Thursday, October 13, 2011

An attempt to blind you with statistics

I used to teach statistics for a number of years at a major Australian university so this was a bit of a laugh to me but others might be a bit baffled so I thought I should point out in plain language what is going on.

What he is talking about is the probability of global warming. He admits that there is a very large range of possibilities -- from no warming to big warming. He then makes an assumption that the pattern of probablities is "fat-tailed" -- i.e. that a lot of the possibilities are bad.

But how can he know that? The only guide we have to future trends is the past -- and the past shows an overall trend of very gentle warming. His "fat-tail" is just guesswork. The real, known distribution of climate events should induce in us the utmost serenity

For better or worse, uncertainty pervades projections of global warming. Historically, this uncertainty has eroded support for implementing climate-change policies, but that may soon change – and dramatically so.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but only if you haven’t heard of climate-change’s “fat tail.” To put the significance of this fat tail in perspective, the “probability distribution representing the uncertainty in expected climate change implies that the risk of catastrophic outcome is more than forty thousand times more probable than that from an asteroid collision with the earth,” according to a recent report, “A Deeper Look at Climate Change and National Security,” by researchers at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The climate system consists of several sub-systems, including the hydrosphere, the biosphere, the atmosphere, the geosphere and human systems. In turn, each of these sub-systems encompasses separate components, which include distinct elements and so on and so forth. The climate’s behavior reflects the collective interactions of these systems and sub-systems, but not always in a linear manner.

The so-called “butterfly effect” is a popular metaphor for explaining the chaotic behavior of complex systems like the Earth’s climate. A butterfly flapping its wings in Asia creates a tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean a few weeks later. In complex systems, the slightest variation in initial conditions can create large deviations in future system conditions over time and not necessarily in predictable ways.

This non-linear tendency is why complex systems are more likely to follow a power-law probability distribution than the more familiar bell-curve distribution. In the former scenario, the tail of the distribution thins out more slowly in the power law scenario than it does in the normal distribution.

In a bell-curve distribution of probabilities, the range of possible events are clumped together around the average. Extreme outcomes fall on the margins and their likelihood of occurring fades away quickly. In a bell curve, the median and mean are the same. By contrast, in fat-tailed distributions, the median is extremely small compared to the mean, meaning that the probability of infrequent events is enormous.

Fat Tails and Bell Curves

This has vast implications for how we manage the potential risks posed by climate change. Simply put, “the planetary welfare effect of climate changes . . . implies a non-negligible probability of worldwide catastrophe,” according to Martin Weitzman, a professor of economics at Harvard University and a pioneer of the so-called “Dismal Theorem.”

Climate change’s fat tail makes the likelihood of rare events more so. The distinguishing feature of a power law distribution is “not only that there are many small events but that the numerous tiny events coexist with a few very large ones,” according to Albert-Lászlí Barabási, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame and author of Linked: The New Science Of Networks. Barabási explains: “If the heights of an imaginary planet’s inhabitants followed a power law distribution, most creatures would be really short . . . [but] nobody would be surprised to see occasionally a hundred-foot-tall monster walking down the street.”

So what are the policy implications of these non-negligible risks of catastrophic climate change? Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions not only makes eminently good sense, but may be the only realistic option for avoiding dangerous climate change. Carolyn Kousky, an economist at Resources for the Future, has explained that:

Traditional responses to the risk of extreme events are of limited value in mitigating risks of a mega-catastrophe. The underlying changes in the climatic system could not be reversed over any time scale relevant for decision-makers, limiting the efficacy of traditional recovery measures. Insurance markets will not function for these risks as they violate three key conditions of insurability: independent and identical losses, feasible premiums, and determinability of losses. Impacts could be difficult to smooth over time, even for governments.

Uncertainty is intrinsic to complex systems like Earth’s climate, but in the context of catastrophic climate change, this uncertainty is so severe that it is difficult to draw basic conclusions about how fat the fat tail is. According to Weitzman, it “is difficult to infer (or even to model accurately) the probabilities of events far outside the usual range of experience.”

Indeed, ”[r]ather than justifying a lack of response to climate change, the emphasis on uncertainty enlarges the risk and reinforces the responsibility for pursuing successful long-term mitigation policy,” according to a 2010 analysis by researchers at Sandia National Laboratory.

All things considered, alarmism seems like common sense to me.


Perry Officials Censored Climate Change Report

So Mother Jones tells us below. BUT: Galveston is an Island built on mud. Groundwater and oil pumping are causing the land to subside, like most other places on the Gulf Coast. It doesn't have much to do with the level of the water.

And since when is editing-out brain-dead speculation about now-halted global warming “censorship”?

Note also: Since sea level is declining and is now lowest in a decade, it surely is reasonable to lower future predictions of sea level!

Rick Perry takes Texas pride in being a climate change denier—and his administration acts accordingly.

