here but thought to add how it’s been in my world of experience.

    The fact that production engineers made commercial exploitation of the transistor practical doesn’t mean that they’d have been able to do so without Shockley’s research.

    Just to give one example.

  26. 326
    SecularAnimist says:

    flxible wrote: “… Christianity, the much more dominant belief system ‘underlying’ the historical ills of the world …”

    BPL rejoined: “No, the dominant system ‘underlying’ the historical ills of the world is arrogance, prejudice and belligerence like that you just demonstrated.”

    BPL, in light of your response to flxible, what do you believe was “demonstrated” by your comment (#176) that “among those results” of Buddhist teachings “are” a long list of “historical ills”?

  27. 327
    SecularAnimist says:

    Someone once said that a society that tolerates sloppiness in philosophy because philosophy is considered an exalted activity, and denigrates excellence in plumbing because plumbing is considered a menial activity, will find that neither its theories nor its pipes will hold water.

  28. 328
    flxible says:

    SA Actually, it is a three-sided coin, at least in the formulation of Paul Erlich: Population plus consumption plus the environmental impact of the means of production …

    Yes, but actually the means are equal only insofar as the “end” has been continued exponential growth and “profit”. My view is that the “third side” is the edge of the coin, which is rapidly thinning from the wear and tear, and regardless of the source of the energy, the other resources to produce either continued excess or just a “comfortable amount” for 6+ billion are simply not there. cf what’s happening with the western economies today, especially Greece.

    Being from “that generation”, Erhlichs earliest work on population was what prompted me to start paying attention to ecology and population, and put me on a pretty unorthodox life path. I think he’d agree that the high tech solutions we keep coming up with actually exacerbate the population problem, and ultimately can’t serve the cause of sustainability.

  29. 329
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 318 Doug Bostrom – interesting. What is drainback? Does it obviate the need (in many climates) for an intermediate heat carrying fluid (ethanol or ___ ) that would be heated by the sun and then cooled upon heating water?

    How far is the drainback tank’s base below the maximum height of the fluid? Are pressure specifications much larger than fluid pressure?

  30. 330
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #272 Patrick

    A completely gaseous planet could have a greenhouse effect. </blockquote)

    How about a star?? See e.g.

    The absorption lines in the solar spectrum which were discovered in the early 19th. century indicate that the Sun is losing slightly less energy, at a given temperature, than predicted by the Stefan Boltzmann equation. Its surface temperature must rise slightly in order to compensate. Of course the details are different from the terrestrial example because the latter receives its energy in the visible band and loses it in the IR, whereas in the Fraunhofer case, the internal source of energy is at a much higher temperature (much shorter wavelength than visible) and the radiation loss is in the visible.

  31. 331
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: # 253.

    what other [complex] examples do you know of that show predictive power?

    Weather forecasting.

  32. 332
    Titus says:

    dhogaza @325 & Hank Roberts @324:

    Thanks for replies. My experience is Life Sciences and High Tech primarily as a project manager. No experience with climate science, however, I do meet with other project mangers from those disciplines and the issues are the same. As project managers we get seminars and the like on how to manage R&D. I’ll spare you the anecdotes.

    Scientist are the hardest to get information out of (milestones, schedules, costs, documentation etc.) and attempts to do so are often met with derision. It is accepted by those who work with them that doing the work they do that they need to be free of such constraints so they can be creative and expansive etc.

    I liken it to the way IT was 10-20 years ago where the CIO and his minions ruled the roost because nobody understood their craft and they ran amuck. In response business has been outsourcing IT to professional organizations who are tasked to meet business requirements.

    I see the same starting to happen in science where you can now find specifically set up R&D businesses. They are totally focused on not only doing the science but all the other checks and balances you would normally expect when delivering your work. Check out this trend particularly in the drugs industry.

    Thanks again for asking…

  33. 333
    Jim Eager says:

    John Pearson @320: Perhaps a Real Climate article on the Venusian atmosphere is in order?,/em>

    You mena like this: Venus Unveiled

  34. 334
    Jim Eager says:

    Steckis @276: “This is my last on this topic.”

