RealClimate logo

Unforced variations: Sep 2012

Filed under: — group @ 5 September 2012

Open thread – a little late because of the holiday. But everyone can get back to work now!

591 Responses to “Unforced variations: Sep 2012”

  1. 451
    Hank Roberts says:

    > So land use is left?

    Oceans. Species composition of ocean plankton can change in two weeks, different species do very different things with the available resources.

    We don’t even know what was there before we started changing it.

    “If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

    “We grieve only for what we know.”

    — Aldo Leopold

  2. 452

    447 Jim Larsen and by reference dhogaza

    I base my complaint on having read the EPA Rule that defines the formula.

    MPGE pretends to be based on tank to wheels, but they fail to find the tank for electric vehicles. One can speculate that the battery is their idea of a tank but they make no mention of battery losses either, though battery losses are negligible compared to the real energy lost as heat discharged from the power plant heat engine.

    Let’s face it, they think the public is like the lazy freshman who confuses kWhr of heat with kWhr of electricity on the basis of the units of measurement.

  3. 453

    re448 Marodger

    I stand corrected (sort of) about the constant, having remembered 33.4 instead of the 33.7. Well maybe I just defer to you on this constant since a 1% variation is of no consequence.

    Like the US EPA, you are massively incorrect if you believe electricity is a fuel. That would be consistent though with your assertion that the heat engine and thermal cycle are irrelevant.

    I hope I did not suggest anything so erroneous as a gallon’s worth of CO2 is released to get 33.4 (or 33.7) kWhr of electricity. If any heat engine that uses gallons of anything is the generating equipment, two to three gallons of whatever would be needed, and both the heat and CO2 would be released accordingly.

    Some day there might be renewable options that can survive on their merits, though storage is a big hurdle here. The only storage in site would be gated hydro, which is incredibly efficient. Gated hydro just holds water in reserve until needed to fill the gap when renewables are off, thus incurring no losses. Gated hydro could be included as part of the National Water Project.

    Drag coefficients of .04 have been achieved, compared to EV drag coefficients ranging from .2 to .3. The potential gain here is enormous compared to the things you mentioned, except for driving very slowly. But as I said, that will have to wait.

    The tractor shown at the listed website is light weight and moves very slowly indeed. And it is an EV as presently configured. (It is not new in industrial equipment to use electric drive for things like fork lifts.)

  4. 454
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Korda, with all due respect, I don’t think you understand what “empiricism” means — or at least, you don’t understand what I mean by it.

    Empiricism, most simply, is the principle that if you want to know how things are, you must look and see.

    It has nothing to do with “scientism” — on the contrary, I would say that “scientism” is a fate that may befall those who fail to keep science anchored in empiricism.

    Nor does empiricism negate “art”, and indeed the actual practice of any art form is essentially empirical — the only way to find out “what works” as art is to try stuff and see.

    It’s interesting that you should mention Zen, since Buddhism, and especially Zen, is radically empirical — the Buddha taught that enlightenment could be found only through the direct observation of actual experience, and Zen meditation is, of course, a particularly intensive practice of doing just that. In the Kalama Sutra, Buddha said that nothing should be “taken on faith”, even his own teachings, which should only be accepted when his listeners had put them to the test and “knew for themselves” that they were effective. And what is Pirsig’s book, if not an account of his own deeply and courageously empirical investigation of his own consciousness?

    And, really, your critique of “scientism” is itself empirical, since it is based on observing the actual consequences of the attitudes you are challenging.

  5. 455
    Ron R. says:

    Chris Korda, I agree with your comments. However one shouldn’t be surprised at the reaction one gets when posting in a forum populated by science people.

    I’m sure there are books out there that detail the failings of science (by which I mean the scientific community as a whole). First though we need to give science it’s due. Thanks to science many of us now live relatively comfortable, if predictable, lives. We have a place to go if we get sick and a pleasant way to get there. We have houses filled with all manner of technology to make our lives more convenient and fun, televisions and iphones, cameras and refrigerators filled with a variety of food from around the world. We no longer need to shiver in the cold, we can just throw a switch and have instant warmth. We no longer have to worry too much about four-legged predators grabbing us in the night (now it’s the two-legged version).

    But there have been failings as well. To point out just a few:

    Science failed when it decided to become joined at the hip with the military/industrial complex, taking it’s money and doing it’s business without question.

    It failed when it decided to launch into nuclear. Einstein himself had real misgivings which were not heeded. Since then we’ve all had to live with the ever present threat and reality of Mutually Assured Destruction and multiple Fukushimas.

    It failed when it embraced antibiotics without thinking of the evolutionary capability of microorganisms to evolve in response. Now we are left vulnerable to the next superbug.

    It failed when it created toxic herbicides and pesticides which have polluted much of the world, sickening and killing millions. True, it provided a generation’s worth of (tainted) food, but now that bugs and weeds are developing resistance to our most toxic poisons we are having to create and use even worse ones.

    It failed when it got into genetic modification, the splicing of the genes of one species into another, totally unrelated species, under the old simplistic and convenient notion that one gene = one function. Now we are learning how truly interconnected and complex the genome is, yet we also have between a hundred and two hundred million acres of agricultural and wild lands and much of our diet irretrievably filled with the stuff while warnings about their environmental and health hazards continue to mount. Yet now anyone can mess around with life’s fundamentals from the convenience of their kitchen tables.

    It’s failing with nanotechnology. In it’s love for miniaturization and acceleration, of newness for the sake of newness without considering possible consequences, nano is putting at risk our health with things that can easily cross the blood/brain/organ barriers. And now, unbelievably, they found within a host of foods, and in personal items like socks, (to make them taste better and be less smelly) and all without even a need to label them so that intelligent people can opt out. One of the many regulations that Dubya did away.

