Saturday, August 28, 2010

Illogical causal attribution

An email from a reader. He shows what happens when you are consistent and use ratio scales (i.e. scales with a meaningful rather than an arbitrary zero) to evaluate both temperature and CO2 levels

Roosters crowing causes the Sun to come up.

'Tis claimed that there being more CO2 in the atmosphere has 'caused' global warming.

'Cause and Effect' presumes some sort of direct association.

Since about 1870 CO2 has increased from 290ppm to about 390ppm, that is a 33% increase.

Since 1870 the world's average temperature(estimated) has increased from about 13 C to 14 C.

13 C = 286 K
14 C = 287 K.

1K is an increase of about 1/2 of 1%.

A 33% increase in CO2 causing a 1/2 of 1% increase in temperature seems a RATHER WEAK association to use to claim 'causality'!!

( Using degrees Kelvin gives one a total increase, using Celsius or Fahrenheit only gives the increase in above 0 degrees.)

Prophecies of environmental doom are perennial -- and perennially wrong

Optimism is out of favor. But then as Matt Ridley points out in The Rational Optimist, optimism has never been IN favor. Even in the fastest-growing booms in human history, "experts" were always sure that doom was imminent. We were going to run out of wood, then of coal, then of whale oil, then of petroleum, then of petroleum again, then of petroleum again. (We were never going to run out of uranium or thorium, but that was fixed by running out of the permits to build nuclear reactors.)

In the 1960s, the world was going to be destroyed by fossil fuels, by running out of fossil fuels, by acid rain, by overpopulation, by pesticides, by famine, and by Global Cooling. But what actually happened was that fuel production went up, population growth rates fell in every nation (except Kazakhstan, thanks a lot you idiot Borat), pesticide use dropped off with the invention of BT crops, food production went up until recently (we still produce more crops every year, but they are drained off to make ethanol and not to feed people), acid rain was overblown, and you know what happened to Global Cooling (it’s still a huge threat as far as anyone knows, one good asteroid or volcano and it’s Fimbulwinter for sure!

Some of the scares:


The example of overpopulation is fascinating. Every culture on the planet has cut its birth rate as soon as infant mortality went down and wealth went up. The extra population that was generated in the meantime has allowed an increase in economic specialization and an increase in per capita wage rates (except in the US and a few other banana republics, because our government burden has increased while the Indians, Chinese and Russians reduced theirs).

So the expert predictions of the 1960s were precisely wrong. More population caused more wealth, and more wealth reduced population growth rates. Even reducing infant mortality reduced population growth rates. So the experts changed their views, right? Well, they did change a little… they quit putting dates on their predictions of doom.

Running Out Of Resources

We have run out of many resources. Mammoths, passenger pigeons, bison, Lebanon cedars, guano, and many other "renewable" resources proved to be not so renewable after all. However, we have never run out of any non-renewable resource; we still have iron, coal, oil, gas, copper, silicon, uranium, etc.

Again, this contradicts expert predictions in the 1970s. The Limits To Growth claimed that we were running out of every "non-renewable," but instead we ran out of nothing. How could this happen?

Perhaps whether something is "renewable" or not, depends more on whether it is privately owned and produced than how much the starting quantity is. There were lots of passenger pigeons in 1800 and no uranium at all… Ridley doesn’t even get into the future prospects of He-3 energy and asteroid mining, but he gets the principle across: it’s all about markets and "the catallaxy" as he calls the productive sector of society.


Of course upper-crust "progressives" (like the Roosevelts, e.g.) are never racists, but it’s obvious to them that those bloody fuzzy-wuzzies will never get anywhere, eh what? Except that it turns out that Botswana is the world’s fastest-growing economy for the last thirty years (oddly enough, they have a strong tradition of individual property rights), and even in the foreign-aid hellholes elsewhere in Africa, capitalism and technology are spreading. Poor farmers are bootlegging true-breeding BT crops and freeing themselves from both bugs and pesticides.

Fishermen use cellphones to find market for their fish, entrepreneurs start informal businesses in spite of impossible regulation and permit systems. African incomes are going up. And with any luck, the collapse of the US economy will free them from the dead hand of aid. As Ridley points out with great insight, it is foreign aid that has strangled African economies.

Global Warming

If the planet actually warms, it will be great. First of all, it means we beat the Ice Ages. Second, it will mean that we kept burning fossil fuel for another century… which means the world will be unimaginably rich and technologically advanced. And third, a warmer world with more CO2 will be more agriculturally productive even in the poorer areas.