    If only. I eagerly await being proven wrong, though.

  35. 335
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Chris Colose @284, Mmmm, mmm, I just love Rabett stew, and brought to us by so many great cooks, too! ;^)

  36. 336
    David B. Benson says:

    Here is a fine book which can be read of an evening (althugh I’ll want to further study some portions):

    Wally Broecker
    The Great Ocean Conveyor: Discovering the Trigger for Abrupt Climate Change
    Princeton Univeristy Press, 2010.

  37. 337
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Doug Bostrom 65 “Drainback Solar Water Heater”

    Looks nice. I’d like to know more; I may have missed a few things – the pump may use 90 or up to 180 W – I assume while operating, thus the time average would be lower – what would it typically be? What is the area of the collectors and how much heat might they supply at a given temperature as a function of incident solar radiation and outside temperature? How massive are the collectors? What’s the cost (well maybe that was there and I skipped over it; have to go back and look again…) Etc.

  38. 338
    Jacob Mack says:

    BPL unfortunately, China, India and Taiwan are all beginning to outpace the US with green technologies. Now that certainly does not mean that all of that Asian brown cloud has dissipated, or that India has cleaned up the Ganges,but I think that our own country in conjunction with many parts of Europe need to keep moving forward with such things both for the environment and to promote clean industries. As always I enjoy reading your posts.

  39. 339
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 330 Geoff Wexler
    – in the sense that greater transparency of an overlying layer would allow the temperature somewhere underneath that layer to decrease, I think it could be said that there is a greenhouse effect. I’m not sure if it’s ever called that, though (just as no one refers to the greenhouse effect of the mantle – though since an actual greenhouse is made of glass, arguably the term could apply there, as well as to a winter coat, if we generalize to the effects of impeding radiation, thermal conduction and diffusion and convection), but it works, in a general sense, the same way. And it isn’t just the few absorption lines; the material of the sun can emit radiation over a broad range of wavelengths, which implies it can absorb radiation over the same range, which implies that a greater radiative flux at the same wavelengths coming from a lower, higher temperature layer would be at least partially absorbed (and there would be some back radiation from the upper layer, reducing the net upward flux).

    PS the other key aspect of the greenhouse effect is that the heat supplied to the system comes through some other form (radiation in different parts of the spectrum , or heat from within, etc.) then the heat that escapes the system.

  40. 340
    Patrick 027 says:

    …through some other form AND/OR channel

  41. 341
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Titus@322, First, I don’t see how the fact that some scientists lack a practical bent negates my point that those publishing most actively will best understand their field.

    Second, there are many types of scientists. Some are in fact airy denizens of the ivory towers of academe. Others are quite practical. Both are necessary, as are engineers–and yes, project managers.

    As a scientist, I do understand that in many cases, a meeting composed of only scientists may move very slowly and be easily sidetracked. Scientist tend to be curiosity driven, rather than goal driven. However, curiosity is precisely what makes scientists work such long hours to reach an understanding or their subject matter. It may be a lot to ask that a scientist also understand how his or her research fits into a larger picture–they probably aren’t curious about that.

  42. 342
    Actually Thoughtful says:

    Regarding many posts on solar hot water – Drainback is the vastly preferred method for solar water heating in a freezing climate. It uses water, gravity and a pump to ensure your pipes don’t freeze, and it stops collecting (via a solar differential controller) before you reach an overheat situation (very common, given that the solar energy available in December is very different that that available in July).

    For those of you in a no-freeze climate (Florida, and I presume Australia) – cheaper options are available. When I lived in Georgia, we used water heater painted black on the roof (in a glass enclosure to create a greenhouse effect (to keep it topical…)). With some sloppy pipework and “reclaimed” material – it was free.