    It fails when it continues to view the world from a purely reductionist standpoint, people who see the fundamentals of nature as a game, like lincoln logs, that they can simply tear down, shift around and reconstruct in whatever image they desire without an appreciation for, and before fully comprehending, the many complex processes that went into making the lovely and unique living planet we have.

    Science fails when, in it’s giddyness for discovery, it throws all caution to the wind. When it refuses to recognize that there should be limits, times when we should just say, no, we won’t go there.

    It fails when it too often remains silent on issues of policy and ethics, preferring the easier course of invention, and leaving the thorny questions of it’s creations, and often the negative results therefrom, to others to deal with.

    Inevitably in these discussions someone will point out the hypocrisy of using a computer that resulted from science to criticize it. But that same science also gave us the missile and the tank. Hopefully we can criticize those.

    To be clear, there have been (a comparatively few) scientific voices in the wilderness warning about these things all along, but they have tended to get lost, at least in the public mind, within the general acquiescence of the larger community.

    The process of discovery is a beautiful one, but one needs to handle it with intelligence and care, otherwise we’re only children playing with matches.

  6. 456
    Unsettled Scientist says:

    > It [science] failed when it decided to launch into nuclear.

    Disagree, you even point out that you have a place to go when you get sick… I guess you think MRIs are failures? Nuclear physics is not simply making bombs and power plants. Who paid for the bombs? That’s the problem, not our understanding of the atomic nucleus.

    > It failed when it got into genetic modification, the splicing of the genes of one species into another, totally unrelated species, under the old simplistic and convenient notion that one gene = one function.

    You fail to understand what genetic modification is. Splicing genes from one species into another totally unrelated species is, again, just one example of a technology you deride based on that one application. What you speak of is called transgenic modification, there are many other types of genetic modification. For one example, cisgenic modification is inserting genes from the same species, or a sexually compatible species.

    I’m not going to bother with your whole tirade, I think these two examples are sufficient to show how ignorance of the science makes people say foolish and highly generalized things like this, “Yet now anyone can mess around with life’s fundamentals from the convenience of their kitchen tables.” Yeah, right!

    It’s not the hypocrisy of that tirade which is glaring to the educated, it is the ignorance of science that jumps out from all the highly simplistic generalizations. When you just say “no, I won’t go there,” you stop learning and don’t even understand of what you speak against.

    Just say Know!

  7. 457
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ron R wrote: “Science failed when …”

    I have to ask you, what is this “science” that you speak of?

    Is it really science that “failed”? Has the investigation of phenomena through empirical observation, through testing our ideas about and models of reality and experience against actual, careful, impartial observation “failed”?

    I ask because the rest of your comment does not mention any such failures of science itself.

    What you are talking about boils down to the failure of human beings to apply and use the knowledge of the phenomenal world — and the power over the phenomenal world — that science has given us in ways that you and I would consider good and beneficial, and instead to use that knowledge (or to ignore it!) and power in ways that are bad and harmful.

    That does not reflect a failure of science. What it reflects is human values.

    The same scientific knowledge that informs and empowers us to live in harmony with the rest of life on Earth, with other species, with ecosystems and with the biosphere as a whole, IF that’s what we value and what we choose to do, also gives us the power to dominate, degrade and destroy other species, ecosystems and the Earth’s biosphere, if that is what we value and choose to do.

    Science is not at the heart of the problems that you and Chris Korda have eloquently described — at the heart of those problems is ignorance, greed and hatred. Of those three, ignorance is the most fundamental, and science — which is fundamentally the practice of looking deeply into phenomena so as to see and understand how things really are — is the antidote for ignorance.

  8. 458
    SecularAnimist says:


    ‘Planetary emergency’ due to Arctic melt, experts warn
    Mariano Andrade
    September 20, 2012

    Experts warned of a “planetary emergency” due to the unforeseen global consequences of Arctic ice melt, including methane gas released from permafrost regions currently under ice …

    “Between 1979 and 2012, we have a decline of 13 percent per decade in the sea ice, accelerating from six percent between 1979 and 2000,” said oceanographer Wieslaw Maslowski with the US Naval Postgraduate School, speaking at the Greenpeace event. “If this trend continues we will not have sea ice by the end of this decade,” said Maslowski.

    While these figures are worse than the early estimates they come as no surprise to scientists, said NASA climate expert James Hansen, who also spoke at the Greenpeace event.

    “We are in a planetary emergency,” said Hansen, decrying “the gap between what is understood by scientific community and what is known by the public.”

  9. 459
    Hank Roberts says:

    > science failed

    You’re blaming the tool.

    That would be foolish. Look at what science has been saying

    Now ask yourself — who have you been listening to?

    The junkscience guy? He’s a market-industry PR source.

  10. 460
    Ron R. says:

    To add more positives.


    The natural sciences, I love them.

    Science has helped to explain the world and the universe around us, to show us beauty we would otherwise never know existed, to intrigue our imaginations, and to banish old superstitions which paralyzed so many people with fear for so long. Those are no small accomplishments.

    On the other hand it’s success has led to a world vastly overpopulated by a single species and swiftly heading toward the cliff of no return.

    There are wonderful positives – and horrendous negatives – with science. It is a powerful tool that should be handled as such, while it’s limitations honestly acknowledged. But it should not be worshipped.

  11. 461
    Ron R. says:

    Unsettled Scientist. Your two examples, MRIs and cisgenic modification, are quite minor in comparison to the major uses of these technologies which have potential to, have and are doing vast harm. Does the use of the minor justify the existence of the major? I don’t think so.

    I think these two examples are sufficient to show how ignorance of the science makes people say foolish and highly generalized things like this, “Yet now anyone can mess around with life’s fundamentals from the convenience of their kitchen tables.” Yeah, right!

    I can provide links to all my assertions if necessary.

    SecularAnimist says: I have to ask you, what is this “science” that you speak of?

    Hank Roberts says: You’re blaming the tool.

