Saturday, May 16, 2009


An email from Roy Tucker []

I'm a bit dismayed about how computer models have come to be more important than actual observations and so I offer a formal statement of the Scientific Computer Modeling Method.

The Scientific Method

1. Observe a phenomenon carefully.

2. Develop a hypothesis that possibly explains the phenomenon.

3. Perform a test in an attempt to disprove or invalidate the hypothesis. If the hypothesis is disproven, return to steps 1 and 2.

4. A hypothesis that stubbornly refuses to be invalidated may be correct. Continue testing.

The Scientific Computer Modeling Method

1. Observe a phenomenon carefully.

2. Develop a computer model that mimics the behavior of the phenomenon.

3. Select observations that conform to the model predictions and dismiss observations as of inadequate quality that conflict with the computer model.

4. In instances where all of the observations conflict with the model, "refine" the model with fudge factors to give a better match with pesky facts. Assert that these factors reveal fundamental processes previously unknown in association with the phenomenon. Under no circumstances willingly reveal your complete data sets, methods, or computer codes.

5. Upon achieving a model of incomprehensible complexity that still somewhat resembles the phenomenon, begin to issue to the popular media dire predictions of catastrophe that will occur as far in the future as possible, at least beyond your professional lifetime.

6. Continue to "refine" the model in order to maximize funding and the awarding of Nobel Prizes.

7. Dismiss as unqualified, ignorant, and conspiracy theorists all who offer criticisms of the model.

Repeat steps 3 through 7 indefinitely.


An email from Wendell Krossa []

Persistent doomsterism afflicts far too many people, particularly in the environmental movement. In Lester Brown's case it has blinded him to the long history of progress in improving the food supply. And just an aside: what amazing things were done by just one person to improve the human food supply, Norman Borlaug. Julian Simon was right about the value of extra human minds being born. Who knows how many more Borlaugs are yet to come and what new discoveries they may bring to life?

I've tried to understand what fuels persistent apocalyptic as it has such a noted influence on public consciousness across the globe. The environmental variety has produced such things as the new pathology of excessively anxious children (eco-anxiety), scared to death over the ever more dangerous world presented by the alarmists.

One line of thought that may help in understanding what drives persistent apocalyptic has to do with the deeper historical roots of such thinking. Things that may have become almost hardwired in human mentality.

Researchers tell us that the modern human brain achieved its present form about 100,000 years ago. I would assume that modern human consciousness was also emerging and developing at that time. It was also around that time that the previous interglacial (the Eemian) suddenly ended and the world descended into the most recent glacial period (See here). Things got worse very rapidly, especially for people in the higher latitudes.

Some researchers have suggested that early people may have already held myths of a previous golden era (a time of more abundant food supplies and warmer climate). I would suggest this mythology may even date back to the people who lived through the inception of the last glaciation. They appear to have possessed the capacity to develop mythologies (see for instance, John Eccles' The Human Mystery, John Pfieffer's Explosion: an inquiry into the origins of art and religion, Jacquetta Hawkes' Prehistory, Eliade's History of Religious Ideas, and Campbell's Masks of God). The notable descent into worsening natural conditions at that time could have led those people to believe that life overall was in decline and heading toward disaster (proto-apocalyptic). Apocalyptic may then have become one of the earliest pathologies influencing modern human consciousness.

A complex of other mythical ideas were developed over human history in relation to the apocalyptic belief in the decline of life from some original pristine condition. We understand from early mythologies that people viewed nature and its forces as expressions of greater spiritual forces. Hence, such things as natural disasters and diseases came to be viewed as expressions of the anger of spirits/gods, as punishment for human failure, a failure that set the decline of life in motion in the first place. Salvation mythologies also grew out of this type of perception. Sacrifice was seen as necessary to appease angry gods (and a sacrificial lifestyle would also appease the gods: self-flagellation or self-punishment to appease).

So a whole slew of related myths grew up around that core idea of life having declined from some more pristine original condition. This mythology is as primitive as any known but it persists in human belief systems and mentality even today.