    Doug I have no particular comment regarding the technical benefits of selective coatings. I am not a manufacturer. I know I look for the most efficient use of the square footage on the roof and the most return for the encapsulated labor and most return for total cost. Optimizing the price performance of one piece may not give the optimal total price performance (same balance of system for an inefficient panel as their is for an efficiency-optimized one).

    As for un-pressurized drain back tanks – I prefer them and use them in all of my large systems. Sadly you are attacking a low-cost component (~$350 – and that unpressurized vessel, capable of handling high temperatures, with fittings in the right places and a drain large enough to handle a leak in the pressurized heat exchanger, is going to have a cost that has the same number of digits as $350).

    As for the “value” of paying $865 more for remote monitoring and digital display? Priceless. $865 is also inflated. Without labor or profit (as your $135 controller is) – the cost is $600. So a $365 difference. Remember we are moving markets here. The black box systems of the 70 and 80s (which I service) are nightmares for troubleshooting. To a person, no one knows if there system is working or not, nor if it is saving them money.

    My systems, on the other hand, allow me to send them a monthly email saying “you saved this much money this month.” And for my more complex space, water, hot tub/pool systems, it allows me to make adjustments and learn remotely. I can alert my customers of problems with their systems before they are aware of any problem.

    I can imagine your convincing me on some efficiency point or another – the price/performance of selective coatings is bad, or an unpressurized drain back vessel for small systems makes sense. But I assure you that you are incorrect to belittle the digital (and internet enabled) monitoring controller.

    The lack of these is the EXACT reason so many smart people choose PV before solar thermal, when a rational analysis would do solar thermal, then PV. As Deming is often (incorrectly) quoted as saying “you can’t manage what you don’t monitor.” PV has measurement built in, solar thermal needs a controller as I have described.

    That controller is the key piece to moving minds and markets.

  43. 343
    Ray Ladbury says:

    FCH says, “All appeals to authority are fallacies.”

    I do not agree–it is merely when you assert that the authority of the source automatically confers truth that it becomes a fallacy. Citing a true expert who has a long record of publication on the subject of the argument is more likely to yield accurate approximation than, say, citing an AM radio talk show host.

    Expert testimony is admissible as evidence in a court of law, and one of the first questions the lawyer calling the witness will ask will concern the expert’s bona fides.

    No, appeal to authority is not part of a logical argument–but empiricism sometimes trumps logic.

  44. 344

    On product people vs. scientists: I told Apple engineers in the late 1980s that they would do better to take a working kernel from a system that was well shaken down like UNIX, and layer their superior interface on top of that, rather than try to reinvent the wheel in areas where they had no competitive advantage. They gave me reasons why this was not possible, all of which were bunk, and Apple nearly went broke, before finally doing it my way (no credit claimed). I can think of numerous similar examples. The fact that product people are contemptuous of scientists doesn’t mean they are invariably right, just that they are the ones who get to define what the product is, and hence what sees the light of day. I could also mention why SGI got into serious trouble for ignoring my advice but that’s enough OT for me for one day :)

  45. 345
    Richard Steckis says:

    Ray Ladbury says:
    8 May 2010 at 7:32 AM

    “Steckis, you have fallen for the logical fallacy that an appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. It ain’t. Arguing that the source one appeals to is infallible is a fallacy.”

    You need to take some lessons in logical argument. The appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. See below:


    “Appeal to authority is a fallacy of defective induction, where it is argued that a statement is correct because the statement is made by a person or source that is commonly regarded as authoritative. The most general structure of this argument is:

    Source A says that p is true.
    Source A is authoritative.
    Therefore, p is true.”

  46. 346
    Richard Steckis says:

    Stephen Baines says:
    7 May 2010 at 10:44 PM

    “@ RS “As for Gavin’s comment re: pseudo-science, I guess it is only pseudo-science when it disagrees with your pre-conceived ideas about Venusian climate.”

    If by preconceived ideas, you mean ideas conceived and tested by scientists over more than a century of prior research, I think he would agree.”