    No. Reread what I said. I’m sure there are books out there that detail the failings of science (by which I mean the scientific community as a whole).

    Not science itself.

    Now ask yourself — who have you been listening to? The junkscience guy? He’s a market-industry PR source.

    No, I have no interest in junk science. Don’t visit those sites.

  12. 462
    David B. Benson says:

    Warming Ocean Could Start Big Shift of Antarctic Ice
    Despite the headline, well written and informative.

  13. 463
    MARodger says:

    Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company @453.

    I would suggest definitions of “fuel” or the storage of lumpy power supply or drag factors are not germaine to the issue here.

    In attempting to get an understanding of this EPA mpg(e), I should make plain that I am on the wrong side of the Atlantic so I am freshly come to this matter. I began @261 above where I calculated that when based on the expected standards of European cars carbon efficiency, a small EV should achieve 75 mpg(US)e calculated using primary energy (in terms of powerstation fuel). 75mpg is a little lower than the EPA quoted 99 mpg(US)e for the Leaf but I felt at the time close enough.
    A second approach @287 considered roughly-quoted efficiencies for power stations, electric motors & petrol engines. It found the measure of primary energy even more fitting for the EPA’s mpg(US)e.

    One thing I do learn now. The EPA’s description of mpg(e) makes clear that mpg(US)e is measuring energy and not carbon intensity. This is a step in the right direction although not helpful in concluding this matter as the average primary energy use & the average carbon intensity for US electric appears very similar. And the EPA are a little ambiguous with their wording with one equivilance back to front and the other talking of “a unit of fuel” not the units of fuel.
    The implication if this EPA description is that the mpg(US)e power is purchased elecrtcity in kWh but the description is written by someone who evidently didn’t know how to write it. Perhaps they also didn’t know what they were writing about either!

    So I now try a third approach to see where this will get me. In UK, a car seller is making a monetary comparison between petrol costs & a Nissan Leaf EV charged using Economy 7 electric with a 1:7 day:night tariff ratio. Petrol is quoted at £6.10p a gallon. British Gas is selling Economy 7 at 15.7p daytime & 6.0p nighttime. So the average kWh = ((6*7)+15.7)/8 = 7.2p.
    The comparison is that a gallon cost of fuel will pay for electric to power the car 348 miles (thus 348 mpg(imp). Thus 610/7.2 = 84.6 kWh are used, or 84.7/33.7 = 2.51 gallons (US) to travel 348 miles = 138 mpg. Thus now need converting from European testing to EPA testing (see comment @261) Thus the Leaf would achieve 115 *1.32 = 183 mpg(US)e assuming the EPA measure kWh at the plug and not as the primary energy used at the powerstation.

    So this is coming out a bit low for primary energy but massively high for plug energy. It is very close to the 75mpg(US)e-plug I calculated first time round. But I am not entirely happy that this is resolved. The EPA/EU convertion for the mpg test is a leap of faith really.
    And an awful lot of talk is saying it is plug energy. The web (& this thread) is alive with such talk. But strangely that is all I see – all talk and not a jot of evidence offered.

    So where next. Well I have now enquired of Nissan UK to see if the word “kWh” is in their vocabulary. Their Leaf brochure manages not to mention such things (although I was surprised to see it weighs 1,600 kg. Not exactly a light car).

  14. 464
    Jim Larsen says:

    Jim B on MPGe:

    1. Emissions based? No. Carbon emissions are not considered at all for MPGe. Any discussion of emissions when talking about MPGe is flawed. (But quickly becomes inevitable)
    2. Energy based? Yes.
    2. Using energy of fuel used? No. The number used is for gasoline, which isn’t used on the grid. MPGe STARTS with a fake (wrong) number.
    4. Doesn’t credit EVs 32% for low-carbon emissions
    5. Doesn’t charge EVs 6% and gas 20% for supply chain.
    6. Doesn’t charge EVs 65% for generation and transmission losses.

    All those ignored credits and charges look to be of a similar magnitude in total for EVs and gas, eh? For now, I divide by two to convert MPGe to MPG, based both on rough math and the Prius VS Leaf numbers.

    But I don’t think energy or emissions are the correct metrics. Both REQUIRE fudging and result in numbers so confusing that reasonable people will cry, “Foul!” Instead, as I’ve said, the consumer wants to know about two separate things:

    1. How much carbon will the car spew per mile?
    2. How much is it going to cost me per mile to drive?

    The first question is answered with grams/mile. It’s foolish to use MPGe to sorta-kinda give a second number somewhat related to grams/mile but not really. Instead, if MPGe were made money-based, MPGe would answer the second question, giving the consumer perfect and complete information. The conversion would be easy and wouldn’t cause issues like the dissonance of imaginary perfect gasoline to electron converters.

  15. 465
    Jim Larsen says:

    70 Chris D said, “If you are putting your foot on the brake when there is a traffic mishap, it is an accident, if you are putting your foot on the gas, it is intentional. You have not considered culpability in your three cases.”

    A better analogy might be a carbon-drunk-driver careening down the road at four times the speed limit. Though he hits the brakes, the accident is his fault.

    My solution includes both that all people have equal carbon rights and an acknowledgement that we are where we are. With a 20 year phase-in, each country is allowed what they emit now, sloping into the future to their rightful share. The US would have a decline while an individual in an undeveloped nation would actually be allowed to buy a car. I think my “plan” takes care of your culpability issue.

    Dan H, I’m seeing words claiming no current acceleration, or even deceleration for sea level rise. Others objected, but I stipulated. Since I stipulated, please answer without reference to past or current sea level rise.

    Substantiate that Hansen and many others are wrong in predicting that sea level rise will accelerate in the future, assuming the standard scenarios.

    Recaptcha says: Crazy assurnot

  16. 466
    Hank Roberts says:

    > scientists

    You should read those links from the public health literature.

    And listen to this, slowly and thoughtfully:

    You should also remember Sturgeon’s Law.
    It just doesn’t get any better than that.