That said, Ridley isn’t really over-optimistic about Global Warming…as he points out, the Earth hasn’t actually been warming since 2000 or so.

Sustainability, aka The Dark Ages

The one threat that tempers Ridley’s optimism is "Green" anti-environmentalism. As he points out, the electricity production of the US can be produced by either:

Solar panels the size of Spain, plus a huge storage system, or

Wind farms the size of Kazakhstan, plus a huge storage system, or

Wood-chip burners fueled by forests the size of India and Pakistan, or

Dams with reservoirs 33% bigger than all the continents put together, or

… a few nuclear, gas, and coal power stations that leave the majority of the forest and plain available for wildlife and agriculture. If we phase out the coal burners and replace them with new nuclear plants, even the land that is now strip mined for coal can return to forest.

As he says, "sustainability" is unsustainable, but free markets are not.


Ice Core evidence — where is carbon’s “major effect”?

The ice cores are often lauded as evidence of the effects of carbon dioxide. Frank Lansner asks a pointed question and goes hunting to find any effects that can be attributed to carbon.

Where is the data that actually shows a strong and important warming effect of CO2? If CO2 has this strong warming effect, would not nature reflect this in data?

He has collected together the data from the last four warm spells (the nice interglacials between all the long ice ages) into one average “peak”. The common pattern of the rise and fall has already been recorded in many scientific papers. Orbital changes trigger the temperatures to rise first and about 800 years later (thanks to the oceans releasing CO2), carbon dioxide levels begin to climb. At the end of a patch of several thousand warm years, temperatures begin to fall, and thousands of years later the carbon dioxide levels slowly decline.

No one is really contesting this order of things any more. What is contested is that those who feel carbon is a major driver estimate that the carbon dioxide unleashed by the warming then causes major amplification or “feedback”, making things lots warmer than they would have been if there was no change in carbon. Since most skeptics (but not all) agree that there is probably some warming due to extra CO2, the real question is “how much”.

Lansner points out that counter to the amplification theory, temperatures return most of the way back to their starting level (ice age temperatures) even while CO2 levels are elevated. If the CO2 can’t prevent the temperatures falling, it’s effect is anything but major.

Estimates of climate sensitivity and support for the “feedbacks” comes from models which depend on water vapor increasing high over the tropics. The radiosondes show that the models are wrong.

Frank graphs the change in temperatures and CO2, and finds a slight positive trend which is predictable (we know oceans release CO2 as they warm, so there would be a correlation). But then he plots the changes in CO2 against changes in the rate of temperature change, and finds no correlation at all (if CO2 was a major forcing, it would force or accelerate temperature change, which would show as the rate of temperature change). The data is limited to 1500 year blocks, so the time-frame is less than ideal, but the best available in the Petit data.


You can’t buy the truth, but you can buy a committee interpretation of it

One year ago a group of eminent scientists wrote a letter to congress provocatively titled “You are being deceived.”

Now, in a similar vein, but with all the gory details, John McLean has put together a 66 page compilation of the modus operandi and history of said deception. It’s a story of how small committees of activists cite their own work, ignore contradictory information and dissenting reviewers, use the peer review system to lock out opponents, and blithely acknowledge crippling uncertainties (but only in tracts of text that few will read, and never in summation when it matters).

When your favourite prancing-horse-committee — the IPCC — is failing to impress the crowds, it’s time to distract them with dressage from another source. In this case, the IPCC is being reviewed by the brand new InterAcademy Council (IAC). Expect their somber pronouncement to discover some minor flaws of process, posit a few proceedural improvements, and then declare that above all, the science is sound, rigorous, and that carbon dioxide will surely kill millions if we don’t allow the guys at Goldman Sachs to save us all with complex derivative triple A packages of CDM’s. Amen.

There’s a cyclical nature to the lifecycle of committees. Long ago The International Science Union (ICSU) was pushing the greenhouse effect scare, they ran the conferences and subcommittees and programs that helped create the IPCC.
The hand of the ICSU can be seen in the entire lead-up to the establishment of the IPCC. It arranged most of the conferences and with its funding partners – usually the WMO and/or UNEP – it managed numerous meteorological or climatological research projects, many of which had Bert Bolin in a lead role.