    A century of research can be toppled by one expirment. So do no hang your petard on the fallacy that a century of research is an unbreakable bulwark of truth.

    [Response: If you think a century of science is going to be toppled by obviously ignorant blog posts on WUWT, you are very mistaken. There is a big difference between coming up with new insights that cause a reevaluation of current paradigms and just getting very basic physics wrong and misapplying completely other bits of physics. Goddard and Motl are engaged in the latter, not the former. – gavin]

  47. 347
    Shirley says:

    Totally Off-topic (although I did download the Kindle trial of the book and enjoyed it enough to maybe buy it when I have more time to read) but I have a science – climate – weather question, which popped into my head because I’m located near at least two coal fired-power plants, a big lake (Lake Erie) and weather has been even more wild than usual. I’m also 39 and finishing up a degree in Earth Sciences, getting ready to embark on paleoclimate studies at the grad level in the Fall. Some Googling hasn’t answered this, and it’s probably a premature question as far as research goes, which could mean in a few years, would be worth grant-seeking in nature… so here goes:

    Is there any research going on out there which attempts to correlate regional high CO2 output with increased regional climate changes?

    Many of us can anecdotally claim anomalies from the norms in local weather, but are there any studies which might link to point-source emissions or changes in jet stream patterns, etc?

    I’m asking this question with the understanding that the science is still at the shore of this ocean of knowledge, and want to remind readers that there is a massive distinction between weather and climate, which is why I’ve used those terms as I have.

    I guess what I’m getting at is the question about how much IR is absorbed from lower atmosphere point sources, and do these point sources create “hot spots” (or weird, unpredictable spots) the way other heat convective cells do???

    Not looking for “yes” or “no” I guess, just thoughts…

  48. 348
    Pete W says:

    I think I understand the intent of Titus’s assertion with the IT analogy. But I’d like to defend the “running amuck” by IT departments;

    As a 31 year (and counting) IT person I find it interesting it was suggested outsourcing was caused by out of control IT staff. I work for a corporation that decided the solution was to deal with the lack of IT comprehension in the primary business units. The technology was changing rapidly and there was much for everyone to learn. The IT department wanted to pull the organization out of the paper-ledger days, but the resistance to change was horrific. A new CEO came in and literally fired all resistant managers in all departments (including IT), and only then could the corporation take better advantage of the IT professionals within their own organization. So from my personal experience, the only “running amuck” this IT department did was trying to get the rest of the organization to wake up and smell the coffee!

    Acceptance of AGW is a different animal of course. We can’t just fire those that choose to work against it. Large cultural shifts require generational turnover before everyone accepts it; slavery, the car replacing the horse, woman’s right to vote, I’m sure these changes resulted in some disliking the change all the way to the grave, and this will be true of the acceptance of AGW as well.

    We utilize outsourcing today, but on a tactical level only. Doing so allows our in-house staff to focus on projects that give us competitive advantage.


  49. 349
    Titus says:

    Ray Ladbury @341.

    “First (you say), I don’t see how the fact that some scientists lack a practical bent negates my point that those publishing most actively will best understand their field.”

    I’m sure that those scientists believe they understand their field. The point was how you leap from that into your assertion that it is “common sense” that something is true. Especially in the light of the caveats that we both appear to believe exist.

    “Second (you say), there are many types of scientists. Some are in fact airy denizens of the ivory towers of academe. Others are quite practical. Both are necessary, as are engineers–and yes, project managers.” (thanks for the recognition)

    Totally agree. Working together is how business gets done. We need each other. Where we differ is that I believe science is not good on its own. Science used without those checks and balances looses its authority and therefore cannot be (and is not) trusted.

  50. 350
    Rattus Norvegicus says:

    Philip, I worked at SGI during both the fat years and the lean years. I would like to hear why you think SGI screwed up. So would John Mashey, another veteran of SGI, who was much higher up the food chain that I was.

    Since this is OT, I’ll post of your blog with my email if you would like to discuss this.