  17. 467
    Jim Larsen says:

    451 Hank said, “Oceans.”

    OK. Land/ocean use/abuse matter, but snow is, and land is where snow does its best albedo-magic. Yep, ocean acidification could really get nasty on the way to 280-350. Lots of possibilities, such as the food chain stuff you linked to, but I think it’s pretty certain that the orbital forcing will remain essentially intact.

    Chris D,

    Here’s efficiencies for cars in various countries, all adjusted to be US gallons on a US CAFE cycle. The EU gets 49MPG. China gets 36. You equated braking with innocence. The EU has increased 10MPG from 2002 to 2012. China increased 7MPG from 2002 to 2009. Extrapolate to 2012: 10MPG.

    Most countries are braking at 8-10MPG/decade. The US braked at 2.2MPG/decade. Plus, the US was already dead last at 26MPG.

    So, by your own moral code, should the USA be “fined” for causing an accident by refusing to adequately brake?

  18. 468
    wili says:

    The Arctic sea-ice modelers for the last IPCC report have given hot-head catastrophists (amongst which some would include myself) an enormous gift–

    Every time there is now a scientific consensus that, say, sea-bed methane hydrates can’t possibly destabilize catastrophically on a time frame that would significantly multiply the rate of GW in the coming decades, they (we) can say:

    “Sure–that from the same people who said the Arctic Ocean would not even approach ice free conditions till near the end of the century, and more likely not for centuries, yet here we are with nearly ice-free conditions in September of 2012…”

    Just sayin’

  19. 469

    464 Jim Larsen,

    As near as I can tell, we mostly agree, though your #4 is not entirely correct in my view. I am guessing this is based on an assumed natural gas as the marginal response. And there is good reason to believe this to be the case in this immediate time frame. Maybe not in the long term.

  20. 470

    wili 468, the IPCC may consider studying the newish steadier Rossby wave circulation patterns which favours feeding Cyclones to the Arctic a certain feedback of heat made so by a weakened ice state.

  21. 471
  22. 472
    Hank Roberts says:

    A natural experiment in the offing, though for a “next week” rather than “next generations'” problem people can affect:

    “… “If everyone reacts by saying that these were false claims last time and just jumps on the road, it could be a disaster,” he said. “It could be a nightmare.”

    Mr. Yaroslavsky said he thought that in the end “there will probably be a little more traffic than there was in July of 2011.”’

    “People have more obligations in September,” he said. “One thing about Angelenos, if they are experts at nothing else, they are experts at traffic.””

    So we know what they did last time: with drivers, summertime, scared off the road, no ‘carmaggedon’ crush while the freeway was constricted or closed for work.

    Next, bigger event, soon:

    ” things went too smoothly last year. The warnings that congestion would lock up the city were not borne out because drivers … stayed off the roads.

    … Carmageddon II might be a week away, but there are no signs of fear or frenzy….

    This time, appeals to fear and self-preservation are out. Appeals to the good-neighbor communitarian instincts of Angelenos are in, sweetened with discounts …. plan recommended to the city in a report by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
    [link to that report at the original web page, clicky above]

    How long til we’re mostly all experts at climate?

  23. 473
    Steve Fish says:

    When talking about the interface between science and society I think it is useful to make some distinctions between the different scientific groups. (Sorry, this grew all by itself.)

    1) Pure science, often called basic science, involves investigators who are just trying to figure how something works. I have known a few that are driven by this to the extent that they match the nerd stereotype of a few years back. These scientists most often work as professors at universities and colleges and fund their research from their institutions (small scale) or from federal or, occasionally, private funding sources. They will rarely make any money from their findings but are self-motivated to explain some phenomenon with evidence good enough that it will convince others in the field of study. There is a strong and trained ethic against faking data, so internally, altogether this group is a meritocracy.

    In contrast, as individuals some (not most) of these folks can be petty, backbiting, and social climbing assholes. But, in any case individual personalities don’t matter at all because the agreed upon group goal is to be factually correct by way of explanatory experiments without cheating. Those that consistently fail to do this eventually will not be able to get funding from unbiased sources and those that cheat are banished. This is all self-correcting because there is always someone who will want to use s finding for their own research, or who will deliberately check them using their own techniques, and so a false conclusion is quickly and embarrassingly displaced. The motivation for this is strong and there have been graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who got a big initial career boost from correcting the findings of an established researcher.

    2) Applied science is a broad category of activities that are a little suspect because they employ scientific methods to achieve a goal. As soon as a goal is introduced it becomes more difficult to maintain objectivity, especially if the goal is monitory. This is not a big problem if, for example, scientists working for a biotech company, that is motivated to find a saleable cure for spinal cord injury, is studying developmental mechanisms that guide axonal growth and guidance in Zebra fish and, importantly, they are allowed to publish in peer reviewed journals.

    Alternatively, if one believes strongly in, or is employed by a company that would benefit from, the removal or development of some process or chemical product then research findings are suspect. They may not be wrong but we are all aware of instances when the findings were checked and the drug protocol study or contract research that supported a product was found to hide the fact that some compound didn’t actually work any better than aspirin or had some hidden very bad side effect. There are only weak checks and balances that often arise from some people getting hurt. When this type of science goes wrong it is usually the basic science types that are the whistleblowers.

    3) Technology (e.g. Biotechnology) is a version of applied science but is frequently just a means to a financial end. Decisions are made by executives in a big corporation that usually have no knowledge of, or care about, any scientific or societal implications of the work. People doing the science are usually not allowed to publish to keep the competition in the dark. There are no checks and balances except profit. I am sure that there are some corporations that do technology responsibly, but I know of others that have not, and without publication and review it is very difficult to tell.