Top environmental officials under Perry have gutted a recent report on sea level rise in Galveston Bay, removing all mentions of climate change. For the past decade, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is run by Perry political appointees, including famed global warming denier Bryan Shaw, has contracted with the Houston Advanced Research Center to produce regular reports on the state of the Bay.

But when HARC submitted its most recent State of the Bay publication to the commission earlier this year, officials decided they couldn't accept a report that said climate change is caused by human activity and is causing the sea level to rise. Top officials at the commission proceeded to edit the paper to censor its references to human-induced climate change or future projections on how much the bay will rise.

John Anderson, the oceanographer at Rice University who wrote the chapter, provided Mother Jones with a copy of the edited document, complete with tracked changes from top TCEQ officials. You can see the cuts—which include how much sea level rise has increased over the years, as well as the statement that this rise "is one of the main impacts of global climate change"—here and embedded at the end of this story. As the document shows, most of the tracked changes came from Katherine Nelson, the assistant director in the water quality planning division. Her boss, Kelly Holligan, is listed as a reviewer on the document as well.

Holligan and Nelson are top managers at Perry's commission; lower-ranking staff at the agency had already approved the document, according to the publication's editor. The changes came only after the two women reviewed the issue. TCEQ's commissioners, who are direct political appointees of the governor, select the top managers at TCEQ. Although the director and assistant director jobs aren't technically political appointments, those hires are usually vetted by the governor's office.

Anderson, whose complaints were first reported by the Houston Chronicle on Monday, says that the cuts to his paper were political and had nothing to do with science. The research underlying the study was peer-reviewed and is part of a decadelong study Anderson has conducted in partnership with other scientists. The Geological Society of America published the scientists' results in 2008. "I was a bit astonished," Anderson tells Mother Jones. "Really this paper is just a review of papers we published previously. There's no denying the fact that sea level rise has significantly accelerated. The scientific community is not at all divided on that issue."


You want Arctic warming? THIS was Arctic warming

Followed by a prolonged cool spell, of course

16 Degrees of warming from 1910 To 1939! Far greater than anything the Warmists agonize about now


Romney and Warmism

Not as bad as claimed?

“Since Mitt Romney’s environmentalist record as Massachusetts Governor is clearly going to be election issue, it seems worth taking a longer look at the Red State column on his Troubling Appointments now making the rounds. The three appointments, and putative Romney coffin nails, are these:

In 2003, Romney chose a hard core environmental activist to be Secretary of Commonwealth Development. In this position [Douglas Foy] was charged with developing a scheme to restrict “greenhouse gas” emissions…..

Gina McCarthy, the chief EPA clean air regulator, also worked as an environmental regulator for then-Governor Romney. Her role now is as point guard (nyuk) in the Obama Administrations fight to make coal fired electric generating plants extinct…..

Another Romney environmental adviser in the effort to regulate “greenhouse gases” is now Obama’s Director of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren. Dr. Holdren has some exotic views…..

Nothing should send folks looking for actual source material faster than a candidate being taken to the woodshed over someone who “worked” in his administration, or as an even more loosey goosey “advisor,” neither of which sounded like “appointments” to me. After doing so, I ended up thinking there’s a cautionary tale about everybody’s talking points here.

The Red State author actually raised the first flag, drawing from what he, himself, characterizes as “oppo research” from the Perry camp. They in turn relied on an article in the National Journal which now starts out with a prominent apology for how it “incorrectly characterized the nature of Romney’s state climate action plan when he was governor of Massachusetts.”

Romney doesn’t exactly come up purist roses in that piece, but at least National Journal is a more reliable source than the additional Red State links to Salon and the New York Observer. Check out the Observer’s OWS slide show, if you want to know where they’re coming from.

You certainly won’t find me defending John Holdren, but what’s on offer at Red State qualifies as guilt-by-attenuated-association polemical material in my book.

It turns out, however, that Gina McCarthy was, indeed, appointed to high profile positions by Mitt Romney, although it’s worth noting that she was originally installed by Michael Dukakis, from whence she had already worked her way up the bureaucratic ladder during the Weld and Cellucci administrations.

She’s apparently a real EPA dragon lady now, but if I had more time (and, yes, I’m clearly trying to see if I can get comfortable with Romney), I’d try to suss out what she actually did in Romney’s administration before she moved on to Connecticut.

Douglas Foy initially looked like Romney’s most troubling appointment, given Red State’s excerpt from the Wall St. Journal. While Foy may actually have been Romney’s most significant appointment at the time, neither the Red State author, nor the Perry site he relied on, note that same Journal piece had this to say about Perry’s talking points:
"His record in Massachusetts is more complicated than the summary offered by Mr. Perry. Mr. Romney actually refused to join the regional cap-and-trade program his administration helped create. As governor, he angered business leaders and environmentalists alike. But that complexity may be part of his problem among voters seeking consistency or clarity.