This archaic apocalyptic narrative was passed down through the history of human thought, rebirthing itself repeatedly in various religions along the way in both the West and the East (see Eliade's Myth of the Eternal Return). It is most evident in contemporary environmental religion (the green apocalypse). We see it in environmental perceptions that there was once a more pristine era for nature, a pure and undefiled time before corrupt humanity defiled nature. And now the angry gods of nature are expressing their displeasure at humanity and its excesses (the revenge of GAIA or Mother Nature). And what is the required response in order to procure salvation? A return to a simpler lifestyle, a sacrificial lifestyle. Reduce your footprint. Same old, same old.

Apocalyptic is a pathology in the human mind. It must be acquired (beaten into our brains) against the natural orientation of the brain which is toward optimism (Pfiefer in The Emergence of Humankind). Fortunately, many people are able to use their better sense (their natural orientation to optimism) and see through the distortion that is apocalyptic.

We all hold some story or narrative and try to make sense of reality and life in terms of our stories. These stories can even influence our practice of science- what data we will view as most important, what data we will ignore, and how we evaluate the data we hold (what conclusions we will arrive at). These personal narratives may be more influential than actual scientific data, as valuable as that is.

I would suggest that this historically powerful narrative of apocalyptic may in part explain the persistant turning toward doomsterism such as we find in the case of people like Lester Brown. And I would not claim that someone like Brown consciously holds such mythology in his personal belief system. It is more about the subtle influence of basic themes that have a long history of having been beaten into human mentality, whether individuals recognize them or not (perhaps more subconscious). The almost hardwired stuff.

When we see the repeated reincarnation (de ja vu all over again) of the structure of an ancient mythology in scientific debate, then it may be time to recognize that its not really about science but about the greater narrative/story that has always held a prominent place in shaping human perspective on things.

Perhaps then our response to apocalyptic needs to include more of this element of appeal to greater narratives. And we do have a new narrative emerging from the past few centuries of science. We have information that points not to some overall decline in reality or life from an original perfection or purity, but rather, it points to an overall rise and progression in the trajectory of life from less developed beginnings. This rise is evident in the greater cosmos that progresses from more simple and chaotic beginnings toward more order and development (the structure of basic matter, galaxies, stars, and solar systems). It is evident in life on earth that progresses from relatively simple beginnings toward more complexity and diversity and organization. We see this progress and advance also in the history of human consciousness/civilization which develops from more barbaric and primitive beginnings and moves irreversibly toward a more humane future. Apocalyptic decline is so entirely distorting of these fundamental long-term trends of life.

And recognizing this foundational direction of life does not mean that any of us will be spared from the setbacks, downturns, and disasters that still plague life. But what recognition of the overall trajectory of life does is inspire hope that our efforts to improve life are part of a much grander and irreversible rise and progress toward something better. The pathology that is apocalyptic misses the new narrative entirely.

I know this focus on the essential rise and progress of life upsets some devotees of the 2nd Law like Bill Rees who has his own ecological version of the Second Law (Notes on Sustainability Conundrum here ). But even Rees once puzzled over the apparent contradictory growing organization of life against disorder and dissipation of energy. Huber (Bottomless Well, Hard Green) may have stated the relationship here more correctly in arguing that the expenditure and dissipation (waste) of energy serves the greater purpose of increasing order (which is what we do in human civilization).

Whatever people's final conclusions are on this, it appears that a fundamental rise in reality and life has trumped any forces of decline. I can see no evidence of any overall long term decline in any of the three great emergences and trends of reality- the cosmos, life, or human civilization. The mistake of the ancients was to seek to return to some imagined original perfect order. We understand better today that there was no such original perfection but that we are part of a rising trajectory toward something better and we (conscious humanity) are taking ever more responsibility to achieve such desired order and improvement for life (e.g. more control of natural forces to lessen their destructiveness).

Yes, Simon was right that progress defines the essence of life (its essential direction).