    4) A problem is that the general public and some, apparently, relatively intelligent individuals above in this thread are not aware of the distinctions in the types of science. Often those accusing science of wrongdoing should be directing their animosity elsewhere. Climate science disciplines and the many tens of thousands of other types of scientists in institutions of higher learning, all over the world, are basic scientists and, therefore, trustworthy purveyors scientific findings. Shoot, it might be hundreds of thousands, many society of xxxx conventions attract greater than 20K presenters. Steve

  24. 474
    Chris Korda says:

    Until today I was unfamiliar with Jeremy Grantham. An ultra-contrarian uber-hedge fund manager who funds climate research, quotes Bob Marley and Kenneth Boulding, extols “Limits to Growth”, and explores 400-year scenarios? And that’s just for starters. His latest newsletter Welcome to Dystopia! Entering a long-term and politically dangerous food crisis makes fascinating reading, and addresses many of the issues that are discussed regularly here at RC, admittedly from the point of view of a $97 billion fund that caters to institutions with a minimum of $10 million to invest. For example his take on scientists:

    And do not for a second think that the scientists can be dismissed as exaggerators in the pay of evil foundations as right-wing think tanks would have you believe. The record so far has been one of timid underestimation. Much the majority of scientists hate being in the limelight and live in dread of the accusation of the taint of exaggeration, so severe a crime in the academic world that it is second only to faking data. What the timid scientists forget (this is all driven by career risk just as with institutional investing) is that in this unique case it is underestimating that is dangerous! To put the science clearly in the public domain – a task so far totally failed at – is left to a brave handful of scientists willing to be outspoken. … Talk privately to scientists involved in climate research and you find that they believe that almost everything is worse than they feared and accelerating dangerously.

    (from p. 9, “The negative effect of climate change on grain production”)

    and on growth-ism:

    In earlier pieces I tried to convey the sheer impossibility of any perpetual rate of steady growth in people or physical output: 1% compounded for 3000 years, I noted, would multiply people or possessions by seven trillion times the original number. But for those with shorter horizons, the thermodynamic effect on its own, as we’ve seen, puts a quite separate ceiling of a mere 400 years’ growth in energy use at a modest 2.3% growth a year. Throw in climate change effects and our species would be toast long before 400 years would pass if present trends continue. We simply cannot have exponential growth on a finite planet, but no politicians (understandably) and almost no economists (almost unbelievably) will deal with this topic. The longer we delay in facing up to resource shortage, especially the need to go to renewables, the more severe the problem becomes.

    (from p. 14, “The need for a serious effort now”)

  25. 475
    barry says:

    I’m on a quest to find peer-reviewed papers specifically testing the enhanced greenhouse effect by raising CO2 levels in a volume of atmosphere in the lab. I’m looking for a fistful of more tightly controlled examples of those experiments you see on youtube.

    Not OLR or DLR in the atmos, not spectroscopic tables, just the meat and potatoes physical lab test.

    Checked every citation for Tyndall’s papers. Nothing. Tried various search terms in google scholar. Nothing.

    I begin to imagine that this experiment has never been submitted for peer review! If anyone knows of such papers, or can tell me the right search terms to use to find them, that would be much appreciated.

  26. 476
    Jim Larsen says:

    469 Jim B said, “As near as I can tell, we mostly agree, though your #4 is not entirely correct in my view.”
    Yep. By the way, I’ve been designing hypothetical cars for efficiency since I was a kid. My first attempt had three wheels, where the paired wheels’ hub was to the outside of the tread, which results in the car leaning into curves, or at least counterbalancing the single-wheel’s characteristic.

    I’ve also designed an entirely new type of heat engine, based on the Stirling. I showed the Cyclonic Engine design to the appropriate guy at Georgia Tech. His response was one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received: “We can’t teach that.”

    473 Steve Fish, great analysis. Welcome to the “long and rambling post” club. (OK, yours didn’t ramble)

  27. 477
    Jim Larsen says:

    Oops, forgot to mention, Jim B, 4 isn’t mine, but comments of mine generally evolve as I learn from the discussion.

  28. 478
    David B. Benson says:

    Stratosphere Targets Deep Sea to Shape Climate: North Atlantic ‘Achilles Heel’ Lets Upper Atmosphere Affect the Abyss
    at least points out some of the oddities in the stratospheric polar vortex.

  29. 479
    Chris Korda says:

    SecularAnimist @ 454:

    Empiricism, most simply, is the principle that if you want to know how things are, you must look and see.

    Your definition of empiricism seems highly idiosyncratic, but then you admit as much with “… at least, you don’t understand what I mean by it.” Pirsig uses the conventional definition–all knowledge derives from the senses–and associates it primarily with Hume, whose failure to account for causation roused Kant from dogmatic slumber. Philosophy of science has evolved considerably since then, and Hume’s position, now called direct or naïve empiricism, has largely been superceded by radical empiricism (James), logical positivism, pragmatism (Charles Pierce), critical rationalism (Karl Popper), and so forth. Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality is closely related to pragmatism, as are my own views. Most modern scientists seem to embrace some combination of realism (Einstein’s “the Moon is ‘out there’ even when no one is observing it”), pragmatism (our explanations can improve if we keep trying) and fallibilism (remain open to new evidence, no matter how embarrassing it may be).

    and indeed the actual practice of any art form is essentially empirical

    Pirsig certainly doesn’t consider art empirical, on the contrary, art is clearly on one side of the science/art (classic/romantic, objective/subjective, analytical/emotional) split he’s attempting to heal. Nor is your statement consistent with my personal experience as an artist. In my experience art derives from inspiration which is poorly understood and often manifests itself in dreams and similarly irrational experiences. Pirsig argues that inspiration is as essential to science as it is to art, and uses Poincaré’s creative process as an example, particularly the “wave of crystallization” that Poincaré described as the operation of a “subliminal self”, which intuitively makes aesthetic choices and grasps “universal harmony.”