The IAC and ICSU have a very similar role. Both seek to fit the square peg of science into the round hole of politics, to take a field where truth is not determined by consensus and twist it to fit a field where consensus is everything. Both have grandiose statements of intent – the IAC’s is “Mobilizing the world’s best science to advise decision-makers on issues of global concern” – and both work very closely with UN bodies such as the UNEP, a co-sponsor of the IPCC. … in fact the IAC seems almost a twin of the ICSU.

The AIC has 18 board members – three of which head national science bodies – all of which are members of the ICSU. One of the three is Kurt Lambeck, who recently declared his not-so-impartial interest in the matter by launching a document I wrote about a few days ago…where he announced that humans are affecting the climate, that the public were getting confused: that clouds could provide negative feedback, but somehow (defying all logic and reason) it wouldn’t change the outcome if they did. Can anyone imaging Lambeck digging hard for faults with the IPCC?

McLean covers the history of the development of the committees, their connections, and their aims.

I haven’t got time to do it justice, but suffice it to say, science needs competition: different researchers, different theories, and different institutions — all trying to one-up each other. When John McLean writes about the lack of transparency in the ICSU or the IPCC, and the overlapping names and aims, I see the dark shadow of monopoly science smothering the competition.
The ICSU (p 16 – 18)

In almost every country the national scientific authority (“scientific academy, research council, scientific institution or association of such institutions”) is a member of the ICSU and so too are many key international organizations for specific scientific fields. According to ICSU statute 8 of membership rules21 these members are required to “support the objectives of ICSU”, which gives the ICSU extraordinary authority across all scientific fields. Members of the ICSU include the Royal Society in the UK and the National Academy in the USA and that seriously undermines the standing of the statements of support for the IPCC that both bodies have released since IPCC 4AR in 2007.
There are many disquieting aspects to the ICSU:

(a) The ICSU’s 8-member executive board ultimately decides that a project will be undertaken. This means that it evaluates for each project the benefit to society, but the methods that it uses remain a mystery.

(b) It relies on “selling” an idea to “client organizations” and having them provide the research funding. If the project is of no interest to these clients then no funding might be forthcoming, and when governments and intergovernmental work is involved we can assume a political dimension to that interest.

(c) It seems likely that scientists can lobby the executive board into approving certain programs that are likely to find a research partner.

(d) The ICSU has an interest in ensuring that members of its member organizations are employed (i.e. funded).

(e) It produces no scientific papers that might be exposed to peer-review but provides policy advice in monograph (i.e. book) form. The output of research and the resultant policy advice receives no independent scrutiny, especially regards accuracy and the selective use of supporting material, and the ICSU is therefore in a position of being able to manipulate international and governmental policy. (Of course peer-review might be a waste of time if those reviewers were members of ICSU member organizations.)

(f) The ISCU is not transparent in its decision-making or its actions. It discloses little enough information about its in-house work on current projects and only reports generated by past projects. No listing of the membership past executive boards is available, nor is information about the development of past projects, which means that no information is available to the public about the formulation of ICSU projects, decisions made in relation to those projects, the manner in which they were conducted and the basis for any conclusions. In short it is impossible to identify the individuals responsible for the decisions to support each ICSU program and the integrity with which those projects were carried out.



The death toll from recent “extreme weather events” has been sharply declining since the 1920s, as my valued colleague Indur Goklany has valorously pointed out. Air conditioning, flood control, earthquake proofing and better weather forecasting have all helped. Despite vast media coverage, extreme weather now causes only a half-percent of global deaths. A large part of the gains came through crop production increases using fossil-fueled industrial fertilizers and irrigation pumps. This meant the world had fossil-fueled food to share with countries suddenly caught by devastating (but short- term) drought or flood.

But Indur neglected one aspect of extreme weather events—the “little ice ages.” They are the flip side of the 1500-year warming cycle. The last one began in 1300 AD and ended in 1850, recent enough that many of our great-grandparents had to cope. We don’t know when the next one will come, perhaps not for another 300 years—but when it does, “Look out!”

As an example, civilizations collapsed around the world, simultaneously, 4200 years ago—in southern Green, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and China. The nomads on the Asian steppes gave up their seasonal farming, put their huts on wheels, and simply followed their herds seeking ever-scarcer grass. This massive drought—driven by a “little ice age”— lasted 300 years!

Egypt had more food security through its early history than anyplace else, but it collapsed in famine and political chaos three times between 4200 and 1000 BC—all of them during “little ice ages.” The Nile floods were also far below normal during the cold Dark Ages (450-950 AD) and during our recent Little Ice Age.