Health and global warming: More dishonesty from Lancet

On anything with political implications, Lancet has been a Left-wing propaganda sheet for a long time -- and many of its purely medical articles draw unsustainable conclusions too -- as I often set out in FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC

Is a major new report about “the health effects of climate change” that describes “Climate” as the “biggest health threat” for the 21st century actually based upon a convenient forgetfulness of parts of the literature, and the scientific equivalent of chinese whispers? It may never be possible to answer that question in full and in full confidence. But there is one interesting, major detail that relates to something I just blogged about.
Today (May 14) the “Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission” launched a report titled “Managing the health effects of climate change” (Lancet 2009; 373: 1693–733).

I looked at the report in terms of cold- and warm-weather related deaths and this is what I have found: The Lancet/UCL 2009 report’s claim that warming is worse than cooling is based on a single book chapter from 2003 that forgets to mention two very relevant articles; and that disregards exactly the effect used in one of those two articles to demonstrate that cooling is worse than warming.

Here’s how I started: having had read that at least in Europe, cooling kills more than warming, I looked with interest for any mention of that aspect in the report. My search brought me to page 9:
From a conservative perspective, although a minority of populations might experience health benefits (mostly related to a reduction in disease related to cold weather), the global burden of disease and premature death is expected to increase progressively.(ref. 16)

That looked like a peculiar statement indeed: sporting a reference to “health benefits” for the few (all of them, in Europe?), but suddenly making warming a bigger killer than cooling on a global scale. When was all of that discovered, I wondered? Thankfully, I could find reference 16 on the web:

16. Campbell-Lendrum DH, Corvalán CF, Prüss Ustün A. How much disease could climate change cause? In: McMichael AJ, Campbell-Lendrum DH, Corvalan CF, et al, eds. Climate change and human health: risks and responses. Geneva: WHO, 2003.

Relevant quotes from Campbell-Lendrum DH et al. (curiously, again from page 9):
[...] Direct physiological effects of heat and cold on cardiovascular mortality – Strength of evidence

The association between daily variation in meteorological conditions and mortality has been described in numerous studies from a wide range of populations in temperate climates (16, 17). These studies show that exposure to temperatures at either side of a “comfort range” is associated with an increased risk of (mainly cardio-pulmonary) mortality.

Given the limited number of studies on which to base global predictions, quantitative estimates are presented only for the best supported of the direct physiological effects of climate change—changes in mortality attributable to extreme temperature for one or several days. For cold and temperate regions, a relationship from a published study was used (24) [...]

The mystery was just deepening, with people suddenly dying not because of warmth or cold, but due to daily meteorological changes, and in particular because of “exposure to temperatures” outside of a “comfort range”. It was time then to take a look at what those numerical references were about:

16. Alderson, M.R. Season and mortality. Health Trends 17: 87–96 (1985).

17. Green, M.S. et al. Excess winter-mortality from ischaemic heart disease and stroke during colder and warmer years in Israel. European Journal of Public Health 4: 3–11 (1994).

24. Kunst, A. et al. Outdoor air temperature and mortality in the Netherlands—a time series analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology 137(3): 331–341 (1993).

And what was even more notable were the “forgotten” references:

Keatinge, W.R. et al., Heat related mortality in warm and cold regions of Europe: observational study. BMJ 2000;321:670-673 ( 16 September )

Donaldson, G.C. and Keatinge, W.R. Excess winter mortality: influenza or cold stress? Observational study. BMJ 2002;324:89-90 ( 12 January )

In summary: the Lancet/UCL 2009 report claims warming is worse than cooling on the basis of a single book chapter from 2003 that mentions: a very old article from 1985; a 1993 research on Israel; a single 1994 article about the Netherlands to represent “cold and temperate regions“.

And that very same single book chapter avoids any reference to two much more recent works, from 2000 and 2002, covering the whole of Europe, and pointing in the direction of…cooling being worse than warming.