    To my ear what you’re describing sounds like more like mindfulness, indeed a central tenet of Buddhism. Pirsig describes it as peace of mind, which results from caring, and is a prerequisite for excellence.

  30. 480
    David B. Benson says:

    Someone should find the best way to indicate in a conversion just how big 500 gigatonnes of pure carbon (graphite) would be.

    Words seem to fail me at this point.

  31. 481
    Hank Roberts says:


    abrupt change in a simple model

    That turned up as I was spurred to search by Russell’s asking whether, in the absence of Arctic sea ice, the atmosphere’s polar vortex will interact with the ocean in interesting ways.

  32. 482
    Chris Korda says:

    how big 500 gigatonnes of pure carbon (graphite) would be

    Convert it to cubic miles and compare it to the famous cubic mile of oil + Eiffel tower image. For water, 500 gigatonnes = 500 km³ = 120 cubic miles. Graphite is around twice as dense as water or oil, so call it 60 cubic miles?

  33. 483
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Korda wrote: “Most modern scientists seem to embrace some combination of realism (Einstein’s ‘the Moon is out there even when no one is observing it’) …”

    Of course, Einstein lost that argument with Bohr, thanks to the empirical results of the experimental tests of Bell’s Theorem conducted by Alain Aspect and others.

    Chris Korda wrote: “Pirsig uses the conventional definition–all knowledge derives from the senses … Pirsig certainly doesn’t consider art empirical … art derives from inspiration which is poorly understood and often manifests itself in dreams and similarly irrational experiences.”

    Well, lots of things are “poorly understood”. And dreams and “irrational experiences” can be empirically observed just like waking states of consciousness and “rational experiences”. As for all knowledge being derived from the senses, keep in mind that in Buddhism the mind is considered just another sense — as the eye senses light, and the ear senses sound, the mind senses emotions, ideas, thoughts and other “objects of mind”.

    I think we are getting rather far afield here, even for an unforced variations thread.

    In the context of science, empiricism simply means that all ideas, notions, predictions, models, concepts and theories about how things are must be tested against actual observation of how things are.

  34. 484
    Ron R. says:

    Steve Fish, 23 Sep 2012 at 5:20 PM,

    I agree with your comments re: basic scientists as trustworthy purveyors scientific findings.

    To clarify again, as I wrote above, when I was speaking of science in that post I mean the scientific community as a whole.

    I also said, To be clear, there have been (a comparatively few) scientific voices in the wilderness warning about these things all along, but they have tended to get lost, at least in the public mind, within the general acquiescence of the larger community.

    Animals, people, are tribal, we like to put things into groups because it’s easier that way. We do it with people too, of course, so there’s always this ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling. It’s why there is so much nationalism. Thus the public also tends to see science as a single unit, with a single voice. When they hear pronouncements, or when policy decisions are made based on some scientific finding, the public believes that Science has spoken. They are often unaware of the battles that may be going on behind the scenes.

    Too often too, once a course has been set upon, scientists clam up and turn off. That may be because they don’t want appear to be going against the flow and become outcasts. This is especially true if the experiment in science is working.

    You’ll notice that in the examples I brought up above, in each case, the science worked, that is, those employed in those fields successfully accomplished what it was they set out to do. And in each case the benefits to humanity seemed obvious (except to the relatively few who delved deeper). Scientists like winning, and no one wants to mess with success. Problem is, while initially beneficial, these successes are turning out to inflict profound harm on the world. In that sense they are failures.

    I’m not talking obviously lame ideas that never took off.

    I’m not talking about outdated theories that contributed little or nothing to our understanding.

    I’m talking about successes that either never should have happened, or that should not have been introduced, at least not until we fully understood the many complex processes involved.

    Science, by which I here mean the scientific community as a whole, failed by not saying “WHOA!” we’re not ready for that yet, if at all, and instead often sung their praises, thus allowing them to explode onto the world. Those are just a few technical examples. As Peter Raven, past president of AAAS says,

    Where do we stand in our efforts to achieve a sustainable world? Clearly, the past half century has been a traumatic one, as the collective impact of human numbers, affluence (consumption per individual) and our choices of technology continue to exploit rapidly an increasing proportion of the world’s resources at an unsustainable rate…. At any event, during a remarkably short period of time, we have lost a quarter of the world’s topsoil and a fifth of its agricultural land, altered the composition of the atmosphere profoundly, and destroyed a major proportion of our forests and other natural habitats without replacing them. Worst of all, we have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss of species, up several hundred times beyond its historical levels, and are threatened with the loss of a majority of all species by the end of the 21st century. As George Schaller, the noted conservationist, has put it, “We cannot afford another century like this one” (i.e., the 20th century)…. In making the many choices involved in constructing the world of the future, we must go far beyond the mechanical calculations of an Adam Smith to the vision of a Gandhi, who said, “The world contains enough to satisfy every man’s need, but never enough for our greed.”

    Some of the biggest successes of science have led to the dire state we face today. That’s what I mean by ‘failures of science’.

    By the way, good point about the secrecy in biotech. More about that here:,_Genetic_Pollution_and_Monopolism#Planting_In_Secret

  35. 485
    Jim Larsen says:

    Since I mentioned it, I’ll describe the Cyclonic engine:

    An external combustion engine has three heat exchangers: Hot, Regeneration, and Cold. Regeneration captures heat as the working fluid travels from Hot to Cold, and gives the heat back to the fluid on the return trip. Imagine the three sitting in a row. Looking from one end, you’d see spines and grooves parallel all the way to the other end. Place an insulating cover over all three exchangers, but cut a 1 exchanger sized hole, so you can slide the cover back and forth, exposing whichever exchanger you desire. Note that in doing so the cover will push the working fluid back and forth – the grooves in the exchangers are positively filled, not passively, as is the case in current Stirlings (except Regeneration, which is always positive).