How many people would starve if agriculture failed again, suddenly and simultaneously in Greece, Palestine, Egypt, India, and China—for 300 years? What future Huns would come knocking on the city gates? Would plague-infected rats again move in?

The “little ice age” climates are inherently less stable and more violent than the warming intervals. The Netherlands was hit by massive sea floods three times in 50 years as the Little Ice Age began. Each of these floods drowned more than 100,000 people. Will the Dutch levees hold in the next “little ice age”? What about New Orleans in a far less stable climate?

As we today enjoy the stable weather of a sunlit interglacial global warming, we had best not forget the massive disasters during the cold phases of the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle. In the last 160 years, we have not only become, used to the piddling “disasters” of a global warming phase, but smug that we have been able to rescue small countries with our technology. Fossil fuels have competently carried food aid to famine victims during small, short famines. But, in a future Little Ice Age, the summers will cloudy, cold, interrupted by early frosts and hailstorms—for several hundred years.

We invented high-yield farming at the end of the Little Ice Age, to reduce the death toll from the persistent crop failures. But the world’s population since 1850 has risen from perhaps 1 billion to 6.6 billion, and may rise by 2 billion more before it peaks about 2050. Where would we move the at-risk populations?

Global vegetation has sharply increased with today’s additional sunshine and favorable rain patterns—plus the added plant fertilization due to more CO2 in the atmosphere. What if the climate turns suddenly cold and unstable and the oceans suck more of the CO2 out of the atmosphere?

We should take full advantage of the favorable climate we have been granted to increase research on high-yield agriculture, biotechnology, water conservation and other advances now only dreamt of. We must make true improvements in energy technology (not erratic windmills and solar panels that will be even less effective in a cloudy little ice age than today).The greatest danger to the future population is to be unaware that the good period will not last.

For a million years, humans have been using the warming periods to advance civilization. We are comfortable, well fed, and not competing for caves because those who came before us advanced human society each time the climate provided a few hundred years of safety. Should we do any less for those who will come after us?


Britain's "Renewables Obligation"

On every gas and electricity bill that UK households receive, there is a hidden tax. A tax of more than 8%. It's called the Renewables Obligation. Energy companies are obligated – that is, they are forced by the government under pain of fines and imprisonment – to spend a chunk of their revenues developing and installing non-fossil energy production systems. That means they are forced to pay for things like wind factories, photo-electric technology and wave power, whether or not they think these generation methods have the slightest value, either to themselves or the nation.

Like all political efforts to make companies pay for things, the government's plan does not work. The energy companies do not pay for these generation technologies. The cost does not come out of their profits, or their shareholders' dividends. It comes from their customers, naturally. All of us who use energy in the home – and there may be one or two completely self-sufficient households in the UK, but the other 28 million or so do have to buy in gas or electricity – end up paying. We pay this premium on our bills so that our energy companies can subsidise wind farmers.

Or maybe we should call them subsidy farmers, because the fact is that these alternative energy sources are far from covering their own costs. None of those noisy, unsightly turbines that are marching across the country's most beautiful hill country (since that is where the wind is) would exist at all if it were not for the subsidy. Except perhaps the one on David Cameron's house.

Just think about it. In ordinary garden soil, there are trace elements that are actually quite valuable. You might even have a gram or two of gold lurking under your lawn. What good fortune: you could be sitting on a gold mine. Except that these things are not valuable at all, because the cost of extracting them would be enormous in relation to the tiny quantities that you could isolate. You could get the excavators in, and boil up all the soil in your garden to find them, sure enough. But it wouldn't be worth the effort. You could spend £250,000 on digging the holes and refining your soil, and maybe end up with just a few grams of precious metals worth maybe £100. It's a no-brainer, isn't it?

So why do we think it is any better to spend more on non-fossil generation than the value it brings to our energy network? Well, there may be a strategic benefit from having diversity, so we are not dependent on Russian oil and gas, for example. That's a plausible argument, though it still may not justify paying over the odds for that diversity. Then there's the argument that we want to develop new 'green' energy technology and be first in the field. No, we don't. We're better to buy technology from the world's best producers. We don't make phones for ourselves in the garage, we buy them from Apple. And in any event, the first people into any market aren't usually the people who make money from it. Usually it is the second entrants, who see the idea but improve the way it is designed and marketed. We'd be better and cheaper letting other countries develop green technologies, then capitalise on their efforts.

And what is true of energy is true of all the other things that governments subsidise. If it was your money, you would buy the cheapest. So why does government force us to pay for the most expensive?



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 are mirrors of this site here and here


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