The “forgotten references” from 2002 may as well have been unknown to the authors of the 2003 book chapter. But that is no excuse for the authors of the 2009 report. Also, the fact that those articles were forgotten is obviously due to pure chance: because otherwise, it would be an unfortunate case of “foul play in citation“, a.k.a.“bibliographic negligence” or “citation amnesia“. [Omitting mention of "inconvenient" references is sadly all too common in every scientific literature I know -- JR]

But that was not all. Here a bit more from Campbell-Lendrum DH et al. (2003):
There also is evidence for a “harvesting effect”, i.e. a period of unusually lower mortality following an extreme temperature period. This indicates that in some cases extreme temperatures advance the deaths of vulnerable people by a relatively short period, rather than killing people who would otherwise have lived to average life expectancy. However, this effect has not been quantified for temperature exposures and is not included in the model. As there is large uncertainty about the number of years that the casualties would have lived (i.e. the attributable years which are lost by exposure to the risk factor) the relative risk estimates will be used to calculate only attributable deaths, not DALYs. [...]

That is not the way Keatinge WR et al (2000) presented their results three years before:
Some of those who died in the heat may not have lived long if a heat wave had not occurred. Mortality often falls below baseline for several days after the end of a heat wave, and this has been interpreted as indicating that some of the people dying during the heat wave were already close to death.

[...] Falls in temperature in winter are closely followed by increased mortality, with characteristic time courses for different causes of death. The increases are of sufficient size to account for the overall increase in mortality in winter, suggesting that most excess winter deaths are due to relatively direct effects of cold on the population.“

Campbell-Lendrum DH et al. (2003) may as well have had a disagreement with Keatinge WR et al (2000): but if that were the case, they should have referenced to it and discussed however briefly the reasons for their disagreement. And of course the authors of the 2009 report should have included some remarks on why they would care not a bit about the “harvesting effect”, since the…effect of that effect directly relates to people’s health (well, it kills them…)

In summary: the Lancet/UCL 2009 report claims warming is worse than cooling on the basis of a single book chapter from 2003 that disregards the “harvesting effect”, the very same effect used in a 2000 article to demonstrate that cooling is worse than warming.

It looks as if the information was available out there, but reached the authors of the 2009 report distorted by the opinion of the 2003 book chapter’s authors . One may be forgiven to equate that with a game of..Chinese whispers (a.k.a. Telephone)!

Obviously there are so many claims one can investigate. But the fact that I was able in a few minutes to identify what are potentially major flaws in the estimation of the net benefits of CO2, suggests that more problems may lurk somewhere else, in the Lancet/UCL report.


Pesky! Plants Absorb More Carbon Dioxide Under Polluted Hazy Skies

Plants absorbed carbon dioxide more efficiently under the polluted skies of recent decades than they would have done in a cleaner atmosphere, according to new findings published this week in Nature. The results of the study have important implications for efforts to combat future climate change which are likely to take place alongside attempts to lower air pollution levels.

The research team included scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Met Office Hadley Centre, ETH Zurich and the University of Exeter. Lead author Dr Lina Mercado, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, "Surprisingly, the effects of atmospheric pollution seem to have enhanced global plant productivity by as much as a quarter from 1960 to 1999. This resulted in a net 10% increase in the amount of carbon stored by the land once other effects were taken into account."

An increase in microscopic particles released into the atmosphere (known as aerosols), by human activities and changes in cloud cover, caused a decline in the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface from the 1950s up to the 1980s (a phenomenon known as 'global dimming').

Although reductions in sunlight reduce photosynthesis, clouds and atmospheric particles scatter light so that the surface receives light from multiple directions (diffuse radiation) rather than coming straight from the sun. Plants are then able to convert more of the available sunlight into growth because fewer leaves are in the shade.

Scientists have known for a long time that aerosols cool climate by reflecting sunlight and making clouds brighter, but the new study is the first to use a global model to estimate the net effects on plant carbon uptake resulting from this type of atmospheric pollution.

Co-author Dr Stephen Sitch from the Met Office Hadley Centre (now at the University of Leeds) said, "Although many people believe that well-watered plants grow best on a bright sunny day, the reverse is true. Plants often thrive in hazy conditions such as those that exist during periods of increased atmospheric pollution."

The research team also considered the implications of these findings for efforts to avoid dangerous climate change. Under an environmentally friendly scenario in which sulphate aerosols decline rapidly in the 21st century, they found that by cleaning up the atmosphere even steeper cuts in global carbon dioxide emissions would be required to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations below 450 parts per million by volume.