    Take the exchanger strip and curve it into a half circle, then add a second for a full circle. Now, the cover is a circle with two slots cut out and forces are balanced. Add a piston and you’ve got a single cylinder external heat engine that ought to be superior to a Stirling.

    But engineering trumps science, and this one would be the Dickens to build, so for now it’s just an interesting design (and public domain, so feel free to build one!)

  36. 486
    Brian Dodge says:

    “…how big 500 gigatonnes of pure carbon (graphite) would be.”

    500 gigatonnes would be a slab of graphite the size of Malta[1] ~1 km thick, or ~ 20 time the volume of the conical upper part of Mt Fuji[2].

    [1] The top of the cliffs at left center are ~100 m above sea level, and there are 300,000+ people in this photo; most are likely hidden from view.
    [2] from where the slope changes slightly below the snow line. For a human perspective see

  37. 487
  38. 488
    David B. Benson says:

    Chris Korda @482 & Brian Dodge @486 — Thank you. Maybe 20 Mount Fujiyamas of excess carbon will make the point.

  39. 489
    Edward Greisch says:

    I just used the RC search. Some of the RC articles came up in French. Why and how do I get them to go back to English?

  40. 490
  41. 491
    Rob Dekker says:

    After this year’s jaw-dropping mega-melt of Arctic sea ice, which drops to almost 2 sigma’s the projections of even the latest CMIP5 models (see Stroeve et al 2012), the much-less-talked-about, but even more important decline in spring snow cover over the Northern Hemisphere finally seems to get some well-deserved attention.

    On NPR today :

    Which puts some scientific evidence behind Neven / MA Rodger post in early July :

    Here is the scientific publication in GRL :

    With the interesting quote :

    The rate of loss of June snow cover extent since 1979 (-21.5% decade-1) is greater than the loss of September sea ice extent (-10.8% decade-1) over the same period.

    In other words, snow cover reduces at twice the rate that ice cover reduces.

    Since snow cover anomaly occurs early in the melting season, when the sun is still high in the sky, it warms the Northern Hemisphere much more than ice cover changes. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the June 2012 snow anomaly has added some 1000 TW to the early melting season, causing extensive wild-fires in the Boreal forests in Siberia (see Siberia on fire), as well as contributed (possibly very significantly) to the 2012 mega-melt of Arctic sea ice.

    Interesting is also that, just like for the Arctic sea ice anomaly, this snow melt anomaly also drops well below the CMIP5 models projections. From the paper :

    Analysis of Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) model output shows the marked reductions in June SCE observed since 2005 fall below the zone of model consensus defined by +/-1 standard deviation from the multi-model ensemble mean.

    And the June 2012 snow cover anomaly (6 million km^2) is close to 2 sigma’s below the CMIP5 projections, just like the Arctic sea ice deviation from CMIP5 models.

    It looks like models indeed have a hard time keeping up with the rapid changes of the Northern Hemisphere cryosphere that are unfolding as we speak. I start to wonder if maybe the changes we cause to our environment may unfold more rapidly than the improvement in the models that we need to project these changes.

  42. 492
    MARodger says:

    David B. Benson@488,
    (With warning that my arithmatic is not exactly renowned for being eror-fre) some additional ideas for you.
    Your volume of 500 Gt graphite (ie 250 cu km) is a difficult quantity to put in a visual form as it is on a large scale that we humans are not very used to, but not yet large enough to be a big feature in the geological world.
    It would fill Lake Toba (“Where,” you ask? Indeed you may, but 70-odd thousand years ago you wouldn’t have been asking but wishing it had stayed filled in.) or half of Lake Eirie. Or 5% of Kilimanjaro, 10% of Mt Logan, or 16% of Mt Everest measured from sea level.
    Given this difficulty, to make such volumes work (in a conversation?) it would probably have to be relevant to the audience. Round my way, I could make two Dorsets out of a lump that big.

    If you sought an image not using volume but weight, it would allow comparison with multiples of the worlds heavy human artifacts, trucks or ships (the tonnage doesn’t appear these days, but it would take world shipping all year just to carry it 100 yards at 2008 world cargo volumes) etc, or simply humanity itself where 500Gt = 1,500 times the total human biomass (the figure as of 2005 & for adult population) Or if you are happy with more than one species, 500Gt = the total weight (carbon) of the roughly quarter million plant species that presently populate the earth, apparently.

    The usual “it would stretch from here to there and back many times” type visualisation may work if an apprpriate cross-sectional area for the volume could be found. Perhaps the cross-section of a refuse cart’s compressed load when ejected onto the city dump (say 9 sq m) which would stretch 17 million miles, or 700 times round the world or halfway to Venus.
    Taking a different cross-section to calculate, up-thread Dan Riseborough@166 asked if the atmosphere’s CO2 as dry ice would cover the globe 4mm deep, which it would. Dry ice is 4.4 time more voluminous carbon-wise than graphite & there is 850GtC in the atmosphere so the 500GtC would coat the planet with a layer 0.53mm. Impressive.

    The other dimension also can come in useful for visualisations. If the song was right (& I think it was) it would take 2 men and a boy shovelling since the beginning of the universe to shovel a pile that big, longer if they had Sundays & Public Holidays off.

    However, if you insist on volume, I wonder if the water that could be boiled off by burning the carbon would be more impressive – it would boil dry Lake Superior – and if the lake refills in 18 months, that carbon now in the atmosphere as CO2 would have captured enough energy to do it again.

  43. 493
    SecularAnimist says:

    The NPR radio program “On Point” had a discussion of “A New Low For Arctic Ice”, in which host Tom Ashbrook interviewed climatologist David Robinson from Rutgers University and research scientist Walt Meier from the National Snow & Ice Data Center:

    Note that the comment page on that site is (as usual) dominated by the anti-science conspiracy theory blathering of ignorant deniers.

    Overall, I thought the discussion was good, except for the very end. After the whole discussion had emphasized the extremity of the situation and the gravity of the problems we are certain to face as rapid warming and melting continue, Ashbrook asked Robinson and Meier “OK, if you were king of the world, what would you have us do about this?”