From the start of his administration, Mr. Romney set out to reconcile a pro-business political bent with his state’s liberal environmentalism, said Eric Kriss, a close confidante of Mr. Romney’s from their days co-founding the private equity firm Bain Capital. During the Romney campaign for governor, Mr. Kriss consulted frequently with Mr. Foy.

“Doug was known as a pre-eminent conservationist,” he said. “He was broad-minded, articulate, and he believed in the vision we all had, to combine environmental concerns with the need for housing and transportation infrastructure."

There may be plenty not to like in the picture of Romney which emerges from closer inspection of the less agenda driven sources, but I do think the right has been developing a kneejerk tendency to throw any commitment to conservation and environmental protection out with the bath water of climate change and endangered species anti-business, distributionist politics.

Context and timing really are important here:

While “Mr. Romney made it clear he believed in human-caused global warming and wanted a policy response,” there are two salient caveats worth voicing. The first is pointed out by the WSJ, “At the time, many conservatives were open to a cap-and-trade system, seeing it as a market-driven solution to limiting emissions.”

The second is that all of this took place before global warming skepticism had even crossed the public radar. As a marker that folks who have been following the climate change controversy might appreciate, Watt’s Up With That only opened its doors — as a self-described “useful trivia” blog! — in November 2006, a mere 6 weeks before Romney left office.”


Global warming might bring back the Black Death

But so might global cooling! You can't win

by Steve Milloy

Nature reports that extant strains of Yersinia pestis are very similar to the Black Death bacterium that wiped out half of Europe in the 14th century — meaning that environment ought to be at the forefront of concern for the plague’s potential return.

The article specifically cites climate as a factor that could mediate a return of the Black Death. The citation for this claim is this paper, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The PNAS paper examined the plague breakouts in China from 1850 to 1964 and correlated them with climatic conditions (i.e., wetness/dryness) and concluded:
In northern China, plague intensity generally increased when wetness increased, for both the current and the previous year, except for low intensity during extremely wet conditions in the current year (reflecting a dome-shaped response to current-year dryness/ wetness).

In southern China, plague intensity generally decreased when wetness increased, except for high intensity during extremely wet conditions of the current year.

These opposite effects are likely related to the different climates and rodent communities in the two parts of China: In northern China (arid climate), rodents are expected to respond positively to high precipitation, whereas in southern China (humid climate), high precipitation is likely to have a negative effect.

Our results suggest that associations between human plague intensity and precipitation are nonlinear: positive in dry conditions, but negative in wet conditions.

We take this to mean that ANY change in precipitation levels could prompt a plague breakout.


Fanatical Climate change schoolbook recalled

Written by a poet!

A week after defending a self-published book on global warming included in their science kits marketed to Michigan school districts, the Battle Creek Area Math and Science Center is now recalling all copies of the book.

“This book makes sweeping statements” unfounded in science, BCAMSC Director Connie Duncan said today. “We want to be sure the information we send out is 100 percent correct to the best of our knowledge.”

The BCAMSC is contacting schools and teachers, via telephone, mail, and the center's secure Website, “any way we could get hold of them,” Duncan said regarding the supplemental texts it included in kits of materials to teach seventh graders the science of climate change.

Thirty-five school districts are using the seventh-grade science kits this year, including Vicksburg, Otsego and Schoolcraft in the Kalamazoo area.

As reported in the Kalamazoo Gazette Sunday, the Michigan Farm Bureau complained a few weeks ago that the 88-page book, "A Hot Planet needs Cool Kids," pushes an inaccurate take on modern agriculture, both by including erroneous information based on opinion rather than science and by failing to include information about ways that agricultural practices can help combat climate change.

The book was written by Julie Hall, a resident of Bainbridge, Wash., a poet and cofounder of ProgressiveKids, “a planet-friendly” online company. It is not a textbook, but rather a children's book offering a left-wing perspective on global warming, along with suggestions for environmental activism.

The book holds up Al Gore as an “eco-hero;” promotes organizations such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Alliance; urges children to persuade their parents to “Vote Green” and buy organic; cautions against new-home construction, the plastics industry and conventional agriculture, and notes “many people believe that it is best for the earth for families to have no more than one child.”

Although Farm Bureau's concerns prompted a second look at the book, Duncan stressed the book is not being recalled because of those complaints.

“We wouldn't have pulled the book” just because Farm Bureau objected, Duncan said in an interview today, “but we will review (a book) because someone disagrees with it.”

In this case, she said, the review revealed that, although “this book has some wonderful things in it, it also has some things in it that are not appropriate. There are some other pieces in there that are not based on fact."

The BCAMSC has been assembling and marketing science curriculums to Michigan elementary schools for almost 20 years. The science kits include lesson plans written in-house by BCAMSC consultants, based on Michigan's curriculum expectations for each grade. The kits also include children's books as supplemental reading. This is the first year that the center has offered seventh-grade science kits.

About a third of Michigan school districts use the BCAMSC kits for at least one grade, Duncan said.



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