Co-author Professor Peter Cox of the University of Exeter summed up the consequences of the study, "As we continue to clean up the air in the lower atmosphere, which we must do for the sake of human health, the challenge of avoiding dangerous climate change through reductions in CO2 emissions will be even harder. Different climate changing pollutants have very different direct effects on plants, and these need to be taken into account if we are to make good decisions about how to deal with climate change."


World Bank Says India Right In Resisting Mandatory Emission Reductions

The World Bank recently conducted a study according to which it came to the conclusion that since the Indian government is likely to aggressively push for rural electrification it would be difficult to control the resulting increase in carbon emissions. The organization noted that there would be a 3.5 times increase in India’s carbon emissions by 2031-32 from current levels, however, this increase can be abated to 2.7 times if low-carbon policies are implemented by the government.

The study is going to add teeth to Indian government’s stand at the international level as it continues to oppose calls to agree to some kind of emission reduction targets. While the developed countries argue that an international climate change agreement would be meaningless without developing countries like India and China being a party to it, India has maintained that owing to their historical responsibility the developed national need to set more ambitious reduction targets before asking developing countries to do the same.

The backbone of India’s argument in opposition to emission reductions is its low per capita emissions - India’s per capita emissions are almost twenty times less than of those of the United States. India and China have often targeted the luxurious lifestyles common in the Western countries and have argued that governments of developed countries must take step to reduce their domestic carbon output.

Obviously it would be wrong to make India reduce its carbon emissions at the expense of economic development, especially at this time of economic recession when the developing countries have become the new centers of growth. Electricity is a major problem in India with thousands of villages still reeling under hours of black outs, the situation is only marginally better in the second-tier cities. India with its large reserves of coal would naturally prefer using it over other costly and less abundant fuels like oil and gas.

However, India is the third largest GHG producer and that is because of the comparatively less clean technologies used by its industries. Thus India must work on improving the technology used by its industrial sector. A way of reducing carbon emissions could be through voluntary sectoral emission reductions.

India already enjoys significant amount of investment through United Nations Clean Development Mechanism and the EU recently proposed a plan through which India could reduce its carbon emissions with monetary and technical help form the developed countries without worrying about penalties in case of failure to meet emission targets.

Under the proposed plan, developing countries would set voluntary emission targets for carbon-intensive industries like cement and steel and would try to keep emissions below that limit. If they succeed in doing so they can sell emission rights to other countries and generate revenue. There will not be any penalties, however, if the industries exceed the emission limits. Private as well as public sectors companies, with revenue from selling carbon credits, can very well support a part of this emission reduction plan.

Since India is still considered primarily an agricultural country, supply of electricity to rural areas is essential and any increase in the utility bills would be highly unwelcome. However, the government must study the option of reducing carbon emissions from other industries. Companies already selling credits can set small emission targets for themselves and can also apply for acquiring cleaner equipment. The developed countries are bound by international treaty to reduce emissions but India, too, should recognize its responsibility and contribute whatever little it can while the developed countries are offering to help.


Obama and the alternative energy fiasco

It's only a matter of time before President Barack Obama's vast popularity runs aground on his energy policies. In the name of saving the planet from global warming, he has delayed new oil drilling, an action that will have major political repercussions once the world economy recovers. Instead of using some the stimulus billions to produce more gas and oil, Obama's wild-eyed supporters dream of "renewable" energy derived from corn, wind, sunshine, and even grass.

With the appointment of extremists like climate czar Carol Browner and science adviser John Holdren, Obama has placed his administration's environmental policy in the hands of radicals. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposes replacing oil and coal with windmills. Yet Barron's recently reported that America would need to build 500,000 giant offshore windmills and transmission lines to produce Salazar's specified 1,900 gigawatts of electricity. In contrast, oil and gas drilling could provide hundreds of thousands of solid, well-paying blue-collar jobs. Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson explains this in "The Bias Against Oil & Gas," describing how alternative energy job creation is miniscule compared to what an expansion of oil production would create. Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) have proposed legislation giving legal standing to allow Americans to sue any company that produces "greenhouse" gasses.