    There is one very clear, very straightforward answer to that question, and these two scientists were handed an opportunity to give that answer in no uncertain terms:

    “We need to stop emitting CO2 completely, as soon as we possibly can, which means that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and end deforestation. Moreover, we need to find ways to draw down the existing anthropogenic excess of CO2 — which is already causing these dangerous changes in the Arctic and elsewhere — to preindustrial levels.”

    But they didn’t say that. Instead, the two scientific gentlemen, sounding extremely uncomfortable, uttered some vague, uncertain, and tentative sentences — one of them even opined that we have to stop thinking in terms of mitigation and start thinking about adaptation — and ran away from that question as fast as they could.

    So here we have two scientists who, given a chance to inform the public about the seriousness of the problem, did a good job of that — and given a chance to state clearly that urgent action to reduce emissions is needed, squandered that opportunity.

    What good does it do to communicate the science, if you don’t communicate what needs to be done about it, and the urgent necessity of doing it?

  44. 494
    John West says:

    Mike Roddy says:
    “disinformation in our media is the single biggest factor in America’s laggard or nonexistent climate policies.”

    I’m afraid it just isn’t that simple. No disinformation is required to make the argument against emission reduction strategies without China and India earnestly committing to similar actions. Those that advocate legislative action are limited not only by those that accept potentially dangerous AGW but also have certain “early adopter” or “lead by example” attitudes. Meanwhile those in opposition to action have “skeptics” and those with “late adopter” tendencies within their ranks.

    The practice of slavery might be a good comparison as I’m sure we can all agree that slavery is abhorrent. Certainly history looks favorably on the early adopters of abolishing slavery, but did the late adopters gain from delaying the abolishment of slavery? I’d say in the case of the South (C.S.) any gains made by delaying abolishment of slavery was lost tenfold by hanging on to the point of getting into an ultimately destructive war. I’m sure there’s a lesson there. Managing a late adoption strategy can be problematic but the short term benefits can seem so tempting as to be difficult to resist.

    My point being that even if everyone agreed on the problem that doesn’t mean we’d agree on the solution.

  45. 495
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by John West — 25 Sep 2012 @ 11:00 AM:

    You say “No disinformation is required to make the argument against emission reduction strategies without China and India earnestly committing to similar actions.”

    So your argument is that if the other kids won’t behave then I shouldn’t have to? If you think that this is valid for us then it is also valid for China and India, or anybody else. Every country should be cutting back on CO2 emissions ASAP and this fact stands alone for everyone.


  46. 496
    David B. Benson says:

    MARodger @492 — That is a grade A essay. Thank you.

  47. 497
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 493 Secular Animist – Charge of the scientists’ brigade?: Our’s is not to do or die, ours is but to question why.

  48. 498
    Mike Roddy says:

    To John West (Chris would probably agree)- something I wrote for Climate Progress called “What About China and India?”:

    Those countries have coal oligarchies, just as we do. They won’t act first, for many reasons. They are pointing the finger at us more than vice versa, providing Chinese coal barons with cover. My brother Steve, a USF professor (PhD Princeton, Fulbright and Wilson) who studied in Beijing, gave me background information.

    It’s on us more than anyone.

  49. 499
    flxible says:

    “No disinformation is required to make the argument against emission reduction strategies without China and India earnestly committing to similar actions”

    Do you have some citation that indicates China has not “earnestly committed” to larger reductions than the US ever has? Are you going to stop buying Chinese manufactured goods to help them cut back?

  50. 500
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Ron R. — 24 Sep 2012 @ 12:49 PM at ~#484:

    If I understand your post, you agree with my categories of science which make a transition into industry, but think that the real scientists, as a group, should have anticipated and objected to how their descriptions of how things work have been utilized for various unfortunate purposes. I believe that this is an incomplete view and most of the problems that you identify as the responsibility of scientists are actually the fault of business and governmental interests.

    You keep identifying all scientists as a group that you think should be speaking out, but they are not a coherent group, they are members of a profession which, unusually, all use the same simple organizational methods (intuition, hypothesis, yada yada, publish), but work on a very large variety of problems. In fact, scientists do speak out loudly via organizations formed around their knowledge specialties. What you have left out of your argument are economic interest groups that oppose scientific opinion and the more important problem that the general public is unable to differentiate between self-serving made up opinions and scholarly scientific findings.

    As this is a climate forum, consider this- Climate scientists have been speaking out loudly about the CO2 problem for many years via professional organizations, have made a variety of communications in non-scientific publications that were endorsed by prominent scientists, have the public support of all of the world’s Academies of Science and a variety of other professional organizations, have a whole division of the United Nations charged with reviewing emerging climate science and helping the worlds public and governments understand what is happening and the basis of what needs to be done (IPCC), have a variety of internet sites (such as this one ) explaining the science and its implications, have produced many explanatory books, and have a few brave individuals who are willing to take some flack when speaking out, such as Schneider, Gore, Hansen, and Mann (I am sure that others here can fill this list out). Now, do you think that this effort all by itself would not have been successful in the past? The opinions of scientists used to be respected. What is it that you want? Perhaps 10,000 scientists singing Mitch Miller style enthusiastic pro conservation tunes at the Super Bowl half time?

    What I found missing from your argument were the large financial interests, with deep pockets, who conveniently don’t believe in “externalities” and are more interested in short term profits than any inconvenient science. These “robber barons” and their politician and media handmaidens have very easily distracted the general public with a, so called, “balanced” view. Since the tobacco and lead campaigns devised by this group the methods of distraction and delay have become a well-established tactic. Do you remember “9 doctors out of 10 say…” TV commercials.

    If you want an inside view of how this type of coercion works from personal experience, read Michael Mann’s book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars,” it is alarming. Steve