All of these things are happening at a time when natural gas is abundant and cheap. The new technology of horizontal fraccing has made it economically feasible to drill into vast shale deposits in many states, even famously difficult ones like Michigan and New York. Many cars could run on natural gas, much like many buses do already. On a recent trip to Peru, I learned that most taxicabs have been converted to natural gas for a cost of about $1,000 each. New technologies continually revive old oil and gas fields and make new ones economically viable. So it's little more than socialist Malthusianism to argue that the world is running out of cheap energy. Science will always find and harness new sources. Even the liberal New Republic recently admitted that, "Utopian environmentalism has, to some extent, always promised to heal the alienation wrought by modernity... it is a form of escapism and disengagement from reality." The extremists scoff at science and would apparently prefer scarcity so that bureaucratic rationing will enforce a change in American lifestyles.

Instead of producing more of the cheap, abundant energy that fueled America's dynamic growth, the extremists who support and surround Obama dream of drastically cutting American consumption. Many of them would like to see the government force General Motors to make flimsy little cars that run on electricity (or alternative energy) at the cost of billions. Meanwhile, the Sierra Club magazine recently boasted of helping to block construction of 96 coal-fired power plants and helping to impose a de facto moratorium on all new plants.

Currently, half of the drilling rigs in America are shutdown because of low oil and gas prices. Most smaller oil companies have suffered severe damage or even gone bankrupt by their inability to renew loans or gain credit. Likewise, the majors have few safe options in foreign countries but would invest heavily in offshore American exploration, if it were permitted.

So what about the so-called green alternatives? Forbes recently detailed the problems with windmills. First, they depend upon a two-cent-per-kilowatt taxpayer subsidy to remain competitive. They also require backup gas generators (in case the wind isn't blowing when needed) and new transmission lines running from windy places to population centers. And while new technologies to store wind-generated electricity are in the works, they have so far proven uneconomical. Nor does this even begin to consider the years of legal delays that would likely result from litigious neighbors opposed to new transmission towers. Solar power is even more expensive and would also require additional billions for backup generators and new transmission lines. Compare those unseen costs to the clear benefits of coal and gas plants where transmission lines are already built.

New oil and gas technologies could also help the U.S. from importing so much oil. But the Obama administration is stalling and trying to stop the offshore drilling approved by the previous Congress. The White House has also shut down previously permitted onshore drilling and burdened drillers with costly new restrictions. Meanwhile, $80 billion in stimulus spending has been earmarked for "renewable" energy. The plan is to give a 30 percent tax credit for the associated costs.

Americans will soon again feel the sting of gasoline costing $3.00 or $4.00 per gallon and then come to recognize how we've wasted years of opportunity to produce more energy domestically. For instance, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there are 85 billion barrels of offshore oil. (And that is an old number. It is almost certain to increase once new exploration and testing are permitted.) New supplies in continental America, not to mention the billions of barrels now accessible in Alaska, could transform our trade deficit by cutting hundreds of billions of dollars in imports. This would help rescue the value of the dollar, alleviate the cost of maintaining armies and navies in the Middle East, and help save free trade from the latest round of restrictions.

It's also essential to remember that so-called renewable energy cannot replace oil and natural gas in any significant way. For example, corn-based ethanol production "costs" nearly as much to produce as it saves in oil and can only exist with the help of costly and unending subsidies. Government, in other words, gets what it pays for. If it offers subsidies to alleviate global warming or make gasoline from grass, it will find promoters who will gladly accept that money and deliver scant results.

With the Republicans no longer handicapped by leaders like George W. Bush and John McCain, both of who caved before environmental extremists, Obama's energy policies might be a strong issue for conservatives and libertarians to rally around, and perhaps change their political fortunes. Remember that McCain famously opposed drilling in ANWR, while Bush promised the country that a gasoline substitute could be produced from switch grass.

One day the alternative energy fiasco will be studied as a vast example of waste and fraud that contributed to the collapse of the dollar and to lower living standards for most Americans. Let's hope that day comes sooner rather than later.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am wondering whichy side of the debate really are the deniers